2004 ND Football Preview
All eyes are on Brady Quinn this year. Some are still skeptical about the sophomore QB. He may not be the next Joe Montana, but that doesn't mean he's cluless in the the pocket. It's nice to know that, for the first time in a few years, 3 and 15 for ND doesn't automatically become a bathroom break. With Carlyle Holiday putting all his practice time in at receiver, Pat Dillingam will be the main backup. I'm sure Dillingham is a good guy and all, and he did beat MSU, but I still have reason to worry if Quinn goes down. Of course, if Marty Mooney can make the jump from Yale to Morrissey MVP to big time IA football, I'll breathe a little easier.
Player to Watch: Quinn
Potential Breakout Guy: Quinn
Julius will be sorely missed. As 2003 proved, most of Ryan Grant's 1000+ yards in '02 were due to a great veteran line. Grant is the man again, so let's see if he can step up and hold on to the ball. Backing him up are a trio of young studs - Jeff Jenkins, Travis Thomas, and Darius Walker. Any one of those three may step it up and challenge for carries.
At fullback, we once again have RPN and Josh Schmidt. Powers-Neal will be getting some carries this year, but most (if not all) will come at halfback. Why convert one of your best rushers to fullback, if not to give him carries from that position? Don't ask me. Schmidt has the best hands out of the backfield, and may even have better hands than certain very tall receivers on this team. He'll be a great safety valve for Quinn just by sneaking into the flat and picking up ground in 7-12 yard increments. Unless, that is, other teams realize that he's the "receiving back" and key in on him.
Player to Watch: Grant - the pressure's on.
Potential Breakout Guy: Any of the three young guys, unless RPN starts tearing it up, or Schmidt starts getting 5+ passes his way per game.
Fox Sports named Maurice Stovall ND's offensive player to watch this year. Their argument: with all the attention being payed to last year's breakout star Rhema McKnight, all Quinn has to do is lob the ball up to Stovall a few times, and let his large athletic frame do the rest. What, you think they haven't tried that already? Stovall showed that his potential isn't just hype in last year's Purdue game, but he was back to his old self soon after that. A dose of aggression (or, a swift kick in the pants, as a fired-up old alum might say) would do Stovall well. Carlyle Holiday joins the receiving corps full-time this year. His athleticism gives ND's passing game tons of upside, but opposing defenses will be keying on him and looking for gimmick plays. I don't think this year's performance will get him a job as an NFL WR, but I truly hope he proves me wrong.
Player to Watch: McKnight. When it's third down and so many yards to go, why run a pattern that doesn't take you past the first down marker... unless you're Rhema McKnight, who can spin, juke, and dive towards the sticks with every ounce of effort he has.
Potential Breakout Guy: Jeff Samardzija. Growing up, I idolized Browns WR Brian Brennan. This guy made a career out of running to the first down marker, turning around, and catching the football. By mimicking Brennan at recess, I turned myself from the uncoordinated last guy picked to a guy picked in the middle for being a reliable third down option. You certainly can't call Jeff S uncoordinated, but you can say that he has the potential to be BQ's favorite "posession receiver."
I believe it was Yogi Berra who first said, "we have deep depth." That's definitely the case at TE for ND. We have the guy who can block - Billy Palmer, the guy who can catch - Anthony Fasano, and the guy who can do both - Jared Clark. Oh, and none of them are f-ing soldiers who do a stupid dance when they make an 8-yard catch on 2nd and 10.
Player to Watch: Fasano. If Billy Palmer starts walking around with some hot Bachelor reject, feel free to watch her too.
Potential Breakout Guy: Fasano.
A young, inexperienced line takes over, matures into a solid veteran line, moves on through graduation, and the cycle repeats itself. It seems rare that we'll see a mixed line of 2 vets and 3 new guys, followed by 3 vets and 2 new guys, followed by.... I would think that that is the ideal situation, so you're not starting fresh every four years, but maybe that's just how things work. Who knows.
Player to Watch: Ryan Harris. Why? He's the first guy who came to mind. Proved that he can be "underweight" and still be a solid player (he's listed at 289 lbs. this year, which isn't bad). The line seemed to gel once he was stuck in at tackle. (or was that just coincidentally when Julius started getting the ball more?)
Potential Breakout Guy: Chauncey Incarnato. Why? NDNation seemed to like him. Plus, it's hard to argue with a 6-6, 280 freshman.
There's no reason to worry about the end position this year. Justin Tuck proved he's not just hype, and Victor Abiamiri proved he can be an impact player, even as a freshman. Add Kyle Budinscak's return from injury into the equation, and you're set.
Defensive tackle, however, is another story. The starters will be Greg Pauley and Derek Landri. This is probably the first time I said "this is the best we have?" with this roster (except for the backup QB spot). Pauley and Landri have done a great job as backups over the past couple years, but I don't know how they'll do as starters. Hopefully, I'm just worrying for nothing. If I were coach (and I'm not), I'd play Tuck (experience)-Pauley-Landri-Budinscak for running situations, and Tuck-Pauley/Landri-Budinscak-Abiamiri in passing situations, just to get my three best guys out there at the same time.
As far as depth, Trevor Laws and Travis Leitko both have experience, so there's not too much to worry about.
Player to Watch: Tuck
Potential Breakout Guy: Abiamri
You really can't replace Courtney Watson, but a starting corp of Mike Goolsby, Brendan "the COBA computer cluster's so cool, I'm on scholarship and I still work there" Hoyte, and Derek "the 'other' DC, and also Paul Green's freshman roomate" Curry still sounds good to me. Goolsby may have trouble staying healthy, but I'll assume he's given up his hoop dreams, which is a start. Hoyte is great against the run. Curry is a solid all-around guy, unless he's forced to match up in man coverage against a very fast running back who's lined up wide. But that's not his fault, he shouldn't be put in those situations. The fact that the only backup at LB I can name is Corey Mays scares me (not because of Mays's ability, but because I can't name anyone else), so we'll need to keep our starting 3 healthy.
Player to Watch: Goolsby. As a senior and a linebacker, he'll need to be the field general on defense.
Potential Breakout Guy: Hoyte
The secondary has the heart, but they don't have the soul. No, wait. They have the soul, but they don't have the heart. No, that's not it either. They have the heart, and they have the sould, but they don't have the talent. Or maybe they do, and it's just young talent. I felt like an old man last year looking at nameless jerseys of secondary players, and not having any clue who they were. This year probably won't be much better. Losing Garron Bible hurts, especially since he started getting his act together at safety at the end of the season. Freddie Prinze Jr., I mean Freddie Parish IV, looked competent in his substantial PT last year. Quentin Burrell and Lionel Bolen. Bolen did look good some of the time, so if I had to chose I'd lean his way. Tom Zbikowski wins the Joe Germain/Eric Crouch Memorial QB to Safety award, and he'll be a key backup in the secondary.
Who do we have at corner? Dwight Ellick, Ambrose Wooden, Carlos Campbell, Preston Jackson, Mike Richardson, and Chinedum Ndukwe. Wooden has potential. I'm still not sure why Campbell converted to DB - it sure hasn't helped his playing time. Ndukwe, on the other hand, has probably made the switch early enough to be effective down the road. Jackson is Jackson. He'll play like the 5'2 nickel back he is, and get drafted by the Packers anyways. Cornerback will be the position to watch (or not watch) on the team this year.
Side note: What the DBs lack in depth and talent, they make up for in the cool names category. There's one DB named Rich Whitney III, which at first glance to me looked like it said "Rich Whitey III." Also at DB is one Junior Jabbie, whose high school is listed as "The Hun School."
Player to Watch: I'll go with Bolen. Just a hunch; I don't know why.
Potential Breakout Guy: Wooden. Let's see if he can step it up. Parish gets runner-up in both categories here.
Well, it looks like DJ Fitzpatrick (Ellen loves him!) will still be handling the kicking duties this year. Joining him to do the punting this year will be the young and talented Geoffrey Price. Boy, you should have seen the discussions on NDNation last year about whether or not Ty should have redshirted Price. So, he's definitely someone to watch.
On the return side, last year's "who the heck is that at kick returner?" Matt Shelton, perhaps the fastest guy on the team, returns. I'm sure there were more than a few "they let a white guy return kicks?" comments from some of the "smarter" opposing players, coaches, and fans (and probably some from our side). But, if he's the burner they say he is, by all means give him a chance to return the ball. Assumedly, playmaker Rhema McKnight will join Shelton on kickoffs, and also handle the punt return duty. Who do we have to backup? NCAA 2005 lists Stovall (gulp), Holiday (not a bad idea), Grant (gulp), and Ellick (I believe he does have experience) as the next best.
Player to Watch: Rhema. As good as Price may be, you have to enjoy watching a guy who can get stuff done in the open field.
Potential Breakout Guy: I'll go with DJ here, just to make Ellen happy.
Well, there you go. I'm sure there's a lot you disagree on, and a lot I missed, so feel free to discuss it on the board. (Oh, and in case you were wondering, my depth chart did basically come from NCAA 2005.) Also, be sure to check out the new ticket exchange board above.