Sunday, July 31, 2005

Notre Dame Football Preview was nice enough to name this site one of their favorite ND blogs in their recent list of Notre Dame football previews. So, I figured it would only be proper for me to actually write a preview of the 2005 Irish team.


Spotlight: Brady Quinn

Courtesy AP/Michael Conroy
Also Returning: David Wolke
Lost: Pat Dillingham (graduation)
Gained: Darrin Bragg, Justin Gillett (redshirts), Dan Gorski, Evan Sharpley (freshmen), Marty Mooney (transfer from Yale)

There's no quarterback controversy here - Quinn is the man. The only question is, who will be his backup? Last season, Wolke got a few scraps of playing time, while Darrin Bragg redshirted (perhaps Bragg was too tired from being a 35-year-old outfielder to play football last year). Joining them will be Yale transfer Marty Mooney, the Morrissey resident who led the Manorites to a dorm football championship and threw himself a touchdown pass in this year's Blue and Gold game.

Running Back

Spotlight: Darius Walker

Courtesy AP/Michael Conroy
Also Returning: Justin Hoskins, Jeff Jenkins, John Lyons, Travis Thomas
Lost: Ryan Grant (graduation)
Gained: None

Walker may be a great back, but he's not going to last the season if a #2 guy can't step in to spell him on a reliable basis. Hoskins is full of talent, but didn't see much playing time in the backfield last season. Some speculated that it was due to his lack of development as a pass blocker. Travis Thomas will have to find a cure for last season's fumbilitis before hoping to get any playing time this season.


Spotlight: Rashon Powers-Neal

Courtesy AP/Joe Raymond
Also Returning: Ashley McConnell (suspended for 2004)
Lost: Josh Schmidt (graduation), Nate Schiccatano (position change)
Gained: Matt Augustyn (walk on?), Asaph Schwapp (freshman)

Josh Schmidt is probably kicking himself right now. As a great receiving fullback, he would have thrived in a Charlie Weis system. Former running back RPN also learned to catch last season, hauling in 10 passes. He should look forward to being utilized to the fullest of his potential this season.

Wide Receiver

Spotlight: Maurice Stovall
Also Returning: Chase Anastasio, Brandon Harris, Rhema McKnight, Michael O'Hara, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Shelton, Rob Woods
Lost: Carlyle Holiday (graduation), Chris Vaughn (suspended; will transfer to Louisville)
Gained: Brandon Erickson, Nick Possley (walk ons?), David Grimes, DJ Hord (freshmen)

What? Rhema McKnight isn't the spotlight receiver? Well, we already know what McKnight can do. This year, the light will shine brightly on Maurice Stovall. After appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated, well... if Stovall didn't get negative attention over the past two years, he wouldn't have gotten any attention at all. However, his troubles may have been more coaching-based than talent-based. For the longest time, ND's old staff tried to use Stovall's 6-5 height in jump-ball situations, and he failed almost every time. However, once he started to run other "normal" routes, Stovall began to show glimpses of the talent that garnered him so much praise coming into ND. Even though he had trouble pulling down jump balls, Stovall still was able to use his size to his advantage. On screen plays, he is simply too big and too tough to be taken down by most defensive backs in single coverage. Utilized properly, Maurice Stovall can be a big threat this year. Two other receivers are key returnees for this offense. Matt Shelton has returned for a fifth year, and he'll look to continue to be a deep threat (and not a make-people-miss guy). Jeff Samardzija, while not a starter, has always been a favorite target of Brady Quinn's, and he has often served as a reliable third down converter.

Tight End

Spotlight: Anthony Fasano

Courtesy AP/Michael Conroy
Also Returning: John Carlson, Marcus Freeman
Lost: Billy Palmer, Jerome Collins (graduation)
Gained: Tim Gritzman, Mike Talerico (walk ons or reshirts?), Joey Hiben (freshman)

Offensive Line

Spotlight: Ryan Harris

Courtesy AP/Michael Conroy
Also Returning: John Sullivan, Scott Raridon, JJ Jansen, James Bonelli, Bob Morton, Dan Santucci, Dan Stevenson, James Bent, David Fitzgerald, Mark LeVoir, Brian Mattes
Lost: Jaime Ryan, Jeff Thompson (graduation)
Gained: Dan Hickey (walk on?), Chauncey Incarnato (redshirt), Paul Duncan, Jeff Tisak, Michael Turkovich (freshmen)

The Notre Dame offensive line has followed a familiar cycle over the past few years: A new line would come in, grow and gain experience, then graduate as a unit. Then, five new, inexperienced guys would have to step into the starting lineup and suffer the same growing pains before growing together into a cohesive, experienced unit. Hopefully, that trend is coming to and end. Notre Dame comes into this year with a line that is on the "experienced but ready to graduate" end (in fact, all 5 starters from last year are returning), but fortunately the players are more spread out age-wise. Mark LeVoir and Dan Stevenson are 5th years, Bob Morton is a senior, and Ryan Harris and John Sullivan are only juniors. Hopefully, with the addition of redshirt super-recruit Chauncey Incarnato, this unit will be good this year, and also avoid a dry spell/rebuilding year in the near future.

Defensive Line

Spotlight: Derek Landri

Courtesy AP/Wade Payne
Also Returning: Victor Abiamiri, Chris Frome, Trevor Laws, Brian Beidatsch, Dan Chervanick
Lost: Travis Leitko? (name removed from roster without comment), Justin Tuck, Greg Pauly, Kyle Budinscak (graduation)
Gained: Dwight Stephenson (position change/suspended for 2004), Patrick McInerney, Neil Kennedy (walk ons or redshirts?), Brandon Nicholas, Ronald Talley, Justin Brown (redshirts), Derrell Hand, Pat Kuntz (freshmen)

For the second straight year, the defensive line will have to deal with large losses due to graduation. This year, 3/4 of the starters are gone. Derek Landri, who stepped it up as Ced Hilliard's replacement at nose guard last year, will look to once again anchor this line as the lone returning starter. Victor Abiamiri has shown flashes of being a great all-around player over the past two years; this year, he'll get a chance as a starter to show what he can really do. Defensive end/special teamer Travis Leitko has been removed from the roster without comment. Without him, the last two starting spots will come down to seniors Chris From and Brian Beidatsch, and very talented junior Trevor Laws (expect big things from him this year, if he gets the playing time). Joining the line this year is former linebacker Dwight Stephenson, who impressed at both end and tackle in the spring. Without Leitko, Stephenson may be needed at end more than anything - at 270 pounds, Frome is more of a tackle playing end, and Abiamiri is the only other player with experience there.


Spotlight: Brandon Hoyte

Courtesy AP/Michael Conroy
Also Returning: Joseph Boland, Nick Borseti, Joe Brockington, Casey Cullen, Corey Mays, Anthony Salvador, Mitchell Thomas
Lost: Derrek Curry, Mike Goolsby (graduation)
Gained: Nate Schiccatano (position change), Abdel Banda, Maurice Crum, Jr. (redshirts), Steve Quinn, Scott Smith, Kevin Washington (freshmen)

The linebacker position was also hit hard by graduation. Last year, there was little to no depth behind the three starters, and now two of those starters are gone. Hard-hitting Brandon Hoyte had a good year last year, and he will have to be the man this year. Projected starters Corey Mays and Joe Brockington saw token playing time last year - one would wonder if that was to prepare them for this year more than anything. Key backups for this unit include fullback bust Nate Schiccatano and recruiting studs Maurice Crum and Scott Smith. Of course, this all assumes that Defensive Coordinator Rick Minter doesn't go with the Apache look, where the third linebacker is replaced by a hybrid linebacker/safety, such as hard-hitting former receiver Chinedum Ndukwe or Anthony Vernaglia, who is listed as a safety on the roster but has the size of a linebacker. The staff didn't show the Apache look at the Blue and Gold game, but that doesn't mean it isn't a possibility come September.


Spotlight: Tom Zbikowski

Courtesy AP/Al Goldis
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Also Returning: Chinedum Ndukwe, Freddie Parish IV
Lost: Quentin Burrell (graduation)
Gained: Anthony Vernaglia (redshirt)
(Note: All players given the generic designation "defensive back" are listed below with the cornerbacks.)

This unit isn't a group of safeties so much as it is a group of small, athletic linebackers. The best speed/cover guy is Freddie Parish, and he appears to have the free safety position locked up. Zbikowski, Ndukwe, and Vernaglia are all tough-as-nails tacklers. Assuming Ndukwe's cover skills have come along since his position change, all three of these players have the talent to play Apache linebacker or either safety position. Zbikowski will be the starter, but expect Rick Minter to find ways to get the other two their share of playing time.


Spotlight: Mike Richardson
Also Returning: Matt Mitchell, Ambrose Wooden, LaBrose Hedgemon II, Rich Whitney III
Lost: Dwight Ellick, Carlos Campbell, Prestion Jackson (graduation)
Gained: Tim Kenney, Bret Shapot, William David Williams, Wade Iams, Alvin Reynolds (walk ons?), Junior Jabbie, Terrail Lambert, Leo Ferrine (redshirts), David Bruton, Ray Herring, Kyle McCarthy (freshmen)

Mike Richardson is in the spotlight for this preview, and he will be in the spotlight all season as well. Richardson finally got a fair amount of playing time last year, and more often than not he caused Irish fans across the country to curse at their TV screens. As of right now, he's the "A" corner, and he will have to play like it against a tough schedule. Across from Richardson is former receiver Ambrose Wooden. Perhaps more talent than polish right now, Wooden will have to prove that he's earned his starting role. Knocking on the door behind Richardson and Wooden are three very talented redshirt freshmen, Junior Jabbie and Terrail Lambert - who could be starters by the end of the year - and Leo Ferrine. Showing this unit's lack of experience and talent, no less than five defensive back walk ons have been added to the roster. It will be up to Rick Minter to out-scheme his talent on the corners.


Spotlight: DJ Fitzpatrick

Courtesy AP/Bill Kostroun
Also Returning: Craig Cardillo, Carl Gioia, Bobby Renkes
Lost: None
Gained: None

DJ Fitzpatrick continued to develop as a quality place kicker on a team that did not, and still does not, have any kickers who began their college careers on scholarship. As with last year, Fitzpatrick will most likely be spelled on kickoffs by one of the other three kickers to save his own leg. That is, of course, assuming those three reserve kickers can show they have the leg strength for the job - unlike many times last year.


Spotlight: Fitzpatrick
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Also Returning: Geoffrey Price
Lost: None
Gained: None

Originally a placekicker, DJ took large steps as a punter in 2004. Watching him last year, you would have thought that Fitzpatrick was recruited as a scholarship punter. Instead, coming into college, "I could kick farther than him," said one former female manager at ND. It's a good thing Fitzpatrick has developed into such a reliable punter, too, as rumors have long swirled that the highly-touted Geoff Price has continued to be less than impressive in practices.

2005 Schedule

9-3-05 at Pittsburgh
9-10-05 at Michigan
9-24-05 at Washington
10-1-05 at Purdue
11-12-05 NAVY
11-19-05 SYRACUSE
11-26-05 at Stanford

Predicted Wins Legend (final record in parentheses)
Even ND haters say we will win these games (5-6)
Pessimistic bandwagon ND fan's view (6-5)
Pessimistic non-bandwagon ND fan says we'll lose one of these two (7-4); a certain optimistic ND blogger says we'll win both (8-3)
True fans go into every game thinking their team has a shot to win (11-0)