Sunday, August 20, 2006

Notre Dame Football Preview
Part I


Spotlight: Brady Quinn

Also Returning: none
Lost: David Wolke (transfer), Darrin Bragg (position change)
Gained: Dan Gorski, Evan Sharpley (DNP as freshmen), Zach Frazer, Demetrius Jones (freshmen)

Again the biggest question at quarterback is the backup. David Wolke fled to McNeese State (McNeese isn't a state) in favor of playing time. That leaves Quinn as the only QB on the Irish roster with any college minutes. Evan Sharpley appears to be the backup, filling a role played by his great uncle Jim Ninowski on the Cleveland Browns 1964 championship team. Sharpley is very athletic and put up good numbers in high school.

Running Back

Spotlight: Darius Walker

Also Returning: John Lyons, Travis Thomas
Lost: Justin Hoskins (transfer), Jeff Jenkins (graduation)
Gained: James Aldrige, Dex Cure, Munir Prince (freshmen), Junior Jabbie (position change)

In recent years, there never seems to be a shortage of criticism for Notre Dame backs. Prior to his year in exile, Julius Jones was being made "fat and slow" by the strength and conditioning staff, and he had bad hands. The next year, Ryan Grant put up 1000 yards, but he too had band hands, and arguably wasn't as physical a runner as Rashon Powers-Neal. Then Jones came back, and despite great success everyone said he wasn't being used enough. Last year, Darius Walker put up 1500 yards from scrimmage, but there were those who complained about his lack of long runs.
Well, there may have been a reason for Walker's inability to "break the big one." Walker played most of the middle part of the season with a wrap on his thigh. Without it, you may see a little more explosiveness from the junior.
The backup situation is worth keeping an eye on. Travis Thomas was a good change of pace to Walker, earning 63 carries and 5 touchdowns last year. But his reps at tailback may be reduced depending on his performance at linebacker. After Thomas, both James Aldrige and Munir Prince are very talented freshmen. At least one, if both, may see a decent amount of playing time this season. Of course, until they learn blitz pickups, neither will see the field. The X factor at halfback is Junior Jabbie, a junior who only saw one game in two years as a defensive back. His position change didn't make much sense when it happened. But now with the loss of Justin Hoskins and, as mentioned above, Thomas' time at linebacker, this may be Jabbie's best opportunity to contribute.


Spotlight: Asaph Schwapp
Also Returning: Matt Augustyn, Ashley McConnell
Lost: Rashon Powers-Neal (graduation)
Gained: Luke Schmidt (freshman)

When looking back at 2005, to put it bluntly, Asaph Schwapp will be remembered for not being Rashon Powers-Neal. First, Schwapp had a goal line fumble with the Irish already trailing MSU 31-17. Then there was the now infamous drive-killing pass from Brady Quinn during the USC game. Schwapp ran out into the flat then stopped, only to watch the pass sail over his head. I still see that as lack of familiarity between the two players more than anything. With a few more games together, Quinn and Schwapp will make that play in their sleep.
Schwapp could see more touches this year, but his offensive prowess may be a moot point. Joining the rotation this year is freshman Luke Schmidt, who is already listed at a powerful 6'3, 230. Schmidt has received quite a bit of praise for his running ability. He can line up in front of Walker to draw away some attention, or he could line up behind Schwapp in short yardage situations.