Monday, August 30, 2010

Notre Dame Football 2010

Purdue Run Offense vs. Notre Dame Run Defense

Purdue's offense, which was already replacing its quarterback and three lineman, took another major blow when Ralph Bolden, last year's leading rusher, went down with an ACL injury in the spring. Bolden will be replaced by 5 Al-Terek McBurse and 1 Keith Carlos, two players short on experience but long on athletic ability. McBurse had just four rushes for 10 yards as a freshman in 2009, while Carlos was moved from wide receiver following Bolden's injury. But both players saw success as kick returners in 2009, so they do know what to do in open space.

Quarterback 9 Robert Marve ran 59 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns at Miami in 2008. So while he may not be a major threat with his legs, he's certainly not afraid to try. Purdue's fullbacks and wide receivers only saw a handful of rushing attempts in 2009, but they will still need to be accounted for.

The Irish will again move to a 3-4, mostly due to the relative depth at line and linebacker. The move will also hopefully reignite 95 Ian Williams, who had his most success in that scheme in 2007.

Unfortunately, the linbacker depth has already taken a hit with injuries to 54 Anthony McDonald and 40 Steve Paskorz. 5 Manti Te'o and 44 Carlo Calabrese will start on the inside, backed up by 48 Dan Fox and 36 David Posluszny. Both Te'o and Calabrese are hard-hitting run stuffers.

On the outside, 56 Kerry Neal, 58 Brian Smith, and 46 Steve Filer are all fighting for the spot opposite 45 Darius Fleming. With the injuries on the inside, it will be interesting to see if Brian Smith returns to that position at some point this season.

Notre Dame Run Offense vs. Purdue Run Defense

5 Armando Allen is now in his fourth season as a starter, and has blossomed into a Doak Walker Award semifinalist. He'll be joined by a trio of talented backs in 33 Robert Hughes, 25 Jonas Gray, and 20 Cierre Wood. Interestingly enough, Wood didn't even see the field last year due to the depth at this position. But the talented recruit has impressed in fall practice, and has quickly moved to the primary backup on the depth chart.

It will be interesting to see how the other positions play into the running game. Quarterback 10 Dayne Crist was a mobile threat before his knee injury. While the team will no doubt be cautious with its starting QB, all the effects of Crist's injuries are basically gone.

Most spread offenses rely on end-around runs to varying degrees. 3 Michael Floyd started the spring game with such a run, but his physical abilities may not be the best match for such a game. Former tailback and current slot receiver 6 Theo Riddick seems to be an obvious choice for such plays. The Irish will also employ the wildcat, with anyone from Allen to 9 Kyle Rudolph running the show.

Brian Kelly's spread doesn't call for the fullback much, but the position is used when the situation calls for a traditional under center formation. Notre Dame's roster only lists two fullbacks, and for each player (running back Hughes and tight end 41 Bobby Burger) it is his second position.

The good news for Purdue's defense is that they return six members of their front seven. The bad news is that that front seven was torched for 173 rushing yards per game last year. Linebackers 30 Joe Holland, 24 Jason Werner, and 47 Chris Carlino combined for 229 tackles in 2009. Werner added a very impressive 14.5 tackles for loss.

Purdue Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

Purdue's new starter is Robert Marve, a University of Miami transfer who completed 54.5 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions as the Hurricanes starter in 2008.

Marve's primary target will be 8 Keith Smith, who accounted for one-third of Purdue's receptions in 2009 and six of their 23 receiving touchdowns. Purdue distributed the ball to a variety of receivers in 2009; tight end 85 Kyle Adams is the only other returning player to average more than two catches a game last year.

Notre Dame's 3-4 lets both 90 Ethan Johnson and 89 Kapron Lewis-Moore play their natural position of defensive end. Normally 3-4 lineman do little more than occupy opponents' lineman to create gaps for the linebackers. But Johnson and KLM are talented players who should be able to get pressure on the passer despite a numbers disadvantage. That's especially true against a Purdue offensive line that is replacing three starters.

If Notre Dame's line can get pressure on Marve, it will allow the linebackers to stay back in pass coverage, where they can help a very thin Irish secondary. Purdue's base set uses three wide receivers, while Notre Dame only has four cornerbacks on scholarship - not counting former receiver/running back Barry Gallup.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Purdue Pass Defense

Dayne Crist steps into the starting role for Notre Dame after mixed success in an abbreviated audition last year. But the knee is healthy and Coach Kelly's offensive schemes appear to be forgiving on a young passer.

Of course, it helps that Crist has no shortage of qualified targets. Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph are the big names who will get everyone's attention. But Crist will need a reliable checkdown when those two are covered, and that role hopes to be filled by senior 18 Duval Kamara.

Theo Riddick moves from running back to slot receiver, and is already looking like a natural. Talented freshman 7 TJ Jones has practiced both in the slot and in Kamara's X wideout position. Jones has shown both the shiftiness needed by the former position and the downfield ability needed by the latter.

There's more good news, bad news for Purdue in its pass defense. The good news is that they return defensive end 94 Ryan Kerrigan and his 13 sacks from 2009. The bad news is that they'll be breaking in four new starters in its defensive backfield against a pass-happy Notre Dame offense.

Special Teams

37 Carson Wiggs returns for his third season as Purdue's placekicker. The strong-legged Wiggs hit just 14 of 21 field goals in 2009, but only one of those misses came from inside 40 yards. He also had a long of 59. 40 Nick Tausch returns for the Irish after an impressive freshman campaign that saw him hit 14 of 17 attempts.

Carson Wiggs will also be taking over punting duties for the Boilermakers. Wiggs did have four punts last year, averaging 36 yards with a long of 51. 35 Ben Turk returns as the Irish punter. In 2009 Turk averaged 38 yards per punt with a long of 53.

Sophomore wide receiver 13 Antavian "Beeze" Edison steps in as Purdue's punt returner this year. He'll be backed up by 3 Waynelle Gravesande, who averaged 4.6 yards on 11 punts last year. Armando Allen will return punts for the Irish in 2010 after taking a year off from all return duties. He'll be backed up by "hands" man 81 John Goodman, who had five returns for 56 yards last season.

Al-Terek McBurse and Beeze Edison will return kicks for the Boilers. McBurse averaged 25 yards per return in 2009, including an 87-yard touchdown.

Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick are scheduled to return kickoffs for Notre Dame. Riddick averaged 23 yards per return last year.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Dayne Crist, Cierre Wood, Ian Williams, Carlo Calabrese, Ben Turk


Notre Dame 31, Purdue 21

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Notre Dame Position Previews: Defense and Special Teams

Defensive Line

Spotlight: Kapron Lewis-Moore

Also Returning: Sean Cwynar, Ethan Johnson, Brandon Newman, Emeka Nwankwo, Martin Quintana, Christopher Skubis, Hafis Williams, Ian Williams
Lost: Paddy Mullen, Morrice Richardson, John Ryan, Kallen Wade (graduation), Kerry Neal (position change - linebacker)
Gained: John Belcher (walk-on), Tyler Stockton (DNP as freshman), Bruce Heggie, Louis Nix, Kona Schwenke (freshmen)

The Irish back to the 3-4 for the second time in four years, mostly due to depth issues on the line. The good news is that the change gets Notre Dame's three best lineman on the field in their best positions. Ethan Johnson struggled as an undersized defensive tackle, but now he and Kapron Lewis-Moore get to settle in as oversized defensive ends, perfect for the 3-4. Their pass rushing ability will also take pressure off the linebackers, as the Irish should be able to drop an extra 'backer or two into coverage and still get pressure on the opposing QB.

KLM is my favorite defensive lineman, and he may soon be yours, too. Lewis-Moore played his way onto the field in 2009, and finished sixth on the team in tackles and third in sacks. Ethan Johnson struggled in 2009, but again the move back to end should help him repeat the success he saw in 2008. Speaking of past success, Ian Williams' best year in an Irish uniform came as a 3-4 nose tackle in 2007, and he'll now be returning to that role in 2010.

The second team features Hafis Williams and Emeka Nwankwo at end and Sean Cwynar at nose tackle, although Cwynar has the ability to play all three line positions. Everyone on the two-deep at line is at least a junior (Williams and Nwankwo are seniors), so while depth is an issue, experience is not.

Freshman Louis Nix and Kona Schwenke have been working hard and may be able to crack the rotation by the end of the season. Nix especially has been working to remove the stigma of showing up to fall practice overweight.


Spotlight: Steve Filer

Also Returning: Darius Fleming, Anthony McDonald, David Posluszny, Sean Oxley, Brian Smith, Manti Te'o
Lost: Tom Burke, Scott Smith, Toryan Smith (graduation)
Gained: Kerry Neal (position change - defensive end), Steve Paskorz (position change - fullback), Steve Botsford (walk-on), Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox (DNP as freshmen), Kendall Moore, Derek Roback, Prince Shembo, Danny Spond, Justin Utopo (freshman)

Only two spots in the linebacking corps appear to be settled: Manti Te'o on the inside, and Darius Fleming on the outside. Watching the two play, there's no doubt as to why that's the case.

The other inside and outside jobs are up for grabs. Senior mainstay Brian Smith was unseated from his position on the outside recently, and will have to fight to get it back. It was originally thought that Smith would be sharing time with Steve Filer.

Filer, known until now more for his ability to jump out of an inground pool than for his ability on the gridiron, has finally gotten his football priorities in order - or so says Coach Kelly. Of course, as soon as that happened, Kerry Neal joined the battle.

Neal broke out as a freshman outside linebacker in 2007, then struggled as he bounced between linebacker and defensive end the next few years. Neal was originally scheduled to be Darius Fleming's backup, but now his motor and consistency have him slated to start opposite of Fleming.

And people thought the battle for the inside linebacker job would be the most interesting in the front seven. Of course, the inside competition has not been without its drama. The main players were originally Anthony McDonald - a coverage guy who needed to improve his run support, and Carlo Calabrese - a hulking run stopper who needed to improve his coverage skills. McDonald is doubtful for the Purdue game with a knee injury, which moves Calabrese into the starting spot and also forces Dan Fox to slide over from outside to inside for the time being. Calabrese and Fox have yet to play college ball, but both had their names called quite a bit during the spring game.

Te'o's backup is linebacker-turned-fullback-turned-linebacker Steve Paskorz. Paskorz is also dinged up at the moment, which could mean playing time for David Posluszny on the inside as well.

Among the freshman, Prince Shembo and Danny Spond are closest to making the dress list, with Spond getting an added boost for his special teams abilities. Justin Utopo has some trouble with the NCAA clearinghouse, but those issues are expected to be resolved shortly.


Spotlight: Jamoris Slaughter

Also Returning: Dan McCarthy, Zeke Motta, Harrison Smith, Thomas Smith
Lost: Chris Bathon, Sergio Brown, Leonard Gordon, Ray Herring, Kyle McCarthy (graduation)
Gained: Chris Salvi (walk-on)

Notre Dame has seen quite a bit of turnover at safety lately, and this year the Irish will have to replace both of their starters. ND is thin at the position, dressing only four scholarship players. But all four are expected to be in the rotation this season.

Harrison Smith, whose struggles at safety forced him to move back to linebacker last yearyear, will again take his chances in the secondary. Smith has had a good camp, and of all four safeties he is expected to be on the field the most.

Tom Zbikowski saw time as a hybrid linebacker/third safety on passing downs towards the end of his Notre Dame career, and Zeke Motta continued in that role last year. The new coaching staff must have liked what they saw out of Motta in that scheme, because he will continue in that role this year - in addition to seeing time as a more traditional safety, of course.

The spotlight goes to Jamoris Slaughter, who quietly moved from cornerback to safety last year to help with depth. You didn't hear much about Slaughter last year, but that's not always a bad thing for a safety. He's expected to start alongside Smith this season.


Spotlight: Lo Wood
2008 (HS Jr)-3858

Also Returning: Robert Blanton, Michael Garcia, Gary Gray, Nick Lezynski, Andrew Plaska, Ryan Sheehan, Darrin Walls
Lost: Mike Anello, Raeshon McNeil, Joshua Stull (graduation), Jamoris Slaughter (position change - safety), Kael Anderson (former walk-on is not on the roster this year), EJ Banks (still in school, but no longer on the team)
Gained: Barry Gallup (position change - wide receiver), James Redshaw (walk-on)

The loss of EJ Banks made a thin position even thinner. Thankfully, freshman Lo Wood has stepped up in fall practice and looks to be ready for opening day.

The two starters, Gary Gray and Darrin Walls, are very good in their own right. But opponents will be eager to test the depth of the Notre Dame secondary (only nine scholarship players), which is where Wood and Robert Blanton come in. Blanton has shown his ability and desire to make the big play, but needs to improve his consistency in coverage.

To help the numbers game at DB, Barry Gallup has moved to cornerback. The selfless senior is now playing his third position, after bouncing between halfback and wide receiver for the start of his career (in addition to returning kicks).

Given the depth in the secondary, it's surprising that Austin Collinsworth stayed on the offensive side of the ball after seeing time at both receiver and defensive back in high school. That's especially so given the praise Collinsworth has received as a special teams player. But the coaching staff obviously likes what it sees in Collinsworth as a wideout, and is comfortable (for the time) with the depth they have at defensive back.


Spotlight: Ben Turk

Also Returning: David Ruffer, Nick Tausch, Brandon Walker
Lost: Ryan Burkhart (graduation), Eric Maust (graduation/not offered fifth year)
Gained: Mike Greiko (walk-on)

Believe it or not, Notre Dame may have its best kicking game since the Nick Setta/Joey Hildbold days. Nick Tausch returns from a near-perfect season to find himself a preseason Lou Groza Award semifinalist. Tausch will again be backed up by David Ruffer, the walk-on who is said to have a cannon for a leg. Ruffer will likely be the kickoff specialist again this year.

Punting the ball, both Ben Turk and Eric Maust had consistency issues last year. But the coaching staff - or perhaps the administration - is putting their faith in Turk, as Maust was not offered a fifth year of eligibility. If Turk does falter, he'll be backed by Brandon Walker. Walker, the former placekicker, did also punt in high school.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

2010 Fans Scouting Report

Once again, TangoTiger is crowdsourcing his defensive scouting reports. If you follow baseball closely enough to have an educated (or semi-educated) opinion on players' defensive talents, be sure to stop by and enter your thoughts.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Notre Dame Position Previews: Offense


Spotlight: Dayne Crist

Also Returning: Brian Castello, Matthew Mulvey
Lost: Evan Sharpley (graduation), Jimmy Clausen (NFL)
Gained: Nate Montana (transfer), Andrew Hendrix, Luke Massa, Tommy Rees (freshmen)

In the last 10 years, Notre Dame has had nine starting quarterbacks. Of those nine, seven were playing there first year of college football, including three (Matt LoVecchio, Brady Quinn, and Jimmy Clausen) were true freshmen. So Dayne Crist's experience, although limited, is somewhat impressive in comparison.

Of course, like the true freshmen (and Pat Dillingham in 2002), there's the added challenge of learning a new system. The good news is that Crist's knee is (knock on wood) essentially a non-issue at this point, with the brace remaining only as a precautionary measure.

Plus - if the spring game is any indication - it appears that system has been simplified for the new starter. The Blue and Gold scrimmage featured a bevy of simple patterns on repeat. The most popular play may have been a middle screen/shovel pass. Also popular was a traditional playaction rollout, where the field is cut in half and the quarterback has three receivers at different levels right in front of him.

Nate Montana, coming off a Community College stint and a spring game that impressed the fans in attendance, was scheduled for the backup spot. But he may have already been passed by early entrant Tommy Rees. Behind Montana and Rees are two more talented freshman in Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa.

With three quarterbacks in the same class, and with Coach Kelly's propensity to recruit first and figure out positions later, it will be interesting to see which freshman will stick around to supplant Crist in 2012. But let's worry about that when the time comes.

Running Back

Spotlight: Robert Hughes

Also Returning: Armando Allen, Bobby Burger, Jonas Gray
Lost: James Aldridge, Mike Narvaez (graduation), Steve Paskorz (position change - linebacker), Theo Riddick (position change - wide receiver)
Gained: Patrick Coughlin (walk-on), Derry Herlihy (position change - wide receiver), Cierre Wood (DNP as freshmen), Cameron Roberson (freshman)

The running back rotation for 2010 consists of Armando Allen and four guys fighting to be his backup. Each of those four has something to prove as well.

Hughes wins the spotlight because, as a senior, this is his last chance to prove himself. Bigger backs can succeed in the spread offense, pinballing off of the opposition's extra defensive backs. Hughes has shown he could do that in 2007 and 2009, and will look to do the same in 2010.

Jonay Gray is looking to get over his reputation for fumblitis, and to redeem himself for losing minutes to then-freshman Theo Riddick in 2009.

Speaking of players who lost minutes to Riddick in 2009, Cierre Wood will look to get on the field for the first time in his college career. Brought in with a great deal of hype, Wood sat out the entirety of his freshman campaign. Of course, that may have just been a move to preserve his eligibility. Either way, we'll finally be able to see what all the fuss was about.

Cameron Roberson is this year's version of Cierre Wood. Although the way he's been praised in recent press conferences, it sounds like it will be hard to keep Roberson out of the rotation this year.

Wide Receiver

Spotlight: Duval Kamara

Also Returning: Shaquelle Evans, Michael Floyd, Dan Franco, John Goodman, Christopher Gurries, Robby Toma, Deion Walker
Lost: Brian Coughlin, Robby Parris, Kris Patterson, Sam Vos, George West (graduation), Golden Tate (NFL), Barry Gallup (position change - cornerback), Derry Herlihy (position change - running back)
Gained: Theo Riddick (position change - running back), Austin Collinsworth, Bennett Jackson, TJ Jones, Daniel Smith (freshman)

Not many teams can lose their Biletnikoff winner to the NFL and still be able to brag about their wide receiver depth.

Michael Floyd is the proven quantity, of course, provided he stays healthy. He has a God-given talent for catching the ball in (and above) traffic). However, that doesn't necessarily mean he should be running end-arounds (ends-around?), as seen in the spring game, or returning kicks, as is wanted by many an Irish fan. Floyd is a very talented receiver, but not exactly in Golden Tate make-people-miss mold.

Opposite of Floyd on the outside will be Duval Kamara. With all the attention going to Floyd and Kyle Rudolph, Dayne Crist will need have a reliable set of hands as a checkdown option to rely on. It's up to the senior Kamara, who has had cases of the dropsies in the past, to be that option and keep Crist's confidence up.

In the slot, Theo Riddick and TJ Jones are 1 and 1A right now. Jones earned praise from coaches and fans alike in the spring, but Riddick tops the latest depth chart. No doubt both will see plenty of playing time, especially if and when the Irish go with four wideouts.

Riddick, the shifty converted running back, is ideal for running plays and screens out of the slot - especially the shovel pass/middle screen the team fell in love with in the spring game. Jones is more of an all-around receiver with the ability to go downfield, although the staff has been harping on his consistency.

The rest of the unit is a good mix of playing styles. Freshmen Austin Collingsworth and Bennett Jackson could both see playing time this year, which speaks to their talent and development, as they are fighting against seven players who saw collegiate action last year. In fact, Collingsworth is rumored to already have a spot "on the bus" for his special teams play. On top of that, it speaks to the freshman's abilities as a pass catcher that he's stuck at wideout and not been moved to defensive back (his other high school position), considering the relative depth situation at each position.

Tight End

Spotlight: Bobby Burger

Also Returning: Kyle Rudolph, Mike Ragone
Lost: (none)
Gained: Tyler Eifert, Jake Golic (DNP as freshmen), Alex Welch (freshman)

Yes, part of the reason I spotlighted Burger is because he's a personal cheeseball. But the H-back will play a vital role in this offense, even if he doesn't catch a single pass. Both tackle positions on the line are still in flux, but whoever wins those positions will be getting assistance from a proven blocker in Burger. That assistance, of course, translates into more time in the passing game for the new starter at quarterback, Crist.

Kyle Rudolph, like Michael Floyd, is a known quantity. He's been called the most complete tight end in recent Notre Dame history, an impressive compliment considering the NFL factory the position has become.

Behind Rudolph, Mike Ragone will fight to get his career back on track after it was derailed by injury and then legal trouble. If he cannot, Eifert, Golic, and Welch will be more than happy to get their Notre Dame careers started in his place.

Offensive Line

Spotlight: Trevor Robinson

Also Returning: Braxston Cave, Lane Clelland, Jordan Cowart, Taylor Dever, Bill Flavin, Mike Golic, Mike Hernandez, Andrew Nuss, Matt Romine, Chris Stewart, Dan Wenger
Lost: Paul Duncan, Eric Olsen, Jeff Tisak, Michael Turkovich, Sam Young (graduation), Tom Freeman (former preferred walk-on is not on the roster this year)
Gained: Dennis Mahoney (walk-on), Alex Bullard, Zach Martin, Chris Watt (DNP as freshmen), Christian Lombard, Tate Nicols (freshmen)

With so many question marks along the offensive line, the spotlight goes to the one constant this unit has seen over the past few years. Trevor Robinson may not have gotten the same fanfare given to Sam Young and Ryan Harris when he cracked the starting rotation as a freshman in 2008, but he's been a steady force on the line ever since.

Robinson's counterpart at guard is again Chris Stewart, who's gotten a lot of attention for his improved chin-up numbers. But let's see how well Stewart's new combination of size and strength translate to the playing field.

The remaining three positions each have a pair of players competing for reps. That may not be what you want with a new quarterback, but it is the reality nonetheless.

At center, veteran Dan Wenger is trying to fight off sophomore Braxton Cave. Cave's work ethic may lead to both seeing snaps this fall.

The two tackle spots are seeing competition from three career reserves and one talented sophomore. Taylor Dever and Andrew Nuss will fight for the right tackle spot, while Zack Martin (the underclassman) and Matt Romine will battle for the right to protect Dayne Crist's blind side.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Mike Maycock Replaces Pat Haden as NBC's Notre Dame Analyst

Maycock is a graduate of Boston College. Apparently Desmond Howard and Jimmy Johnson weren't available. Let's hope at least that Maycock is less bitter about Notre Dame than Brian Brennan is.

For more, check out our friends at Her Loyal Sons, or read NBC's official presser below.

NEW YORK – August 2, 2010 - Mike Mayock, one of television’s premier college football and NFL Draft experts, joins NBC Sports’ Notre Dame football coverage as game analyst, filling the role vacated by Pat Haden. Mayock’s inaugural game will take place on September 4 when the Fighting Irish host Purdue in the first game of NBC Sports’ 20th season broadcasting Notre Dame football.

Mayock, a former NFL defensive back, is NFL Network’s leading college football and NFL Draft analyst. He is featured on numerous NFL Network programs throughout the year, including Playbook and NFL Total Access, and provides content for all NFL Draft-related programming.

“Mike’s knowledge of and passion for college football has resulted in him becoming one of the most respected voices in the game,” said NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood. “He possesses a relentless work ethic and perfect pedigree as a former player and son of a coach. We are excited to add him to our team.”

Mayock joins veteran NBC Sports and Notre Dame commentators Tom Hammond (play-by-play) and Alex Flanagan (sideline reporter).

Mayock’s extensive football broadcast experience includes serving as a game analyst for NFL Network’s coverage of the Texas Bowl, the Insight Bowl, and Under Armour Senior Bowl, as well as preseason games for the Minnesota Vikings. Prior to joining NFL Network, he served as a college football analyst for ABC Sports (2001-03), Fox Sports Net (2000), and CBS Sports (1996-99).

“As the son of a coach and someone who has been around football my entire life, my favorite part of sports television has always been broadcasting games,” said Mayock. “The fact that I will now provide commentary on one of the most historically important teams in the history of college football on NBC Sports makes me about as happy as I can be as a sports broadcaster.”