With a little more than a week to go we have a good idea of how the depth chart will be when we kick off against Toledo in nine days. Honestly, there haven't been many surprises. We know some of the freshmen have been doing well, but we will truly have no idea until we take the field against Toledo. In the meantime, this is what the current depth chart looks like:
I have Delusions of grandeur for this team, but those are the best delusions to have. This handy poster also works for Notre Dame's National title hopes.
1. Joey Elliott, Sr. (5)
2. Caleb TerBush, Fr. (RS)
There is no real surprise here, although the rhetoric from coach Hope is that Elliott will now be the primary guy and TerBush will only play mop up duty. This is a change from before camp, when it was thought there might be a platoon system. I like this. I would much rather settle on one guy and go with him rather than constantly rotate guys. I am sure Robert Marve would have something to say about that too. Rob Henry also seems to have emerged as the third string guy if needed. I think he will play only if necessary early in the year, but we may eventually reach a point where he will redshirt if he hasn't played at all. that would leave us with 5th year senior Chris Bennett as the #3 guy. If that is the case, expect a major battle for the starting job next year.
1. Ralph Bolden, So.
2. Jaycen Taylor, Sr. (5)
This position is very interesting, as Bolden seems to be hanging on to the number 1 spot. It may be semantics, as we know that Taylor will play plenty. The big mover seems to have been Frank Halliburton. Halliburton gives us a bigger option back there, and I would not be averse to some two running back sets. Dan Dierking will also see some time. The most interesting question will be Al-Terek McBurse. In Tuesday's practice report McBurse was not mentioned as one of the true freshmen likely to play this year. This may be our deepest position on the field right now. McBurse may be getting squeezed by the number of experienced backs in front of him. I doubt he will redshirt, but you never know.
This is an interesting dichotomy of experience vs. youth. Smith and Valentin are by far the most experienced players, so it is no surprise they are starters. Adams is a transfer from the defense, but has been here for three years. At least with Adams we have the option of switching him back to defense if depth becomes an issue. Edison has drawn rave reviews since camp opened, so I expect him to see the field a lot. Bush and Carlos were slightly late bloomers, but they have separated themselves from the other freshmen and from others like Waynelle Gravesande that have been here awhile. Everything I hear about Carlos is that he is electric with the ball in his hands, but he has a tendency have the drops at times. I would still prefer to have Smith as an outside receiver since he gives us the most size by far.
1. Kyle Adams, Jr.
2. Jeff Lindsay, Jr.
I think Adams was missed greatly last year. We did not have a consistent safety valve at tight end like we did with Dustin Keller and our offense suffered for it. Adams and Lindsay should pick up that slack. If they can produce on the level of Tim Stratton, Charles Davis, and Keller I will be very happy. Colton McKey is also expected to contribute once his knee is better. Lindsay may be used as a bit of an H-back and is a great blocker.
I think this is where we will see the most improvement this year. If you think about it, we never had any consistency last season along the offensive line. We didn't even have it in spring practice. Injuries prevented that from happening all year. That will pay dividends this year as we have had consistency and plenty of guys have experience. All five starters were starters at some point last season. Prater and Pierce also got some experience, so there is a little bit of depth as well. I like that Drey, Schmeig, and Brewer are freshmen that could be anchors of the line in 2010 or 2011. This is how you improve the team in a hurry. Plue gives us a true road grader to generate tough yards on the ground. By necessity, we will likely run the ball more this year. As long as the line lets us run more I really don't care. I think it will be a benefit in the long run.
I think it is more important for Gooden to have a good year than Kerrigan. Kerrigan is the known commodity. If Gooden can generate a pass rush on his own it will prevent teams from double teaming Kerrigan. Improved play from our defensive tackles is also critical. Among the backups, I am most disappointed in Keyon Brown. He had a fantastic bowl game against Central Michigan, but has done nothing since. As a senior, he got beat out by the redshirt freshman Maci on the two deeps. Golding should be an interesting addition. Kevin Pamphile has shown a ton of promise so far, but since this is just his second year playing football he will probably still redshirt unless he goes completely nuts in practice.
Mondek and Short are in a battle for the other tackle spot opposite Neal, but in the end the whole team will win. Both players are going to play this year in a rotation, which will also keep Neal fresh. Neal is supposed to be one of the best tackles in the league, while Short was named to CFN's all-redshirt freshman team this summer. This is not a bad thing, considering how bad our run defense up the middle has been. Right now, we have a total of six guys that we can rotate in and out along the line. I fail to see how this is a bad thing.
Depth Depth Depth! We actually have depth at the linebacker position. Beckford and Higgs would have been starting in years past as true freshmen. Instead, they are promising guys that will play, but won't be counted on to be fantastic early with no one behind them. Werner, Holland, and Carlino could all be back next year if Werner applies for a 6th year of eligibility due to his past injuries. Let's just wrap Werner in bubble wrap now before the opener please. We actually have enough depth to consider some 4-4 sets when facing good running games. This group has to stop the run, especially against teams that can't run like Notre Dame and Indiana. Too often we have been gashed not only by good running teams, but awful ones like Notre Dame's. If this group along with the experienced defensive line cannot stop the run we will not win many games this year. If they do stop the run, our defense alone is good enough to win five or six games.
At first I was very concerned about depth here. All through the summer we heard about how we had our entire secondary back that was the number one pass defense in the conference last year. Then, in camp, we hear about them being gassed all the time and hurt. With no real depth behind them alarms began ringing in my head. Fortunately, some depth has come along. McKinley and Williams have seen the field, just not much last year. Johnson seems to be one of the biggest surprises among the true freshmen. Evans is an interesting commodity that was still recovering from a knee injury much of last year. E.J. Johnson could make an impact next year as a true freshman with McKinley and Evans.
Among the starters, It is fantastic we have so many starts returning with Pender and King. We need those two to produce more interceptions. McLean has the look of a guy that likes to hit people, hard. He is expected to make a big leap after being a littler overmatched last year. He could be the stereotypical guy that makes a big jump from year one to year two out of JuCo. Torri Williams needs to just stay out of trouble off the field. In what I hope is some karmic payback due, he is the last remaining player that played in The Fumble game, so he is due some good news in his career.
I think we were all impressed with Wiggs last year. He set a school record with a 53-yard field goal at Ohio State, so distance is not a problem. If he struggles, we do have an experience (if somewhat streaky) kicker in Summers to back him up. I think Summers will also benefit greatly this year from concentrating solely on punting. It may have been a bit much to ask him to do everything last season. Summers may continue to kick off as well. I am kind of surprised that Elliott is the holder, as Staats did a good job last season when Painter was hurt. I think Painter may have been part of the kicking issues as well, since many of the problems we had on placements went away once Staats took over. Finch may be the starter by default for now. He finished the season there last year, but Huffman was hurt and continues to be bothered by an elbow injury. Huffman just went on scholarship and had started over 30 straight games at long snapper before his injury
1. Kickoffs: Aaron Valentin, Sr; Royce Adams, Sr. Punts: Aaron Valentin, Sr.
2. Kickoffs: Punts: Royce Adams, Sr.
Kickoff returns have been a major strength in each of the last two seasons. In 2007 we had three returns for scores. Punt returns have been an afterthought since Anthony Chambers graduated. We have to get more from this area. The same is true when it comes to coverage. We are good on kickoff coverage, but punt return coverage was terrible last year. We gave up returns for scores to Oregon and Michigan, so we have to improve there. Don't forget the blocked punt we had at Ohio State that became a touchdown as well.
We have plenty of speedy freshmen that could emerge here later on. McBurse, Ishmael Aristide, and other have been mentioned as potential returners. Eric Williams, a freshman wide receiver with speed, may find a niche here too.