This week’s Irish Blog Gathering got me thinking about who would be the toughest players on the Irish roster to replace if they were to go down to an injury. Figuring out who is the hardest to replace isn’t just a matter of listing the best players on the roster though – you have to take into account the depth and experience in the two deep to see who would really be the toughest to replace.
That being said, here’s a run down of the 10 players on the Irish roster for 2010 that would be the toughest to replace.
10. Theo Riddick - Sophomore, WR – The Notre Dame coaching staff has a lot riding on Riddick’s ability to make plays out of the slot position and after Shaquelle Evans’ recent departure, the Irish lack some depth at the position. Riddick has gotten rave reviews from the coaching staff since making the switch to wide receiver in the spring, and Notre Dame needs a receiver to step up this year to take some of the focus off of Michael Floyd. Riddick has the best opportunity to do just that.
9. Chris Stewart - 5th, OG – Kelly said as recently as last week that sophomore Chris Watt was challenging Stewart for his starting spot, but something tells me that might have been just a little bit more for motivation purposes than anything else. Stewart will enter his 3rd year as a starter and was praised by Kelly in the off-season for being a leader in the weight room. With a relatively inexperienced offensive line, Notre Dame needs leadership on the field at the position and Stewart provides just that.
8. Trevor Robinson - Junior, OG – Robinson might be the most talented lineman on the offensive line for the Irish. Notre Dame actually has some depth along the line heading into this season – a novel concept after the state of the offensive line when Weis took over five years ago – but losing Robinson would be tough to overcome for the offensive line because of the toughness he provides. Having Chris Watt emerge in camp would make it a little easier to replace Robinson than it appeared heading into camp, but the line would still suffer if Robinson were to go down with an injury.
7. Kyle Rudolph – Junior, TE – Rudolph is a potential future NFL first round pick, but he isn’t higher on this list because Tyler Eifert has made huge strides this off-season and could be capable of stepping in and playing should the All American tight end go down with an injury. If Mike Ragone can stay healthy, he’ll provide further depth at the position. Freshman Alex Welch got some praise in camp as well.
6. Darrin Walls – 5th, CB – Notre Dame is down to four scholarship cornerbacks after EJ Banks was bumped to scout team and taken off of scholarship. Gary Gray or Robert Blanton could easily be placed here as well since each will be depended on heavily this season. If any of the three veteran corners gets banged up this year Notre Dame is going to be in a serious bind here. Barry Gallup moved to corner in camp, but how much depth he can provide after spending the last four years on offense remains to be seen.
5. Michael Floyd – Junior, WR – Floyd might be the most talented player on the Irish roster and like Rudolph it may seem surprising that he is this low on the list, but there is enough talent at the wide receiver position that Notre Dame could withstand an injury to Floyd more so than some other positions where depth is a major concern. Evans’ departure puts a little dent in the depth at the position, but there is still some talent on the bench.
4. Ethan Johnson - Junior, DE – Depth is a major concern at defensive end this year and between Johnson and fellow starter Kapron Lewis-Moore, Johnson is the more capable pass rusher making him slightly more valuable. Emeka Nwankwo and Hafis Williams are listed as the backups behind Johnson and Lewis-Moore, but neither has seen meaningful playing time and counting on either as an every down starter would be a risky proposition at this point.
3. Ian Williams – Senior, NT – The nose tackle position in a 3-4 defense is one of the most pivotal spots on the field. Williams’ ability to clog up the middle of the line of scrimmage and break through double teams will be ultimately determine how successful the defense is in 2010. Sean Cwynar is backing up Williams and has gotten some strong endorsements from the staff over the course of spring and fall camp, but at 280 lbs, it will be tough to man the middle of a 3-4 defense. Pat Kuntz was able to effectively play the nose tackle spot despite being undersized, but he was the exception and not the norm.
2. Manti Te’o - Sophomore, ILB – Not only is Manti Te’o the most talented player of the defensive side of the ball for the Irish, but there is also very limited depth behind him due to injuries and recruiting misses. Anthony McDonald, Steve Paskorz, and David Posluszny have all been banged up at various times this summer. Even if they had stayed healthy, none have played many, if any, meaningful minutes. Fellow starter at inside linebacker Carlo Calabrese has not played any meaningful minutes either. 3-4 defenses funnel plays to the stud ILB and if Notre Dame were to miss Te’o for any stretch of times, Bob Diaco’s already daunting task of fixing the Irish defense would get exponentially tougher.
1. Dayne Crist – Junior, QB – This should go without saying, but any success on the offensive side of the ball hinges on Crist’s ability to bounce back from his injury of a year ago and stay healthy all season. Of all the positions on the Irish roster, quarterback has the scariest depth with true freshman Tommy Rees and former walkon Nate Montana taking up the second and third spots on the Irish depth chart. Not to discredit either signal caller, but neither is really ready to be a starting quarterback at this point.
Now… let’s hope we don’t have to think about replacing any of these players for any significant period of time this season.