In 2005 Notre Dame had two 1,000 yard receivers in the same season for the first time in history. Under Charlie Weis, the wide receivers flourished despite the best returning receiver, Rhema McKnight, getting injured for the year in the second quarter of the second game of the season.
A year later the Irish are in a similar position with two established receivers returning with some question marks behind them. Last year McKnight and the since graduated Maurice Stovall were the only really established receivers heading into the season before Jeff Samardzija exploded. This year Samardzija and McKnight return with the Irish looking for some answers behind them. Here’s a look at all of the players at receiver for the Irish in 2006.
Jeff Samardzija (Sr) – 6’5”, 218 lbs
A year ago at this team we all wondered how Samardzija would fair as the #3 wide receiver for the Irish behind McKnight and Stovall. An injury to McKnight and a breakout season from Samardzija later and we’re all wondering whether or not he’ll repeat his consensus All American performance and be a first round draft pick – quite a difference for a receiver who had just 24 catches in his career prior to his 77 reception; 1,249 yard; 15 touchdown 2005 campaign.
Jeff Samardzija Career Stats
Along the way to establishing himself as a legitimate first round draft pick, Samardzija tied the Notre Dame single season record for receptions while breaking the single season receiving touchdown mark of 11 with 15 and single season receiving yards record with 1,249.
He’s a big, physical wide receiver who has deceptive speed. Samardzija doesn’t have sprinters speed, but he is a lot faster than people give him credit for. People will point to the Tennessee game where he was run down from behind as proof he doesn’t posses much speed. Watch again and you’ll see Samardzija had the touchdown easily if he just ran forward without looking back. He looked back at the defender however and got tripped up. Don’t be fooled, Samardzija is a legit deep threat who has got more than enough speed.
Where Samardzija really excels however is when he can use his large frame and exceptional hands to out maneuver a defensive back for the ball. He’s got excellent timing and almost always catches the ball at the peak of his jump. His touchdown against USC is a perfect example. Quinn threw the ball up where only Samardzija could grab it, and sure enough he came down with.
Samardzija will also catch anything thrown his way. Drops are few and far between for the Indiana native with circus catches much more likely. His diving catch against Purdue was one of the best catches in all of college football last year and there are bound to be many more this season.
With his size he is an immediate matchup nightmare for any defensive back. There isn’t a single opposing corner on Notre Dame’s schedule that can match his size.
Jeff spent his summer playing baseball for a couple Chicago Cubs minor league affiliates after being drafted by the Cubbies in the 5th round of this year’s draft. An accomplished college pitcher, the talented hurler could have went in the first round according to some draft pundits had the possibility of a football career not been an issue. Samardzija retained all eligibility however and was to said to have reported to camp in excellent shape.
With similar numbers in 2006, Samardzija could conceivably leave Notre Dame with most of the all time receiving records in Notre Dame history. Samardzija will need 57 receptions, 937 yards, and 8 touchdowns this season to own those career marks. Only problem is, fellow senior Rhema McKnight is in striking distance to all of the same records as well.
Unfair Comparison: Ed McCaffery. Ok, so I copped out and picked the obvious comparison – another tall, white wide receiver, but the comparison is still good. McCaffery was a tough wide receiver who wouldn’t get beat for the ball in the air and had great hands. Like Samardzija, McCaffery also was labeled as a possession receiver who lacked great speed, despite being a pretty fast receiver.
Rhema McKnight (5th) – 6’2”, 212
Before injuring his knee in the second quarter of the Michigan game, McKnight looked like he was in for a good season. The senior had caught three passes for 51 yards in the opener against Pitt and followed that up with a touchdown catch on the Irish’s first drive the following week. His promising season would end abruptly however with a knee injury suffered just a quarter after his first touchdown catch of the season.
Rhema McKnight Career Stats
An attempt to return to the field in 2005 failed when he was not close to 100% by the USC game. From that point on McKnight became a permanent cheerleader on the ND sidelines as he watched the Irish go to the Fiesta Bowl and focused on coming back for a 5th year.
A year later McKnight is back and said to be on a mission. Prior to his injury, he was arguably the best receiver on the Notre Dame roster. He didn’t have the size of Stovall or Samardzija, but he was an all around receiver with exceptional athleticism.
During the failed experiment that was the Bill Deidrick offense at Notre Dame, McKnight was the lone bright spot in an otherwise gloomy receiving corps. While Maurice Stovall, who posted a 1,149 yard, 11 touchdown season in 2005, was struggling to establish himself, McKnight was busy posting back to back 600 yard seasons. 600 yards might seem like a paltry number in a Weis offense for a leading receiver, but in Deidrick’s offenses those were some pretty good numbers.
McKnight is a gifted athlete who is more of a “West Coast Offense” type of receiver, exceling at taking short passes on the move and converting them into big gains. He is good at finding holes in zone coverage and getting open.
A sure handed receiver, McKnight is also capable of making spectacular, highlight reel catchesl. His touchdown grab against Washington State in 2003 was one of the best touchdown catches you’ll find.
Currently 10th in career receptions with 98, 11th in career yards with 1,370, and 11th in career touchdown with 7, McKnight will climb the charts of the Notre Dame history books this year if he stays healthy.
It’s not out of the question to think McKnight could be the leading receiver this year for the Irish with Samardzija receiving a lot of attention from opposing defenses. Most people are overlooking the fact that prior to Samardzija and Stovall’s breakout, it was McKnight that was predicted to have the huge numbers last season. Look at most preseason magazines and they spend the majority of the time talking about Samardzija at receiver and don’t give McKnight much thought. This is something Weis is hoping opposing defenses do as well as he’s stated that Rhema will have a field day if that happens.
Unfair Comparison: Hines Ward. Ward is a tough receiver who is excellent at yards after the catch despite not being a “speed merchant” and McKnight is similar. Like Ward, McKnight is at his best in the short passing game using his elusiveness to make people miss and gain yards after the catch.
David Grimes (So) – 6’0”, 168
The Irish came into fall camp looking for a #3 receiver to establish himself and Grimes appear to be doing so. Weis said recently that its not close for the 3rd receiver spot with Grimes comfortably in the lead.
As a freshman Grimes found his way onto the field last year mainly on special teams where he returned 15 kickoffs for 338 yards, but did see some time at receiver and recorded two receptions for 18 yards. Not overly impressive numbers, but Grimes showed some promise.
He’s not a big receiver, but what he lacks in size he makes up in quickness. He doesn’t posses “blazing speed” but he is plenty fast and is lightning quick. He makes quick cuts and could be a very productive receiver for the Irish this year especially in the short passing game where he can use his quickness to get open and make defenders miss.
Grimes still figures to be one of the main contributors in the kick return game again this season as well while his wide receiver responsibilities expand.
Unfair Comparison: Joey Getherall. Getherall exceeded most people’s expectations at Notre Dame. He was labeled as too small, but used his incredible speed to make a big impact for some pretty bad Notre Dame offenses. He was also a great kick returner, like Grimes.
George West – (Fr) – 5’8”, 179
West enrolled early this winter at Notre Dame and participated in Spring practice which puts him ahead of the other freshman in terms of acclimating himself with the offensive terminology and his timing with Brady Quinn.
Like Grimes, West isn’t a big receiver, but is more in the mold of a Deion Branch – a quick wide receiver with speed. He won’t win many jump ball situations at 5’8”, but he will be able to use his quickness to get open and pile up yards after the catch. As a senior for Northeast High School in Spencery Oklahoma he averaged 17.4 yards a catch (486 yards on 28 catches).
Where West really excelled in high school however was on special teams where he returned seven kicks for touchdowns (four punt returns, 3 kick returns) to lead the country last year. West will be one of the primary kick returners for the Irish this year and should add some big play ability to a kick return game that didn’t produce many big plays in 2005.
Unfair Comparison: Deion Branch. I already drew the comparison earlier in the article so will repeat it here. West might not be able to stretch a field as well as Branch (we’ll find that out soon), but he is a small, quick receiver playing in a Weis offense in the Branch mold.
Darrin Bragg – (Jr) – 6’1”, 192
Came to Notre Dame as a quarterback in Willingham’s second full recruiting class, but switched over to wide receiver last year when Weis arrived. He spent the 2005 getting acclimated to his new position and didn’t see any action and has yet to see the field for the Irish.
Notre Dame has had great success converting quarterbacks to wide receiver with success stories like Arnaz Battle and Carlyle Holiday in recent years and so far it seems like Bragg could continue the trend. Unlike his predecessors, Bragg has the advantage of moving to the position much earlier in his career. Holiday moved during his 4th season and only had a season and half at receiver while Battle moved over prior to his 4th season and only had two full years at receiver (one of which was cut short by injuries). Bragg however still has three years of eligibility left.
He has shown some pretty good speed in drills so far this camp and should see some playing time this year for the first time in his career at Notre Dame.
Unfair Comparison: Any. Like my writeup of Junior Jabbie in the running back write up, I just haven’t seen enough of Bragg at wide receiver to make any conclusions.
Robby Parris – (Fr) – 6’4”, 185
Parris is out of the Samardzija mold – a tall, lanky wide receiver with deceptive speed. His senior season at Saint Ignatius was cut short by an injury but he still caught 32 passes for 675 yards (21.1 ypc) and reached the end zone 12 times.
Slow to receive offers originally, Parris impressed the coaches from Notre Dame and Michigan enough at camps last Spring to get offers from both. In his most impressive game last year, Parris hauled in 10 passes for 240 yards and 4 touchdowns against Penn High School in South Bend.
Parris is a gifted athlete and he will challenge for playing time this year.
Unfair Comparison: Jeff Samardzija. Again, this one is a little too obvious comparing Parris to another tall, lanky, white wide receiver on Notre Dame’s roster, but the two are very similar.
Richard Jackson – (Fr) – 6’3”, 200
Of all the incoming freshman receivers, Jackson probably has the most “star” potential. Jackson has all of the tools to be a great receiver on the college level. He’s got size, speed, and catches everything thrown his way a lot of Samardzija. Watch any of his video from high school and you will see some acrobatic catches.
Jackson uses his body well to position himself to make catches. He times his jumps extremely well and comes down with tough catches. How quickly he picks up the offense will determine if he sees the field this year. Not much has been reported of him thus far in camp which usually isn’t a good sign. Still, the possibility is there with the relative lack of experience the Irish have at receiver.
Unfair Comparison: Rod Smith. Smith has been one of the best wide receivers over the last decade in the NFL so this is truly an “unfair” comparison since Jackson has yet to suit up for the Irish, but Smith is a receiver that catches a lot of jump balls and can also get behind a defense. I think Jackson has a really high ceiling for the Irish.
Barry Gallup – (Fr) – 5’11”, 175
Gallup is taller than West and Grimes, but looks smaller. He has some room to grow out a little, but if there’s one thing that sticks out about Gallup after his All American Bowl practices its his hands. He catches everything thrown his way and plays tough.
Gallup ran for 1,606 yards as a senior last year while reaching the end zone an impressive 26 times. For his career he scored a jaw dropping 70 touchdowns at Belmont High School in Massachusetts. The fact that he played running back in high school speaks a of his toughness for the receiver position.
Unfair Comparison: Wayne Chrebet. Like Gallup, Chrebet didn’t have great size but he was a tough as nails receiver who caught whatever was thrown his way. Chrebet had a fine NFL career for the Jets and at 5’10”, 188 he is similar in size to Gallup.
DJ Hord – (So) – 6’1”, 192
Hord was expected to challenge for the 3rd wide receiver spot for the Irish before suffering an ACL injury. Hord was a highly touted wide receiver coming out of college and can still accomplish big things for this team once he gets healthy. Unfortunately for Hord and the Irish, that won’t be in 2006.
Unfair Comparison: Eddie Kennison. Kennison has decent size at 6’1”, 205 but isn’t overly big like Hord at this time. Kennison was a star receiver at LSU and has parlayed that into a fine NFL career.
Chase Anastacio – (Sr) – 6’2”, 201
Anastacio is another receiver who has been slowed by injures during camp. His injury is not as serious, but he has not been practicing and considering he is entering his senior year with just 1 career reception, his window of opportunity might be closing.
Anasatcio came to Notre Dame as a four star recruit, but has yet to see much playing time at receiver. He has however, been a strong contributor on special teams for the Irish. I’m not quite sure where he is going to fit in at receiver this year once healthy, but after being named special teams captain twice last year, he will be a valuable asset to the punt and kick coverage teams.
Unfair Comparison: Steve Tasker. Tasker was one of the best special teams players in NFL History. He didn’t see much action in the NFL as a receiver, but was a special teams warrior. Last year Anastacio blocked three punts for the Irish (one against Washington and two against Syracuse) and is making a name for himself on special teams for the Irish.