Notre Dame has now just a little over a full week of practice under their belts for training camp this year and so far there’s been quite a bit of news to come out of camp. For those of you just tuning in, or looking for a recap of what’s transpired, here is a quick position by position review.
So far in camp there’s been nothing but positive reviews of Jimmy Clausen. Weis has mentioned multiple times the marked improvement he has shown since last year in terms of his understanding off the offense and his physical tools. Clausen has also talked about the improvements he has made in understanding the different pass protections and blitz pickups. At the end of last week Clausen admitted that he didn’t know the protections as well as he needed to at times last year and that it resulted in him taking more sacks than needed.
Among the reserve quarterbacks, Weis mentioned Saturday that Evan Sharpley has a pretty firm grasp of the #2 spot and that freshman Dayne Crist is not too close to him at this point. Weis also mentioned that Crist had a bit of “information overload” at the very beginning of camp and that he needed to bring his five star freshman quarterback into his office to tell him to relax and that the offense would come to him. Towards the end of last week Crist started to get a handle of the offense and began progressing according to Weis.
At the #4 spot, Weis said that he felt Nate Montana would capable of coming in and finishing off a game if need be.
Most reports out of camp have sophomores Robert Hughes and Armando Allen receiving the bulk of the carries as they fight for the starting job along with junior James Aldridge. Hughes has been seeing the most with Allen second and Aldridge coming in third – just as we saw the carries get distributed in the Blue-Gold game. Allen has looked noticeably bigger and has been running with more authority than we had seen a year ago.
Freshman Jonas Gray has been very impressive so far as well for a freshman. He already looks like the most physically put together back on the team and in the first day with full pads on, Gray had the play of the day with a 40 yard run. With the depth at running back the staff might be tempted to try and preserve a year of eligibility with him, but he might just end up being too good to keep on the bench. I still say he could be a good kick returner, but so far he hasn’t been mentioned in the mix in the return game.
As expected, David Grimes has been the most consistent among the receivers and has come into camp on a mission. Duval Kamara reported to camp over Charlie Weis’s goal weight for him of 219 and wore #60 (an offensive line number) until the end of last week when he reported to practice at 217 lbs and got #18 back. Weis joked on Saturday that Kamara started catching the ball better once he got #18 back which is good since reports out of Fan Appreciation day last Sunday were that he was inconsistent catching the ball – something we saw during the Blue-Gold game.
After Grimes and Kamara it doesn’t appear anyone has stepped up and grabbed the #3 spot just yet but Weis was speaking very highly of Golden Tate on Saturday. Weis mentioned that Tate was starting to resemble a dependable wide receiver rather than just being a guy who could run fast. Last year Tate was relegated to running mostly go routes so if he can pick up the nuisances of the receiver position, he could be a key component to opening up the Irish offense.
Freshman Mike Floyd has also been drawing rave reviews and reports over the weekend suggested he was running with the second team offense. Floyd could very well be the most physically gifted wide receiver on the team and it seems certain that he will be seeing the field sooner rather than later. Look for #3 to playing in some capacity on September 6.
Richard Jackson decided to leave the program at the end of last week when it became apparent to him that he was going to have a difficult time seeing the field this year and beyond. Reports have suggested that Jackson will transfer somewhere in his home state of Florida with UCF, South Florida, and FIU being the most likely destinations. Jackson missed last year with injuries and with the talent in the freshman class, he was about to be passed on the depth chart.
Among the other freshman, both John Goodman and Deion Walker have been pretty impressive so far but both need to bulk up some before they are going to be major contributors. Walker especially has shown good hands so far.
Mike Ragone is listed as the starter over junior Will Yeatman so far and seems to have a pretty good hold on the position. Ragone offers the bigger threat in the passing game and has looked bigger this fall.
Freshmen Kyle Rudolph and Joseph Fauria have both been impressive so far and Rudolph will likely see the field very early. Like Floyd, he might be the most physically gifted player at his position already and looks like he will see the field early as well.
The biggest news along the offensive line so far has been Michael Turkovich getting reps at Left Tackle. It looks like Turkovich will battle returning starter Paul Duncan for the starting spot. Both Turkovich and Duncan have also been playing as the backup left guard as well. Not sure how to feel about this bit of news. Most had hoped Duncan would nail down the starting LT spot in camp after spending the spring at the position.
Also along the line, both Chris Stewart and Eric Olsen have had a lot of good things said about them. Both starting guards have really been getting after it in practice and appear to have both guard spots locked down right now.
Among the freshman, Trevor Robinson has been the most impressive so far. This is to be expected considering Robinson enrolled early, but it is still good to hear Weis give positive reviews of the freshman guard. It might not happen this year, but Robinson is really going to push Olsen and Stewart at the guard positions some time soon.
So far Morrice Richardson has been holding down one of the starting end spots along with Pat Kuntz. Ian Williams is said to be progressing nicely and is really busting his but in practice. We’ll need a huge season out of Williams if the defense is to be successful so it is nice to hear Williams is performing well.
It appears there are still a lot of questions surrounding the backups though. Can the staff find solid contributors out of Emeka Nwankwo, Paddy Mullen, and Justin Brown? The defensive line was the biggest question mark heading into the season so it is not surprising that this is the one position where it appears there are the fewest answers thus far.
Among the freshmen, it appears Ethan Johnson will be in line for some solid playing time this year. Johnson has been very impressive thus far in practice according to most reports and has gotten praise from Weis a couple of times already. Kapron-Lewis Moore is another freshman to watch out for. He doesn’t have the size to be a major contributor along the line this year, but he has caught the eye of a lot of people so far in camp. Hafis Williams has also impressed with his hustle but it’s unclear whether he’ll have the strength or quickness this year to be counted on for any substantial minutes.
The biggest story to come out of the linebackers so far has been the play of new inside linebacker Brian Smith. Smith played on the outside last year and showed some flashes of playmaking ability. That ability is why Weis and the defensive staff moved Smith inside. In this defense, the MIKE linebacker is counted on to be the biggest playmaker and Weis and the staff felt Smith fits that role. On Saturday Weis made mention that Smith has to chance to “be something very special.”
The other major story here is Harrison Smith being listed as the starting SAM linebacker. At 212 lbs, it raised some eyebrows when he was listed as the #1 SAM when Weis released the first depth chart. Weis explained at the beginning of last week, though, that Smith would be used in the linebacker role primarily against spread defenses and on passing downs.
There hasn’t been a whole lot mentioned thus far on Maurice Crum or Kerry Neal. This much should be expected about Crum since he has been a starter for 3 full years and the staff knows what they are getting out of him.
Among the freshmen, Steve Filer and Darius Fleming have been the most impressive and look like they will see the field this year. Both will need some work in the weight room before they can be major contributors, but their playmaking ability has reportedly been on display thus far and it will be hard to keep either off the field. Anthony McDonald has been slowed by injuries so far and has missed a number of practices.
The surprise of the secondary so far has been the play of freshman Robert Blanton who might be the most impressive freshman on the team so far. Blanton drew some praise from Weis for his trash talking abilities, and every report about his play has been equally positive. Most observers from last Sunday’s Fan Appreciation Day said Blanton had some of the best coverage skills on the team.
Weis mentioned that Raeshon McNeil had a pretty good grasp of the open starting corner spot which became available when Darrin Walls left school for personal reasons for the fall semester. Weis made note of McNeil’s play experience as the main factor in his lead over sophomore Gary Gray for the #2 corner spot.
Kyle McCarthy also got some praise for Weis for his tackling ability this weekend and looks like he has the starting strong safety position pretty much locked down at this point. David Bruton continues to receive praise for just being a freakish athlete from anyone who observers him in practice.
Ryan Burkhart has been the most consistent kicker on kick-offs so far in camp. He and Brandon Walker appear to be having a much tighter battle for the place kicking duties than many thought they would. Most assumed Walker would nail down the place kicking duties early after being the most consistent kicker in the spring, but Burkhart had a great start to camp and it looks like this one will be a lot closer than most though it would be.
Walker did nail a 41 yarder at the end of practice last week with a lot of yards to spare to get the team out of some extra running though.
In the return game, Armando Allen’s name has been the first out of Weis’s mouth when talking about his returners. He is listed as the #1 kick and punt returner with Tate being listed as the #2 kick returner. Allen and Tate handled the return duties as freshmen last year and looked like they had the skills to break some big returns, but never really had the lanes to run through.