Notre Dame, Ind (UHND.com) — Notre Dame will return eight (8) fifth year seniors for the 2006 season headlined by defensive tackle Derek Landri and wide receiver Rhema McKnight who will be returning after missing most of the 2005 season due to an injury suffered week two against Michigan.
Joining McKnight on the offensive side of the ball are tight end Marucs Freeman and offensive linemen Brian Mattes, Dan Santucci, and Bobby Morton. Defensively Landri is joined by fellow defensive lineman Chris Frome and cornerback Mike Richardson.
Rhema McKnight — WR — 6’2”, 207
McKnight, Notre Dame’s leading receiver entering last season, had his 2005 season end abruptly in the second quarter of the Michigan game last year and ended up missing the remaining 10 games. He will be back for 2006 however and will lessen the blow the receiving corps took with the loss of Maurice Stovall to graduation and the NFL.
Heading into last season it was widely thought that McKnight would have a monster year in Weis’ offense. Instead he saw his season end after less than six quarters of action while Jeff Samardzija and Maurice Stovall went on to both post 1000+ yard seasons. A healthy McKnight could make the Notre Dame passing game even more potent than it was a season ago with his ability to add serious yards after the catch.
Weis had this to say of McKnight on Tuesday, “At wide receiver I’m glad to report that Rhema looks great. I mean, he looks as good as he did at any time before his injury last year.”
Marcus Freeman — TE — 6’3”, 245
Freeman saw time as the third tight end last season, but with the graduation of Anthony Fasano and the departure of Joey Hiben, he will see more action in 2006 and will battle with John Carlson for the top tight end spot heading into the fall. He has just 5 career receptions for 50 yards, but Weis spoke very highly of the Minnesota native Tuesday stating that he was the most improved player from last year.
Dan Santucci — OG – 6’4, 290
Santucci stepped into a start role last year, starting every game at guard for the Irish. He started his career as a defensive lineman out of high school but moved to offensive line in 2004 and has developed into a solid guard for the Irish. He logged over 260 minutes of playing time in 2005 and will be starting at guard for the Irish again this season. Last season Notre Dame platooned four lineman in the interior with Bobby Morton, John Sullivan, and NFL bound Dan Stevenson joining Santucci. In 2006 however Santucci should will see more action with Stevenson gone and Notre Dame using just the three returning interior lineman.
Bobby Morton — OG — 6’4”, 292
Morton logged 22 career starts at center and left guard for the Irish between 2003 and 2004 before switching to more of a backup role last year with Dan Santucci and Dan Stevenson starting at the guard positions with John Sullivan starting at center. Morton however saw plenty of action however including four starts at center while logging over 160 minutes of playing time. Morton will be asked to play a bigger role this season as a full time starter again.
Brain Mattes — OT — 6’6”, 285
Mattes has primarily been a reserve and special teams player for the Irish over the past three seasons, but with the graduation of Mark LeVoir a spot opens up at right tackle and Mattes is the most likely candidate to win the job. Mattes will battle with sophomores Michael Turkovich and Paul Duncan for the spot this Spring before Notre Dame’s heralded offensive line class lands on campus in the summer.
Derek Landri — DT — 6’3”, 263
Despite being undersized for the interior defensive line, Landri has started 23 consecutive games for the Irish and will run that streak to 35 baring injury in 2006. Landri uses his quickness to counter act his lack of size for a defensive tackle to be a disruptive player. He had 3 sacks in 2005 and seven tackles for loss and will look to build on those numbers in 2006. Landri will team with Trevor Laws to once again anchor the interior defensive line for the Irish and should have his best season with a little more depth behind him.
Chris Frome — DE — 6’5”, 268
Frome started the first six games of the 2005 season before suffering a season ending injury in the USC game. Heading into last year he had no starting experience and was starting to develop nicely before the injury. Frome is a high motor guy who I will always remember for throwing his arms in the air to pump up the crowd against USC while being helped off the field. Frome could miss all of Spring while he recovers from that season ending knee injury, but could very likely start at defensive end again this year if none of the younger guys step up in Spring.
Mike Richardson — CB — 5’11”, 193
Richardson improved his game a lot in his first season with Bill Lewis as his defensive backs coach. He wasn’t perfect and still got beat deep a number of times but his improvement last year was very good. He still has problems holding onto interceptions at times and still needs to improve his deep coverage, but if he improves this off-season as much as he did last off-season, the corner position could be solid for Notre Dame. Richardson ended up with 3 picks in 2005 and had 3 sacks as well. Another full spring and fall camp under Bill Lewis should really help Richardson who already has 17 career starts.