Charlie Weis handed out the preliminary depth chart for the Georgia Tech game on Thursday and while its not 100% etched in stone, the chart Weis released answers a few questions heading into the season. Here’s a position by position analysis with some quotes from Weis’s press conference today.
Developing the #2 quarterback behind Heisman candidate Brady Quinn was one of the biggest challenges for Weis and his offensive coaches in camp and for now Evan Sharpley has a hold on the position. The sophomore has a better grasp of the offense than incoming freshmen Demetrius Jones and Zach Frazer at this time and will start off the season as Quinn’s backup. Weis made sure to mention however that both freshmen will “be on the bus” for the Tech game and that the situation can change should either start to get a better handle on the offense.
“Evan mentally is, not intelligence wise, but mentally in this system is a head of the other two guys. Now the other two guys, I’m not saying this to pacify anyone, intrigue me. I’d like to see as the season goes how this all plays out, but I’d ay they’re far from done for the year. It isn’t just because we’re going to a game. I’m bringing all four of those guys to the game.”
With Travis Thomas moving to linebacker fulltime, it was thought he might not see much time at running back, but Weis noted Thursday that Thomas has looked good in limited action at tailback in camp and will practice all day Sunday on offense. Thomas could also spell Walker at times with Munir Prince being officially listed as the #2 back as Weis had Thomas’s name in parenthesis. With Prince being a true freshman, his role should expand as the season progresses so its likely we’ll see Thomas less on offense as the season moves forward. According to Weis, Thomas’s availability will be dependant upon how tired he is…
“That’s why I put it in parenthesis there because he just got a 12 play drive and that has to happen then Munir will go in just like it says. If I didn’t have faith that Munir could play Munir’s name wouldn’t be down there.”
The first three spots in the receiver rotation were pretty much sealed up with starter Rhema McKnight and Jeff Samardzija locking down the top spots and sophomore David Grimes securing the #3 receiver spot earlier in camp. The 4th spot was up for grabs however and Chase Anastacio is currently listed as McKnight’s backup at the “X” receiver spot along with freshman George West. Anasatcio hasn’t seen much time at receiver yet for the Irish, but he’s impressed Weis thus far in camp to get the top backup spot heading into Georgia Tech.
“You know, Chase is very fast. I don’t know if you know much about Chase. He’s fast, that’s why he’s very productive on special teams. He’s been kind of waiting his turn to play at wide receiver. But you know as I told you the first day he was one of those guys that would be out about a week or two. Once he started practicing he showed a level experience notching him above those other guys.”
West meanwhile is the only freshman receiver listed on the depth chart but will be joined in Atlanta by some of his classmates. Who? Weis wouldn’t say, but other freshman receivers will make the trip.
“He won’t be the only freshman wide receiver going to the game.”
No surprises here. John Carlson will start with Marcus Freeman the second tight end. Freshman Konrad Reuland and Will Yeatman will challenge for time, but neither was disucessed by Weis Thursday.
Again, very few surprises here. With four returning starters, only one position was up for grabs. Freshman Sam Young and Paul Duncan are battling for the starting spot and as of now, the spot belongs to Young, the talented frosh. This battle isn’t completely settled yet according to Weis, but for now Young is the starter. The only other freshman to crack the two deep along the offensive line is Eric Olsen as the backup left guard behind Dan Santucci.
“Sam young first and I put Duncan second. That’s another one that kind of too close to call. No matter what way I go, there’s still evaluations going on at that position.”
The surprise along the defensive line comes at left defensive end where freshman John Ryan is listed as a backup behind starter Victor Abiamiri along with Justin Brown. Brown saw a lot of action last year, but Ryan has come in and impressed Weis enough to warrant his listing on the depth chart.
“I’ve always told you that it doesn’t make a difference whether a guys a freshman or a senior. If all of a sudden someone’s playing good and he does it consistently time in and time out that’s why their names are down there.”
At the other defensive end spot, Ronald Talley is listed as the starter with Chris Frome backing him up, but that’s another position that is still to be determined. Even after Weis settles on a starter he stated that both will play and could both see an equal number of reps in the games. Frome, the starter for the first six weeks of the season in 2005 is coming back from a knee injury while Talley, his replacement last season looks to raise his game up a notch.
“Although I’m listing Talley first and Frome second, I could see both those guys playing an equal number of reps in a game because I have a lot of confidence in both those players.”
Weis didn’t speak much about the linebackers, but as expected, Travis Thomas is the starting weakside linebacker with Maurice Crum in the middle. Mitchell Thomas secured the strongside position over Anthony Vernaglia for now, but I get the feeling this is another battle that will keep on raging into next week. Weis didn’t speak specifically on this position so its hard to tell how it will play out, but for now the starting linebackers are Travis Thomas, Maurice Crum, and Mitchell Thomas.
The starting four were pretty much locked down with Mike Richardson and Ambrose Wooden returning at the corners and Chinedum Ndukwe and Tommy Zbikowski returning at the safety positions, but the backup positions weren’t. Last year Leo Ferrine was the nickel back, but he was slowed by injuries early on in camp and is not listed in the two deep. Backing up Wooden is talented freshman Darrin Walls while fellow Terraill Lambert and fellow freshman Raeshon McNeil will back up Richardson. Lambert played a lot in the spring and had a chance to start, but Richardson held down the position.
The starting place kicker position is one of the most important battles in camp and for now Carl Goia is the starter with freshman Ryan Burkhart backing him up. Handling kickoff duties will be Bobby Renkes and Geoff Price as we knew will be the punter.
In the return game, Tommy Zbikowski is back returning punts again and David Grimes will be back on kickoffs. Backing up Zbikowski on punts and joining Grimes on kickoffs will be freshman George West. West is a gifted return man who figures to make some plays this year for the Irish.