The Irish lost another valuable member of their backfield this past off-season by losing Rashon Powers-Neal at the fullback position. Rashon was an amazing asset to the Irish’s explosive offense early on, scoring 6 touchdowns in just 4 games played. Off the field problems became a huge issue however, and he ended up spending most of the year off the field. Obviously nobody could step in and have the type of season Powers-Neal was having, but this whole episode did help the Irish in the long run, allowing then Freshmen Asaph Schwapp stepped in and get some valuable playing time early in his career. Will that playing time give Schwapp the upper hand the next 4 years to start at fullback? Or will 2 promising incoming freshmen eventually rip the starting role away from him? Only time will tell. But for now, let’s focus on this year.
Asaph Schwapp (So) – 6’0″, 240
As mentioned above, Schwapp stepped in and played decently in the absence of Rashon-Powers Neal last season, but there is always room for improvement and he will need to improve in order to keep this offense flying at a big time high. Blocking wise, Asaph was okay last season. He had a few freshmen lapses on blocking assignments both in the running and passing game, but those are expected. Very rarely was he manhandled in pass protection, but he was also one of the many who got severely beaten in the way too much talked about Fiesta Bowl last season. Another play that really sticks out in my mind is his fumble at the goal-line week 3 against Michigan State. Trailing 31-17 in the 3rd quarter against the Spartans, the Irish were ready to cut the lead in half, that was until Asaph Schwapp went up the middle and had the ball jarred loose, recovered by MSU. This would be crucial in a game that the Irish lost in overtime by 3 points. Although I have said some negative things about him, I still think Schwapp is a terrific talent at the fullback position and will help the Irish offense stay at the level it was last season. Asaph was a freshman that was thrown into the fire, and while he occasionally showed that he was indeed just 1 year removed from high school, I thought he did an adequate job for the most part. As he grows as a student and player at Notre Dame, his game will eventually reach new levels.
Ashley McConnell (Sr) 6’0″, 256
Ashley played very rarely last season, appearing in just 3 games and primarily on special teams. In fact, seeing him on the field at all during his run with the Irish has been rare, as the Purdue game this past fall was his first appearance in a game. Throughout his career he has just 1 carry for 3 yards and 0 touchdowns, not what you would expect from an all-state running back in Georgia. This coming season he will compete for the reserve fullback job behind Asaph Schwapp. He definitely has the size to be a fullback at 256. He has great hands which would benefit the Irish passing game, but sine arriving at South Bend he has had a heck of a time digesting all the information thrown his way about the offense. It will be interesting to see how much time Ashley receives this season. Your head tells you that he will just be another special teamer as long as Schwapp is healthy, but then again, you never know what kind of offensive sets Charlie Weis is working on in his office at this point. Because of his big heart and work ethic, I think a lot of Irish fans are rooting for Ashley to get a lot of playing time this season. But until he shows the coaches that he is capable of picking up blocking assignments and shows an understanding of the offense, he will continue to only get playing time in mop up duty.
Luke Schmidt (Fr) – 6’2″, 230
Incoming frosh Luke Schmidt brings a ton of talent to the table for the Irish and should create some match up problems in the future against other teams. Luke rushed for over 1,700 yards as a junior in high school, showing how capable he is of not only being a blocking fullback, but a threat to run the ball as well. Many have compared him to Tampa Bay All-Pro fullback Mike Alstott. Some may say those comparisons are too premature, but I wouldn’t say that at all. Both players share the bruising style of downhill running and ability to move the chains on that 3rd and 2 or that 4th and inches. Luke will challenge Asaph Schwapp for the starting fullback job in the future, but this year you could look out for him rotating at the fullback position or even playing some “H back” for the Notre Dame offense. There is much to be excited about over Schmidt, and if he is half as good at fullback as the former Boilermaker is, this is a hidden gem found in the recruiting process.