Notre Dame Looks for #3 Receiver to Emerge

Notre Dame, Ind ( — With the first and second wide receiver spots locked up by Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight, a group of talented, but inexperienced receivers will battle for the #3 spot in the high-powered Notre Dame offense led by Brady Quinn.

Last season Maurice Stovall and Samardzija had huge, breakout seasons with each posting over 1,000 yards and more than 10 touchdowns a piece. Samardzija went on to become Notre Dame first consensus All American since Shane Walton while Stovall went from 6th round mystery pick to a first day lock in the NFL Draft.

The #3 receiver spot a season ago was to be Samardzija’s before Rhema McKnight’s season ending knee injury against Michigan which opened the door for Matt Shelton as the 3rd receiver. Shelton filled in nicely with 28 receptions for 329 yards, but the wide receiver with the most catches after him was McKnight who played just 5 and a half quarters with 5.

With Shelton and Stovall exhausting their eligibility this season, the battle for the #3 wide receiver position will be an interesting one to watch this Spring and into the fall.

Only sophomore David Grimes caught a pass last season of the returning receivers after McKnight and Samardzija and he had just two for 19 yards. Grimes, a true freshman in 2005, showed a lot of quickness in his limited action and showed some promise however. He’s a small wide receiver at 5-8, 165, but with his natural quickness he could be a real threat in the short passing game with the ball in his hands or in the vertical passing game with his pure speed.

Grimes is the likely candidate to fill the role at the 3rd receiver spot but don’t count out senior Chase Anastacio, sophomore DJ Hord, or any of the incoming freshman receivers. Anasatcio has just one career catch, but could take on a larger role in 2006. A lot of people suspected he would have been moved to defense by now, but Weis has thought enough of his play at receiver to keep him there. He plays with a lot of heart but has been only made an impact for the Irish on special teams so far with 2 blocked punts in 2005.

DJ Hord was a top 10 wide receiver prospect coming out of high school and was the prized recruit from Willingham’s Last/Charlie’s first recruiting class. He saw the field mainly as a returner in 2005. Injuries have slowed his progressed this spring after having abdominal surgery in the off-season. Hord is an extremely talented receiver however who has the size to be a factor going over the middle and in the slot, but by missing most, if not all of the Spring Hord could find himself behind classmate David Grimes again this season on the depth chart.

The Irish also add four wide receivers to the roster with this year’s freshman class. George West enrolled early and is taking part in Spring practice now which gives him the best chance of the freshman to play early. West is in the mold of Grimes and has been used in the return game so far this spring. West is very quick and was the nation’s best prep kick returner in 2005.

He is joined by Barry Gallup, Robby Parris, and Richard Jackson. Gallup is another smaller receiver who really impressed scouts at the All American Bowl with his hands — he catches everything thrown his way. Parris had injury problems in his senior year and then again during basketball season which might hurt his chances for playing time this season. Jackson is the x-factor here however. On film he looks to be very similar to Samardzija. He does not possess blazing speed, but he catches everything you throw at him and makes some unbelievable, acrobatic catches in the process.

The real mystery man at receiver for the Irish is Darrin Bragg, a converted quarterback. Carlyle Holiday and Arnaz Battle were both able to turn their conversions to wide receivers into NFL contracts after they left Notre Dame, but so far we have not seen what Bragg brings to the table as a receiver. He is a naturally gifted athlete, but has yet to see the field for the Irish.

The lack of experience among all these receivers should make the competition wide open and it’s likely that whoever starts the season as the official 3rd wide receiver might not end the season in the same position.

By the end of the spring, Grimes will likely emerge as the 3rd option at receiver based on Weis’ willingness to play him as a true freshman in pressure situations and the flashes of ability we saw in his limited action on offense and in the return game. Once freshman report to campus for fall practice however, I have a feeling Richard Jackson will press for playing time as will DJ Hord once he is fully recovered from his surgery.

Developing these young, inexperienced receivers is not only important for the success of the 2006 Irish offense, but is critical for the Irish beyond next season with both Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight in their final years of eligibility.

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