Notre Dame, IN (UHND.com) – Somewhat lost in the hype of the much ballyhooed quarterback race this spring has been the competition over at wide receiver where the Irish will be replacing All American Jeff Samardzija and the very talented Rhema McKnight. It has been a forgone conclusion that David Grimes would assume one of the starting spots, but the other spot has been wide open. Sophomore to be George West, however, has been widening the gap between himself and his fellow receivers to fulfill the remaining starting spot.
When asked about the progression of the wide receivers this spring, head coach Charlie Weist singled out West stating, “The guy who seems to have separated himself from the pack is George West at this point.” He would go on to add that, “The difference between George and let’s say the pack is that he has been able to, in a short amount of time, start to separate from the pack.”
The “pack” Weis is referring to includes junior to be DJ Hord who is coming off a severe leg injury along with sophomores to be Barry Gallup, Robby Parris, and Richard Jackson. Unlike West, however, his cohorts at receiver haven’t done enough to elevate themselves into the head of the class at receiver along with West and David Grimes. “There’s too many guys besides David and then George that are just in that pack right now,” is how Weis described the rest of his wide receivers.
For some, the sudden rise for West may come as a bit of surprise since many felt he would be a corner back for the Irish when he was originally recruiting back in 2005.
West enrolled early at Notre Dame last year, though, and used his head start to be the only freshman receiver to score a touchdown for the Irish in 2006 when he took a reverse 11 yards to pay dirt against Purdue.
In fact, West was the first freshman wide receiver to score a touchdown for Notre Dame since Maurice Stovall in 2002. Whether or not that is an indication of West’s skill or the recruiting ineptitude of Tyrone Willingham, however, is another debate for another time.
Still, West has used his extra time at Notre Dame to improve his game and put himself into a position where he could be seeing extensive playing time this fall. “I mean he’s a totally different person than he was last year at this time,” responded Weis when asked about how last year’s mid-term enrollment has helped West. “You look at him now and look at him then, it’s like night and day.”
A lot can change between now and September 1 when the Irish open the season, but after seven practices, it looks like West would be starting opposite Grimes if the season where to start today. “He isn’t just running with that first group by default, at this point he’s running with that first group because that’s where he would be,” said Weis of West’s current status among the hierarchy of the wide receiving corps.
Should West remain the second receiver if no other receiver emerges between now and September, it would put certainly change the dynamic of the Notre Dame passing game that we have come to know under Weis.
The last two seasons Notre Dame has had the luxury of some huge wide receivers in Samardzija, McKnight, and Stovall. All three were pretty big targets, especially Samardzija and Stovall measuring in at 6’5”.
Should West and Grimes be the opening day starters in 2007, however, the Irish offense would be featuring two receivers both of whom are under the 6’0” mark. (Grimes may be listed at 6’0” on the official roster, but he is probably closer to 5’10” than 6’0”).
Weis is no stranger to playing with shorter wide receivers after coaching the likes of David Patten, Troy Brown, and Deon Branch in New England. One thing Weis will do is adapt his offense to his players so expect to see a much different Notre Dame passing attack this fall if West and Grimes end up as the first and second receivers.
How different will it be? There’s no way to tell, but with two receivers under 6’0” you can bet the number of jump balls thrown up down field that Jeff Samardzija and Maurice Stovall made a living off of will be drastically cut down.
We could see a shorter passing game designed around getting West and Grimes the ball in space where they can use their quickness to gain yards after the catch. It’s still too early to tell, however, considering there is still a lot of time for either Parris, Gallup, Jackson, or Hord to step up. Throw into the mix talented incoming freshman Duval Kamara and Golden Tate and the subject gets even more unclear.
One thing is for sure. If he had to play a game tomorrow it seems like Weis certainly wouldn’t be afraid to play West and that should be enough of an endorsement for West for him to win over some of the Notre Dame faithful.