Irish Receivers Looking to Surprise

( – Ask anyone outside of the Notre Dame program what the biggest weakness on the 2007 Fighting Irish is and wide receiver will one of the most common responses. Ask the Notre Dame coaches and players about the supposed weakness at the receiver position, and they’ll paint a much different picture.

All throughout training camp head coach Charlie Weis has continually stressed that he likes the wide receiver position a lot this year. After the only fully open practice of the year back on August 11, Weis addressed the wide receiver position stating, “I’ve been saying all along, everyone’s saying this is a weakness. I really like the wide receiver position. I really like them.”

Despite Weis’s claims that he really likes his wide receivers, you can’t blame anyone from expecting this position to be a weakness compared to past seasons under Weis. Any time you try to replace 145 receptions, 1924 yards, and 27 touchdowns from 2006 with a cast a receivers who totaled just 29 receptions, 357 yards, and two touchdowns a year ago as the Irish this year, it’s only natural to assume that there will a sharp drop-off.

Unlike a year ago when only three receivers saw the bulk of the action, 2007 could see the Irish expand their receiving corps into more multiple wide receiver sets because of the young talent on the roster. Last week Rob Ianello was non-committal about how many receivers he thought the Irish would play this year, “That’s a question that’s yet to be answered,”, but Notre Dame’s wide receiver coach did say the coaches are looking to play as many receivers as they feel comfortable with.

“We’re going to draw the line wherever the plays dictate the line will be draw. Wherever the plays dictate the line will be drawn, we’ll go ‘OK, we have this number of players we feel comfortable playing in the game, now let’s go figure out what we’re going to do with them,” Ianello told the media.

Just where that line is drawn by the players remains to be seen, but if the competition in camp is any indication, that line could be farther down the depth chart than it was a year ago. “Because it’s been so competitive, it gives other guys a chance to see that maybe they can get on the field,” Ianello stated on Tuesday.

The competition which Ianello has spoken to so many times this summer is the reason the Irish are building their depth at the position. Notre Dame does not have the luxury of returning guys with a lot of game experience this year so they will have to build depth out on Cartier Field and inside the Loftus Center. The good news for Notre Dame is that despite that lack of experience, there is more competition amongst the wide receivers this year according to Ianello, “I think we have much more competition in the whole group, from top to bottom.”

The maturation of youngsters like George West and DJ Hord are part of the reason for the upgrade in competition this year. Last year West had the benefit of enrolling early, but was still learning his way around this offense. This year West has the basics down and has progressed into working on the finer intricacies of the position. Last week he stated, “It’s time for me to look at those little things and try to learn from them.”

A year ago DJ Hord was just beginning to recover from an achille’s injury which cost him the entire 2006 season. This summer Hord has been turning some heads on the practice field and should be primed for a breakout season. Hord’s has remained humble, however, despite his rise up the depth chart this summer. ““Personally, with me, whatever helps the team win I’m game for. If that means me to get less PT (playing time), then I’ll just have to deal with it and suck it up.”

Throw into the mix sophomore Robby Parris and Barry Gallup and freshmen Duval Kamara and Golden Tate and it’s easy to see why Ianello and Weis are showing signs of confidence in their young receivers.

“You build your depth from the bottom up and I believe we’re improving in that area no question,” Ianello repeated on Tuesday. Building depth from the bottom up has been a recurring them in Ianello’s interviews this summer. He explained his rationale behind this last week stating, “If whoever is at the bottom of our depth when this thing is decided, if they’ve improved, if they’ve grown, it makes the whole group stronger and that’s what we’re looking for.”

The receivers have bought into the concept of competition amongst themselves as well. West stated last week that, “Competition makes it us better and it tells us that every day we go out there and practice and we have to bring it because that’s a practice lost or a practice won.”

These young receivers still have a lot to prove before people stop labeling them as a weakness, but if the competition in camp this summer is any indication, these receivers could end up proving a lot of people wrong before the 2007 season is over.

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