We usually try to wait for the 5th year players to be officially named to do this post, but it seems that announcement won't be until the start of spring practice at the earliest. In the meantime, the spring roster was up on und.com briefly and this Blue and Gold Illustrated article noted the five 5th year players on track to return for the 2009 season.
Before getting to this year's numbers, if you want to stroll back down memory lane, here are the returning stats for the 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 seasons.
Now then, let's see what ND has coming back for 2009. Overall, ND will return 82% of the offense and 65% of the defense. These numbers are very close to the 2006 team (80%,64%) and the 2008 team (79%,64%). When you factor in career playing time, the 2009 ND team is probably closer to the 2006 version than the 2008 one experience-wise. Anyway, on to the individual positions. As always, these numbers come from the excellent Lou Somogyi at Blue and Gold Illustrated.
Legend: PT = playing minutes, ST = special teams appearances, * = walk-on or walk-on turned scholarship player, all players are listed by academic class, not eligibility.
Quarterback - 95%
2007 was the only season where the returning QB percentage was under 95%. Like steady starter Brady Quinn in 2005 and 2006, Clausen ran just about every play in 2008 and will return for this third year as ND's starting quarterback. However, the same issue of a completely inexperienced backup once again rears its ugly head. Charlie's affinity for sticking with one quarterback and rarely playing the backup was evident again in 2008. With Sharpley deciding to move on, the backup options behind Clausen are two redshirt freshmen, Dayne Crist and walk-on Nate Montana. Clausen certainly proved his durability last season, but hopefully Crist will see playing time that involves more than just handing the ball off to run out the clock.
|Quarterback||ST Appr. ||PT Minutes|
Running Back - 81%
For the first time during Charlie's time at Notre Dame, every running back from the previous season will be back. The only reason the returning percentage isn't 100% is because I included the fullbacks along with the running backs. If you look at returning carries, 99.7% of all running back and fullback carries are back. If ND is ever going to have an effective running game under Charlie, we will see evidence of it in 2009. The depth chart is as deep as it has been in a long time, with Allen, Hughes, and Aldrige all having starting experience and plenty of career carries. Add in Jonas Gray, Cierre Wood, and Theo Riddick and ND's running back depth chart is almost Holtzian. Fullback is a different story as multi-year starter Asaph Schwapp is replaced by linebacker turned fullback Steve Paskorz. He didn't play much last season, but at least got a fair amount of special teams work -- more than any other offensive player save Golden Tate -- during the year. It will be interesting to see if he sees a massive jump in playing time or if ND tweaks the offense a bit and uses the fullback less.
|Running Back||ST Appr.||PT Minutes|
|Allen (jr)||59 ||189|
|Hughes (jr) ||2 ||108|
|Aldridge (sr) ||20 ||66|
|Paskorz (jr) ||85 ||19|
|Gray (so) ||36 ||16|
Offensive Line - 80%
Like 2009 should be now or never for the running game, the same can be said for the offensive line. Six of the top seven linemen in terms of playing time return and this chart doesn't even include former starter Paul Duncan, who sat out 2008 with an injury. If he can earn back the starting left tackle position he held in 2007, it is very possible that ND's starting line will consist of one 5th year senior and four seniors by class. You can't get much more veteran than that. No player in 2008 played more minutes than Sam Young and, as Lou Somogyi points out, he's on track to become ND's first 50 game starter in school history. The line made a noticable improvement in pass protection from 2007 to 2008. Now they will need to do the same with run blocking in 2009.
|Offensive Line||ST Appr.||PT Minutes|
Wide Receiver - 77%
Hopes will be high in 2009 with the burgeoning star tandem of Golden Tate and Michael Floyd back. David Grimes is the only scholarship wide receiver not to return and while he was a dependable option the past few seasons, there are intriguing young options in Deion Walker, John Goodman, and Shaquelle Evans to battle 2007 leading minute earners Duval Kamara and Robby Parris for playing time behind Tate and Floyd. The percentage of total WR receptions returning isn't too far off from the minutes played at 80%, which means not all passes were thrown Tate and Floyd's way last season. That means there will be plenty of opportunity for another receiver, possibily/hopefully Karama, to step into Grimes's shoes and provide a 3rd option in the offense.
|Wide Receiver||ST Appr.||PT Minutes|
Tight End - 90%
Over the past year and a half, ND's tight end depth chart took a massive hit. John Carlson left for the NFL. Konrad Reuland and Will Yeatman transferred. Mike Ragone was knocked out for the season with a knee injury. Luke Schmidt had to eventually stop playing football due to multiple concussions. The tight end depth chart halfway through the 2008 season was basically down to two freshmen and whatever offensive linemen would line up at tight end. The good news is that Kyle Rudolph exceeded his already lofty expectations and is set to be a dominant tight end until he decides to leave for the NFL. More good news is that Ragone will return from injury to add a bit more veteran depth to the TE depth chart. Both incoming freshmen, Tyler Eifert and Jake Golic, would benefit from a year in the weight room before playing so hopefully ND can avoid any more tight end attrition in 2009. Lou Somogyi notes that Kyle Rudolph's 370 minutes played smashed the previous record for true freshman playing time of 292 minutes set by Sam Young in 2006.
|Tight End||ST Appr.||PT Minutes|
Defensive Line - 45%
Here is where things get interesting. For the 4th time in 5 years under Charlie, the previous season's top minutes earner won't be back. This is the only position where ND doesn't return a majority of playing time from the previous season. No matter how the 3-4 versus 4-3 issue plays out, ND will have a young defensive line in 2009. One potential starter, Kapron Lewis-Moore, didn't even play at all in 2008. Nor did possible 2009 2nd teamers Brandon Newman and Hafis Williams. The talent and potential is there for the defensive line to be pretty good, but there will be a fair amount of inexperience regardless of how they eventually line up. One other thing to consider when looking at these numbers is that they don't show are in-season trends. For example, John Ryan and Darius Fleming played nearly identical minutes in 2008. But 80 of Ryan's 93 minutes came in the first half of the season, compared to only 26 of Fleming's 92. Look for a whole lot more of Fleming, as well as classmate Ethan Johnson, in 2009.
|Defensive Line||ST Appr.||PT Minutes|
Linebacker - 76%
This percentage has the possibility of being very deceiving. In all likelihood, Harrison Smith will be moving back to free safety. It hasn't officially happened yet and he may move back to linebacker in the fall, so for now I'm keeping him listed here. But common sense suggests that all-Smith linebacking corp will lose a member come 2009. If he does, then the returning playing time percentage drops to a low 37%. At that point, the only guarantee to start is Brian Smith. Filling in the rest of the starting lineup will be one of the main areas of interest during spring ball. Will the younger players like Filer, Posluszny, and McDonald (or possibly Manti Te'o or Zeke Motta) grab a starting spot and keep Brian Smith in the middle? Will veterans Scott Smith and Toryan Smith solidify the middle and let Brian Smith move back to the outside? Will players like Kerry Neal or Darius Fleming, both still listed as linebackers on the official roster, stop playing with their hands on the ground every play and add a bit more experience to the linebacking corp?
|Linebacker||ST Appr.||PT Minutes|
|H. Smith (jr)||184||285|
|B. Smith (jr)||50||251|
|T. Smith (sr)||64||77|
|S. Smith (5th)||190||22|
Safety - 61%
David Bruton's journey to the NFL could set in motion a number of changes to the safety position. Sergio Brown, who primarily played as the nickel back last season, is in line for the now vacant free safety spot but will likely have to beat out former linebacker Harrison Smith. What isn't up for much debate is the starting strong safety spot. Kyle McCarthy will be back for one final year and will add an experienced presence. Speaking of experience, notice how all four returning safeties are either seniors or 5th year seniors. All but Gordon won't be able to return in 2010, which means either ND will have to get some of the younger safeties playing time in 2009 or experience a big drop in depth in 2010.
|Safeties||ST Appr.||PT Minutes|
Cornerback - 73%
Another position that doesn't take into account a player who missed all of 2008, the cornerback spot will greatly benefit from the return of former starter Darrin Walls. The fight between Walls, McNeil and Blanton for the two starting cornerback spots will be another fun thing to watch this spring. Gary Gray has been effective in the limited time he played so where he winds up will be interesting as well. And of course, Mike Anello won't play much at corner, but his impact on special teams will continue to give ND a big advantage on kickoff and punt coverages.
|Cornerbacks||ST Appr.||PT Minutes|