Monday, January 04, 2010

Checking the cupboard | by Pat

While we wait for the coaching staff to be officially announced during this week, let's take a look at the players they will be coaching. When Brian Kelly was hired, he stated that he didn't care what he didn't have on the depth chart, he only cared what he did have. This post will take a look at those players he does have, specifically the ones that got some playing time in 2009.

One thing to keep in mind while reading through these tables is that with every coaching staff turnover, players can be moved around positions and even swap sides of the ball. There may or may not be a lot of that this spring, but it wouldn't be surprising to see at least a few players shuffling positions. Also, the decision on 5th year players hasn't been made yet. We'll list all of the eligible candidates, but not all of them might be back and the percentages will change accordingly. As always, credit to Lou Somogyi for publishing the final playing time numbers. If you want to look through the numbers of past years, here are the links to the 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 seasons.

Overall, 62% of the minutes played last season return for Kelly. The breakdown is 53% of the offense and 73% of the defense.

Legend: PT = playing time; ST Appr. = special teams appearances; all players are listed by academic class, not eligibility.

Quarterback - 11%

Last year was the season to get Dayne Crist some meaningful minutes, especially as Clausen proved more and more NFL ready. Unfortunately in his first extended chance to lead the team, Crist tore his ACL. Meanwhile, Clausen continued to play so well that an early jump to the NFL was the smart business decision. So now not only will ND field an inexperienced quarterback next season, the only scholarship QB on the roster in the spring (except for likely early enrollee Tommy Rees) will be coming off a major knee injury. Obviously how Kelly manages the lack of healthy scholarship quarterbacks as he tries to install his QB-centric offense will be the major story of the spring. Former high school quarterbacks John Goodman, Dan McCarthy or E.J. Banks might see some time in the shotgun depending on Crist's rehab schedule as will some of the unheralded walk-ons (or heralded in the case of Nate Montana, who is likely to return to campus).

QuarterbackST Appr.PT Minutes
Crist (jr)038
Return Pct.

Running Back - 94%

Arguably the deepest and most talented position on the team next season, nearly everyone is back for 2010. Aside from the 94% of the playing time coming back, 98% of the running back carries return with only James Aldridge (6 carries) moving on. With the names set, the biggest question will be how they adapt to the new spread offense. It seems like a natural fit for guys like Armando Allen and Theo Riddick, but might be a bit more of an adjustment for the bigger backs like Robert Hughes and Jonas Gray. In the case of Hughes though, he is a solid receiver out of the backfield, which should help. And don't forget about Cierre Wood, the most highly touted member of last year's recruiting class who preserved a year of eligibility in 2009. What the spread means for fullbacks like Bobby Burger, who played more of an H-back role in '09, and Steve Paskorz, who didn't play much of all, remains to be seen.

Running BackST Appr.PT Minutes
Allen (sr)4 183
Hughes (sr) 1118
Burger (5th)8354
Riddick (so)6044
Gray (jr)3636
Paskorz (sr)
Return Pct.

Offensive Line - 43%

Would it concern you to note that heading into the 2007 season ND had nearly an identical percentage of returning playing time on the OL (42%)? The depth is certainly better this time around -- only 3 juniors or older heading into '07 compared to 9 for '10 -- but there is still going to be inexperience on the line. Nowhere will be less experienced than at the tackle spots. Both starting tackles are gone and there have been no heirs apparent stepping up over the past few seasons. Matt Romine is the closest thing to one, but he has battled injuries the past few seasons. It's going to be an interesting position battle this spring for the starting tackle spots. With the need for quicker, more agile linemen in the spread, the winners of the open tackle jobs will probably be the guys that do the best job slimming back down from bulking up the past year during what will undoubtedly be a pretty rough off-season conditioning cycle.

Offensive LineST Appr.
PT Minutes
Stewart (5th)65338
Robinson (jr)
Wenger (5th)
Romine (sr)833
Nuss (sr)15430
Dever (sr)614
Golic (jr)37
Cave (jr)1107
Clelland (jr)167
Return Pct.

Wide Receiver- 49%

Losing Golden Tate to the NFL takes away not only a special talent but a big chunk of ND's wide receiver experience. Having Michael Floyd come back does ease the transition, but at least one of the younger receivers will need to step up and take on a bigger role, especially with the frequency that Kelly uses 4 receiver formations. If Goodman moves over to quarterback in the spring that will make this position group even less experienced. It would be ideal if Duval Kamara could have a Mo Stovall-like senior campaign and help out the younger receivers like Walker, Evans, and Toma who should all see a jump in responsibility.

Wide ReceiverST Appr.PT Minutes
Kamara (sr)0192
Floyd (jr)1172
Goodman (jr)954
Evans (so)133
Walker (jr)
Toma (so)15
Gallup (5th)
Return Pct.

Tight End - 100%

It's always nice to see a three digit number next to a position group. Assuming they can successfully avoid ResLife until the fall, ND will have a solid depth chart of experienced and young tight ends. Kyle Rudolph will be a big part of the offense and will probably split out wide even more than he did this past season. Ragone will be two years removed from his knee injury and hopefully the speed he flashed running down a WSU cornerback will be all the way back. One note about Tyler Eifert is that he should preserve a year of eligibility despite playing since he hurt his back and should be eligible for a medical redshirt. Jake Golic and incoming freshman Alex Welch will round out the depth chart that features a number of quicker pass-catching tight ends that should easily adapt to the spread offense.

Tight EndST Appr.PT Minutes
Rudolph (jr)57276
Ragone (sr)
Eifert (so)
Return Pct.

Defensive Line - 86%

With a new defensive staff and a shift (back) to a 3-4 defense, expect plenty of moving and shuffling of players as the new coaches try to fill out a new depth chart. The good news is that there are a lot of players returning who saw action in '09. A front three of Ethan Johnson, Ian Williams, and Kapron Lewis-Moore seems like a pretty natural fit for a 3-4 line, but players like Darius Fleming and Kerry Neal, both possible candidates to move to an outside linebacker spot, are also pretty experienced and can help provide the pass rush that ND will absolutely need next season. And don't forget the rest of the promising junior class including Sean Cwynar, who looked impressive in limited action, Hafis Williams, and Brandon Newman. Add in Emeka Nwankwo, Tyler Stockton and the incoming freshmen, including the massive Louis Nix and there appears to be some solid numbers along the defensive line.

Defensive LineST Appr.PT Minutes
Johnson (jr)51263
Lewis-Moore (jr)51227
I. Williams (sr)38204
Fleming (jr)60202
Neal (sr)19174
Cwynar (jr)1251
Mullen (5th)2212
H. Williams (jr)29
Wade (5th)02
Return Pct.

Linebacker - 88%

The announcement that Manti Te'o would return was fantastic news for a linebacking corp that struggled at times but still has plenty of young talent. The number of Smith 'backers will be cut in half but the two that played the most are the ones that will be back. Brian Smith will be on the field for sure while the coaches will have to figure out if Harrison is in fact a linebacker, where he ended 2009, or safety, where he started 2009. If you asked which player on the team played more special teams than anyone else, most might not realize it was actually Steve Filer. Now in the second half of his college career, hopefully the talented athlete will see the field more on defense. With the 3-4 defense there will be an additional linebacker on the field and there will be plenty of candidates like Poz, McDonald, Calabrese, Fox, and the incoming freshmen. It would be great to see one or more of them stepping up to help solidify the depth at the inside linebacker spots.

LinebackerST Appr.PT Minutes
B.Smith (sr)66313
H. Smith (sr)
Te'o (so)63238
T. Smith2981
S. Smith20945
Filer (jr)21322
Posluszny (jr)896
McDonald (jr)1804
Return Pct.

Safety - 2%

Here's the position that will worry fans the most (and whose depth chart should be emailed to any and all safety recruits). Assuming that Harrison Smith sticks at linebacker, which is just a guess at this point, the safety position will be as inexperienced as any position since we started doing this 5 years ago. The top returning player is the promising Zeke Motta who, like Harrison, might be more linebacker than safety, especially after a full off-season in the weight room. That leaves career backup Leonard Gordon, Danny McCarthy, and their 3 minutes of playing time last year. It wouldn't be surprising to see one of the bigger returning corners like Jamoris Slaugher move to safety to help out the depth. Regardless of what happens, the safety spot will be the least experienced position on the field next season.

SafetiesST Appr.PT Minutes
K. McCarthy124303
Motta (so)16611
Gordon (5th)1372
D. McCarthy (jr)151
Return Pct.

Cornerback - 88%

One of the biggest disappointments of the 2009 season was the play of the veteran cornerbacks. Whether it was scheme or coaching or both, the talent and experience was much greater than what the play on the field showed. Getting this unit back to where they should be will be one of the major tasks of ND's new defensive backs coach. The good news is that there are four very capable and experienced corners including multi-year starters in Darrin Walls and Robert Blanton. Gary Gray and Jamoris Slaughter add a more physical element to the position, but one of the two could find himself moved to safety to help out with depth there.

CornerbacksST Appr.PT Minutes
Walls (5th)
Blanton (jr)35167
Gray (sr)38153
Slaughter (jr)11034
Return Pct.