FOOTBALL: Depth chart release spotlights surprises
Matt Puglisi | Monday, August 29, 2005
Anticipation for Saturday’s season-opener at Pittsburgh is beginning to peak. But the speculation surrounding who will start against the Panthers died Sunday when Irish coach Charlie Weis released Notre Dame’s depth chart.
With 10 of 11 starters returning on offense, most holes were already filled heading into training camp. And while Brady Quinn will still be under center, Darius Walker in the backfield and Maurice Stovall and Rhema McKnight at wide receiver positions “X” and “Z,” respectively, Weis did have a few tricks up his sleeve.
Arguably the most surprising change is Weis’ intention to rotate four players – Dan Santucci, John Sullivan, Bob Morton and Dan Stevenson – at the three inside offensive line spots: left guard, center and right guard.
“We think that we have four guys that can start on the interior on the offensive line,” Weis said. “If you didn’t have confidence that you have four guys that you could play, you would only play three. The benefit of that, you end up keeping them fresh.
“You will see in the game against Pittsburgh all four of those guys playing in those three spots.”
While he’s willing to move players around the middle of the line, Weis doesn’t anticipate doing the same with left tackle Ryan Harris and right tackle Mark Levoir.
“At the tackle spots, it’s clearly Ryan and Mark as the No. 1 guys,” Weis said.
“We do not see a similar rotation with those guys as we do with the four inside.”
Three freshmen – Asaph Schwapp, Michael Turkovich and Paul Duncan – are currently listed as offensive back-ups at fullback, left tackle and right tackle, respectively. Weis has been particularly impressed with Schwapp’s bruising style of play.
“Asaph has been a very physical and imposing force,” Weis said. “I would not call him a pleasant surprise because that is what we thought we were getting when he got here.
“It is just a question of how quick these guys can get ready to go. I would not be surprised to see Asaph on the field Saturday night.”
Sophomore David Wolke won the right to back up Quinn at quarterback, edging out freshman Evan Sharpley, and a pair of walk-ons in Dan Gorski and Marty Mooney.
“We had a really tough competition at the backup quarterback slot, and I think we decided that David’s experience really won out over everything else,” Weis said. “We felt that if Brady went down and we had to play someone, the guy that would give us the best chance to win is David.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Weis will employ a similar approach with his defensive line as he is planning with the offensive line – using three players (Trevor Laws, Derek Landri and Brian Beidatsch) in two spots (left and right tackle).
Maurice Crum, Jr. joins Walker as the only two sophomores starting on offense or defense. Crum’s football intuition set him apart during training camp.
“Maurice is both very athletic and he is a football player,” Weis said. “That is a significant comment for me to make. When I say he is a football player – there are some guys who are out there, but they don’t have great football instincts.
“I feel confident when he is out on the field. That trio of linebackers, with [Brandon] Hoyte, [Corey] Mays and Crum – that is a pretty good three to start out with.”
Zbikowski, as expected, will lead a secondary rounded out by Chinedum Ndukwe at safety and Mike Richardson and Ambrose Wooden at the corners.
In a fierce battle of young players for the open secondary spots, Wooden rose above his competition to claim the starting left cornerback job.
“We didn’t have him much in the spring because he was coming off an injury,” Weis said. “He was an unknown to me. I knew he had a lot of athletic ability. I knew he was very intelligent. He is another one that falls into that pleasant-surprise category.
“There was a lot of competition and a lot of inexperienced players vying for spots. Ambrose has certainly risen to the spot that warrants him running with the first team.”
On special teams, D.J. Fitzpatrick will once again handle the kicking and punting duties, and Chase Anastasio remains the primary kick returner, though as many as five other players could see time.
Perhaps the most surprising special teams listing is freshman David Grimes in the No. 1 punt returner slot.
“I think that David Grimes has had a very excellent camp,” Weis said. “From day one, he has been one of the most pleasant surprises we have had. He has shown exceptional ball skills and quickness.”
With the starting and back-up roles defined, Weis and his staff can now turn their attention to preparing for their first game on the Notre Dame sidelines against the Panthers Saturday night.