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ND FOOTBALL: Down but not out

Pat Leonard | Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Notre Dame’s leading receiver from last season will be on the sidelines for the team’s first home game Saturday.

Rhema McKnight will not play against Michigan State in the first home game of his senior season due to a leg injury he suffered in Notre Dame’s 17-10 victory at Michigan last weekend.

McKnight led the Irish last season with 42 catches for 610 yards and three touchdowns.

“Although he’s day-to-day … he’s going to miss this week’s game,” coach Charlie Weis said in a noon press conference Tuesday. “We’ll revisit him again next week, but he’s not lost for the season like all the rumors [claim].”

Weis disclosed McKnight had a “slight procedure” done on his leg, without providing details. But he assured coaches will keep a daily eye on the receiver to observe his progress.

“If you asked [McKnight] how he was doing, he would say day-to-day anyway,” Weis said.

McKnight caught two balls for 18 yards against Michigan before injuring himself, and both came on the offense’s 12-play, opening game scoring drive that lasted just 2:58.

McKnight’s 5-yard touchdown catch opened scoring and proved the difference maker in the final score.

To fill the vacant wideout spot, coaches will simply slide the depth chart up a name. Quarterback Brady Quinn has thrown to eight different players, including four wide receivers, already this season.

And though no one would qualify McKnight’s production as replaceable, the Irish are certain they have the personnel to substitute into the game and maintain efficiency.

“Next guy goes in,” Weis said of his plan to adjust. “That’s all that happens. It’s always been that way. It’s the only way I know.

“Once again, I hate to keep on going back to the past, but I’ve always come from systems where [if] one guy goes out, just plug the next guy in.”

So far this season, indications are Weis will be able to continue the methods he learned in New York and New England with this team.

The Irish lose McKnight, who has caught five balls for 69 yards and a touchdown. But remaining are starting wideout Maurice Stovall (four catches, 44 yards), deep threat Matt Shelton, who according to Weis is getting closer to 100 percent health, and the team’s leading wide receiver, Jeff Samardzija (seven catches, 86 yards, two touchdowns).

Running back Darius Walker and tight end Anthony Fasano have eight catches each to lead the team, but in the wide receiving corps, Samardzija has distinguished himself as a clear primary option for Quinn.

“Jeff has great athletic ability and ball skills,” Weis said. “He’s been a perfect complement in the system, along with the other receivers we have.

“I think at this point, Jeff has been the one who has been open based off the coverage schemes. I think Brady has done a nice job of getting the ball in his hands.”

Samardzija is on pace to make almost 40 catches this season, which would be more than twice the amount of grabs he made in 2004 (17).