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Football: Experienced receiving corps bring flexibility to offense

Deirdre Krasula | Friday, April 11, 2008

A tandem of young of wide receivers brought a glimmer of hope to the end of last season. True freshmen Duval Kamara and Golden Tate finally showed their potential in Notre Dame’s 21-14 win over Stanford in November.

Quarterback Jimmy Clausen connected with Kamara six times to combine for a team-high of 93 yards. Kamara had 357 yards on the season, behind only senior tight end John Carlson and sophomore Robby Parris.

From the looks of spring camp, things are likely to continue in that direction. Offensive coordinator Michael Haywood noted that the Irish are already ahead of their gameplan at this point in the spring season, a feat he attributes to the coaching staff and their attention to detail.

“We keep track of everything,” Haywood said. “We keep track of every play that’s made, every catch that is made by a wide receiver, every ball that is deflected, every ball that is dropped, every ball that is unaccepted, and every ball that is incomplete, for whatever reason.”

In addition to spotting problems early enough to fix them, the Irish now boast a little bit more experience in the receiving lanes.

Rising senior David Grimes has the most experience at the position and has used what he’s learned to guide younger players like Kamara and Tate.

“He’s an outstanding leader,” Haywood said of Grimes. “He leads by example he leads by the way he carries himself on campus. He acts like a champion at all times.”

But finding leaders in upperclassmen is just part of Notre Dame’s dynamic.

“I just see it as one big family we go out and help each other,” Kamara said. “Grimes helps me a lot, that’s one of the guys I look up to. Just going out and being a family, being one, and we just compete to do our best.”

Beyond being a leader, Grimes was fourth on the Irish squad with 224 yards in 2007. Rising junior Robby Parris was second with 361 yards.

With three of the four top receivers returning, the offensive staff is free to move players around to find the best combinations of two or three men.

“Each individual is adjusting to their position because we’re moving wide receivers around,” Haywood said. “Maybe by formation, maybe by motions, and we’re moving a lot of guys around and guys are learning conceptually – three-man concepts, two-man concepts – and as they learn this, they do a lot better job because they understand where they have to get as opposed to where the other receiver is at this time.”

The ability to try players in different positions is also an attribute to Clausen’s experience. With a year of play under his belt, his confidence with himself and chemistry with his receivers is growing. It doesn’t hurt that all three of the top receivers have already had a season to learn Clausen’s style.

“He’s a lot more confident, instead of just thinking about what he has to do he’s out there reacting and being a ball player,” Grimes said. “He’s throwing the ball pretty well, he’s looking good.”

And the overall team chemistry is improving as well. More time spent together brings a better understanding of each other, both on and off the field.

“[We’re] learning each others’ tendencies, throwing more passes and catching more balls with each other, just spending more time with each other on and off the field,” Grimes said. “With time, things improve.”