Football: Locked and loaded
Matt Gamber | Sunday, August 30, 2009
The secret’s out – Notre Dame’s receiving corps is pretty darn good.
The wide receiver position undoubtedly boasts more depth than any other on the current Irish roster, and this year’s stable of receivers is certainly among the nation’s best. Junior Golden Tate (58 receptions, 1080 yards, 10 touchdowns) and sophomore Michael Floyd (48 receptions, 719 yards, 7 touchdowns) might pose the country’s scariest one-two punch on the outsides, and with a blend of experienced returnees and highly touted newcomers at both receiver and tight end, Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen is surely licking his chops.
Add to that fact that Notre Dame’s first opponent, Nevada, had, statistically, the worst pass defense in college football last season, and the general consensus is that Clausen and Co. will have a field day against the Wolfpack on Saturday.
The Irish are so deep at the receiver position it’s almost ridiculous. Realistically, Clausen could complete passes to nine different wide receivers – plus three different tight ends – this season in meaningful action.
Included in the group behind Tate and Floyd are seniors Robby Parris and George West, junior Duval Kamara, sophomores John Goodman and Deion Walker, and freshmen Shaquelle Evans and Roby Toma.
Kamara has battled a knee injury throughout camp but will resume full practice today and is slated to play in Saturday’s opener. He entered the fall as the favorite for the No. 3 receiver slot, but between his own health and the impressive play from several young Irish wide outs, it remains to be seen where he’ll be listed when Weis releases an updated depth chart on Tuesday.
It is clear that Evans has worked his way, at the very least, into the third-receiver discussion, and many Irish fans were likely excited by his long touchdown catch in Notre Dame’s open practice on Aug. 15. Just how much playing time will be available for Evans remains unclear, but he’s staked his claim to this point.
“We like the fact that he has really good hands and good speed – almost deceptive speed, because he’s a long strider. And he’s done a good job mentally picking up the system,” wide receivers coach Rob Ianello said. “He’s playing one position in our two-receiver set and another in our three-receiver set, which has allowed us to tax him a little bit mentally, and he’s done a nice job with that.”
Parris and West give Notre Dame a pair of veteran targets with reliable hands, a luxury many teams don’t have. Both received more action in 2007 than in 2008, with Parris’ reception total dropping from 29 to nine and West’s from 21 to one – a reflection of the young talent that has taken over at the position.
Neither Goodman nor Walker saw game action as freshmen last season, but both have worked their way into the crowded position battle and will likely receive more of an opportunity as sophomores.
Listed at 5 feet 9 inches, 175 pounds, one might think Toma could use a year to bulk up and transition into the college game. But Weis said Toma, a high school teammate of super-freshman linebacker Manti Te’o, has impressed so much that he could see the field right away.
Floyd said earlier this summer that guys like Goodman, Toma and Walker – those who haven’t yet played in an Irish uniform – have helped give Notre Dame even more depth at the receiver position.
“They got at it this summer,” Floyd told scout.com. “Getting stronger and faster, and the coaches and the guys that have played like to see that because there’s a lot of depth and you have help when someone goes down.”
Though there may have been some cause for concern a few months ago regarding Notre Dame’s depth at the tight end position with the transfer of Joe Fauria to UCLA, impressive performances in preseason practice have erased much of that uncertainty. Rudolph is the unquestioned starter after catching 29 passes as a freshman, and junior Mike Ragone is back from a knee injury that held him out of action last season. Former walk-on Bobby Burger, who earned a scholarship last week after turning heads in camp, will see time as the No. 2 tight end, especially in situations where the Irish need an extra blocker.
Freshman Tyler Eifert has also worked his way into contention for playing time, though he may be a luxury at this point and could be held out of games to preserve a year of eligibility.
[Eifert is] making it tough for us to want to not play him,” Weis said. “He’s picked it up mentally and physically he’s handled the roles of a tight end, including the blocking, which has been a very pleasant surprise for us.”
Check out the second Irish Insider podcast as beat writers Bill Brink, Michael Bryan, Matt Gamber and Sam Werner discuss the first half of Notre Dame’s 2009 football schedule.