Football Roundtable: Breakout Player
Sam Werner, Matt Gamber, Bill Brink, & Michael Bryan | Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Who will break out as an impact player for the Irish in 2009?
Matt Gamber: Paul Duncan, LT, 5th year SR
When Notre Dame announced that it had granted several players a fifth year of eligibilty, it was safety Kyle McCarthy and special teams assassin Mike Anello who received much of the attention from fans and media alike. But the massive Duncan (listed at 6-foot-7, 308 pounds) could have one of the biggest impacts on the Irish season as he returns to Jimmy Clausen’s blind side, where he began the disastrous 2007 season.
Duncan is a physical specimen who was a highly touted four-star prep prospect after earning first-team all-state honors in Georgia as a high school senior. Duncan struggled in ‘07 along with the rest of the offensive line (and the entire Irish squad) and eventually flip-flopped with Sam Young over to the right side, but after missing all of last season due to injury, Duncan finally seems ready for a breakout season.
Speaking to him before the Hawaii Bowl last year, he seemed to have a new, mature outlook on his Irish career, and he sounded like a man on a mission to make an impact. He looked the part in spring ball and earned the starting gig, and between his raw size and ability and his rededicated approach to fundamentals, Duncan could be the most improved player on an offensive line that could be the most improved unit on the Notre Dame squad this fall.
Michael Bryan: Armando Allen, RB, Junior
It seems like Allen’s career has been one of almosts. Almost breaking off a huge touchdown run but barely getting dragged down by the ankles. Almost taking a kickoff all the way but getting stopped by the last man. Almost making it look like Notre Dame had a legitimate running attack for a few games at a time.
This year, Allen’s potential will finally be realized. While it seems Armando has been on campus forever, this is just his junior season. He’s progressed as a runner each year, gaining the instincts, aggression, and vision needed to become a complete back. He now knows the little things that elevate a good running back into a great one – how to gain those few yards after contact, when and how to get to the edge, and how to pick and hit the holes in the defense hard after making good reads. Despite his lack of size relative to Hughes or Aldridge, Armando has long been the best back in pass protection as well as the best receiving back. The combination of versatility, experience, and an improved offensive line will lead to over 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving this year for AA.
Bill Brink: Darius Fleming, OLB, Sophomore
In the defense Notre Dame uses, the outside linebacker has an interesting role. Sometimes he’s on the line of scrimmage, sometimes a few yards off, but either way he must be both quick enough to get an angle on a running back bouncing outside yet strong enough to bull-rush on passing downs.
That description doesn’t fit John Ryan, so Darius Fleming will see significantly more time this season. Fleming played in every game last season, made 24 tackles and had 2.5 sacks. At 6-1, 236, he’s small for a defensive end, but as a hybrid he fits well. He has the burst to make tackles in the open field, but he can also cut through offensive linemen to get to the backfield. What he won’t do, at his size, is tie up an offensive lineman to allow the linebackers and secondary to make tackles, so he has to be good about shedding blocks and getting to the ball carrier. He will also need to learn to jam, then cover tight ends coming off his side of the line on passing downs.
Kerry Neal has done a good job with this position, although at his larger size he’s more suited to playing on the line. Fleming should be able to do both. Because of the expanded responsibilities he’ll have, it won’t come all at once, but as the season goes on and he grows into his role he’ll become better and better.
Sam Werner: Kapron Lewis-Moore, DE, Sophomore
For someone who has yet to play a down, Kapron Lewis-Moore sure has made an impact on the Notre Dame coaching staff. Listed as a starter at defensive end on the spring depth chart, Lewis-Moore has clearly established himself in both fall and spring practices. Both defensive line coach Randy Hart and head coach Charlie Weis have been effusive in their praise for the sophomore.
The biggest thing Lewis-Moore has going into the season is opportunity. With the only two certainties along the defensive line being nose tackle Ian Williams and defensive tackle Ethan Johnson, Lewis-Moore should have as good a shot as anyone at earning meaningful playing time. Morrice Richardson certainly has the potential, but so far injuries have slowed his progression. John Ryan doesn’t have the lateral quickness to be effective on Notre Dame’s defensive, and while the staff is certainly high on Emeka Nwankwo, he stills looks to be a year away.
Lewis-Moore has the quickness to get to the quarterback, which will be a big part of the Irish defense in 2009. He also has the size, at 265 pounds, to shut down the outside running game. The sophomore appears to be the perfect mix of speed and size for a Jon Tenuta defensive, and will make his presence known quickly in 2009.