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Bobby Griffin | Friday, April 22, 2005

A certain player or group of players emerge from relative obscurity and perform well on the field every season. However, who those players are is always a matter of question coming into a season.

The Irish are no different this year, as they are loaded with young talent looking to make their presence known. Here are five players who could establish themselves as front line contributors this season.

Joe Brockington (52)

Last season, Joe Brockington was a 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore looking to see some playing time behind Brandon Hoyte at weak side linebacker.

This year, Brockington is looking to bigger things.

With Hoyte and Corey Mays the two returning senior leaders of the linebacker corps, there is a spot for a newcomer to step up and make his presence felt on Saturdays.

Brockington should be in the mix, and Coach Weis has already noted this spring that his performance in practice has been impressive.

Brockington will be battling with a sizable group of young, talented linebackers – notably, Maurice Crum, Abdel Banda and Chinedum Ndukwe, who is also listed at safety.

Leo Ferrine (15)

Leo Ferrine is coming into the season as a 6-foot, 180-pound sophomore defensive back that could step into a productive role for the Irish.

Defensive coordinator Rick Minter has said they are going to use him at safety next season, noting his athleticism in high school and his all-around capabilities.

“We’re just taking a smooth athlete and throwing him in there at the safety spot,” Minter said.

Ferrine’s athleticism is something to be excited about. In high school, he scored five different ways as a senior, totaling 15 touchdowns en route to third team all-state honors in a state loaded with talent.

That type of play will be crucial when Notre Dame matches up against athletic receiving corps such as Michigan and USC.

John Carlson (89)

When the Irish hired Weis, John Carlson immediately stepped into a unique situation. Weis has been known to use two tight end sets, and with the graduation of tight end Jared Clark, Carlson is making strides to be the second tight end along side Anthony Fasano.

Carlson is a tremendously gifted athlete who doubled playing varsity basketball as a freshman in the 2003-04-season. He will mostly likely be used as a blocking tight end with his size (6-foot-6, 245-pounds), but because of his athletic ability and coordination, Carlson could become a receiving threat, as well.

Carlson has been battling with junior tight end Marcus Freeman this spring. The two should help each other improve going into next fall.

Junior Jabbie (8)

Junior Jabbie, a 5-foot-10, 188-pound sophomore, is another young member of the Irish secondary who will be looking to make a name for himself this season. With Tom Zbikowski and Mike Richardson as the leaders and returning players in the secondary, Notre Dame will look for individuals such as Jabbie to be productive on the field.

Jabbie should benefit from the help of Bill Lewis, Notre Dame’s defensive backs coach. Lewis coached defensive backs in the NFL with Miami for the last nine years, specifically coaching Nickel backs. That type of coaching could pay huge dividends for Jabbie and the rest of the young Irish secondary.

As a senior in high school, Jabbie had four interceptions and scored 18 touchdowns as a running back. Jabbie graduated from the same high school as Notre Dame defensive captain Brandon Hoyte.

Anthony Vernaglia (4)

Anthony Vernaglia was a highly touted recruit coming to Notre Dame in last year’s freshman class. As a sophomore next season, Vernaglia should start to prove why he received such high acclamations.

Vernaglia, a 6-foot-3 220-pound safety from Anaheim Hills, Calif., was rated No. 95 on ESPN’s top-100 players nation wide and No. 98 on collegefootballnews.com when Notre Dame recruited him.

Like Ferrine and Jabbie, Vernaglia should be one of the young athletes in the secondary that will need to step up in order to improve Notre Dame’s difficulties against the pass last season.