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Opportunities available for talented newcomers

Ken Fowler | Thursday, February 8, 2007

Hello, position battles.

Spring ball and summer camp will feature a slew of freshmen battling for starting jobs, Irish coach Charlie Weis said Wednesday. And the most high-profile position battle of all will be the competition at quarterback.

Weis said early-enrolling recruit Jimmy Clausen of Westlake Village, Calif., will compete in spring and summer for the starting job with rising junior Evan Sharpley and rising sophomores Demetrius Jones and Zach Frazer. And none hold a clear edge going into practices, Weis said.

Clausen, who will not throw passes until the end of February in an effort to rest his arm, enters as the consensus No. 1 quarterback in the country. Jones and Frazer were both in the top 15 at their position last year.

Behind the team’s new signal-caller could be one of two freshmen at any point. Small and speedy Armando Allen from the Miami area and the bruising Robert Hughes of Chicago come to Notre Dame with high expectations and an open running back race following junior Darius Walker’s entrance into the NFL Draft.

At the final offensive skill position, the Irish could see one of two freshmen in the mix for the second receiver’s spot. Rising junior receiver David Grimes is the only Irish wide out with more than three career receptions. Senior Chase Anastasio, who Weis said Wednesday will apply for a fifth year, has three catches and rising sophomores George West and Robby Parris have two and one catches, respectively.

Weis said 6-foot-4, 205-pound Duval Kamara from Hoboken, N.J., reminds him of former Irish wide out Maurice Stovall, who now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“He’s athletic, big, fast,” Weis said. “We see him coming in here and challenging walking in the door.”

Meanwhile, Weis called 6-foot, 195-pound Golden Tate of Hendersonville, Tenn., a “perfect compliment” to Kamara.

“This kid is as good an athlete as I saw this year,” Weis said.

On special teams, Weis said he would only sign a kicker who could compete immediately for the starting job. In Brandon Walker, Weis thinks he found his guy. Walker made a 50-yard field goal and averaged 7 yards deep on kickoffs from the 40-yard line as a junior.

At tackle in the team’s new 3-4 personnel defensive scheme, Ian Williams, a 6-foot-2, 295-pounder from Florida, is expected to fight for the starting job immediately. Weis said 340-pound current offensive lineman Chris Stewart would get a look there, but Weis wants Williams to play immediately.

“Ian knows we’re counting on him getting involved in the mix walking in the door,” Weis said.

At outside linebacker in the team’s new defensive scheme, Weis said freshmen Kerry Neal of Bunn, N.C. and Brian Smith of Overland Park, Kan., fit well and could see playing time.

What’s more, Weis said early enrollee Gary Gray, a cornerback from Columbia, S.C., would be in the heart of the defensive back picture as a “cover corner.”

The numbers game

While the Irish may have struggled in defensive recruiting and lost commitments in the final 24 hours before the letters of intent started pouring in across the fax wires, they at least got one important tangible benefit out of this year’s recruiting class: stabilizing numbers.

In 2006, Weis signed 28 players to letters of intent because of a relatively small base of scholarship players on the team at the time, due to the attrition of the already low number of signees during the three-year reign of former coach Tyrone Willingham. The annual limit is 25, but three enrolled early so the Irish could count them against the previous year’s total of 15. With a maximum of 85 players on scholarship at one time, Weis said his goal is to sign around 20 players yearly, which would allow five or more seniors with extra eligibility to apply for a fifth year.

“I’m trying to compensate a little bit for the fact that next year’s senior class only has seven or eight guys on scholarship,” Weis said. “Between the fourth year guys next year that ask and are granted a fifth year and our class next year, I think that will finally put us on track to have the numbers as I perceive they should actually be.”