What you need to know ... The
offense exploded last season finishing tenth in the nation
in total offense, eighth in scoring offense, and fourth in
passing offense. The potential is there for even more production
with QB Brady Quinn, RB Darius Walker, and receivers Jeff
Samardzija and Rhema McKnight returning with a year of
experience under Charlie Weis. There are concerns; the machine
could quickly fall apart if injuries strike. There's no number
two quarterback to rely on, the backup running backs are
average, there's no proven number three receiver, and there's no
depth on the line with right tackle situation still needing to
be settled. The incoming freshmen are tremendous and the 2007
class shapes up to be even better, but it'll take a while for
everyone to develop.
Passing: Brady Quinn
292-450, 3,919 yds, 32 TD, 7 INT
Rushing: Darius Walker
253 carries, 1,196 yds, 9 TD
Receiving: Jeff Samardzija
77 catches, 1,249 yds, 15 TD
Star of the offense: Senior QB Brady Quinn
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore
OT Paul Duncan
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore FB Asaph Schwapp
Best pro prospect: Quinn
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Quinn, 2) WR Jeff
Samardzija, 3) RB Darius Walker
Strength of the offense: Starting skill players
Weakness of the offense:
Is it crazy to get excited about the future when there's a
Heisman caliber quarterback already under center? Brady Quinn
will be just about everyone's preseason All-American after
exploding in his first season under Charlie Weis. Now the
scrutiny will be on in a year-long audition for the chance to be
the number one pick in the 2007 NFL draft. As good as Quinn is,
all the news this off-season was about the future after Jimmy
Clausen, considered by many to be the nation's number one
recruit, picked Notre Dame to stop the recruiting battle before
his senior year could begin. This year, Zach Frazer and
Demetrius Jones were the star
quarterback recruits and they'll each get a shot at the number
two job. All the incoming talent means it's now or never for
backups Evan Sharpley and David Wolke to show what they can do.
The key to the unit: Get another fantastic season out
of Brady Quinn and carve out enough practice time to make sure
there's a decent number two ready to step in.
Quarterback Rating: 9.5
- Brady Quinn, Sr. - 292-450, 65%, 3,919 yds, 32 TD, 7
INT, 70 carries, 90 yds, 1 TD
Could Quinn handle the pressure of the big Charlie Weis playbook
and succeed in the new offense? Uh, yeah. A nice prospect with a
live arm, good size and decent mobility, Quinn entered the
rarefied air of being considered a number one overall caliber
pro prospect after cranking out the best passing season in Notre
Dame history on his way to finishing fourth in the Heisman race.
Under Weis he proved he could be a sharp decision maker as well
as be able to make all the throws. Just as important was his
ability to rally the team and get the offense moving when he had
to. Notre Dame might have lost to USC, but Quinn's stock went
through the roof after leading the offense on a late drive to
take the lead. He became the front-runner for the 2006 Heisman
race after throwing for 432 yards in the comeback win over
- Evan Sharpley, Soph.
Sharpley gets one year to show what he can do before getting
tossed aside with all the new stars coming in. He'll get a shot
at the number two job this season with a decent command of the
offense and a nice arm, but he'll make his biggest mark on the
baseball team where he's a good infielder. He made a good claim
for the number two job by completing ten of 12 passes in the
- David Wolke, Jr. - 1-3, 33%, 28 yds, 1 INT, 1 carry 22 yds
A nice prospect with good size and a little bit of experience,
Walke has seen time in seven games seeing time last year against
Pitt and Washington. He'll be neck-and-neck with Evan Sharpley
for the backup job.
The ground game doesn't get nearly the same amount of
attention as the passing attack, but it can be, at times, every
bit as effective with Darius Walker on the verge of All-America
status. While Walker has been a workhorse, he'll need more help
this season from backup Travis Thomas along with a slew of
incoming freshmen. James Aldridge, Munir Prince and Luke Schmidt
will all get chances to play right away. Asaph Schwapp isn't an
elite fullback yet, but he has the potential to be a key
all-around cog in the attack.
The key to the unit: Get more help for Darius Walker
to keep him fresh and hope for someone to emerge as a
bigger producer so some of the good freshmen can be redshirted.
Running Back Rating: 8
- Darius Walker, Jr. - 253 carries, 1,196 yds, 4.7 ypc, 9
TD, 43 catches, 351 yds, 8.2 ypc, 2 TD
With all the fireworks from the passing game, is it possible
that Walker had an underrated season? All he did was carry the
Notre Dame ground game with seven 100-yard days and a 90-yard
game against Ohio State while also growing into a reliable
receiver. He's lightning quick and tough as nails with the
ability to run inside or out.
- Fullback Asaph Schwapp, Soph. - 27 carries, 67 yds, 2.5
ypc, 3 catches, 22 yds, 7.3 ypc
The 250-pound Schwapp took over the starting job midway through
last season and turned into a good all-around blocker as well as
a short-yardage runner. While not the most devastating run
blocker around, he's physical on big plays and great in pass
- James Aldridge, Fr.
A true freshmen who came to camp early to get some work in, the
6-1, 215-pound Aldridge is the most heralded of the group. A
Parade All-American who ran for 1,433 yards and 21
touchdowns last season, Aldridge can do a little of everything
well and will get a long look at the number two job this summer..
- Fullback Ashley McConnell, Sr. - 1 carry, 3 yds
He has seen a little bit of time playing in three games last
season being used mostly as a backup. He's a tough 247 pounds
and will get a few carries in place of Asaph Schwapp.
Is Jeff Samardzija really that good? Can Rhema
McKnight make a successful return from a knee injury? Can any of
the unproven backups step up and help fill the void left by
Maurice Stovall? Can John Carlson and Marcus Freeman combine to
do what Anthony Fasano did at tight end? For such a talented
group of receivers, there are an awful lot of questions. Ohio
State's talented secondary showed that Samardzija can be taken
out of a gameplan, while McKnight has yet to live up to his
immense potential despite leading the team in receptions for two
years. Even so, this will be one of the nation's most productive
receiving corps thanks to the system and Brady Quinn.
The key to the unit: Rhema McKnight has to be healthy
again and David Grimes and Darrin Bragg have to become stars to
help take the heat off Jeff Samardzija.
Receiver Rating: 9
- Jeff Samardzija, Sr. - 77 catches, 1,249 yds, 16.2 ypc, 15 TD
A decent target over his first two seasons, Samardzija exploded
into an All-American leading the Irish in receiving as Brady
Quinn's top target. He was unstoppable up until the Fiesta Bowl
with six 100-yard days and touchdown catches in every game but
two: the loss to Ohio State and the win over Navy. The 6-5,
220-pound senior has grown into a first round pro prospect with
great speed to go along with reliable hands. Drafted by the
Chicago Cubs, he'll also look into trying to become a two-sport
athlete at the next level.
- Rhema McKnight, Sr. - 5 catches, 69 yds, 13.8 ypc,
McKnight was the leading receiver in 2003 and 2004 with
98 catches for 1,301 yards and six touchdowns and started off
2005 well before tearing up his knee and missing the rest of the
season. He has enough quickness to be a top punt returner and is
a more-than-reliable veteran. If 100%, he'll be a top deep
threat again at the outside X position and should flourish in
the upgraded passing attack.
- Tight end John Carlson, Sr. - 7 catches, 56 yds,
8 ypc, 1 TD
Carlson will combine with Marcus Freeman to take over for
Anthony Fasano at tight end. At 6-6 and 254 pounds, Carlson is
the bigger of the twp prospects and has a little more experience
after serving as Fasano's backup last season. He's also the
team's most proven receiving tight end.
- Darrin Bragg, Jr.
The brother of former UCLA star receiver Craig Bragg, Darrin moved his way into the number
two spot at the inside Z position behind Jeff Samardzija. He
started off his Notre Dame career as a quarterback before moving
over to receiver last fall and can still serve on the practice
team as a quarterback to mimic quick, option runners.
- David Grimes, Soph - 2 catches, 19 yds, 9.5 ypc.
Mostly a kickoff return man so far, Grimes is one of the
team's faster receivers with the potential to explode as a deep
threat. He'll start out behind Rhema McKnight on the outside and
will see time in three-wide sets.
- Tight end Marcus Freeman, Sr.
Purely a blocker so far, the 6-3, 245-pound Freeman will start
seeing some passes come his way after getting in better shape.
He caught five passes for 50 yards in 2004. He has also been a
top special teamer.
Three starters return to what should be a strong line if the
right side comes together. Bob Morton is experienced enough to be solid
at right guard, but the real question is at right tackle where the
steady Mark LeVoir has to be replaced. Paul Duncan and Brian Mattes
didn't set the world on fire this spring meaning the door is open for
one of the star freshmen to take over when they hit campus this summer.
Sam Young was one of the nation's top recruits and will push hard for
The key to the unit: Stay healthy early. There's next
to no experienced depth behind what should be a good starting five once
the right tackle situation is settled.
Offensive Line Rating: 8
- OT Ryan Harris, Sr.
Harris is in his fourth year as a starter and is on the verge of
All-America honors after living up to his potential last season. He's
6-5 and 292 pounds and can do a little bit of everything well. He has
mostly grown as a pass blocker becoming more consistent as last year
- OG Dan Santucci, Sr.
The 297-pound senior stepped in at right guard and started every game.
Now he'll start at left guard where he should be a rock now that he
knows what he's doing after being a year removed the defensive side.
- C John Sullivan, Sr.
Sullivan has played like a veteran over the last two seasons and now
should be fantastic. He's a smart, savvy, 300-pound rock in the middle
whose presences has allowed the coaching staff to use Bob Morton at
- OG Bob Morton, Sr.
The team's most versatile lineman, the 294-pound senior can play either
guard position or center. He stepped in at center for four games when
John Sullivan was hurt last year and started all 11 games in the middle
in 2003, but he appears to be more natural at guard where he started
every game on the left side in 2004 before moving over to the right
- OT Paul Duncan, Soph.
Duncan has the starting job at right tackle for now, but it's hardly a
firm grip. The 6-7 sophomore bulked up from 270 to 292 pounds after
being a key reserve as a freshman. He didn't dominate enough this spring
to be assured of anything this fall, but he's a great prospect with good
- OG/OT Brian Mattes, Sr.
Going into fall practice, the 6-6, 285-pound Mattes is just a shade
behind Paul Duncan for the starting spot at right tackle. He's also
listed as the top backup at left guard and will see extensive time on
- OG Chris Stewart, Fr.
The 342-pound freshman showed up early and took over a
backup spot at right guard behind Bob Morton. He's a big blocker who
should grow into a dominant run blocker and will see time right off the
- OT Sam Young, Fr.
Considered one of the nation's best offensive line prospects, the 6-7,
292-pound Young is a tremendous all-around athlete with room on his
frame to add another ten pounds of muscle and not be heavy. He could end
up starting right away at one of the tackle spots.