Notre Dame Preview 2006 - Offense
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Posted Aug 7, 2006

Notre Dame Fighting Irish Preview 2006 - ND Offense

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.

Returning Leaders
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

Projected Starter
- 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 Stanford.

Top Backups
- 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 spring game.

- 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.

Running Backs
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

Projected Starters
- 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 protection.

Top Backups

- 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

Projected Starters
- 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, 1 TD
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.

Top Backups

- 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.

Offensive Linemen
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 job.

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

Projected Starters
- 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 went on.
- 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 guard.
- 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 side.
- 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 upside.

Top Backups
- 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 special teams.
- 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 bat.
- 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.

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