2008 Notre Dame Preview - Offense
Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen
Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen
Posted May 9, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Notre Dame Fighting Irish Offense

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Preview 2008 - Offense

- 2008 CFN Notre Dame Preview | 2008 Notre Dame Offense
- 2008 Notre Dame Defense
2008 Notre Dame Depth Chart
2007 CFN Notre Dame Preview | 2006 CFN Notre Dame Preview 

What you need to know: Put it this way, you could've been the offensive coordinator and the Irish offense wouldn't have finished any lower. The ineptitude is mind-boggling considering Charlie Weis is supposed to be an offensive guru. Dead-last in total offense averaging 242 yards per game. 116th in scoring averaging 16.42 yards per game. 75 rushing yards per game, 167 passing, 113th in the nation in passing efficiency, dead-last in sacks allowed ... you get the idea. While the attack won't suddenly explode now that Weis has handed over the play-calling duties to Mike Haywood, things should get better with nine starters returning, along with plenty of depth, a healthier Jimmy Clausen, who's showing the arm strength to be the star quarterback everyone thought he'd be, and potential in the running game. The O line has to immediately improve and the receivers have to prove they can beat a jam and get open. The desperate hope is that experience will help in both areas.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Jimmy Clauson
138-245, 1,254 yds, 7 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: James Aldridge
121 carries, 463 yds, 0 TD
Receiving: Duval Kamara
327 catches, 357 yds, 4 TD

Star of the offense: Sophomore QB Jimmy Clausen
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior OT Paul Duncan & senior OG Mike Turkovich
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore TE Mike Ragone
Best pro prospect: Junior OT Sam Young
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Young, 2) Clausen, 3) WR Duval Kamara
Strength of the offense: Experience, skill potential
Weakness of the offense:
Offensive line, wide receiver


Projected Starter: Jimmy Clausen never had a chance. The much-hyped superstar recruit could never live up to the expectations in his true freshman season, but he had nothing go his way. The line was miserable and didn't give him room to breathe, the skill players were new and just getting their feet wet, and worst of all, Clausen was never healthy after off-season arm surgery. He completed 56% of his passes for 1,254 yards with seven touchdowns and six interceptions, but most importantly, he got better. After missing time after getting banged up, he came back to be sharper in the final three games leading the Irish to two wins while throwing six touchdown passes and just one interception. Now he's healthy, he showed off a better arm with more zip, and the 6-3, 207-pound sophomore now appears ready to start becoming the player everyone has been expecting. 42-0 as a high school starter, he was considered by many to be the nation's top recruit with the size, athleticism, and arm to have gone anywhere. His brothers Rick and Casey were starters at Tennessee.

Projected Top Reserves: Under a strange shroud of secrecy, Charlie Weis wouldn't reveal his opening day quarterback until the last second. It was senior Evan Sharpley, and he got blasted by the Georgia Tech defensive line. While he completed 10 of 13 passes for 93 yards in the 33-3 loss, and he finished with 736 passing yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions, he wasn't able to lead the way to any wins, and he'll be forever known as the Notre Dame quarterback who lost to Navy. He has good 6-2, 216-pound size, a good arm and decent athleticism serving also a strong infielder for the baseball team.

Watch Out For ... Clausen to be far better. It wasn't like he was awful last season, but he didn't have anything to work with. The line should be a bit better, the receivers and backs more experienced, and Clausen will be healthy.
Experience. In hindsight, it would've been nice if Notre Dame could've made an exception to its non-redshirt policy and let Clausen get 100% healthy, but the experience of getting the tar beaten out of him might be invaluable down the road. Sharpley can play, but like Clausen, he didn't get any help.
Running. It's not like Clausen and Sharpely are immobile, but there's no rushing threat whatsoever coming out of the backfield.
Outlook: For the most part, the quarterbacks didn't take the blame for the problems last year, and rightly so, but the coaching staff kept trying to find a spark that wasn't there, got Clausen in the mix too early, and now everyone has to hope that the strides made at the end of the year were for real and not just because the Irish played three lousy defenses. Clausen will be fine, but he needs one more year of seasoning.
Rating: 7.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: Little used, sophomore Robert Hughes carried the ball just 18 times over the first ten games, seeing time as a power runner and in mop-up duty, and then he became a bit of a folk hero over the final two games rushing for 110 yards and a touchdown in the win over Duke and 136 yards and a score in the victory over Stanford. At 5-11 and 238 pounds he's a power back with nifty moves to get out of trouble, and while he ripped through some bad defenses in the final two games, he showed this off-season that he could really be the real deal.

Trying to pave the way for the ground game will once again be senior Asaph Schwapp, a decent power runner who has the 6-0, 261-pound size to be a sledgehammer of a blocker. He overcame a torn ACL in 2006 to play in every game last year running for 14 yards and catching three passes for 27 yards. He's a good, unsung cog in the attack.

Projected Top Reserves: If Hughes doesn't take the starting job by the horns, it'll once again go to junior James Aldridge, a 6-0, 222-pound veteran with a good mix of power and speed. He was one of the stars of the 2006 recruiting class but he only ran for 142 yards as a freshman and a team-leading 463 yards with no scores last season, Not used much as a receiver, he only caught five passes, but he has the talent and skills to do far more.

Adding more speed to the mix is sophomore Armando Allen, a 5-10, 190-pound bolt of lightning who has sub 4.4 speed. He broke his leg his senior year of high school but was able to get to campus early last season and ended up finishing second on the team with 348 yards. However, his longest run was only 15 yards. He's too fast to not be a home-run hitter.

Backing up Schwapp at fullback is 6-3, 248-pound sophomore Luke Schmidt, a top recruit two years ago with good running ability. More than just a blocker, with his size, hands and ability, he could be used in a variety of ways, including, possibly, as a tight end. He caught three passes for 16 yards and ran twice for six yards and will be the main backup behind starting tight end Mike Ragone.

Watch Out For ... Hughes. While he'll technically be a backup going into the fall, with Aldridge likely to get the opening day call, Hughes will end up being the team's most effective back. Even if he's used in spurts, his power will wear down defenses. At least that's the hope.
Talent. The three backs are good, even if the Irish running game was the worst ever averaging just 75.25 yards per game. Sacks took plenty of yards off the total, but the running game still stunk because of inexperience and a bad line. The three backs should combine to be far better, while Schwapp is a good fullback who'll make more of an impact.
Production. Yeah, Hughes looked great late in the year, but that was against Duke and Stanford. There has to be some concern that the backs didn't do much of anything for long stretches, even though defenses put everyone and the mascot up on the line to stop the run.
Outlook: Outside of his blocking ability, the loss of Darius Walker early to the NFL didn't turn out to be that big a deal; he wouldn't have helped the ground game behind last year's line. The three backs would be phenomenal if they could be combined into one player, but as a trio they should quickly make the Irish ground game a strength if the passing game is able to pen things up a little more downfield and if the line isn't next-level bad again.
Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters: Everyone is back in the receiving corps except for the one big-time player, tight end John Carlson, who was slightly overrated, but led the team with 40 catches for 372 yards and three touchdowns. Looking to fill the void will be 6-5, 230-pound sophomore Mike Ragone, a good receiver but a questionable blocker. He caught one pass for seven yards, but he has tremendous speed and should be great at stretching the field. He was a big-time recruit who has to play like it.

The team's leading wide receiver option is sophomore Duval Kamara, a 6-5, 222-pound presence who finished second on the team with 32 catches for 357 yards and a team-leading four touchdowns. While he's not a speedster on the outside, he has good enough wheels to get deep averaging 11.2 yards per catch. His longest grab last year was just 35 yards.

Back at the other starting receiver spot is veteran David Grimes, a 5-10, 177-pound senior who was overshadowed early in his career but didn't break out last season, partly because of an ankle injury that cost him two games, catching 27 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns averaging a mere 8.3 yards per catch. He has tremendous speed and should start making bigger plays both inside and out if he can get in the clear. He has a problem getting beaten up by bigger defensive backs.

Projected Top Reserves: While Kamara is the best option at the outside X position, it was 5-10, 197-pound junior George West who saw the majority of the starts. However, he only caught 21 passes for 172 yards averaging a mere 8.2 yards per grab. He has good speed and quickness, showing it off as a kick returner, and showed excellent promise after a big spring last year, but he suffered a hand injury and while he got healthy, he didn't make a big impact showing no ability to get by more physical defenders. 

6-4, 209-pound junior Robby Parris is a good-sized target who started in four games and finished third on the team with 29 grabs for 361 yards and a touchdown. He's a smart, tough veteran who disappeared late in the year but was the team's best receiver for a six-game stretch. He might be a number one target, but he'll burn a lot of secondaries as a two or a three.

Senior D.J. Hord returned from an Achilles tendon injury who only played in six games and made just two catches for seven yards. At 6-1 and 197 pounds he has good size to go along with tremendous speed, possibly the best on the team, but he has to show it off. He was the Missouri Player of the Year for 2004 and is due for some good luck.

At some point, 6-0, 190-pound sophomore Golden Tate will be a big-time player. Buried on the depth chart, Tate might have problems seeing time early on, but he had a big spring and is too talented not to become a factor. One of the team's biggest recruits two years ago, he has 4.4 speed, decent size, and phenomenal all-around athleticism. He made six catches last year for 131 yards and a touchdown in a limited role.

On the way is top recruit Michael Floyd, a 6-3, 200-pound Mr. Football in Minnesota, he caught 59 passes for 1,247 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior. A great athlete, he's expected to step in right away and be a factor

Watch Out For ... Ragone. Even though he suffered a knee injury in high school, he was considered one of the nation's best prospects with his combination of speed and toughness. Along with being a great football player, he was a star high school wrestler. Now he has to be a featured go-to, bail-out target for Clausen over the next three years.
Potential. There's a ton of speed, good size, and lots of promise among a group that didn't provide much help for the quarterbacks, but didn't get much help, either. With everyone of note returning there's no reason this can't be a far better unit.
A true number one target. Eventually, Kamara or Grimes could be the number one, go-to guy for big plays, or it could be Ragone, but there isn't any one target who'll make defenses sweat on day one.
Outlook: It was a chicken-and-egg situation. Was the receiving corps lousy because of the quarterbacks or were the quarterbacks lousy because of the receiving corps? There's a ton of returning experience, good promise, and speed, size, and talent. Now everyone has to grow up.
Rating: 6.5

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: One of the worst offensive lines in America gets everyone back but its strong center, John Sullivan. A long-time starter, he was replaced late in the year by 6-4, 287-pound junior Dan Wenger, who has great upside and talent with the ability to play guard, where he started for the first three games of last season, or center. After struggling his first year with an arm injury, he has grown into a good prospect who should replace Sullivan without a problem.

The star of the line is supposed to be junior Sam Young, a superstar recruit from the 2006 class, but he hasn't lived up to his pro potential yet. At 6-8 and 310 pounds he has tremendous size and has been a durable option on both the left and right sides, starting in 25 straight games, but he has been mediocre in pass protection and hasn't used his combination of skills to be a force. He's a great athlete who should be an anchor, and while the problems on the line weren't all his fault, he didn't help the cause.

Back on the other side is 6-7, 308-pound senior Paul Duncan, who started out last year at left tackle before switching to the right side after two games. With his size he needs to be more of a mauler for the running game and he has to be far more consistent for the passing attack. Pass protection has been a major issue after having major problems.

Senior Mike Turkovich took over for Dan Santucci and started every game at left guard. The 6-6, 301-pound senior is physical and versatile, and now he should finally come into his own, at least that's the hope, after a year of starting experience and with a neck injury suffered early in his career behind him.

Back again at right guard will likely be 6-4, 303-pound junior Eric Olsen, who started over the second half of last season and turned out to be decent. Extremely athletic for his size, the 2006 New York Gatorade Player of the Year has the feet of a tackle and the toughness of a defensive tackle. He'll have to battle to keep the job, but he should grow into a good one with more time.

Projected Top Reserves: Combining with Olsen at right guard is 6-5, 339-pound junior Chris Stewart, the team's biggest lineman and potentially a good run blocker. The former defensive lineman saw time over the second half of last year at guard, and while he's best suited for the inside, he could be a backup at tackle if needed.

It'll be up to a pair of untested sophomores, Matt Romine and Taylor Dever, to be the main backups at tackle. The 6-5, 279-pound Romine saw a little bit of time early on but got hurt and was out for the year. He still needs to get past an ankle injury, and he's not that huge at 6-5 and 279 pounds, but he'll get every shot possible to take over the left tackle job from Duncan.

The 6-5, 289-pound Dever was a nice recruit who isn't going to beat out Young on the right side, but could quickly take over on the left if he's more consistent in practices than Romine or Duncan.

Watch Out For ... the left tackle job to be a battle all season long. Duncan might be a veteran, but he hasn't been very good. Romine and Dever will be given long, long looks to take hold of the gig.
Experience. Four starters return and Wenger might as well be counted as a fifth returning starter. This group took its major lumps as it got its feet wet, and now it has to pay off with a more consistent year.
Production. To be fair, recent Irish lines were full of veterans and they produced a fat load of jack squat. Last year's group at least has the excuse of inexperience, but if it isn't far better, the offense will continue to go nowhere.
Outlook: The 2006 line was full of long-time veterans and had the same starting combination for all 13 games. It was awful. Last year's line was full of mostly new starters and good recruits with excellent résumés, and it was beyond awful allowing 58 sacks and getting no push for the ground game. The performance was inexcusable, and while Young is a great talent to work around, Turkovich and Duncan have to be night-and-day better on the left side.
Rating: 5.5