Getting to Know the Irish

Anyone who watched Notre Dame take the USC Trojans down to the wire only to lose on a last-second QB sneak should know that the Irish are loaded to the hilt at most positions, providing a difficult match-up for the Cougars across the depth chart.

Here's a position-by-position breakdown of the Irish. Quarterback

If you tuned into national talk radio this week you'd hear a lot of chatter regarding Brady Quinn's prospects as an NFL quarterback in relation to Matt Leinart who many consider a shoe-in for the first pick in next year's NFL draft. Are they comparable? Yes. Time to tone down the hyperbole? No hyperbole in use here.

Brady Quinn is as legit as any quarterback in the country right now. The 6'4", 230-pound junior has improved drastically from the quarterback who was at the mercy of Mendenhall's aggressive defense from a year ago. Quinn proved last year to be a quarterback that managed the pocket well and that he could take many-a-hit in the pocket. This hasn't changed from last year.

Other aspects of his game have changed for the better and a lot of the credit has to go to Charlie Weiss and company instilling an offense that compliments and enhances Quinn's strengths. Quinn can make all the throws and has a cannon for an arm. He has noticeably more faith in his receivers and the offense in general and has improved greatly from a year ago. Quinn could easily be listed as a top 5 quarterback in the country six games into the season.

Running Back

Darius Walker is the primary ball-carrier for the Irish offense. He's a 5'10", 208-pound sophomore who has deceptive speed, good field vision with the patience to find the hole while in the backfield.

Walker is a bit of a finesse back who won't break many tackles and has a tendency to be too patient losing yards on plays that should easily go for 2-3 yards. He's a very good receiver out of the backfield and picks up blitzes out of the backfield extremely well.

His backup, Travis Thomas, is someone Cougar fans will remember for fumbling the ball twice in the game last season. Since that time he's found it difficult getting out of the doghouse as Walker has taken over. Thomas has similar abilities as Walker and can be effective if called upon.

Rashon Powers-Neal is the primary fullback and was suspended for the USC game. Notre Dame uses their fullback much like BYU does in that he won't touch the ball much at all, as he's used primarily for blocking duties.

Tight End

The Irish have a good one in Anthony Fasano. Fasano is a sure-fire NFLer as he does everything well from blocking outside linebackers and even defensive ends to making acrobatic catches downfield. The 6'5", 255-pound junior doesn't have blazing speed, but has a great feel for the game and is one of Notre Dame's most effective weapons.

Wide Receivers

Size will be the biggest challenge BYU's CBs must overcome as the Irish field a couple of 6'5" outside receivers in Maurice Stovall and Jeff Samardzija. Samardzija uses his 6'5" frame a little more effectively than Stovall in catching balls in traffic while Stovall is the best deep threat for the Irish offense.

They'll be backed up by David Grimes, a true freshman who can make great open field moves and Matt Shelton who like Stovall is a legitimate deep threat. The Irish look very talented at the wide receiver position and should make life difficult for BYU's inexperienced and undersized cornerbacks.

Offensive Line

Notre Dame starts Ryan Harris, Dan Santucci, Bob Morton, Dan Stevenson and Mark LeVoir as their five offensive linemen. This is a unit that has improved almost as much as Brady Quinn from a season ago, bowling over opposing defenses to mount an effective run attack while giving Quinn all the time he needs in the pocket on passing plays.

LeVoir is the marquee name in this group starting at Left Tackle. The 6'7", 311-pound Senior is as dominant a Left Tackle as anyone in the country and BYU will be hard-pressed to do much against him defensively. All of ND's OLs have experience and could be considered the strength of this Notre Dame squad.

Defensive Line

Notre Dame will start Victor Abiamiri and freshman Ronald Talley at the end positions on defense. Both are around 6'4", 260 pounds. While Abiamiri is a junior who mans the right side where offenses have been hard-pressed to make yards, Talley is a freshman who has been surprisingly effective for his age. Talley should be a great one by the time he's done.

Their tackles include Trevor Laws and Derek Landri. Laws is a 6'1", 293-pound beast who is the more classic form of ND's tackle tandem as he is used to solidify the middle and not go where the opposing offensive line wants him to go in stuffing up holes. He's also surprisingly quick off the snap of the ball.

Landri is a former California player of the year in high school. He's a bit undersized for a defensive tackle weighing in at 6'3", 263 pounds, but he's very quick and athletic with a constant motor. While ND is solid in the middle and along the edges on defense, they're not spectacular. BYU won't see the success running the ball against these guys as they did last week, but I look for BYU's OL to still be able to run the ball effectively.

Linebackers

The Irish will start senior Brandon Hoyte (6'0", 236 pounds) on the weakside, senior Corey Mays (6'1", 234 pounds) in the middle and Maurice Crum (6'0", 220 pounds) at the Apache LB position.

The Apache LB position replaces the classic Strong-side linebacking position in most traditional 4-3 sets. When you think stong-side backer, think of a Paul Walkenhorst-type linebacker who is most effective standing up blocks while taking on the tight end. The Apache is sort of a Cougarback in the Irish defense as it calls for a faster more athletic type of player to run around the field making plays in a bevy of different assignments.

While Hoyte and Mays are classic inside linebacker types who are both experienced and hard-hitters, Crum seems tailor-made for the Apache position and is making waves as a freshman. He should be an All-American in the coming years. He played safety in high school.

Cornerbacks

The cornerbacks have gone from a weakness to an emerging strength in the Irish defense. They start Ambrose Wooden, a 5'11", 197-pound sophomore with Mike Richardson a 5'11", 193-pound junior. Richardson switched over to CB last season having come out of high school as a quarterback/athlete type and playing wide receiver his first year at Notre Dame.

Wooden has the better speed and is better able to stay with speedsters downfield and will likely be matched up with Todd Watkins on Saturday. Wooden is solid, but not spectacular. He won't make many plays on the ball, but won't get embarrassed in coverage. ND looks to have a CB corps that is capable, but is able to be beat by an effective passing attack although they are much improved from a season ago.

Safeties

The safety position is the weakest part of the Irish defense. They start Tommy Zbikowski 6'0", 208-pound sophomore at free safety and Chinedum Ndukwe, a 6'2", 220-pound junior at the strong safety position. Both are effective run-stoppers, but have proved vulnerable in coverage especially last week against USC.

Both play downhill and are big hitters out of the backfield. They blitz very effectively when called upon and do well in linebacker-type assignments. They both tend to be too aggressive in run-support and can be beaten deep. Both are very talented, but need work in regards to discipline in providing consistent and effective over-the-top coverage.


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