As the Irish make the transition from an option style offense to a so called west coast offense, there is still no answer to who the starting quarterback will be or if they even have a signal caller that can handle this offense. Halfway through spring junior Jared Clark, who has been third string for the last two years, went to Willingham and decided to contribute to the team as a tight end. This is on the heels of former starting quarterbacks Gary Godsey moving to tight end and Arnez Battle to wide receiver.
Matt LaVecchio and Carlyle Holiday are apparently neck-and-neck for the starting position after spring practice. Willingham will keep his hand to himself until August. When the Irish did throw the last two years, their passing game was a shortage yardage attack which is what will be asked of them in the new system they are learning.
The development of the quarterbacks will center on the running game which has as many questions as the signal caller position. Four starters return but the group has not been consistent in it's level of play since they have been together. After moving to left guard out of necessity before the Tennessee game last year, Jordan Black moves back to left tackle.
A solid camp has solidified his position as staying at left tackle. All-American candidate Jeff Faine at center is the heart of the line but questions remain at both guard spots and right tackle. This also puts in question if Ryan Grant and Julius Jones will have holes to run through.
Battle was unable to stay healthy last year to give a good idea of his talents at wide receiver. With David Givens and Javin Hunter moving on to the NFL, several young receivers will have a chance to start plus highly touted receivers Maurice Stovall and Rhema McNight enter the mix in the fall.
Irish fans are asking the same question before this season as they did following Notre Dame's blowout loss to Oregon State in the Fiesta Bowl two years ago: Is there enough team speed, especially on defense?
The defense will have to find replacements for two star players -- end Anthony Weaver and linebacker Rocky Boiman. Not only were they two premiere players, they provided leadership on the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker Courtney Watson is the team's leading tackler, which includes an 18-tackle performance at Nebraska.
The strength of the Irish defense is in the secondary. Cornerbacks Shane Walton, a former all-Big East soccer performer, and Vontez Duff will man the outside. Donald Dykes and Gerome Sapp will be pushed at safety by Glenn Earl and Abram Elam, who collected two interceptions in limited time.
Nick Setta was 15 out of 17 on field goal attempts including 8 out of 8 from outside 40. One of the misses was good at Purdue but the officials didn't agree. Setta is one of the top five kickers in the country that displays the confidence that you want to see in a kicker. He feels like he shouldn't miss a kick.
When the Irish went 9-3 in 2000, everything went their way. Every fumble, every deflected pass fell into their laps. Last year the margin for error was slim as the breaks went against them.
A little Irish luck will be needed for this group to return to BCS contention. When Bob Davie took over for Lou Holtz, recruiting coordinator Bob Chmiel left him a stable full of talent. Once Chmiel had his title of recruiting coordinator removed by Davie and the program went without a head for recruiting, the talent level has slowly digressed.
Willingham doesn't have the luxury of talent that Davie had when he began. With the changes in schemes coupled with a normal tough Notre Dame schedule, an 8-plus win season would be a tremendous accomplishment for the first African American coach hired at Notre Dame in any sport."
WSBT Radio, South Bend
Pre and Post Game show host for Irish football