Will youth be served?Two career backups along the O-Line offer security and more on-field value than (most) potential commitments waiting in the wings:
Guard/Tackle Andrew Nuss: Deemed the line's "swingman" by consecutive coaching staffs, Nuss' jack-of-all-trades skill set would be a welcomed addition to the 2011 roster, not to mention a unit bereft of veterans along the interior. Chris Watt, Braxston Cave and Trevor Robinson are slated for starting roles with Mike Golic backing up each of the three interior line spots (LG, C, RG). The next man in line? Watt, backing up C and the other guard.
The senior Nuss would be invaluable as a backup at both guard spots and in a pinch at tackle – a position he played for the better part of 2010 including 2nd half rotation at USC.
On-field argument against: His inclusion in the mix still affords one additional verbal commitment (especially a certain runner from New Jersey), so roster space is not yet an issue. Is he a better offensive lineman than classmate Matt Romine, who started twice in 2010 at tackle (ahead of Nuss)? Maybe not, but the question is if he's a better fit for the 2011 offensive line's needs?
Likelihood he'll return: 50 percent
2011 Scholarship No. 84
Tackle Matt Romine: Two career starts and experience in 28 college football games. If starter Zack Martin or Taylor Dever were to turn his ankle vs. Michigan in Week Two next September, who would you rather have protecting Notre Dame's QB du jour? Matt Romine or a redshirt-freshman that's never experienced a collegiate snap?
Thus is the cogent case to be plead for all prospective 5th-year offensive linemen: the position is not manned with consistent success by 18 and 19-year-old kids (Zack Martin is the exception…now consider the havoc wreaked upon Dan Wenger, Sam Young, Chris Stewart, Eric Olsen, and Trevor Robinson in their teenage baptisms-by-fire of season's past.)
On-field argument against: He lacks Nuss' versatility to dates, which means the inclusion of a 24th verbal commitment would indirectly pit the classmates against one another for a final official roster spot. If no other commitment is added to the class of 2011, Romine would be IrishEyes' choice for spot No. 85.
Likelihood he'll return: 50 percent
2011 Scholarship No. 85
Mike Ragone – on the outside looking in?On the surface, a tight end unit containing proven Tyler Eifert (3 years of eligibility remaining), 4-star Alex Welch (4 years), Jake Golic (3 years) and incoming freshman Ben Koyack (5 stars) would seem sufficient.
Consider that one year ago today Tyler Eifert's career was in jeopardy due to a recurring back injury, and things are suddenly less clear. Or simply invoke the names of Joey Hiben, Konrad Reuland, Joseph Fauria, Will Yeatman, (Ragone himself) and the early NFL Draft entry of 2008 recruit Kyle Rudolph and you can see the need for multiple tight ends in South Bend.
Ragone may indeed by a luxury item at present, but if he's not in the fold, can Golic step into his role as a move blocker in two tight end sets? Can the untested Welch? (Because Koyack is unlikely ready for such physical, veteran duties). I've always felt Ragone could put it together and on a personal note, genuinely enjoy interviewing him as his passion for the team is evident.
Argument against: Ragone's case could well be determined by his off-field transgression of May 2010 as he appears to be the only potential applicant with any personal baggage to his detriment.
If the Irish strike out with both remaining recruiting targets (for a class of 23 rather than 25) Ragone still appears to be the seventh man among six spots for 2011. Could the staff deem Ragone more important to the upcoming season than Romine or Nuss? Certainly, but not from my point of view as a veteran offensive linemen offers more program stability than does a standard blocking tight end. And if given a choice between Ragone vs. record-setting kicker David Ruffer, well…
With two past knee injuries and a 2010 pre-season lost to heat stroke – coupled with missed opportunities as a pass-catcher in 2009 and '10, not to mention his May '10 arrest – it appears a 5th chance might not be in the cards for Scout.com's No. 2 ranked tight end of 2007.
Likelihood he'll return: 30 percent
2011 Scholarship No. 86
2010 likely their lastIn addition to Brandon Walker (discussed in Part I), defensive end Emeka Nwankwo and linebacker Steve Paskorz have likely suited for the last time with the Irish. Paskorz appeared to challenge for an ILB rotation role prior to suffering a non-contact knee injury in August that sidelined him for the season.
Nwankwo was the spring darling of 2010 but just three tackles and lost late-season field time to freshman Kona Schwenke likely sealed his fate.
The final prospective addition is 5th-year senior center Dan Wenger, who has applied to the NCAA for a rare 6th season of eligibility after missing 2010 (his 5th year) due to August concussions.
Wenger also sat out his true freshman season of 2006 but was noted in the team's media guide as a, "Promising center who was hampered by injury most of the year…named show player of the week on at least one occasion…" – a reference that could doom his appeal if based on medical hardship in '06 as well.