An important note to consider in this article. When I say a player has three years left, I mean they have this year and two more after that. I include this year as remaining eligibility since the season hasn't started.
The Irish have starter Carlyle Holiday for two more years. Pat Dillingham has three years remaining and freshman Chris Olsen was red-shirted leaving four years of eligibility. The Irish have heralded incoming freshman Brady Quinn reporting in August.
The Irish only need to sign one quarterback. It's possible they might take two but only one quarterback is really needed at this point.
I have preached for years that the Irish need to get into the habit of taking one quarterback every year so they have balance of experience and promising youth. While that all sounds fine and dandy, it's easier said than done. Say players like Brian Brohm and Chase Patton are their top targets at quarterback—I have no idea but we will just use these names as an example. The Irish hold out for one of these two to commit but both wait until the end to decide. What if both choose another school? . It's easy to say that they should sign only one quarterback but it's also a difficult thing to do.
It appears that Julius Jones will be returning this fall for a final year. Current starter Ryan Grant has two years of eligibility remaining. Marcus Wilson has three years of eligibility remaining. Jeff Jenkins was red-shirted and has four years of eligibility remaining. Rashon Powers-Neal and Nate Schiccatano are likely moving to fullback. The Irish do have incoming freshman Travis Thomas reporting in August.
The opportunity to play early and often is vast here for the right prospects. Ryan Grant is a very strong runner but doesn't appear to have home run speed. Wilson was hurt most of last year and this spring so we haven't witnessed what he can do with the ball in his hands. Film of Travis Thomas shows that he is a solid back but he doesn't appear to have that home run speed either. The Irish will likely take two running backs this year and hopefully both have that extra gear and the ability to make defenders miss. The ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and make plays in open space will also be a priority.
Notre Dame will be very inexperienced at this position this year. The Irish don't have a player with any experience playing this position. Rashon Powers-Neal looks like a likely candidate but he has never played the position before and wasn't able to concentrate solely on the position during spring because of injuries at running back. Nate Schiccatano is in the same boat as Powers-Neal and has never played the position. Jeff Jenkins could move to this position in the future. The Irish do have a very talented fullback reporting in August in Ashley McConnell. McConnell will have the opportunity to push for immediate playing time.
Need: Maybe 1
I say maybe because it will depend on how these inexperienced players develop. If a couple of these players appear to be the future at fullback, I don't expect Notre Dame to recruit another fullback this year.
Notre Dame has a lot of talent coming back next year. Omar Jenkins will use his final year of eligibility this year. Ronnie Rodamer has two years remaining but it's unclear if he will be invited back for a fifth year. Matt Shelton has three years remaining as does Rhema McKnight and Maurice Stovall. The Irish also have four players reporting that could end up playing at wide receiver in Jeff Samardzija, Chinedum Ndukwe, Chase Anastasio and Ambrose Wooden. I expect one to play another position when all is said and done.
Both Jenkins and Rodamer might be gone after next year leaving only McKnight and Stovall as the only experienced players. A big priority will likely be speed. The Irish don't have a player that has experience that I would say has home run speed. All four players can make big plays but I don't think any possess truly great speed. The Irish will likely be looking for two players that can stretch the field and give them a consistent deep threat.
Notre Dame has more tight ends than they probably need at this point. Gary Godsey should be back for a final year. Billy Palmer has two years remaining and has experience. Jared Clark also has two years and is starting to emerge as a playmaker. Anthony Fasano and Marcus Freeman have four years remaining after red-shirting. The Irish also have to incoming freshman in highly touted Greg Olsen and John Carlson.
The Irish don't need another tight end but if a difference-maker is interested, I doubt the Irish will shut the door on the opportunity. They will likely only consider a tight end if he is a great one.
Inexperience and a lack of numbers tell the story of the 2003 offensive line. Sean Milligan and Jim Molinaro are in their last years of eligibility. Dan Stevenson, Mark LeVoir, Zach Giles, Jeff Thompson and Darrin Mitchell all have three years remaining. Bob Morton, Brian Mattes, Scott Raridon, Jamie Ryan and James Bonelli have four years remaining. The Irish signed two freshman that will report in August—Ryan Harris and John Sullivan.
The Irish came up short last year and really needed to sign at least three offensive linemen—four would've been ideal. The only younger guys considered true tackles by many are Mattes, Harris and Raridon. The rest are interior players although many will be tried at the tackle positions. The Irish will need to sign at least two tackle prospects in this class and probably at least four total players.
Interior Defensive Line
Cedric Hilliard and Darrell Campbell are in their final year of eligibility. Greg Pauly has another year after this year. Brian Beidatsch will have three years remaining if he moves inside—a possible move. Derek Landri and Dan Santucci were red-shirted and have fours years remaining. Trevor Laws reports in August as a freshman.
Need: Possible 2
Greg Pauly will be the only experienced player after the 2003 season. Others could gain experience this year, but Pauly will be the only guy with a lot of experience. The Irish could move Kyle Budinscak inside for 2004 as well. The Irish will need at least one player and probably two.
Jason Sapp, Kyle Budinscak and Jerome Collins all have two years remaining. Justin Tuck has three years remaining but how long will he stick around if he continues to improve? Chris Frome and Travis Leitko both look promising and have fours years left after red-shirting. Victor Abiamiri enrolls this August as one of the most heralded recruits in years.
Need: Possible 2
The Irish should be fine for the immediate future. We are not certain if Jason Sapp will be back the following year. We are not certain if Jerome Collins will be a linebacker or defensive end. If Tuck continues to improve, don't expect him around for long. The Irish will need to sign at least one great pass rusher and hopefully two--speed off the edge being the priority.
Mike Goolsby has one year remaining. It is anything from definite if he will play this year. Courtney Watson should put a stamp on his final season. Derek Curry will have two years remaining. Promising juniors Brandon Hoyte and Corey Mays have three years remaining. The Irish are thin at linebacker and signing four last year will help with depth but more are needed. Dwight Stephenson, Mitchell Thomas, Nick Borseti and Joe Brockington all report in August as freshmen. Stephenson might be destined to play with a hand or two on the ground in the future so the need may be greater in 2003.
It will all depend on where these players line up when they get here. Hoyte will likely always play the weak side. Mays will likely always play the middle. An outside linebacker is needed. Mitchell Thomas could play it. Stephenson was said to be recruited here but I think he will end up on the defensive line. Borseti is a middle linebacker or could move to defensive line. Brockington will probably play the weak side position. The outside position is probably the biggest need so two linebackers that have speed and strength and the ability to cover the tight end is important. A middle linebacker is also important as well.
Glenn Earl will finish his career at Notre Dame this year. Strong safety Garron Bible will have two years remaining if invited back for a fifth year. Quentin Burrell and Lionel Bolen will have three years remaining. Jake Carney will have four years remaining. The Irish have a host of potential defensive backs reporting in August. Freddie Parish is the most likely safety candidate. Chase Anastasio could move here as well. Carlos Campbell might see some action here in the future as well.
The need will depend on a few factors. Where Parish plays will be important. If Carlos Campbell or Chase Anastasio end up playing safety the need will be less. The Irish will need at least one and possibly two depending on where everyone settles.
Vontez Duff and Jason Beckstrom will use their final year of eligibility this fall. Preston Jackson has two years remaining. Dwight Ellick will have three years remaining. Mike Richardson will have four. LaBrose Hedgemon, Isaiah Gardner and Tommy Zbikowski will all report as corner prospects in August. Ambrose Wooden might be moved here as well.
A team can never have enough cornerbacks. The Irish have struggled to land quality corners in the past but that trend appears to be changing. As Notre Dame becomes more aggressive with their defense, you should see more names popping up at corner in the future. Two corners are needed and hopefully they can land two great prospects to go with the three they landed last year.
Nick Setta will use his final year of eligibility this year. He might end up being both the punter and the kicker of the Irish in 2003. A kicker will certainly be needed. Geoff Price will report in August to challenge Setta for the punting duties.
A kicker is very important to this class. The Irish have to target and land one early so they are not left scrambling at the end. I expect Notre Dame to wrap this commitment up fairly early in the recruiting season.
Notre Dame will likely have anywhere from 18-21 scholarships to give next year. I am going to guess they will sign an even 20 when recruiting is finished. It will be important to the future success of this team to sign a balanced class filling all the needs of each position.
How do I see it breaking down?
If the Irish can sign something close to this breakdown while filling their needs with quality players they should have a successful recruiting season. Let the circus begin.