The Irish have a number of talented offensive prospects reporting August 10th. Some could become legends at Notre Dame in the mold of Raghib Ismail, Joe Montana or Tim Brown. In many cases, they might have to wait a year before the legend starts.
The most likely candidate to play as a freshman in my mind is Ambrose Wooden. Wooden is an easy pick considering his athletic ability but he has never played wide receiver before and could probably use a year to learn the position.
The reason I think Wooden will play this year is because he can do so many things. He can play special teams, he can be a wide receiver and he can be used as a weapon in the offense looking for weapons.
The Irish struggled catching the ball out of the backfield last year. Is it far-fetched to think we might see Wooden lined up in the pro set backfield catching balls in the flat? Or maybe the slot receiver catching passes underneath where his feet are no match for linebackers? My prediction is obviously based on the assumption that Wooden can catch—something hardly factual at this point.
Another player who could see some action this year is Ashley McConnell. McConnell will have a lot to learn but he is basically in the same position as current fullbacks Rashon Powers-Neal and Nate Schiccatano—neither having been a fullback before. McConnell has quickness and is light on his feet and could become a weapon in the offense early. Can McConnell block? This could be the factor that holds McConnell back.
Will Brady Quinn take over the number two spot? If he does he will probably play at least some. Many expected Chris Olsen to do it during his freshman season but Pat Dillingham wasn't going to give it up. I don't think Olsen will lay down either.
Quinn being at Notre Dame will certainly help his chances. He has all the physical skills and it wouldn't surprise me if he did. Still, Chris Olsen is a confident kid and I think he will hold off Quinn for at least a while and if he does, I don't think the staff will waste a year. If Holiday gets hurt, I think it's anybody's job.
One of the two tight ends could see playing time this year. Chris Olsen is probably the most likely because on film he looks to be a devastating blocker. His ability to block and get down field will likely give him a legitimate chance of playing early.
John Carlson might be just as talented as Olsen catching the ball but blocking will be the key for him. I think Carlson will need time to work on his technique and to add some weight before he is ready.
History tells us that offensive linemen don't play as freshmen. The Irish might not have the luxury of keeping both freshmen off the field if injuries hit the offensive line. Ryan Harris has as much potential as any lineman I've seen but he will report at 280 pounds at best. There is a big jump between college and high school as an offensive lineman. Usually most players are just physically bigger in high school so dominating is easy. Harris appears to have excellent technique and a good head on his shoulders so it's not inconceivable that he would play. I'm still guessing he will need a year of seasoning and lifting before he sees the field.
John Sullivan is already a big man at 6-4, 290-pounds. He is very strong and an accomplished wrestler so he understands balance and leverage. Sullivan didn't play against the best competition and usually looked mammoth compared to his competition. Sullivan also has a lot of potential and could be ready to play early but I also think he will need a year of seasoning before he plays at Notre Dame.
I'm going to bet that Travis Thomas surprises people with his career at Notre Dame. With a healthy Ryan Grant and a returning Julius Jones in front of him, he will have a hard time find carries this year. He still must beat out Marcus Wilson and Jeff Jenkins just to get to number three on the depth chart. If he does play it will be because he is a very gifted player and that would be a good sign.
The final three are wide receivers Jeff Samardzija, Chinedum Ndukwe and Chase Anastasio. I think all three have a lot of talent but I don't think any of the three will push those in front of them. Samardzija and Ndukwe are very similar to Stovall, Rodamer and Jenkins on film and I don't think either can supplant these three. Anastasio has more wiggle and quickness in his game and that has to be tempting. Anastasio—like Wooden—doesn't have much experience playing wide receiver however and could probably use a year of seasoning. Anastasio could show that he has something that Wooden doesn't have could be the one wide receiver that plays this year.
The offensive players reporting have potential to be solid—if not great players for Notre Dame. I do think that many will benefit from a year of learning their position and gaining some weight. Some could see the field for just special teams play. I don't think you will see a lot of the offensive players playing a lot of minutes in 2003.