Heading into this recruiting season the Irish clearly had some need areas they had to address. Offensive line, defensive back and defensive line were the most important areas of need for the Irish in this current recruiting class, and they've still got a ways to go to fill them.
Why is offensive line so important? The Irish lack depth at the position. Offensive guard Dan Stevenson and offensive tackle Mark Levoir will be in their final season in 2005 if they decide to return for a fifth season. If they don't, Notre Dame could be in some trouble.
The only two players who've seen consistent mop-up duty for the Irish at offensive line has been guards Dan Santucci and Jamie Ryan. Ryan has played some tackle for the Irish, but most consider him a guard prospect.
That is a total of 10 linemen so the Irish clearly need some depth and fast.
The list for talented offensive lineman was starting to dwindle before the firing of Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham with Dan Doering, A.J. Trump, Paul Duncan and Rafael Eubanks being the top targets.
It takes time for offensive linemen to develop both physically and technically, but the Irish might not have that luxury in the future.
The new coaching staff will have to get back in with some of these top targets because the Irish are very thin at offensive line. Some might suggest not only on numbers, but on talent as well.
Defensive back is another scary predicament. Junior cornerback Mike Richardson has two years remaining but is the only player returning with real playing experience. Junior Jake Carney also has two years remaining, but he appears to be behind some budding star-quality safety candidates.
Besides Richardson, sophomore Ambrose Wooden is the only cornerback with any experience. Four freshmen are being red-shirted this year and will have four years remaining, but we've yet to see if they can be the answer at defensive back. None were given an opportunity to help a struggling defensive backfield this season so we're not sure what that says about their talent or potential.
The Irish should be set at safety with Tom Zbikowski having three years remaining, and Freddie Parish and Chinedum Ndukwe all having two years remaining, and we've heard good things about freshman safety Anthony Vernaglia.
Notre Dame's only corner commitment—Brandon Harrison—appears to be looking strongly at other schools and the Irish might be out of the race at this point. Cary Harris and Reggie Smith were the only known prospects left at corner for this 2005 recruiting class and neither was considered a Notre Dame lean, and some might suggest they won't even visit Notre Dame.
It's quite possible the Irish could strike out at corner this season, which is never a good thing, but even worse considering their lack of depth and maybe talent at such a critical position.
Notre Dame's only safety commitment—David Bruton—is also visiting schools. He'll visit Wisconsin this weekend. Ray Herring is the only other known safety prospect left on the board for the Irish at this point.
As you can see, the Irish desperately need defensive backs in this class. Unfortunately, they're short on prospects once again.
Defensive line isn't as big a need area, but depth is a concern as well.
The Irish are hoping all-time sack leader Justin Tuck returns at defensive end next season for his final year. Defensive tackle Brian Beidatsch will also return along the interior for one final season.
Junior Derek Landri saw considerable time at nose guard this season and will have two years remaining. Sophomore Trevor Laws also saw a lot of time and will have three years remaining along the interior. Many expect these two to be the future along the interior defensive line for the next two seasons, but the Irish are thin after both players.
After Landri and Laws, only freshman Brandon Nicolas is slotted as an interior lineman at this point. Beidatsch will give the Irish one more year but will be gone after 2005.
Defensive end appears to be in good shape, especially if Tuck returns. Sophomore Victor Abiamiri should slide right into the end spot opposite Tuck next season. Juniors Travis Leitko and Chris Frome also have two seasons remaining and both are said to have considerable talent.
Behind those four are sophomore Dwight Stephenson, Jr. and freshman Ronald Talley and Justin Brown. We wouldn't be surprised if at least one of these three move inside under the new coaching staff. We think Talley is the most likely candidate.
Notre Dame did have a commitment from rush end prospect Lawrence Wilson for the 2005 class, but Wilson, like other commitments in the 2005 class, is considering his options and is still talking with Ohio State and Michigan.
Besides Wilson, Raymond Henderson and Derrell Hand appear to be the only two targets left on Notre Dame's board with an offer. Henderson has dropped the Irish from consideration. Hand is still waiting to see what happens with the Irish coaching search.
As you can see, the Irish have some holes to fill with this 2005 recruiting class and the prospects to fill those holes are starting to dwindle. The new coaching staff will have a big challenge on their hands to fill these needs, and if they don't, the effects will certainly be felt.
Irish fans remember how inexperience along the offensive line stalled the Irish offense in 2003. If Notre Dame can't fill these need areas this season, we could be looking at a similar type of season in the near future.