The Notre Dame offense can no longer use inexperience as an excuse. There are veteran players at literally every position. No two positions rely upon one another like quarterback and wide receiver, and that should be in good hands with junior signal caller Brady Quinn throwing passes to a veteran receiving corps.
Seniors Rhema McKnight and Maurice Stovall will team with junior Jeff Samardzija to lead the way at the wide receiver position. All three players have seen significant playing time since their freshmen seasons.
The question is not how many yards or touchdowns the wide receivers rack up, but rather how many meaningful yards and touchdowns the unit is able to combine for. Over the last two years Notre Dame played many games in which Quinn threw for huge numbers, but it was in large part due to the Irish falling behind early and simply abandoning the running game. That is not the way to win football games.
The true measure of success for the Notre Dame offense this season will be balance, and keeping an Irish defense off the field and rested. If Notre Dame is able to run the ball more consistently it will greatly aid Quinn's ability to connect with the likes of McKnight, Stovall, Samardzija, and hopefully fifth year senior Matt Shelton, assuming he is fully recovered from his knee injury he suffered last December.
The three aforementioned wide receivers are key, but additional help will be needed from other wide receivers, as well as sophomore tailback/wide receiver Justin Hoskins. Hoskins is a big play threat and that is something the Irish sorely missed over the course the past several seasons. Watch for him to become an integral part of the offense even when he is not carrying or catching the football. Even as a decoy he is a threat.
Redshirt sophomore Chase Anastasio is another candidate at wide receiver, along with incoming freshmen recruits David Grimes and DJ Hord. Anastasio has not been a major factor to date, but he does have three years of eligibility remaining. Notre Dame needs an injection of speed so either Grimes or Hord could earn playing time if they prove they have "football speed" this August during fall camp.
Everything appears to be in order for the Notre Dame passing game to take a step up to the next level. There is talent across the board, experience, and there is also a considerable amount of college and NFL coaching experience with the quarterback and wide receiver positions amongst the Irish coaching staff. The only issue is the possibility of injury to any one of McKnight, Stovall or Samardzija. Shelton is the wild card. If he is healthy he provides another deep threat along with Hoskins.
Recruiting - Notre Dame already has a commitment from Barry Gallup, Jr., WR, 5-11, 175-pounds, Wellesley, Mass., (The Belmont School), with an impending summer decision from Rob Parris, WR, 6-4, 185-pounds, Cleveland, Ohio, (St. Ignatius) coming down to Notre Dame or Michigan.The other key names to remember are Oklahoma products Laron Moore, WR, 5-9, 180-pounds, Midwest City, Okla. and George West, WR, 5-8, 170-pounds, Oklahoma City, Okla., (Northeast Academy), along with Lance Kendricks, WR, 6-4, 207-pounds, Milwaukee, Wis., (Rufus King), Terrence Austin, WR, 5-11, 170-pounds, Long Beach, Calif., (Poly), David Ausberry, WR, 6-4, 215-pounds, Lemoore, Calif. and Richard Jackson, WR, 6-3, 200-pounds, Clermont, Fla., (East Ridge).
Notre Dame is involved with other wide receiver recruits but the best bets will likely come from the group above.
Look for Notre Dame to take three wide receiver recruits, if not four this year. The need for both game breakers and sheer numbers is great considering McKnight, Stovall and Shelton will be gone after this season. Samardzija will be gone after the 2006 season is complete as well.
SMITTY'S TAKE - I am personally looking forward to a passing game that keeps defenses guessing and provides big plays when needed. With this coaching staff's reputation in the passing game there is little question that a major improvement will be seen come this fall.
Look for more and more wide receiver recruits to take notice of Notre Dame after the season starts and they are able to see first hand that Notre Dame is going to be a successful passing offense.