At first glance you might think that there is greater opportunity for the freshman to play on defense rather than offense considering there are six starting positions that have been vacated by graduating seniors. As you look at the depth chart, you realize that there have been some very good athletes waiting in the wings for their opportunity to play. So while there are more open competitions for the starting spots on defense, the chance that a freshman starts or even sees meaningful playing time is remote.
Pat Kuntz: Kuntz plays with the energy and enthusiasm that reminds me of Chris Zorich. Pat may not end up being a two-time All-American like Zorich, but his energy is infectious, and teams that win need players that play at his level of energy. As a senior Kuntz had 114 tackles, 27 tackles for a loss, and 14 sacks. As a junior he had 120 tackles and 10 sacks; great statistics for a defensive lineman. Like offensive linemen, defensive linemen need a year at the training table to add girth, so expect Kuntz to use this year to build a college football body and work on technique.
Derrell Hand: Notre Dame isn't deep along the defensive line, only Brian Beidatsch, Derek Landri and Trevor Laws have playing experience, and Hand does have the size (6-3, 300 pounds) to play immediately, but he'll need a year to reshape his body. If Notre Dame runs into an injury or two along the defensive front, Rick Minter will likely turn to a couple players that have been in the program, Dwight Stephenson Jr. and Brandon Nicolas before looking at Hand. However, Hand should have a good chance to see playing time the following year.
Kevin Washington: Washington isn't as thick as Brandon Hoyte, but like Hoyte, he played quarterback for his high school team. At Notre Dame, Kevin could play multiple positions, weak-side linebacker (Will), Apache backer or even safety. I expect Kevin to settle in at weak-side backer, which means playing time will be scarce with Hoyte returning for his third year as a starter and the emotional leader of the defense. Washington is a solid athlete. He has very good quickness for a linebacker and he enjoys contact. Those attributes will make him a good candidate for special teams, but I expect Washington to use this year to adjust to the college game.
Steve Quinn: Quinn is probably similar to Anthony Vernaglia in that he is an outstanding all-around athlete. Steve could grow in to a tight end or defensive end, but like Vernaglia, he'll likely start the season at the Apache linebacker position. I expect Maurice Crum and Anthony Vernaglia to earn most of the playing time at Apache, so I don't expect to see Quinn line up on defense, but like Kevin Washington, he has the attributes that make him a good candidate for special teams.
Scott Smith: Being from Chicago, I should pull for Smith to earn the starting middle linebacker (Mike) spot, but Corey Mays has been waiting patiently for his turn and he's also from Chicago, so I must pull for the guy with seniority. Nonetheless, I liked this kid from the get-go. He's got good speed; he has a nose for the ball, and delivers a hit when he gets there. Since he committed, he has spent a lot of time around the program, so he is comfortable with the program and he is familiar with the coaches. I don't expect Smith to beat out Mays for the starting middle backer position, but of all the freshmen defensive players, I believe Smith is the closest to earning playing time on special teams.
Kyle McCarthy: Kyle was a quarterback in high school, but he did play cornerback, so he is an interesting prospect. I'm not certain where Kyle will end up, although I've been told that he will start out at cornerback. He appears to have above average speed so he could settle in at corner. He could factor in the return game because he is dangerous when he gets the ball in his hands – just not this year. Like nearly all of his classmates, I believe Kyle will spend the 2005 season adjusting to the college game, adding strength and learning.
David Bruton: Bruton has been one of the most discussed recruits in this class. He has all the "measureables" that Notre Dame fans want – speed and size. He runs the 100-meters in 10.6 seconds and the 200-meters in 21.8 seconds regularly. Last year when he attended the Michigan football camp he was given the award for the fastest player at the camp. Many people have pegged him as a player they think will step in and play immediately, but I think there will be an adjustment for Bruton in college. Don't get me wrong, I think Notre Dame certainly needs his athleticism, and he'll be a great addition to the team, I just think the expectations for him have grown too high. At safety the Irish have several very good players returning so Bruton will likely use this year to develop.
Ray Herring: Herring reminds me of former Irish defensive back A'jani Sanders (‘95-‘99). He doesn't have great size for a safety, but he flies after the ball and makes plays. He's going to be a big player for the Irish in the future, and he'll be a fan favorite, but with Tommy Zbikowski, Freddie Parish and Chinedum Ndukwe returning at safety, it's likely that Herring use this year to add size and strength.
In 2003 only two freshmen found the field, Rhema McKnight and Maurice Stovall. In 2004 the number of freshman that played was unusually high with six; Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija, Ryan Harris, Victor Abiamiri, Chinedum Ndukwe and Freddie Parish. Last season the number of freshmen that played was four; David Wolke, Chris Vaughn, Darius Walker and Justin Hoskins. I don't expect that many freshmen will see the field in 2005.