The Boys are Now Men
"The best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores." - Al McGuire
A year ago you could easily pick these players out from the other 70 or so upperclassmen. They thought about every step they made. They were pushed around during drills, and they generally had a coach screaming in their ear. Their jersey hung loosely down to their waist and the other players towered over them. Starting August 10, all that changes. These players will hit the practice field with a swagger, and an air of confidence. They have been in the program for a year. They have gone through spring practice, and the have spent a summer lifting weights with their now familiar teammates. They are part of the team and they will be counted on to contribute to the success of the program.
David Wolke: David is a pocket passer. He has good size, an adequate arm and he has a great deal of confidence. He can run when the opportunity presents itself, but he will look to throw the ball first. Statistically David didn't have a good spring game, throwing only two completions in eleven attempts, but I don't think that was representative of his ability. Wolke simply had no protection as the No. 1 defensive unit often overran the No. 2 offensive line. Last season David played in one series in one game and he handed the ball to the running back three times. I'm still scratching my head over the decision to play David late in a rare blowout win against Washington as it might cost him a year of eligibility. Wolke has indicated that he plans on petitioning the NCAA in order to have last year not count against his eligibility. Too many people have
Darrin Bragg: It's hard to figure that you could point to a player's second year as critical, but if Darrin is going to make his mark at Notre Dame as a quarterback, he will need to make a move this year. If Wolke or Sharpley beat him out for the back-up quarterback position this year, he will likely need to consider a position switch because Wolke is in his class and Sharpley is younger. With Zach Frazer coming in for the 2006 season, the competition will only increase and the odds of him securing playing time at quarterback will decrease. Last season I didn't get many opportunities to see Darrin operate the Notre Dame offense, but when we did, he showed us that he is a capable QB prospect. He isn't a running quarterback, although he does have good mobility. His future at quarterback will rest on his decision-making ability and not his physical ability. Bragg throws the ball just fine to be a successful college quarterback; the cerebral portion of the game is key for the quarterback in the Weis offense and if he can excel there, he has a chance to be Notre Dame's No. 2 this season. Darrin's brother, Craig led UCLA in receptions for four years and the Green Bay Packers recently drafted him.
Darius Walker: Last season Darius was outstanding and could have been Notre Dame's offensive MVP. Walker led the team in rushing with 786 yards and seven touchdowns. People toss out words like fast, speed, power, and strength to describe Walker and his running ability, but none accurately described him last season. He was successful last season because of his vision, his patience and his confidence in his offensive line. He rarely outraced anyone, and really didn't break many tackles. What he did do is move the ball forward, and that is what a good running back does. He runs well between the tackles and can get to the outside. He sets up his blocks very well and then hits the hole hard – he's decisive. He has good hands and for a freshman back, he blocked very well. With a full season in the program and a summer in the weight program, I expect to see a totally different player on August 10. He will still have the vision and everything else, but with the added strength, Darius will be a very special back. Those four-yard runs will turn into seven-yard runs. Those arm tackles will simply be broken like crape paper. His success will be due to a veteran offensive line, but also due to his growth and hard work. Gone are the days of when the Irish needed a yard for a first down and they were stuffed. Expect Darius to run for well over 1,000 yards and reestablish Notre Dame as a program with a power running game.
Justin Hoskins: Hoskins is considered one of the best athletes on the team and considered a difference maker. He has great speed and play-making ability, but like his classmate, Darius Walker, Justin really needed to spend a year in the Notre Dame strength program. Hoskins simply didn't have the size and strength to make a difference for Notre Dame last season, but he did gain some valuable playing experience. Hoskins can work out of the backfield on third down, or even slide over as a slot receiver. He doesn't have the size to carry the ball 25 times in a game, but he isn't a smallish third down running back. He can carry the ball between the tackles and he does run with authority. Fans have talked about moving Hoskins to cornerback, but with Walker, Travis Thomas and Jeff Jenkins as the only other scholarship running backs, and all of them bigger power running backs, Hoskins will be needed on offense. I'm not sure what to expect from Hoskins this year, but I do expect Weis to use him frequently from a number of formations.
Chauncey Incarnato: Offensive linemen are always the most fun to see at the beginning of their second year. Usually there has been a huge transformation from the body they brought with them their freshman year. Gone are the round shoulders and loose fitting jersey. Girth is in along with a numeral stretched across the chest. Coaches generally aren't concerned with the results of freshmen offensive lineman as long as they are progressing with their technique and Incarnato was a typical freshman offensive lineman. He was yelled at and generally struggled to dominate the man across from him. That will likely change this fall. Incarnato is big and strong, and he'll get the better of the defender more often than not. Chauncey is fairly mobile for his size and should develop into a fine offensive lineman for the Irish. He is probably better suited for right tackle, but might need to spend this year at guard due to depth concerns. Incarnato is a slightly smaller version of Mark LeVoir. If Incarnato plays a lot of minutes this season it will likely mean that there have been a number of injuries along the offensive line. Let's hope Chauncey keeps his jersey clean this season.
I expect three of players to play significant roles during the 2005 season. We'll also take a look at the defensive players in the sophomore class in the next story.