No Time Like the Present.
Expectations were high for many of the players in this senior class when they signed their letter of intent. Many have shown glimpses of their potential, but most haven't shown the consistency many would like . With Weis and his offense now in play, these players must feel as if they have been given a second chance. A chance that I think they will take advantage of.
Jeff Jenkins: Jenkins is a candidate for a fifth season. Through his first three years, Jenkins has seen very limited action. Last season he received the first carry of his career against Washington, and finished the season with nine carries for 43 yards. Jenkins has an opportunity to earn some playing time as the Irish look for depth at RB. He's a bigger back with a straight-ahead running style. He runs downhill and he runs hard. He is not going to make a lot of people miss, but he showed last year that he can contribute at this level. Jenkins won't beat out Darius Walker or Travis Thomas, but with only four tailbacks on the squad, I think he can be a valuable player if he's given the opportunity. If anyone can find a spot to use Jenkins it's Weis.
Rhema McKnight: Rhema is in his final year of eligibility. McNight's career at Notre Dame reminds me somewhat of David Givens career at Notre Dame. Givens had tons of ability, but wasn't put in a situation where he could excel. While McKnight's receiving production is much higher than Givens, McKnight has wallowed in an offense that was nearly as bad as the one Givens played in. Rhema has led the Irish in receiving the last two seasons, but he only caught 42 passes. Most team's No.2 receiver have that many. All that said, McKnight's career total (98 receptions) is only 60 receptions shy of passing Tom Gatewood (157 receptions) for the career receptions mark at Notre Dame. I love the passion Rhema plays with. He has the size, speed and skill to become a major problem for opposing defenses. He has the attitude you want in a WR. He's tough and goes up and gets the ball. Rhema is a playmaker. I expect the new staff to get the best out of McKnight, so I think his reception numbers should be around 60.
Maurice Stovall: Stovall is in his final year of eligibility. Maurice went from the cover of Sports Illustrated his freshman season, to being a disappointment to some. While I will agree with most that Stovall really struggled to establish himself in 2003, I ask you: who on offense didn't struggle that season? Unfortunately many Irish fans have the images of that year embedded in their minds, and they refuse to let go, despite Stovall bouncing back and having a solid 2004 campaign. Stovall missed nearly 3 games last seasonn due to injury, yet still managed to finish third on the team in receptions (21). Stovall had a couple drops, but for the most part he was solid. He made several difficult catches during the season and one spectacular catch against Stanford that led to an Irish touchdown. Maurice is a tall, rangy receiver that has enough speed to get deep, but I'd like to see him utilized over the middle more. I thought Maurice stepped up his game last season, and if he continues to progress, he and McKnight will make a great receiving combination. I expect him to continue his solid play this season, finishing with 30-plus catches for over 500 yards.
Anthony Fasano: Fasano is a candidate for a fifth year of eligibility. There wasn't much talk about Fasano when he signed with the Irish four years ago, even though he was Scout.com's No. 9 rated tight end and he was an U.S. Army All-American. I'd even speculate that his classmate and fellow tight end Marcus Freeman received most of the discussion on message boards. All that has change as many Irish fans tab Fasano for All-American status in the near future. Last season Fasano finished second on the team in receptions and he has a career total of 45. He had a huge game against Purdue with eight receptions for 155 yards. He is the best combination tight end on the team. He's a good blocker, and he has soft hands. He isn't overly fast, but he has a knack for finding the open spot in the defense and he runs good routes. At this stage in his career he is being compared with former Irish great, Mark Bravaro. Since Anthony has been at Notre Dame the tight end position has been filled with bodies. Now that the numbers have dwindled, expect Anthony to have a monster season. Weis loves the tight end, so it's not unthinkable for Fasano to hit the 40-reception mark.
Marcus Freeman: Freeman is a candidate for a fifth year of eligibility. He was Scout.com's No.24 rated tight end as well as an U.S. Army All-American. I've been impressed and somewhat disappointed with Freeman through his first three seasons. I loved his potential when he first showed up on campus. I thought he would be the type of tight end that would drive opposing defensive coordinators crazy with his ability to get deep down field and make big catches. After a couple quiet seasons and watching the bodies pile up at tight end, I wondered when or if Freeman was going to make and impact. Freeman just didn't seem like he was playing inspired football. Last season Freeman blossomed. He wasn't the tight end that I had expected three years ago, but he did develop into a solid player. Most Irish fans still haven't seen enough of Marcus to really appreciate him, but I expect that will all change this year. He reminds me of Ben Coates. He's big and he can block, but he's an outstanding receiver. Fasano catches everything, but Freeman makes spectacular catches. He has incredible concentration and he doesn't give the safety lining him up for the hit, a second thought. Charlie Weis was smiling when he realized the potential he had at tight end with Freeman, Fasano and Carlson. I expect Freeman to play a big role this season. I expect him to catch around 20 passes.
When you look at the potential this class has among its receivers, it's amazing. Now they have to realize their potential. With a mature quarterback, and a veteran offensive line, these players should finally meet their potential. Next we'll look at the linemen from the senior class.