Chris Frome: As a senior, Chris was ranked as the No. 36 defensive end by Scout.com and he played in the U.S. Army All-Star game. He is eligible for a fifth year. Most fans didn't know much about Chris Frome his first two years at Notre Dame, and although he didn't get much playing time, he definitely looked like a player that would eventually find his way to a starting position. Frome only played 31 minutes last season as the former staff went with a three man rotation at defensive end. I thought this was a mistake and they should have found more snaps for Chris during the year. After waiting patiently behind a number of talented defensive ends, Chris will likely take over at weak-side defensive end on September 3 against Pitt. Chris has good size and surprising strength. He has good energy, uses his leverage well, and he continually moves toward the ball. He's a technician. New Irish commitment John Ryan is fairly similar to Frome. Chris has been working at weak-side defensive end thus far in his career, but he isn't your typical speed-rushing end. Frome relies more on his strength than he does his speed, which is why I think he's better suited for the strong-side position or even the interior of the defensive line. Regardless, he's waited patiently for the opportunity to play, which will come this year. Don't worry about Chris because he'll be very solid this season. The concern Irish fans should have is that he probably won't get much rest during the season due to the lack of experienced depth.
Derek Landri: Derek was ranked as the No.2 defensive tackle by Scout.com. He was a USA Today All-American, and Parade All-American. Coming out of high school he was rated as one of the top defensive linemen as well as one of the top offensive linemen in the country. Landri registered a 4.19 shuttle time at a California Nike camp; an absolutely mind boggling number for a lineman. Derek is eligible for a fifth year. Many Irish fans will remember the devastating broken leg his suffered prior to reporting to Notre Dame. I think that injury slowed him down tremendously. Last season was the first year since the injury that Derek was really comfortable mixing it up in the trenches and he was able to register 40 tackles. I tend to think people overlook his potential as a big-time player and his name is often absent when fans discuss potential stars on the team. The fact is the Irish haven't had his 2004 production from an interior lineman since Notre Dame played a 3-4 defense during the 1996 season. This season Derek will team up with Trevor Laws to form one of the best interior tandems Notre Dame has had in years. Landri's asset is his ability to get off the ball quickly. His knock thus far is that he's been too light for a defensive lineman. Derek has gained ten pounds during the off-season, pushing his weight up to 285 pounds, which should enable him to be more effective over time. Laws is just as quick Landri so the duo should be disruptive and an absolute nightmare for offensive linemen to keep out of the backfield. I mentioned in a previous preview that the defensive line would be as good or better than last season's; the difference will be the two players on the interior. Minter's defensive front philosophy is perfectly suited for Laws and Landri, and they should help the Irish control the line of scrimmage. I expect Derek to have a monster year and I recommend that fans watch No.66 in the middle of the Irish defensive line.
Nate Schiccatano: Nate was ranked as the No.22 running back by Scout.com and he played in the U.S. Army All-Star game. A number of experts rated Nate as the top "big back" in the country in 2002. He is eligible for a fifth year. Nate has had a quiet career at Notre Dame thus far. His playing time has been primarily limited to special teams. In 2003 he blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown against Boston College. His first three seasons were spent at fullback, but he just didn't seem to take to the position after handling the ball throughout his high school career. The new coaching staff has since moved him to middle linebacker and as the team heads into fall camp, Nate is likely behind Corey Mays on the depth chart, and he will battle several underclassmen for playing time. It'll be a difficult adjustment for Schiccatano, but he is very athletic and he has superior speed for a middle backer. Nate needs to bring more attitude to field. He needs to be aggressive and show the staff that nobody will outwork him. Like a number of other players in this class, this is a make-or-break year for Nate. He has a fresh start with the new staff and he finds himself at a new position. Hopefully he'll make an impression because he is a dynamite athlete.
Mike Richardson: Richardson had initially committed to play for Wake Forest, but he changed his mind and ended up being a late addition to this class. He is eligible for a fifth year. Richardson has led the Irish in special teams appearances for the past two seasons, making 485 total appearances. Richardson played a handful of minutes at cornerback during his second season, and then saw his minutes jump to over 130 in 2004. Last season coming out of fall camp I though he was one of the better cover guys on the team. The fact is that he got turned around in coverage a couple times last year that led to big plays, but overall I believe he generally did a solid job considering it was first year of extensive playing time. Unfortunately the entire defensive backfield struggled, so his mistakes were magnified. Fans should remember that Richardson was still relatively young last year and he has two season of eligibility remaining. He should be considered a lock for one of the open cornerback spots, but due to his experience, the burden of success falls on his shoulders. If the Notre Dame defense is going to slow down opposing offenses, Mike Richardson needs to be the man that limits the opportunities on one side on the field. He has very good size (5-11, 190-pounds) and he has enough speed to handle the position. He does need to locate the ball earlier when it's in the air, and he needs to recognize what the offense is attempting to do sooner. He does a very good job in run support, and he isn't shy about putting a hat on someone. While the results haven't beeb what they need to be yet, I think you'd have to say that Mike was a very good pickup for this class. I expect him to have a solid year under the tutelage of coach Lewis.
Jake Carney: Scout.com's No. 34 ranked safety prospect in 2002 and a U.S. Army All-American Bowl participant. In high school Jake had a best 10.78 100 meters. This is the year Carney needs to make a move in order to get into the defensive backfield rotation. He's been limited to special teams duty thus far in his career. Jake has good speed and instincts, but he just hasn't been in the mix to date. He's a solid player, but he needs to make more plays to draw some attention. He could play either safety position, but is probably better suited for boundary (free) safety. If Leo Ferrine stays at cornerback, Carney will likely be the No.2 behind Tommy Zbikowski at free safety. If Ferrine shifts back to safety, there will be a battle for the second spot.
Looking at this class top to bottom, there are only a couple guys (Rhema McKnight, Anthony Fasano, and Landri) that have solidified themselves as big-time players. After that there are a number of guys that need to elevate their game to the next level in order for the Irish to play with the big boys. This group has shown glimpses of their ability, but they haven't been consistent thus far in their careers. Players like Frome, Richardson, Bob Morton, Marcus Freeman, and Dan Santucci are fortunate to have two years remaining, but for Maurice Stovall, its last call.
If the second group of players is able to put things together, and you combine them with the junior class, your team is solid top to bottom. If these players struggle, the Irish will likely also struggle this season.