Let me be clear in saying I don't sit in the recruiting meetings held by Irish head football coach Charlie Weis and his staff. I can only offer and educated guess on how Notre Dame might distribute their 25 scholarships this season, but I have had a number of questions about this already so I felt compelled to write something about it.
I don't believe any recruiting numbers are set in stone at this point, and spring practice and fall camp could impact how scholarships are distributed. I'll be breaking this down by position each day starting with the quarterback position.
Everyone knows 2006 will be Brady Quinn's final season with the Irish. Quinn likely will close his career owning the vast majority of Notre Dame passing records on the books, but Charlie Weis and quarterback coach Peter Vaas will need their next protégé' to mold the following spring in 2007. They should have plenty of options including another quarterback being added in this class.
Sophomore David Wolke will have just one year remaining once Quinn departs, as he did play in his freshman season. Wolke only played in one game (Washington) in 2004, but he did get some valuable playing time in six games in 2005.
Wolke's career stats are just 1-of-3 for 28 yards, but one can't discount playing time, especially at quarterback. Also, one can't discount how much more Wolke has learned by being the backup compared to being a scout team quarterback. Wolke ran Notre Dame's plays all season while freshman Evan Sharpley had been running the other team's plays. Wolke should have a clear advantage heading into spring.
Freshman Evan Sharpley would have three seasons remaining after Quinn's departure. As mentioned, Sharpley was the scout team quarterback most of 2005 so he hasn't had much time running Notre Dame's offense. However, good quarterback play, probably more than most positions, has just as much to do with the mental part of the game as it does physical. Wolke might have the leg up on Sharpley in experience, but if Sharpley can grasp the offense quickly, his physical tools might set him apart from Wolke this season.
Sharpley appears to have the advantage in arm strength, but that's only one small factor in the grand scheme of things. Both players appear to move quite well for quarterbacks.
I think a lot of people just assume Wolke will be the backup for 2005, but people forget what Weis said early in fall camp last season. The first-year Irish coach said he'd pick a backup during fall camp, and that would end the competition…he'd stick with that backup throughout the season. Thus, at the time, Wolke was the player Weis felt more comfortable with. Will that change in 2006?
Frazer is known as a pro-style quarterback. He's big (6-4, 215) and has a very strong arm. His only weakness physically appears to be his mobility, but he showed me some nice pocket presence during the Army All-American game, and enough quickness to avoid a number of defenders. He operated mostly out of the shotgun formation in high school so lining up under center and his pass drops could be an obstacle Frazer faces early.
Jones is a very intriguing prospect. At 6-3, 200 pounds, Jones has plenty of size but brings an extra dimension with his ability to make things happen when he takes off running. I think a lot of Irish fans discount Jones's ability to throw the football. I've watched a lot of "athletic" quarterbacks in my time covering recruiting and Jones can throw the football with the best of them. In my eye, Jones is much more polished throwing the football than Vince Young was at the same stage, and likely why Weis wanted Jones. Like Frazer, Jones also worked mostly out of the shotgun and will have to make the adjustment of being under center in college. How much can Weis and Vaas improve Jones's game?
The Irish will take one quarterback in this class even though most schools prefer not to have more than four quarterbacks on scholarship at any given time. Weis knows he has to find a replacement for Quinn to get the Irish back to the top, and that is why you'll see another quarterback taken in this class.
Whether it's Jimmy Clausen, Mike Paulus or another top quarterback, the Irish should have plenty of quality quarterback prospects to take over for Quinn in 2007. However, experience might be the Achilles heel for the Irish in 2007, and an inexperienced quarterback usually spells doom for any offense. But by judging how quickly Weis improved Quinn's game, maybe it won't be as big a factor as most anticipate.
We'll take a look at the running back position tomorrow.