Pleasantly Suprised

The Notre Dame football team held their 77th Blue-Gold game on Saturday. The atmosphere was animated for a spring game, and as head coach Charlie Weis mentioned in his post game press conference, it seemed just like a real game. Who stood out on Saturday?

I figure I could write about the usual stuff……Brady Quinn completed this many passes for X amount of yards, blah, blah, blah… can read that anywhere.

Many of you were not there and I was so here are my thoughts on what I saw on Saturday.

The most encouraging sign on Saturday for me was the play of the Notre Dame defense. The much-maligned Irish defense more than held their own against the powerful Irish offense. The Irish swarmed to the ball on almost every occasion, and quite frankly outplayed the Irish offense most of the game.

I was most pleasantly surprised by the pass coverage of Notre Dame's linebackers. I want to temper that by saying Charlie Weis wasn't throwing a lot at them, but this group covered very well in the passing game. I wouldn't say they're great in pass coverage, but they definitely exceeded my expectations since none had played a lot of football yet for Notre Dame.

I was definitely most impressed with Steve Quinn, who only logged three tackles, but looked very good in pass coverage. Quinn runs very well and seemed to be in the right place most of the game.

Mitchell Thomas and Anthony Vernaglia also showed they could cover the pass fairly well on Saturday. Thomas made a number of nice stops, missed a few tackles, but overall played solidly at middle linebacker.

Another player who really impressed me was Ambrose Wooden. Wooden was lined up opposite Jeff Samardzija most of the day and the two battled all afternoon. Samardzija, who's 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame came in handy many times last season, seemed to enjoy the competition with Wooden, and the 5-foot-11 Wooden more than held his own on most occasions. What really impressed me was how physical Wooden was with Samardzija all day. Wooden was flagged for an interference call, a call I disagreed with, but played solidly all game.

More importantly was the fact that the Irish defense as a unit covered well most of the game. Yes, they gave up some passes, but they didn't give up many big plays in the passing game and overall played very solid in the passing game.

I also noticed a number of great individual pass rushes on Saturday. Victor Abiamiri had a number of them but was double teamed all afternoon. Still, Abiamiri showed a fire not seen often and seems really intent on being that great pass rusher this season. He was facing some inexperienced players, but he showed a ferocity today that got me excited.

The play of Ronald Talley was another highlight for me. He'll likely never be a dominant pass rusher at defensive end, but the guy plays really hard. He made a number of plays that impressed me. I still believe his best spot is inside. Justin Brown also showed some good quickness off the end despite adding some considerable weight in the off-season.

I was also impressed with both Trevor Laws and Derek Landri inside. Landri has gained a lot of size recently, as has Laws, and both still showed good quickness. I think both should have outstanding seasons next year.

Both Pat Kuntz and Derrell Hand showed that they'll battle inside. While neither necessarily dominated, they both played to the whistle, especially Kuntz, which is a good sign.

Rey Herring, David Bruton and Kevin Washington also showed glimpses Saturday of being potential players. Washington seemed to run well for a linebacker. Bruton has always run well but showed a willingness to lay the lumber. Herring also played with the passion you love to see from a safety.

On offense I saw a number of things that stood out to me.

John Carlson and Marcus Freeman appear equally ready to step into Fasano's role as a receiving tight end. Both showed great hands and ran good routes. I didn't watch a lot of their blocking, however. Blocking will be the key for both next season.

I was pleasantly surprised by Paul Duncan today. He got beat a number of times by Abiamiri, but he also battled Victor all day. He showed a real tenacity in both the pass and the run. I'm not certain he's a true tackle, but he's just heading into his true sophomore season and shows potential.

Darius Walker looked quicker today. He had that dance-and-dart quickness that we've seen at the beginning of the previous two seasons, but maybe even a little more burst today. He's become a real threat in the passing game, and he's very solid in pass protection.

Evan Sharpley showed a real awareness at quarterback today. He was decisive, very accurate and made a number of great throws. The throw he made to Darrin Bragg was a real nice touch ball. He also showed some zip on the ball. More importantly, he showed very good pocket awareness. He felt the pressure and made things happen when pressured. I was pleasantly surprised by his play.

The Irish offensive line, minus John Sullivan, played just average. I didn't see a lot of running room on most plays. Pass protection for Quinn was probably below average compared to last year. They did put together the last drive, which was impressive, but they'll need to play better than they did on Saturday to beat the better teams.

Other Notes

In attendance were a number of current and potential Irish recruits. We sized up a number of them.

Maurice Richardson looks bigger than advertised. He looked all of 6-foot-3, 230. Physically, he looks ready to play right now.

John Ryan looks all of 6-foot-5, but he didn't look the 235 pounds many thought he was. Robbie Parris also looked thin but that is expected considering his last six months.

Toryan Smith might not be 230 pounds, but he still looks like he can play right now. He has that short, squatty body that Brandon Hoyte possesses.

Mike Ragone was on crutches but appeared to really be enjoying the atmosphere, as was Justin Trattou. You saw both together most of the time, and funnily you saw papa Ragone and papa Trattou together often as well.

Michael Williams looks to be at least 5-foot-10 and might be closer to 5-foot-11. He didn't appear to weigh much more than 175 pounds.

Joseph Barksdale looks all of his reported 6-foot-5, 315-pound frame. He didn't look like a sloppy 315 pounds, either. He's just a big man.

Marvin Austin looked very trim and probably around 275 in my estimation. He certainly looks the part.

Marc Tyler looks to be closer to 5-foot-11, but a solid 200 plus pounds.

We'll have more thoughts from Saturday's game up on Irish Eyes message boards soon. Top Stories