Mike's Mailbag

We ended up with a great number of questions after Wednesday's Power Hour. So, as promised, I decided to answer most of them with another installment of "Mike's Mailbag." Sorry if I didn't get to your question as I ended up with about 40 extra. I do my best to get to all of them.

What running backs do you believe (James) Aldridge compares to favorably?

Mike: I'm not sure if you mean like current college and pro backs or running backs ND is recruiting this season. So, I'll answer both questions.

For current players, I think Aldridge reminds me a lot of a quicker version of Travis Henry. Aldridge appears to have an extra burst that Henry lacked, but both show good vision and feet. Aldridge is also a hard-charger like Henry. I'm not sure James is fully recovered from his injury so we might not see that this year, but I do think we will in the years to come.

I think Robert Hughes is somewhat similar to Aldridge. I think Aldridge might have a little extra gear that Hughes lacks, but Hughes runs with more power. I really like Robert's feet and his ability to hit the hole quickly. A lot of big backs don't have that kind of explosion to get through the hole, and the lateral movement to make people miss. No matter where Hughes goes, I expect him to be a big contributor on his team.

Kruke, Pennsylvania:
Name the two college football teams you think are better than ND this year. We may not have depth, but I'd take our first 22 over anyone's. Staying healthy will be our issue, not talent or filling holes like RT or LB.

Mike: I disagree. I do believe staying healthy will be vital, but I also think when teams have weaknesses; other teams find way to exploit them. It only takes one offensive lineman to slip up and Brady Quinn is gone for the season. Right tackle is a concern for me for that very reason. When you're moving a second-string running back to linebacker, after spring practice, you have problems. That doesn't mean these problems can't and won't be fixed. I just see them as problems.

Each team will have weaknesses and have to replace starters. But my concern is will Notre Dame's replacements be as quality as say Texas or USC? Both teams have considerable depth on both sides of the ball. But, both could have a glaring weaknesses this year—quarterback.

My statement that I didn't believe Notre Dame would win the National Championship this year probably had just as much to do with their schedule than with the talent on hand. I just think the Irish will slip up somewhere along the line early. I just don't think it's easy for any team to play three straight teams that have the talent to beat them and come out with three wins. I also don't believe that Purdue will just lie down for the Irish after being embarrassed last year.

Ronnie, Indianapolis:
What do you think Notre Dames chance's are with Arrelious Benn, and do you think DJ hord will play this year?

Mike: I think ND has a great chance to sign Benn. I do think Hord will be available to play later in the season. I'm not sure if he actually will play, however. I wouldn't be surprised if he red-shirted this year. He'll have a long road back and many of the other wide receivers will have a head start on him. He didn't do much in the spring, either, so he's only had essentially two weeks of fall camp working in Notre Dame's offense. He ended up on scout team and ran the plays of the opposition all last fall so he has little work with Notre Dame's offense.

Koolio, San Fransico:
Are we good in punting? It hasn't seemed to be a priority in the two years I have followed. Do schools use scholarships for this position?

Mike: I certainly wouldn't say we're "good" in punting. I think the job is very much up for grabs, although Geoff Price seemed to be the winner in the spring. Walk-on Eric Maust will also get a shot this fall.

Yes, most teams use a scholarship on punters. What usually happens, though, is a number of players are invited to walk on, and whichever player wins the job, is awarded the scholarship. Notre Dame is somewhat at a disadvantage because you can't get many quality punters to pay $40,000 per year in tuition on the chance they may end up with a full scholarship. If Notre Dame struggles in punting early, look for the Irish to target a punter in this class for a scholarship.

Matt, Battlecreek:
What team that many fans feel should be an easy win next season has the best chance to pull the upset on ND...Service Academies, Stanford, Purdue, UNC?

Mike: Good question. I think Stanford somewhat concerns me, but they play the game at home. Purdue also scares me a bit. My observation is that Joe Tiller and Charlie Weis aren't on each other's Christmas list. I think that could be a battle, but Purdue won't have the horses to stop the Irish offense.

North Carolina, on the other hand, should have some athletic talent that could surprise Notre Dame with their defense. The Tar Heels almost always have a good defense. It could be a game not unlike the Syracuse game last year where the Irish struggle to score points.

ND Irish:
Mike/Jeff...is fall practice (the beginning) going to be open to the public?

The first week or so of fall camp has been somewhat open for the past four or five years—meaning fans could stand behind a rope to watch practice. I'm not sure that will be the case this year. I haven't heard anything on the issue. I will say that we kept seeing more and more security as the week went on, which tells me Weis didn't like to see that many eyes eyeballing his team.

Matt, Tampa:
Are you concerned about the offensive line at all this year?

I'm somewhat concerned about the right tackle position. It's hard for any first-time starter along the offensive line. Mistakes will happen and you have to hope they don't have dire consequences (like Quinn getting hurt). But sooner or later people need to be replaced. I'm hoping we'll see a lot of players play meaningful minutes along the offensive line this year because these reserves will be next year's starters. I think the returning four should be very, very solid. Lots of money is on the line for all four of them. That would motivate me. I'd still like to see more push up front on third-and-two and fourth-and-one situations. I'm sure Weis would as well.

Mike, Harrisburgh:
How are we doing with the recruiting of Major Wright?

Not much has really changed with Wright. To be honest, I've never felt really good about Notre Dame's chances of signing him. He visited for the spring game and didn't seem overwhelmed by the experience. He liked it, but didn't seem overjoyed about it. I'd think the Irish would probably have to do some impressive things early in the season to capture his attention again, which very well might happen. I wouldn't say the Irish lead or are even in his top two at this point.

Dup, Chicago:
Mike, how are the summer practice sessions held since the staff is not involved? What do they do, who runs them? How structured is it?

Mike: The lifting and running that goes on is all done with strength coach Ruben Mendoza. Mendoza and his staff are allowed to be there and work out the athletes. For things like seven-on-seven, line drills, etc., the team leaders schedule that and everyone shows up. Coaches aren't allowed to be within a certain number of feet of the practice. But I'm sure Weis or someone from the staff is out there watching what happens behind the required distance. The coaches aren't allowed to coach or conduct the practice, but I'm sure the team leaders get an idea of how Weis and the staff would like the practices to be run.

Andrew, West Chester, Ohio:
Does Weis max out this year's recruiting class like last year?

Mike: Yes, Notre Dame will most likely sign 25 players in this class.

T. Baynard, Charlotte, NC:
How many early enrollees are allowed this year?

Mike: Notre Dame can have all 25 players they sign enroll early. There is no restriction on early enrollees. The restrictions are on the number of players that can be signed in every class (25 max) and the number of scholarship players on the roster (85).

Josh, San Diego:
I recall that the recruiting during the Holtz era didn't reach the No.1 or No.2 recruiting classes until after the 1988-1989 winning streak. Is my recollection correct? Will Weis need the big seasons before the recruiting goes to the top?

Mike: I can't really remember, but I don't think they were No. 1 during those years, but they did recruit very well and landed a ton of athletic kids who could run. Recruiting, back then, was not near as accurate as it is today. There is just far more information known about these players and far more coverage of the players, which I believe makes the rankings more accurate. But, former recruiting coordinator Vinny Cerato certainly knew talent and hit on a much higher percentage of signees than probably anyone in recruiting history.

Don, Akron:
Mike, on average of all the publications that rate football recruits (top 100), what percentage of players can ND recruit because of grades?

Mike: I left the question the way it was because that was the question. But I think what Don is getting at is "what percentage can't ND recruit because of grades?"

I think it varies per year, but I'd guess you can lop off at least 30 of the top 100 players each year as they won't likely have the grades, test score or core courses (happens more than you think) to enroll in Notre Dame.

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