Like Brady Quinn and Darius Walker mentioned before, there just isn't much mystery to Jeff Samardzija. The guy simply makes plays, and a lot of them. I don't think Samardzjia could get much better than he was in 2005 where he shattered almost every single-season Irish receiving record in the record book.
But it's my job to pick the nits, and if I have any with the Valparaiso, Ind. native, it would be his overall speed. He's plenty fast, but he probably isn't a blazer at this point. His size, strength and hands more than make up for any lack of top end speed the truly great ones possess. I'm a big Jeff Samardzija fan, as most of you know.
But I will admit some apprehension for Samardzija early in the year.
As every Irish fan knows, Samardzija is pitching in the minors this summer and pursuing his other love—baseball. How much time has he had to work on conditioning? Has he been running his 110's? Has he worked on his agility and speed this summer? Will he be in football shape when he arrives?
Samardzija has always been a hard worker, but I'm just not sure his current job allows for a whole of time spent getting into condition for football when you're traveling on a bus from town to town for a game the next day. I'm sure Jeff's worked on it and hopefully he'll be ready. Knowing Weis, I'm sure there has been a plan in place.
I'm very much looking forward to seeing Rhema McKnight on the field this August. I don't think many Irish fans know how hard McKnight worked during the spring and summer of 2005 to have a great season. He was primed for the big-time but suffered the knee injury.
Knowing McKnight, I fully expect him to be in pristine physical condition and ready to roll. The question will be: is his knee ready?
It's been about 10 months since his injury and almost all players in similar situations have been ready to play after this amount of time. But are they the same player? Do they have the same quickness, explosion and ability to turn left and right?
My only concern with McKnight is he's not a guy who's been used frequently on vertical routes. He's more of a guy who makes his living on underneath and crossing routes—routes that usually involved a lot of cutting, coming out of breaks, explosion and quickness to be effective.
The only thing that would be holding McKnight back is time at this point because I'm quite sure he'd do everything and anything in his power to be ready to play.
After Samardzija and McKnight, the wide receiver position appears to be wide open at this point.
David Grimes has been a guy that Weis has singled out as a likely No. 3. Weis seems to have a fondness for the 6-foot, 175-pound receiver. I've heard Grimes knows he has a golden opportunity this fall to nail down his spot and has worked hard to get his body in great shape for the season. Can he hold off the charge of some talented freshmen?
D.J. Hord also had a window of opportunity this spring and summer, but the 6-foot-1, 200-pound sophomore has fallen to injury and likely will have to sit out fall camp. I think the big question with Hord is if he'll red shirt this season to try to get fully healthy for spring 2007.
This fall is likely a do-or-die situation for junior Darrin Bragg. As most of you know, Bragg reported to Notre Dame as a quarterback but switched positions last season. So far Bragg hasn't established himself as a player at the position and will need to do that this fall if he hopes to fend off the charge of the in-coming freshmen.
Which of the freshmen might make an impact? Can any jump into that No. 3 or No. 4 slot? It's certainly possible if not probable.
Ohio native Rob Parris would probably be the most likely candidate, but the Cleveland, Ohio prospect is recovering from his hip injury. How much has he been able to lift? How ready will his body be for the pounding of big-time college football? He wasn't the biggest guy (6-foot-4, 185 pounds) heading into his senior season. The good news is he's had all summer working within Notre Dame's strength and conditioning program so he should have a chance to see the field this season.
West has had the luxury of spring practice to adjust and has seen considerable time as a return man at special teams. I'd guess West is more likely to be ready to go at this point, but I've heard very good things about Gallup and his speed.
Richard Jackson would appear to have a solid chance to contribute as he has a sturdy 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame. Jackson has also probably played against the most talented competition among the four freshmen so the jump from high school to college shouldn't be as large as it likely will be for someone like Gallup. The opportunity appears to be great for Jackson. It will be interesting to see if he does the work needed to be able to grab it.Not many teams in the country can line up a better one-two punch than Notre Dame can at wide receiver. It's the three-four punch that you have to worry about because I think the drop off will be considerable between Notre Dame's starters and reserves at wide receiver.
Irish wide receiver coach Rob Ianello is one of the best in the business. If he has any talent among the underclassmen, you can expect he'll find it and get the most out of that person(s).