There is a trend in college football and it definitely exists at Notre Dame. If a prospect does not see significant playing time by their third year, they will likely never see significant playing time. Quite a few players are in this window of opportunity and I am sure they are well aware of that. A player has to shoot for at least second string position by his third year and many guys will be working to gain that second string spot this fall.
Depth is a big concern with the Notre Dame football team. Many coaches would agree that the easiest way to get more out of your starter is to have your second string guy pushing him for his position. You are always one twisted ankle away from playing your second string guy. It's very important to have depth because injuries happen in college football. Notre Dame will have depth issues this season and that second string guy won't be pushing the starter at a few positions.
Many of these sophomores or third year players will be the depth. They will be fighting for that second string spot and fighting for significant playing time in the future. With the incoming freshman, these players will have to distant themselves from the younger players and cement at least a second string spot to see significant playing time at Notre Dame.
It's important to know that I am not singling out players as prospects who have not performed up to expectations. A player like Matt Root hasn't had the easiest road. He had a knee injury coming in and two former quarterbacks and a guy many thought would move to offensive line in front of him.
So who are these players and what can we expect from them? It's very hard to say what we can expect from them. We are not even sure how the Willingham staff is going to want to use each player. I can only guess on what might happen but I do have information that I will use to make my guesses. Remember that they are only guesses and this is based on information I have gathered over the past few years.
Probably the best race of all will be at tight end. Gary Godsey and Billy Palmer look to be the two top guys this year. DO NOT count out former QB turned TE Jared Clark. I have heard glowing remarks of Clark at tight end. Many feel he will see quite a bit of action this year. Clark is very athletic for a tight end and they say he can catch. His blocking appears to be where he needs to improve.
This is a critical year for a guy like Matt Root however. I have heard Root has come along nicely but with incoming freshman Anthony Fasano and Marcus Freeman looking for playing time, Root will have to distance himself from the pack. Root tore his ACL prior to reporting to Notre Dame but I hear he is fully healed and has been playing very well on the scout team. Root must clearly distance himself from the incoming freshman.
Wide receiver is also another interesting race. Arnaz Battle will start but he is the only guy permanently inked in as a starter. Ronnie Rodamer and Omar Jenkins must distance themselves from Carlos Campbell and Matt Shelton. Jenkins has played since his freshman year but has yet to nail down a starting position. Rodamer makes all kinds of plays in practice when healthy. He has yet to remain healthy since he has arrived.
It's not going to be easy for Jenkins and Rodamer because the latest returns have had Carlos Campbell either right with Jenkins and Rodamer or a little ahead. Campbell has really started to push both. Shelton also had a knee injury prior to reporting to Notre Dame but he is fully healed and is also starting to show the spark and speed he was so heavily recruited for. Shelton is also rumored to have good hands and with his speed, it will be hard to keep him off the field.
Incoming freshman Maurice Stovall and Rhema McKnight also will push these four for playing time. Notre Dame has not had this much potential at WR for quite some time. With the right system and enough touches, each player could have a chance to make it in the NFL. I can't remember a time when I could say that.
Offensive line is always an interesting race. RG Sean Milligan is probably the poster boy for stepping up at just the right time. Early returns on Milligan were not glowing. Milligan stepped up his sophomore year and stepped into consideration for PT. He then started this last year until he went down with an ankle injury. Jeff Faine has always been considered a can't miss prospect and he has certainly reached those expectations. Brennan Curtin and Ryan Gillis have not quite made that next step. Curtin will have his shot to start this year. Gillis is right there as well.
Notre Dame is hurting for depth in the offensive line because they didn't land a single offensive lineman in this year' junior class. That means some sophomores have an excellent chance to play for quite a few years if they can develop. Dan Stevenson appears to be the most likely to take that next step. I have heard Stevenson is a nasty man and will fight anyone at anytime. He is the most advanced in technique and attitude for the position.
Mark LeVoir has been making strides at the tackle position. Many will remember that LeVoir was a tight end in high school so it might take him a bit to develop. Zach Giles was very highly recruited so he should have some potential. Darin Mitchell looked to be the most athletic of the 4 on film. These three players will need to stake claim to their position on the depth chart because the freshman linemen coming in will be pushing for playing time as well.
The incoming freshmen were all heavily recruited and will be pushing these 4 for spots. Tackle prospect Scott Raridon, OG prospect Jamie Ryan, OC prospect Bob Morton and OT/OG prospect James Bonelli all have come to Notre Dame as top prospects. Ryan is still battling a blood clot and with Faine likely leaving next year, I expect Morton to be the first to play.
Running back seems much more settled but that is because of lack of pure numbers. Ryan Grant will be the guy. Marcus Wilson is probably going to be the #2. Tom Lopienski and Mike McNair are gone after this year. Chris Yura is also gone after this year. Rashon Powers-Neal has a huge opportunity to grasp the fullback position for a very long time. Powers-Neal has a lot of athletic ability and came in as a tailback prospect. He could cement this position with strong play for a very long time. The loss of Julius Jones and Corey Jones has put Notre Dame into a depth dilemma.
Incoming freshman could push for time. Nate Schiccatano was very highly recruited. He had offers from every big time program across the country. Many do not believe he is a true ruunningback but he could be one heck of a fullback prospect with lead blocking and catching the ball out of the backfield. Jeff Jenkins is another runningback prospect reporting in August. Some question his overall speed and he might also be more of the fullback mold.
Quarterback is even more settled. It's basically Carlyle Holiday and that is it. Walk-on Pat Dillingham has developed the "Rudy" status among fans but he is a walk-on. Incoming freshman Chris Olsen more closely fits the Diedrick mold of quarterbacks. Olsen has a golden opportunity to cement his status at the clear #2 this year. The loss of Matt LoVecchio has put Notre Dame in a bad situation with depth. If Holiday goes down, it's either a walk-on or a true freshman.
On offense, Notre Dame is going to experience depth problems. QB and at RB will be the biggest concern but OL will also be a big question mark. The easiest way to solve this is to have balanced recruiting classes. One QB each year, two RBs each year, one TE, two WRs and four OL would solve this problem once and for all. The signing of a balanced recruiting class will solve all depth issues. Some sophomores or third year players are in a now or never situation but they also have a very good opportunity to make a name for themselves and cement a starting position for a very long time. Can these players remove the stigma of the odd man out theory?