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 a second string position by his third year and many guys will be working to gain that second string spot this fall.Again, I think it's important to understand that I am not singling out players as prospects who have not lived up to expectations. There are plenty of players that just don't have the opportunity. Brandon Hoyte is going to sit behind Courtney Watson until Watson has exhausted his eligibility.
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.
One very heated battle this year is going to come from the LB corps. Carlos Pierre-Antoine will battle incumbent Mike Goolsby. I still don't think this position is settled. Both players came in as highly recruited athletes and we have yet to see much of what they can do. This is Pierre-Antoine's last year; Goolsby has 2 years left. The big key will be if either is pushed by another highly recruited LB in Corey Mays. The interesting race here is who will be #2. If it's Carlos, then we know that Goolsby is quite a bit ahead of Mayes. If the #2 is Goolsby, the gap might not be as big.
Another LB race that should be interesting is the other ILB spot. Nobody is going to push Courtney Watson out of his position. What is going to be interesting is to see if highly recruited LB Brandon Hoyte can push senior Justin Thomas for the #2 slot. Thomas hasn't played much for Notre Dame and many expect big things out of Hoyte. If Hoyte can push Thomas for the #2 spot later in the year, I think he has a chance to become a great player over the years.
The OLB position is also an interesting race. Both Derek Curry and Jerome Collins have three years left. Curry appears to be leading the race and had a great spring game. Collins also looked very impressive in the spring game. Collins is a big man at 6-5 256 and many feel he will move to defensive end. If that happens, Notre Dame needs to find someone to back up Curry. With no LBs coming in from the freshman class, this leaves a big hole to be filled.
Defensive line is a real jumble. To be honest, I cannot honestly say which players are going to play what positions and I bet the Notre Dame staff does not honestly know that either. What are we sure of? Cedric Hilliard is going to start and hopefully dominate. Darrell Campbell will also start and hopefully dominate. Ryan Roberts will play a lot and he has given us a good pass rush over the years.
After these three givens, I think it's very wide open. The good news for these potential defensive linemen is that you are not determined to be anywhere. You could make a name for yourself at any position along the defensive line. The bad news is that none of these players have established their names as certain starters or second-stringers.
The best bet for playing time is Kyle Budinscak. Budinscak is the epitome of a working class defensive lineman. He came in with little fanfare and worked his way into a likely starting position. After Budinscak, Notre Dame has a lot of question marks. Greg Pauly came in with a lot of accolades. His knee injury has slowed him and many wonder if Pauly will develop into that defensive linemen we all hoped he would become. Pauly has been listed as a defensive tackle and he looked good in the spring game. I hope Greg is over the knee injury and will become the defensive tackle we hoped he would become. He impressed me with his effort and tenacity in the spring game.
The next group would be considered hopefuls. Justin Tuck has all the tools to be the dominant pass rusher ND fans have been yearning for. He is a little undersized, needs to work on strength and technique but what a mound of clay to work with. Jason Sapp also has been banged up since he arrived. Sapp looks to be 6-4 255 and ready to go. I hear he is fully healthy and could make some noise this year.
Brian Biedatsch is considered in the Budinscak mold. Not a lot of fanfare but a fighter none the less. Jeff Thompson has the desired size. I hear he is getting much stronger as well. Will he figure into the DL picture? Jerome Collins could be moved to DE as well.
The freshman coming in will add a lot of depth but nobody is sure where they will all fit in. Derek Landri is destined for the middle. He has all the tools to be a dominant player for Notre Dame. Dan Santucci will likely start out at defensive end. He has good size a 6-5 260. Brian Mattes could start out at either defensive end or inside. Travis Leitko will likely start out at defensive end as well. He reminded me of Greg Pauly on film and could be a great strong-side defensive end. Chris Frome will likely start out at defensive end as well. Frome looked the most athletic of the 4 possible defensive ends. Can he play weak-side defensive end?
No one is sure what Notre Dame has in the 5 defensive linemen they signed. Can any play weak-side? Do we have 3 strong side defensive ends and 2 inside guys? Do we have 5 guys who can only play inside? The good news is that they did add some depth. Guys like Greg Pauly, Brian Beidatsch, Jeff Thompson and Jason Sapp will have to hold off these 5 young defensive linemen.
The defensive backfield has recently had some major depth problems. With the dismissal of Abe Elam and Donald Dykes, Notre Dame has been left scrambling. Lionel Bolen has been moved from CB to S. Quentin Burrell is also playing some safety this summer. Both players were corner prospects prior to these dismissals.
Shane Walton will be back for one final year. Walton might be a better story than Rudy. Vontez Duff has two years remaining. Duff has the potential to be an all-american candidate next year. After Duff and Walton, Notre Dame does not have a legitimate incumbent for either position.
Jason Beckstrom is back for one more year. Preston Jackson has really stepped it up this year. I hear he is really become a physical and confident corner. He has three years left and could develop into a player like Duff or Walton.
After Jackson, Notre Dame has a bunch of unproven players. Garron Bible has 3 years left. He was a runningback prior to reporting to Notre Dame so he has a lot to learn about the position. Dwight Ellick has three years left as well. Ellick is rumored to have all the speed needed for the position. I have heard he struggles with technique and physical play but he has never played corner before. It will take him some time to learn the position.
Mike Richardson is a freshman reporting in August that many think will be a corner for the future. His film was very impressive but he also has no experience playing the position. I hope Willingham will recruit players in the future that have experience playing corner because I think it's one of the hardest positions on the field and you need all the repetitions you can get.
The safety positions are thin but not thin on talent. Glenn Earl has two more years left. He has shown star potential in the past but has been hurt in the past. Gerome Sapp has one final year of eligibility left. Sapp has also played hurt most of his career but he is said to be 100% right now. We have to hope he has a full season of being healthy.
After Sapp and Earl, Notre Dame doesn't have a single player with a down of experience playing either safety position. Lionel Bolen has moved from corner to safety to fill the hole. Bolen looked great at corner in the spring game. He is a very athletic player with good speed and size. Quentin Burrell has been rumored to be quite the player and will likely also move from corner to free safety. Burrell is rumored to have fantastic ball skills but is a bit undersized at 6-0 185. Both of these players have a monstrous opportunity to secure starting positions for a very long time.
Jake Carney is the only safety prospect reporting in August. Richardson might move there if corner does not work out. Carney is a big hitter and shows excellent speed on film for a safety. He looks to be a strong safety in the future. He also has a golden opportunity to establish himself as a player.
Notre Dame will be lucky this year in having some very athletic and experienced players playing defense this year. The depth at some positions is going to be a big concern. Notre Dame can solve problems with depth by having a more balanced recruiting class. Not taking any linebackers last year will force them to take at least 4 this year. Taking 4 defensive lineman, 3 linebackers, 2 safeties and 2 corners will solve this problem in the future. That is a lot easier said than done most years but it's something to shoot for.
Some players will need to step up this year to keep their place in the pecking order. That will mainly be at defensive line. The young linebackers and defensive backs have more breathing room this year. They can cement a future for themselves with good play for a long time. Let's hope all take advantage of their opportunity.