It Could Be Much Worse. In Fact It's Fine.

Chalk up the U.S. Army All-America Bowl as just another bad Saturday for Notre Dame football. Don't they just keep coming? Another letdown everyone saw beforehand and another meltdown by Irish fans in nearly as many days. First it was the Sugar Bowl shellacking, and then it was just one verbal commitment, when there was a possibility for so many more. Why does this keep happening?

I call shenanigans. It actually wasn't that bad for Notre Dame nation in San Antonio. Yes it could've been better, but in the grand scheme of things, it was still a good week.

The biggest thing we found out in the Alamo city was that more players from the upcoming freshmen class will be able to come in and contribute right away compared to a talented 2006 group that came to South Bend with a No. 5 national ranking by Scout.com. After watching the future Irish players practice in preparation for the all-star game, and seeing rosters with a combined nine future Domers, I'd say things are pretty good.

To touch on the Sugar Bowl for a paragraph, the talent on both sidelines could not be compared. But follow up this second great class that will sign on the dotted line Feb. 6, with another one in 2008, and the Irish will be in business. It's a process. Not one that is going as fast as unfairly desired, but it still produced two Bowl Championship Series appearances.

Back to San Antonio, the Notre Dame guys were impressive all week, and earned praise from all the scouts in attendance.

The ceiling of expectations are so high on Jimmy Clausen, if he comes in and plays well he cannot exceed them, only match them. That's what the nation's top quarterback did. It was trendy to try and say the gunslinger Ryan Mallett was better than the Irish commit, but that fad lasted for one morning practice. That's as long as it took for Clausen to shake off the grogginess from a long flight and lack of sleep, and show that he will be a true contender for next year's starting quarterback job, if not the front runner.

When Clausen arrives this week as an early enrollee with Gary Gray and Armando Allen, he can delve right into learning the playbook and adding some muscle to his 6-foot-3, 195-pound frame. Coaches will not have to work on polishing the youngster up, no working on his throwing motion or any other mechanics, Clausen is totally ready in those departments.

There will be an adjustment period for Clausen, but judging by watching him in San Antonio, it won't take him long to get the hang of things.

If Clausen does indeed beat out Demetrius Jones, Zach Frazer and Evan Sharpley for the starting quarterback job, a tough task because all those guys could start at a lot of Division I schools, his durability is the only thing in question. He didn't take too many hits during his high school career as an undefeated starter. Not sure how many shots he'll take, because he showed a keen ability to get rid of the ball before collapsing to the rush during practice this past week.

It's been written before, but Clausen's accuracy and ability to be precise when making tough throws on the run to a receiver running any route, is what makes him the touted prospect that he is.

Gray, another early enrollee, had amazing feet when covering receivers, and that's with a bad ankle. The Notre Dame doctors will take care of him once he arrives on campus, and like Clausen, once the 5-foot-11, 165-pound cornerback adds some weight, it will be hard to keep him off the field with his coverage ability and good instincts.

Clausen and Gray will have nine months to get ready for next season.

The third early enrollee, Allen, didn't play, but his speed was talked about by the experts all week. It came up so often, it almost started to sound like an urban legend. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound running back should be ready to go by spring football.

Greg Little doesn't have the same game-breaking ability like Deonte Thompson or Terrance Toliver, but the Irish commit put to rest those linebacker rumors by showing he was one of the best prep receivers in the country. He was very impressive as a possession receiver, good hands, good route runner, and his touchdown in the game showed he can go over a talented corner and make a play. He will definitely be in the mix for a lot of downs come next fall.

It's obvious the Irish have a huge need at defensive end, and before everyone starts talking about moving Justin Trattou to defensive tackle, the Ramsey, N.J. product displayed a great knack for making plays all week. He deflected a lot of passes and was tough for All-American tackles to block. When it comes to talent, he has more than anybody at the position on Notre Dame's roster. It would've been nice to land Ben Martin, but Trattou is a heck of a prospect, and will definitely push for major playing time.

One verbal commitment for the week, but offensive lineman Matt Romine showed his versatility. He will come to Notre Dame as a tackle, but proved he could play guard if needed. The 6-foot-6, 270-pound Romine has time to add weight before arriving in South Bend, and whether they need him or not, he will be right there in the mix for time with the talented offensive line class of 2006. They loved the way he competed so well in Texas, Romine was named a captain for the West team.

Receiver Duval Kamara and linebacker Aaron Nagel might be a year away from playing regularly in an Irish uniform, but the two showed great promise at practice. Nagel is learning the linebacker position after switching from safety, and was running with the first team before being beaten out late in the week. He has great speed, and maybe he surprises like he did in San Antonio. Kamara will be playing in a balanced offense for the first time, but with the talented receivers in the 2006 class, he will have his work cut out for him for playing time. However, Kamara will eventually be a really good Notre Dame football player.

It was too bad tight end Mike Ragone was unable to play because of an injury. Judging by the other Notre Dame guys, he probably would've done well.

If Notre Dame fails to land another commitment, which is highly doubtful, we still learned in San Antonio that this is a very good recruiting class. That goes without mentioning Golden Tate and the rest of the future Irish players that weren't selected for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, but would've done just fine if given the chance.

Put the negativity to rest. It's not as bad as it seems.


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