Spring Ball Just Around the Corner

With recruiting winding down, and the enrollment of three of Notre Dame's current commitments for the 2007 recruiting season already in fold, the focus of Irish fans will soon turn to spring football. With a number of positions open for the taking, this could be the most exciting spring practice session in many years.

The Irish will certainly miss a number of Notre Dame's best players next year as they move on to the NFL, but their departure opens up opportunities for other talented players to fill the void. However, it's going to be hard for any player to fill the void left by some of these top Irish players.

Let's take a quick peek at the quarterback position and which players should be in the mix this spring for the starting position.

It seems most people have already decided that super freshman Jimmy Clausen or one of the sophomore prospects, Demetrius Jones and Zach Frazer, will ultimately replace Quinn. While all are talented, people forget that Evan Sharpley was a pretty good quarterback prospect in his own right coming out of high school.

Sharpley isn't the biggest guy (6-foot-2, 207), be he has a live arm and is pretty mobile. He showed up in a number of combines and impressed a number of coaches and recruiting experts as a senior in high school receiving offers from teams like LSU and Iowa.

He's also a very smart kid, accumulating almost a perfect g.p.a. out of high school, which can't be overlooked when talking about quarterbacks. Sharpley does have two years experience in Weis' system, and he's actually been running Notre Dame's offense for the past two years, while both Jones and Frazer have been running the scout team (other team) offense. One can't discount experience, familiarity and smarts…all of which Sharpley has in his favor.

Sharpley also impressed in the spring game last year where he completed a very high percentage of his passes while making very few mistakes. We didn't get to see him throw much down field, however, and he hasn't played much since being named backup last season.

Both Frazer and Jones have the jump on Clausen when it comes to experience. Both went through fall camp working with Weis and the offense, and they also had other chances to perform this year while quarterbacking the Weis offense, but as I mentioned earlier, those experiences have been limited.

So far I've heard Jones might be a little further along than Frazer, but that's hard to judge based off of the little we actually know of the two.

Jones is certainly the more mobile. He brings an extra dynamic that none of the other players bring with his ability to run with the football. Jones also brings a leadership quality that is noticeable. Most players naturally gravitate to his personality. Will that matter? It can't hurt.

Frazer probably is the more polished of the two and is big, strong man at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds. Frazer is probably more adept at the passing game than Jones, and is probably more advanced in the finer points of playing quarterback. He appears to be a natural pro-style quarterback, but like Jones, hasn't spent a great deal of time under center as he played mostly in a shotgun offense in high school.

I have heard from a few sources that Jones does have the edge, but what happens between now and spring practice will certainly be a factor. I'm not sure either know the offense well, and the guy that comes in most prepared in spring practice will have the edge.

Anyone who has watched Jimmy Clausen perform this fall knows the kid has immense talent. I can't remember seeing a high school quarterback as accurate as Clausen appears to be. What I also found encouraging was how quickly Clausen seemed to find rhythm with the receivers down at the Army All-American Bowl. Reports out of the Army practices had Jimmy struggling during the first practice, but after that practice he seemed to be right on the money the rest of the week. All reports from Scout.com experts were very favorable on his potential.

Clausen isn't the biggest guy. He also probably doesn't have the strongest arm out of this bunch, but he has highly advanced mechanics, appears to be a good leader, and is a winner. How quickly he adapts to college football and the speed of the game, and how well he can handle pressure will likely be his tallest obstacles this spring. Clausen did have an outstanding offensive line in high school, and I'm not sure he's ever had to face the kind of pressure any starting quarterback for Notre Dame will likely be under as the starter next year.

Spring practice will certainly be fun to follow when it arrives in a few months, especially at quarterback. All four will have an equal shot to impress, but I also can't imagine Weis would name a starter, or even a strong leading candidate, at the end of spring ball. There would be no point in naming a starter as Weis will want all four players confident, hungry and motivated to actually earn the spot this fall.

The No. 1 question I get asked recently, besides recruiting questions, is who I think will win this battle. I really can't begin to predict a winner on this. We really don't know a great deal about any of them.

I think Irish fans would be foolish to discount Evan Sharpley for the reasons I mentioned. I also feel we simply don't know enough about the other three operating the Charlie Weis offense to really have any strong indication how this race will ultimately unfold. One thing is certain, there will be a lot of Irish eyes following this race this spring, and I predict the largest crowd ever at the Notre Dame spring game this April—weathering permitting.

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