Wide Receiver Wide Open for Spring

The wide receiver position will certainly be wide open heading into spring practice with the departure of starters Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight. The Irish have plenty of numbers at the position heading into spring, but they are short on experience. Who might emerge as a starter for 2007?

Losing players of the caliber of Samardzija and McKnight is never easy, but Irish head coach Charlie Weis has plenty of targets to plug into their slots in the offense this spring. But can they be as productive as Samardzija and McKnight? Most likely not, at least not quite yet.

2006 No. 3 receiver David Grimes certainly has the inside track to nail down one of the starting positions for next season. Grimes caught 26 passes for 336 yards (12.9 yards per reception) and two touchdowns this past season. Weis has been high on Grimes for awhile and has mentioned numerous times in the past that the gap between Grimes and the other receivers behind him was pretty large.

Grimes is listed at 6-foot, 180 pounds, but we're not sure he's quite that tall. What we don't know about Grimes is if he can be a consistent go-to guy who a quarterback can count on and will be needed as one of the starting receivers. He certainly has excellent hands, and he has a nice burst of speed, but can he consistently get off the line of scrimmage and get open on most downs? He'll need to prove he can do that to nail down a starting position.

One thing the Irish have been lacking lately is deep-threat speed at wide receiver. Weis has to hope the return of sophomore D.J. Hord will solve that problem. Hord has been injured all season and should be 100 percent this spring for the first time in a long time. Unfortunately for Hord, spring will be a lot like his freshman season as he really hasn't had a lot of experience in the offense because of his injuries.

At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, he's got a nice frame for a receiver, and he certainly has an extra gear. But he also hasn't played much receiver, even in high school as his team was mostly a running team in high school. I've heard he has a ways to go in both route running and improving his hands in catching the football. If he can make a good deal of improvement in those areas over the spring and summer, he just might be in line for one of the starting positions.

Junior Darrin Bragg is another name to keep an eye on. The 6-foot-1, 192-pound former quarterback seems to be making strides at the position. He impressed at times during fall camp and seems to be progressing nicely at the position. However, he's never really been mentioned as a strong candidate for playing time from Weis or any other Notre Dame coach, and the time is now or never as the San Jose, Calif. native has a number of freshmen that will be pushing him this spring.

Speaking for freshmen, four freshmen will also be heavily in the mix for playing this spring. A couple have already seen the field for the Irish this past fall.

Freshman George West has a slight advantage over the other three because he'll be working through his second spring after enrolling early last January. West did play some this past season, catching two passes for 14 yards, but his main contribution was on special teams as a kickoff returner. West, at 5-foot-8 180 pounds, doesn't have the biggest frame, but he does bring some shiftiness and speed to the position. Most expect him to be an ideal third or fourth receiver. Can he work his way into a starting role?

Olmstead Falls, Ohio native Robby Parris also saw the field as a true freshman but in limited action with just one reception for seven yards on the season. Parris should be 100 percent healthy heading into spring and should likely add some much needed strength and weight to his 6-foot-4, 185-pound frame. Parris looks be a carbon copy of Samardzija, and if he can show the same kind of consistency this spring, he'll have a great chance to grab one of the starting positions next fall.

Another player to watch out for is 6-foot-3, 200-pound Richard Jackson. Jackson has a very thick body and does a nice job of using his body to get open. Jackson appears to have even more room to grow and add size on his frame, and that strength and size should be an advantage this spring. Jackson didn't show the consistent hands this past fall that he'll need to be guaranteed a role next season, but he definitely showed some signs that he can contribute in the future. If he works on his hands and his route running, he'll have a good shot for some playing time next season.

Barry Gallup Jr. hasn't seen any action so far in his short career at Notre Dame, but like West, he brings some shiftiness and some speed to the position. Gallup hasn't been a receiver for long after playing running back in high school, and he'll need to add some size and strength to his 5-foot-11, 175-pound frame. Most consider Gallup to be an inside slot receiver or third or fourth receiver, and with a similar frame to Grimes, he'll have to show he can consistently get open to get on the field next fall.

Irish head coach Charlie Weis has mentioned many times that he plays to the strength of his team. Will the receivers be a strength in 2007? I think it's too early to tell.

Last season you'd see Weis use four receiver sets often, but usually with only three actual receivers in the game. Why? I'm guessing he felt he didn't have a fourth receiver he could count on and used a tight end or back instead.

Knowing that, how many will actually play in 2007? That will greatly depend on them. With a new quarterback, a fairly new offense line, and two new starters at wide receiver, I don't expect to see the 2007 starting quarterback to set any records in pass attempts next season, but that doesn't mean they won't be throwing the ball. How much will depend on the progress of the seven players mentioned above.

I'm going to guess we'll see a lot more running next season because of the inexperience of the positions I mentioned above, and the strength ND will have at running back with some talented players in the backfield.

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