***QUARTERBACK: Weis wanted to trim the four contenders in the spring time down to two. Instead, a decision to remove just one player from the race, sophomore Zach Frazer, was made. That left sophomore Demetrius Jones, junior Evan Sharpley and freshman Jimmy Clausen to battle through the summer and into the first few weeks of fall camp. Frazer decided to transfer from the Notre Dame program and picked Connecticut as his next playing destination.
The shoes to fill at this position is huge. Brady Quinn set dozens of school records and was a consistent performer at the quarterback position. Last season, Quinn tossed 37 touchdowns to seven interceptions in addition to completing 61 percent of his passes. Even the biggest die hard Notre Dame fan doesn't expect the 2007 starter to approach these lofty numbers.
But who will be the starter? It's anyone's guess and this storyline will be the dominant topic leading up to opener vs. Georgia Tech. The biggest question mark is the health of Clausen. According to ESPN, the hyped freshman underwent a medical procedure on his elbow after spring practice. Notre Dame responded that Clausen will be ready for fall camp. All eyes will be on No. 7 in fall camp as to how healthy his right arm is and the progress being made.
If Clausen isn't 100 percent, then the competition becomes a two-man race between Jones and Sharpley. Jones is the more athletic of the two and can hurt teams with his arm and legs. Sharpley is a year more experienced in the Weis system and saw mop-up action in eight games last season while Jones sat out the entire year. The extra year of experience for Sharpley vs. the play-making ability of Jones will be watched closely. The offense, with a load of talent at running back, is expected to be more run-oriented in 2007. This should relieve some of the pressure off the new quarterback. But will it be Jones, Sharpley or Clausen? Stay tuned.
***RUNNING BACK: Through excellent recruiting, this position is one of the deepest on the team. Darius Walker decided to leave school a year early and enter the NFL Draft. Notre Dame not only has to replace back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons but a solid threat to catch the ball out of the backfield.
The options for Weis are plentiful. Fifth-year senior Travis Thomas returns to running back after spending a year at linebacker in 2006. The Washington, PA native did see a few carries last year, scoring twice. Back in 2005, Thomas totaled five touchdowns and the 6-0, 218-pound captain should see his fair share of carries.
But there are multiple youngsters behind the veteran that will also see the field. Sophomore James Aldridge has battled knee problems since enrolling early in 2006 but Irish fans hope this is the year the Crown Point, IN native will shine. Even with the setbacks, Aldridge still rushed the ball 37 times for 142 yards as a freshman. Aldridge's combination of speed and power will get him a lot of carries in 2007.
Armando Allen, a 5-10, 190-pound freshman, brings speed to the position. Allen's versatility and quickness can be used by Weis in multiple ways to bring the home-run threat to the offense. Fellow freshman Robert Hughes is the classic power back at 5-11, 228 pounds and gives coaches another dimension in the running game. Don't forget about Junior Jabbie, who earned MVP honors in the Blue-Gold game after running for 87 yards on 13 carries. Put simply: there's a lot of talent at running back. If the ground attack can get going, it'll take a lot of pressure off the quarterback and wear down opposing defenses.
***FULLBACK: Junior Asaph Schwapp is a beast of a player and stands at 6-0, 255-pounds. No. 44 is back after missing all but two games in 2006 with an injury and will be the lead blocker in the running game. Schwapp should see a few carries a contest in short yardage situations. Backup sophomore Luke Schmidt is also expected to see action.
***WIDE RECEIVER: If running back is one of the deepest positions on the team, wide receiver might produce the most questions. Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight benefited greatly from Weis's offensive system but both are gone. The Irish must replace over 1,900 receiving yards, 145 receptions and 27 touchdowns of production in 2006 from these two standout players.
David Grimes has a lock on one of the starting spots. The junior was fifth last season with 26 receptions for 336 yards and two touchdowns. Grimes has above-average hands and has drawn praise from Weis for his steadiness. Now, the Detroit, MI native must go from the third option at wide receiver to the No. 1 threat.
There's competition for the second starting spot. George West was having a solid spring before an injury sustained in a car accident forced him to miss the Blue-Gold game. West notched two receptions during his freshman season and scored a touchdown on a reverse. The sophomore is speedy but, like the 5-10 Grimes, on the small side at 5-8. A bigger body who could play his way into the rotation is Robby Parris. The 6-3 wideout from Ohio caught a touchdown in the Blue-Gold game and gives the quarterbacks a taller target. Junior D.J. Hord sat out 2006 with an Achilles heal injury but should be healthy this season. Other options include Richard Jackson and Barry Gallup.
With the uncertainty behind Grimes, it gives two freshmen a chance to contribute right away. Duval Kamara is another taller wideout at 6-4 and could use his height advantage to see some time on the field. Golden Tate will be one of the fastest players on the team and could be the home-run threat in the passing game. If Tate can adjust to being a full-time receiver, his explosiveness could lead to opportunities.
***TIGHT END: John Carlson is one of the premier tight ends in the nation and was on pace to break the Notre Dame single-season reception record at the position before an injury forced him to miss two contests last year. Still, the fifth-year senior was fourth on the team with 47 receptions for 634 yards and four touchdowns. Carlson is one of the top options on every passing down.
There's a battle for the second tight end spot. Weis constantly utilizes two tight end sets and an increase in the running game puts a bigger premium at the position. It'll be a battle between two sophomores. Konrad Reuland stands at 6-5 and was a five-star player coming out of high school in California. The player pushing Reuland will be Will Yeatman, who doubles as a lacrosse star. Yeatman is tall as well at 6-6 and there's no doubting his athletic ability. Incoming freshman Mike Ragone could also factor into the equation.
***OFFENSIVE LINE: Three new starters must be replaced along the line. The new group must get better in both run blocking and pass protection. Notre Dame was 72nd nationally in rushing offense and 85th in sacks allowed. Fifth-year senior John Sullivan returns for another year the center position. Sullivan has been a mainstay along the line the past three seasons and his experience is vital. Right tackle Sam Young returns after starting all 12 games as a freshman in 2006. Young is a massive individual at 6-7, 315-pounds and is already a star in the making.
The left tackle spot will be protecting the blind side of the new quarterback, whoever that might be, because all three signal callers are right-handers. Junior Paul Duncan was the leader after spring ball and saw action in 12 of 13 games last season. At left guard, classmate Michael Turkovich is ready to contribute after seeing time in 10 contests in 2006. At right guard, sophomores Dan Wenger and Matt Carufel should battle for the starting spot. Wenger did not play last year while Carufel appeared in three games. Wenger is also the backup center and if Sullivan, who did go down with an injury in the Blue-Gold game, isn't 100 percent, the sophomore would slide over to handle the snapping duties.
Notre Dame does not release a depth chart, so we've tried to put together one of our own for our customers heading into fall camp. This is our best attempt at a offensive depth chart to the best of our knowledge.
Evan Sharpley or Demetrius Jones or Jimmy Clausen