Samardzija and McKnight were a monster 1-2 tandem last season for quarterback Brady Quinn. The two combined for 27 touchdowns and over 1,900 yards of receiving. Throw in the offense also replacing Quinn and there aren't too many expectations for this group. Junior David Grimes is a clear starter after catching 26 balls for 336 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore George West might be line for the second starting spot.
But Grimes and West will never be confused physically for Samardzija, McKnight or 2005 star Maurice Stovall. Samardzija and Stovall were both in the 6-4, 6-5 range while McKnight was 6-2, all taller receivers over 210 pounds. Grimes is 5-10, 174 pounds while West stands at 5-8, 188 pounds. There are taller options with sophomores Robby Parris and Richard Jackson at 6-3 and freshman Duval Kamara at 6-4. But if West joins Grimes as the top options at wide receiver, it'll be a different bunch physically than the previous two seasons.
"We've gone from Stovall, Samardzija and McKnight and now we have the ‘Smurfs,'" Weis joked on Monday during his Media Day press conference. "But I've been in situations where we've won a lot of game and the tallest receiver was 5'10". Where everyone could sell them short, no pun intended, I'm excited about the body types and the chance of skill levels and the things they do. Will David Grimes be Jeff Samardzija? No, but there are things David Grimes does better than Jeff Samardzija."
As for the defensive line, there is one clear starter: fifth-year senior Trevor Laws. The Burnsville, MN native totaled 62 tackles last year, including 9.5 for losses and the preliminary depth chart has him listed at left defensive end in the new 3-4 personnel defense. As for the other two spots, there's a healthy competition for a chance to start. At nose tackle, junior Pat Kuntz has the experience factor over freshman Ian Williams. At right defensive end, fifth-year senior Dwight Stephenson, Jr., senior Justin Brown and sophomore Kallen Wade are the three contenders. Weis sent a message to the older guys who've waited their turn to cash in the opportunity for playing time.
"There time is now," Weis said. "It's the reason you stayed here. It's the same conversation I had with Corey Mays a few years ago. Corey Mays barely played a down and then all of a sudden he's one of the best players on our team. Now is your time to step up and play. If not, a younger guy steps up and beats them out."
***Sticking with the defensive line, Weis said there were three players in the trenches that could switch to the other side of the ball, if warranted. Sophomore Chris Stewart will start at offensive guard but could move to nose tackle if Kuntz or Williams don't distinguish themselves. On defense, freshmen Andrew Nuss and Emeka Nwankwo will test the waters at defensive end but, according to Weis, could move over to the offensive line if the situation presented itself.
***There's no question Notre Dame is on the right path in the recruiting game. LB Steve Filer, a five-star recruit according to Scout, was commitment No. 19 for the Irish. Currently, Scout has Notre Dame as the top class for 2008. After the disappointment of losing a few key recruit on Signing Day in February, the Irish have rebounded with a talented bunch of players. But the work is far from over.
"It's been a very, very strong positive," Weis said about the current recruiting situation. "Our staff has worked hard. We've got a ways to go yet, but it isn't like we've got very many spots left open. The two things you have to do is A, not take anyone for granted that's already said yes and make sure you treat them like family; and B, go get the rest of those top line guys that you're out there and waiting for them to make a decision."
Weis stated he was in favor of an early signing day period. As for another recruiting issue, text messaging between coaches and prospects is a thing of the past. The NCAA banned the practice recently but the institution can revisit the decision in 2008. Weis, a huge proponent of text messaging, let his feelings be known on the subject.
"That's a bad move," Weis said of the ban. "For the guys like me who like to text message, it's a bad move. I think a reason some of the guys don't like it is that they don't want to do it. They think because you're doing it, you must have some ghostwriter doing it for you. Ask my wife if I text. She gets mad at me because I text so much."
***Of the 100 kids who participated in the conditioning drill, Weis said only two looked out of shape.
***There's no doubt that running back is a position of strength for Notre Dame. Fifth-year senior Travis Thomas moved back over to offense after spending 2006 at linebacker. Sophomore James Aldridge brings a combination of speed and power to the group. Freshman Robert Hughes is the classic power back while senior Junior Jabbie showed he could be a threat in the Blue-Gold game. If it's speed Irish fans want, freshman Armando Allen is the man.
"We got at least one guy that can run fast," Weis said of Allen. "We lose Darius and he was a front-line player for us. But if you look at the depth at the position, it's got great depth, talent and a variety of skills. But I need to watch them play. The only guy I've seen play a lot is Travis and that was two years ago. That's a position where we not only have a breakaway threat but more competition."
***Weis on Brady Quinn, who currently is still unsigned with the Cleveland Browns: "I talk to him probably every other day, and he's doing fine. He's anxious. He wants to be in there. I think everyone wants that to get done and hopefully it'll get done sooner rather than later."