The Future: Wide Receiver

With the departure of record-setting wide receivers Maurice Stovall and Jeff Samardzija, the door appeared to be wide open for the next wave of Irish receivers to excel in the Charlie Weis offense. So far, that hasn't happened.

Notre Dame headed into the 2007 with six solid wide receiver candidates in juniors David Grimes and D.J. Hord, sophomores George West, Robby Parris, Barry Gallup, Jr. and Richard Jackson, and freshmen Duval Kamara and Golden Tate. None had much experience, but in the Charlie Weis offense, you'd think at least one would stand out and show he was the next in line to shine in this high-powered passing offense.

Unfortunately, that didn't happen. Most on the list above showed glimpses of being solid, if not spectacular talents. But none really showed consistency in the ability to catch the football, run crisp routes and block. Also, senior tight end John Carlson led the team in receptions, and he seemed invisible most of the season, so that should give you an idea of how much this unit struggled over the season.

In 2005, Samardzija led the team with 77 receptions. He caught 15 touchdowns and averaged 16.2 yards per catch. Maurice Stovall had 69 receptions and 11 touchdowns and averaged 16.7 yards per catch. Matt Shelton was third on the team with 28 receptions. This was a highly productive year for the receiving corps.

In 2006, once again Samardzija led the team with 78 receptions, 12 TDs and 13.0 yards per reception. Rhema McKnight was second on the team with 67 receptions, 15 TDs and 13.5 yards per reception. David Grimes was third on the team with 26 receptions…..another productive year.

The Irish wide receiver production dropped off dramatically in 2007 with freshman Duval Kamara leading the team in receptions with 32 and just four touchdowns on the season. Kamara and sophomore Robby Parris were the only two receivers to average more than 10 yards per reception on the season.

There are lots of reasons for this---inexperienced quarterback, new running backs, inexperienced offensive line—but the Irish will need to find more production out of this unit to get back to the top of college football.

Also, probably more than any other position on offense, this group doesn't have the "star power" on the roster of some of the other positions when it comes to recruiting rankings. Out of the six candidates, only three were four-star prospects (two true freshmen), the rest being three-star prospects. While normally I don't get too wrapped up in "stars," I think in this case they may have been right to some extent. Let's take a look….

The Now
Senior-to-be David Grimes (three-star prospect) was probably Notre Dame's most consistent receiver last season. Grimes missed two full games due to injury, and clearly was not 100 percent for a good part of the season. He played OK most of the season, but did drop some key passes, and only averaged 8.3 yards on his 27 receptions on the year. Grimes has shown glimpses of being a very good receiver prospect, such as the touchdown pass he caught against Stanford (it was a touchdown), but he's also shown inconsistency in his hands at times. He's probably Notre Dame's best route-runner at this point, and a pretty solid blocker. He does most things well, but in reality, he doesn't have the size or blazing speed to be a front-line player. He's a very solid player, but he doesn't have the height to get above defenders to snatch the ball as Stovall or Kamara does, and he doesn't have the speed to run by most defenders as say Golden Tate or Matt Shelton have shown.

Having said all of that, he is Notre Dame's most consistent wide-out at this point, and he deserves to play until someone can unseat him. I do think you'll see an even better Grimes in 2008 if he can remain healthy for an entire season—something he hasn't shown he can do.

D.J. Hord enrolled at Notre Dame as a raw four-star prospect with speed. A terrible Achilles tendon tear and knee injury has really slowed his progress over the years. He looked primed to compete for a spot in 2007, but he rarely played. Hord's final chance for playing time is this spring. If he doesn't earn it this spring, he likely won't get much of a look this fall when some "star power" will be arriving on campus.

Sophomore Robby Parris (three-star prospect) showed signs of being a very promising third-down receiver. He showed good hands most of the season, and seemed to get open at key times throughout the season. At 6-foot-4, he's got excellent size, but he needs to learn to use that size better to his advantage. He doesn't possess the speed to stretch the field, but he's shifty enough and athletic enough to be a solid receiver. The only thing holding Parris back is consistency. To be a third-down receiver, you have to be able to always catch the football and can be counted on. One must remember that he's a true sophomore, and he'll definitely get better over the next few years. I think you'll see a lot of Parris in 2008.

George West (three-star prospect) will likely find himself in a battle for playing time in 2008 with Grimes. Both are very similar players, and I expect some younger players to really push both Grimes and West for playing time in 2008. West has shown to be pretty solid catching the football, but only averaged 8.2 yards per reception last season. He's an OK blocker at this point, but OK won't get it done in 2008. I believe both Grimes and West are going to have to step up their game considerably to keep their roles in the 2008 offense. Again, he's just a sophomore, so I expect him to develop quite a bit over the spring and summer.

We don't know much about Barry Gallup, Jr. (three-star prospect) or Richard Jackson (three-star prospect) at this point. Neither has played much at all, and that isn't a good sign for their future on the playing field. Jackson was hurt earlier in the season, but didn't appear to be pushing for playing time prior to his injury. Gallup may find a role on special teams, but neither player has really shown much to warrant playing time at this point. They probably have spring practice to shine or they likely won't get much of a look this fall, either.

Freshman Duval Kamara (four-star prospect) saw considerable playing time and started to show why he was highly coveted by many of the nation's top programs out of high school. He's got excellent size, but will need to learn to use that size better to his advantage. He's not a blazer, but he has enough speed to threaten the deep part of the field, which should help him get open on underneath stuff. Consistency is what Kamara needs. He's a true freshman, and he reminds me a lot of Stovall. I think he can be as good, if not better, than Maurice before all is said and done.

I wasn't sold on Golden Tate's (four-star prospect) overall speed initially from his high school film, but he certainly silenced this critic in the few times he was able to make plays on offense. More importantly, Tate showed me the most "ball skills" out of any of the Irish receivers. When the ball was up in the air, the 6-foot Tate somehow managed to come down with it more often than not. Tate has great potential because he's the one guy on the roster who can get deep consistently, and he also shows ball skills that others don't seem to possess. Tate is very raw, more unpolished than most realize, so he has a long way to go before becoming a refined receiver, but he's only a true freshman at this point. If he can get the position down, he has the potential to be a real playmaker for the Irish.

The Future


The future is bright for the Irish receiving corps. I'm very excited about both of Notre Dame's commitments in 2008.

John Goodman (four-star prospect) is the forgotten man, and if I'm Goodman, I want it just that way. Goodman has excellent size at 6-foot-4, 190 pounds. He has excellent hands, and to me, he shows more ability to move side-to-side than Samardzija possessed coming out of high school. Goodman's film shows the ability to make people miss that you don't normally see out of players his size. He also has nice explosion to run away from people. His top-end speed isn't elite level, but he has as much, if not more, top-end speed than Samardzija has/had. The sky is the limit for Goodman. He'll never be Randy Moss, but he can be as good, if not better, than Samardzija.

I'm a big Michael Floyd fan as well. Personally, I think Floyd has the most potential out of anyone on this list. That's why he's a five-star prospect. When I see Floyd, I see Terrell Owens. Floyd is a big body, who possesses excellent lateral movement, and has much better speed than some think. He's a long-strider, which makes him look slower, but he's a guy I'll promise will be able to stretch the field. He'll make a lot of big plays in this offense. I think he's this year's Arrelious Benn. He also has "ball skills." If the ball is in the air, he's coming down with it, almost guaranteed. Personally, I think Floyd has the potential to be better than both Stovall and Samardzija, but it will be up to him to maximize that talent.

There are two players left on the board, currently--five-star player Deion Walker, and four-star player Gerell Robinson. Both have very high up-side, and their best football is ahead of them.

Walker has very good speed. He'll threaten the deep part of the field, and that's something Notre Dame doesn't have a lot of—overall speed at the position. He's raw, like Tate, and he doesn't play the best competition, but he's got a lot of upside, and you can't teach speed.

Robinson reminds me of a more athletic Mike Williams from USC. Robinson has a big body, and very long arms, and he's just learning the position. He also reminds me a lot of David Bruton as an athlete coming out of high school. Robinson will only get more and more athletic, and I think his potential is vast. Like Walker, he's not a finished project, but once he fully grows into his body, I think you'll see great production out of him no matter where he ends up.

Either uncommitted player would be a great third addition to the 2008 recruiting class. I doubt Notre Dame will end up with both. Regardless, if they land at least one, Notre Dame will certainly be adding three players who I believe have as much, and in many cases, more potential than anyone on the current roster. Upperclassmen beware.

Winter lifting, spring practice and summer conditioning will be very important for some of the upperclassmen receivers at Notre Dame. I expect many of them to be passed by the youth movement coming this fall.

Even with the "star power" being added, this isn't a very experienced or deep unit at this point. Either the older players will step up or they'll be quickly passed by the potential and eventual production of the younger players.


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