One has to only look at the impact of the loss of Cedric Hilliard and Gerome Sapp for proof that Notre Dame needs some depth. I want to be clear and say that I am not discounting the talent of the reserve players. I am only saying that they have not developed into quality reserves at this point. That doesn't mean they can't or won't in the future.
You can usually tell if a player is going to be an impact player by his true sophomore year. Usually, the impact players will start to surface their sophomore year in some way or another. That is not always true because a position might have considerable depth of talent but that is usually the situation. Brandon Hoyte is a fine example. Ryan Grant playing last year with 3 seniors in front of him is also an example. Glenn Earl, Vontez Duff, Dan Stevenson, Justin Tuck are all good examples.
It's important to develop depth because injuries can kill your dreams of a good season. On the defensive line, the Irish are very thin. Kyle Budiscak fits the sophomore impact player mold and the Irish are hoping some others fit in there as well. Big Ced, Ryan Roberts and Darrell Campbell started to emerge as sophomores as well. After those 5 players mentioned, the Irish are lacking quality depth. Greg Pauly is developing into a player but injuries have hurt his progress. He is finally healthy and if he can stay healthy the rest of the year, he could develop into a player that can add quality minutes. Jerome Collins has all the skill to develop into a fine defensive end but is learning the position for the first time. The commitment of Trevor Laws was a big step in the right direction. Notre Dame could use 2 more defensive linemen.
Notre Dame is also thin in the secondary. After Glenn Earl and Gerome Sapp, the Irish don't have a clear-cut backup who can give quality minutes. Quinten Burrell and Lionel Bolen have all the talent needed but need to get some valuable reps to give them the confidence and game experience needed. Behind Shane Walton and Vontez Duff, only Preston Jackson has shown that he has the skill needed. Jason Beckstrom has played a lot and has done a fine job while in the game but he will only be back for one more year. The other prospects have talent but just haven't been able to get on the field. The commitment of Freddie Parish was a great start but the Irish will need at least two more great players for the secondary.
Linebacker is also lacking in depth. The three starters in Courtney Watson, Mike Goolsby and Derek Curry all have talent and another year to play. Brandon Hoyte is playing like our best linebacker now. After those 4, the Irish are very thin at linebacker. Corey Mays has plenty of talent and should be ready to fill in next year. You can see his talent on special teams play every week. It's just a matter of time before he gets some quality minutes. Hopefully the Irish can recruit some serious impact players here because it's obvious they are going to need to play by their sophomore year. Nick Borseti and Joe Brockington are a good start to this class. I think the Irish will need two more linebacker commitments.
Along the offensive line, Notre Dame has five seniors in Jordan Black, Sean Mahan, Jeff Faine, Sean Milligan and Brennan Curtin. Faine, Milligan and Curtin have another year of eligibility but I expect only Milligan and Curtin back next year. Jim Molinaro has done a great job filling in this year and will have another year of eligibility left. Dan Stevenson has looked very good in the minutes we have seen him play. On paper, N.D. has 4 players to field a starting offensive line that have some playing experience. After those 4 starters, they don't have a single player with considerable playing experience.
In the spring, the Irish need to develop some depth along the offensive line or this team could be very poor on offense next year. I have heard a lot of good things about center prospect Bob Morton but he would be a true sophomore starting at offensive center. The bad news is that I haven't heard many names starting to emerge. Notre Dame is very thin on the offensive line and some players need to step up to field a good offense in the future. Notre Dame needs at least 3 offensive linemen for this class and you would hope they could contribute early in their career because the Irish are going to need them.
Running back is also very thin right now. Ryan Grant and Rashan Powers-Neal have plenty of years left and both have talent. Both players have been hurt this year however. Marcus Wilson has years and experience but hasn't quite shown he can do the job. Julius Jones might be back next year and will add to that depth for a final year but Notre Dame is very thin at running back. Notre Dame doesn't have a true fullback prospect and why Ashley McConnell was so needed in this class. The Irish already have David Marrero and Isaiah Gardner for this class but I expect them to take at least one or possibly two more tailback prospects because Gardner could be moved to defense.
Wide receiver has pretty good depth right now. Omar Jenkins will be back for one more year. Maurice Stovall and Rhema McKnight will have three more years and are talented. Carlos Campbell, Ronnie Rodamer and Matt Shelton add some depth here as all are quality players. The Irish still need some numbers to add to the depth. Chinedum Ndukwe and Jeff Samardzija add size and strength and both attended camp so the Irish coaching staff know what they have in these players. I think the Irish need to land one more wide receiver that can stretch the field. They need to add a speed guy here.
The tight end position has plenty of options but I am not sure how many fit the mold of the Bill Diedrick tight end. Gary Godsey should be back for another year. Billy Palmer has two more years but some speculate he might move to offensive guard to help there. Matt Root and Jared Clark also have years left. Some speculate that Root might move to offensive tackle to add some quickness to that position. Anthony Fasano and Marcus Freeman are two freshmen that add some depth. I spent considerable time watching the tight end position during fall camp and I would say Jared Clark and Marcus Freeman have the most athleticism. Some speculate that Freeman might move to defense but he sure has a lot of athleticism for the tight end position. I expect Notre Dame to sign at least one tight end if not two. Diedrick is going to want his type of tight end.
Quarterback should be fine. Carlyle Holiday has a clear grasp on the starting position. He has developed into a quality quarterback and will have two more years of eligibility. Pat Dillingham is a former walk-on but he proved he could give you quality minutes. Chris Olsen is a true freshman getting a crash course in the Diedrick offense. The hope is that Olsen can develop quickly to give the Irish some depth in case Holiday gets injured. The Irish already have a commitment from Brady Quinn. They might add another but I doubt they do. I know this much, a quarterback has to be crazy to turn down Willingham and Diedrick. I have never seen a quarterback make as much improvement as Holiday has this year.
The kicker and punter position needs to be addressed soon. Joey Hildbold is gone after having one of the finest seasons I have witnessed out of a punter. Nicholas Setta has one more year left and I expect him back. Setta can also punt and the Irish might gamble and use him for both positions next year. It would be a gamble because if Nick is injured, the Irish will be using a walk-on kicker and punter. I think the staff would like to find a combo guy who can both kick and punt. I am not sure they will find that in this class.
While this season has been one of magic and enthusiasm, it could have easily been just the opposite with some injuries to some key players. If Notre Dame had injuries to some key players on defense, this unit would not be near as strong as they have been all year. All fans want Notre Dame to compete for the National Championship soon but I don't see them getting there until they can add some quality depth at each position. To make a title run, you will need some quality depth giving your starters a breather and to fill in when a player is injured. Injuries are a part of football and Notre Dame has been lucky all year in that department. The loss of Big Ced and Gerome Sapp has shown how different this team is without these two key players.
The good news is the Irish can sell their lack of depth on the recruiting trail. A talented linebacker has a legitimate shot at playing as a true sophomore or earlier. A gifted corner prospect could play as a true freshman. A talented safety could play as a true freshman. A speedy tailback will play as a true freshman. This Irish team has opportunity for young players. If they find a guy who can get to the quarterback, he will certainly play early. Not many of the top teams can say they have this opportunity.
Ty Willingham is looking for impact players in this class. He has proven he will play any freshman ready with Maurice Stovall starting and Rhema McKnight playing a lot of minutes. We already know what Ty Willingham can do with this team. He has lifted this team to heights nobody expected. I can't wait to see what he can do with players he has recruited for his system. Look out college football, the Irish are back and on signing day, you are going to see even more evidence of that. Tyrone Willingham has been so impressive on the sideline but I don't think the world knows yet how deadly he is in the living room.