Freshman wide receiver Duval Kamara led the Irish in receptions last season with 32 and touchdowns with four. That's pretty darn good for a freshman, but not very impressive when it comes to a team leader in the Irish offense. It was hardly Kamara's fault. He had the best freshmen season in the history of Notre Dame football, but you'd like your team leader at receiver to post better numbers. I think it says more about everyone else than it does Kamara.
Dropped passes, poor routes, quarterbacks holding onto the ball too long, and poor pass protection all factored into the problems with the passing game last year. Irish fans expect a lot of those things to improve this season, and production from the wide receiver position will be vital to improving the Irish offense.
The Irish suffered from youth, inexperience and the above mentioned factors in the wide receiver corps, but those excuses will not be valid this season. At least a few wide receivers will need to step up this season in order for the Irish offense to get back on track.
Most Likely Starters
Who will start? That's an intriguing question because there are many candidates, none really have stood out thus far, and the Irish are adding three talented freshmen to the mix.
The one guy who really stood out in the spring was David Grimes. Head coach Charlie Weis singled Grimes out during spring as one of the players who really caught his attention. "In the whole off-season, I thought there were a handful of guys who separated themselves from the pack in conditioning in off-season, and he is one of them and it has carried over into spring ball," Weis said of the senior captain.
Grimes had been slowed by injuries the past two seasons and is finally fully healthy heading into his final season. Grimes has certainly shown the ability to go get the football, but he'll need to improve on the 8.3 yards per catch he averaged last season. When Grimes is healthy, he has shown the ability to get deep and behind defenders. He could be a guy ready to have one those magical senior seasons we've seen so often throughout the history of Notre Dame football. After watching him this spring, he was clearly the best wide receiver on the field.
After Grimes it becomes much less clear. Duval Kamara is the most likely candidate. Kamara showed pretty good hands last season. He also started to really shine later in the year. His last game against Stanford the 6-foot-5, 225 pound freshman caught six passes for 93 yards. He also caught an impressive 25-yard touchdown against Duke, and nabbed five passes for 44 yards and two touchdowns against Navy. Kamara was gaining more and more confidence as the season went along, but he'll have to up his game even more this season to hold off the charge of other hungry receivers. The sophomore also led the team with four receptions, for 48 yards and the game-winning touchdown in the annual Blue-Gold game this spring. He needs some work, but he's only a true sophomore with a load of potential. He has the ability to be just as good as Maurice Stovall was for the Irish.
Competing for Time
The third wide receiver position will likely rotate in the beginning. I believe you'll see Michael Floyd in the games early and often, and I believe you'll see his playing time expand as the season rolls along. He's just too talented to keep off the field, and he's physically ready to play. He also makes a lot of plays and has more speed than people think. He has natural ball skills and knows how to use his body well with the ball in the air. By the end of the season he could be the best receiver on the field.
George West will also be in the mix. How large a role will likely depend on the freshmen, and the development of sophomore Golden Tate. West saw his playing time dwindle last season with the emergence of Tate and Kamara, and will need to have an impressive fall camp to keep pace with the talented sophomores. West is pretty solid catching the ball, but his game is making plays in space, and he hasn't had much opportunity to do that thus far in his Notre Dame career. He should play a role in special teams if nothing else.
Golden Tate has the opportunity to secure considerable playing if he develops this fall. Tate averaged 21.8 yards per catch last season and is clearly the player with the most speed to get behind defensive backs. Tate needs to work on his game, however. He's not always sure-handed, and he needs to run much better routes. But, he has excellent ball skills, and when the ball is coming down, he almost certainly grabs it. He'll definitely have a role this fall, but how much of a role will depend on how quickly he develops and gets a better grasp of the Irish offense and the position.
Robby Parris also saw considerable playing time last year as a sophomore. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound junior was second on the team in receptions with 29, and also averaged a solid 12.4 yards per reception. Parris hasn't looked the same since the hip injury he suffered as a high school senior, but he does show a little more bounce in his step than previous years. The Olmsted Falls, Ohio native usually has sure hands and is a solid possession receiver.
The time is now for Parris and West. Both will need an impressive fall camp showing if they want to see much of the field in 2008.
On the Outside Looking In?
Junior Richard Jackson hasn't seen much action thus far in his career at Notre Dame. He played primarily on special teams his freshman season, and didn't play at all last season. We've heard Jackson looks good at times in practice, but thus far hasn't done enough to warrant time on the field. This is probably Jackson's last shot to gain any meaningful playing time in his career. If he doesn't impress this fall he'll likely get lost in the shuffle behind some talented underclassmen.
Two more freshmen, John Goodman and Deion Walker, will also be fighting for some playing time. Both players possess as much talent as any of the players they're competing against, but both probably won't be physically ready for a lot of action next fall. Goodman wasn't quite 190 pounds the last time we spoke with him, but he has a ton of potential in his 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame. Goodman also played quarterback his senior season, so he hasn't spent a great deal of time at wide receiver. What we have seen from him, however, has been very promising.
Walker also isn't the biggest guy (6-foot-3, 185 pounds), and he also suffered an injury that limited him quite a bit his senior season. Walker also bounced around playing different positions, and didn't play against the best competition in high school. He'll have a learning curve when he starts fall camp, but his size and speed make him very valuable for the Irish.
I think both players have the talent to compete with anyone on the roster, but I'm not sure they'll be as polished or physically ready to play significant roles their freshmen season. Look out for both in 2009, however.
Team Preview: Wide Receiver
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