Spring Review: Part I

With spring practice over, Irish Eyes takes a look at what we learned and what we didn't with a review of the team position-by-position. First up, what do we know now about the 2009 Fighting Irish that we weren't sure about a month ago?

Fans of Notre Dame learned about as much as they could have expected from the Blue-Gold Game and the other 14 practices the Irish had this spring. Not all questions were answered and many will have to wait until the middle of the fall or even later, but the complexion of the 2009 Notre Dame Fighting Irish is much clearer now than it was a month ago.



There will be no quarterback controversy this summer. In reality, Jimmy Clausen answered that question with his Christmas Eve performance in Hawaii, but the staff made it clear that it wanted Dayne Crist to try to push the incumbent.

While Clausen had a sub-par passing day in the spring game, Charlie Weis has been impressed with the quarterback's development this spring, offering one of his classic downplayed compliments.

"That number seven has really had a heck of a camp," Weis said toward the end of the spring. "He's pretty good. He is, he's pretty good."

This is not to say that Crist will not push Clausen this summer, in fact he already is, but there is no chance that a healthy Clausen is not taking the first snap against Nevada on Sept. 5.

Running Back
The Irish have at least three capable runners to hand the ball to. Armando Allen, Robert Hughes and Jonas Gray combined for 252 yards and three touchdowns on 53 carries (4.75 average) in the Blue-Gold Game.

Allen showed an increased ability to run inside on Saturday while Hughes ran with a great combination of agility and power. Gray needs to show that he has the maturity to be counted on.

James Aldridge was sidelined for much of the second half of the spring with a shoulder injury, but he showed enough in limited time to move to the top of the depth chart at fullback. Weis said that Aldridge would probably see more time as a halfback this season, but that he would be listed as the team's number one fullback.

Wide Receiver
Michael Floyd was held out of the spring for some time with a leg injury while Golden Tate was only able to make five workouts because of his commitment to the baseball team. Floyd and Tate's absences could end up working to the Irish's benefit this fall since it gave the other wideouts plenty of reps.

According to Weis, Rob Parris stepped up more than any of the other receivers with the starters out while sophomores-to-be John Goodman and Deion Walker also showed that they have made tremendous strides since last season.

Tight End
Kyle Rudolph was one of the best freshman tight ends in the nation last year and this year he will be one of the best tight ends period. The main difference in 2009 will be that Rudolph will not have to do the job by himself.

The return of Mike Ragone from last year's knee surgery, a year of maturity for Joseph Fauria and a year of eligibility for walk-on Bobby Burger, who transferred from Dayton last season, will allow the Irish offense to use multiple-tight end packages as much as it wants.

Offensive Line
It seems like the competition to replace Michael Turkovich at left tackle was over before it really began. The play of Paul Duncan may have been the most important thing that the Notre Dame staff saw this spring and it came with virtually no competition as Matt Romine missed a good chunk of camp.

"The competition between those guys never had a chance to get off the ground during this camp because Matt was sick a whole bunch," said Weis. "If Paul hadn't stepped up, we would have had a lot more questions to answer than we do right now."

Also, Michael Golic and Andrew Nuss cemented their status in the two-deep.

Defensive Line
The Irish are deeper up front than they have been in years. Many of those players are young and inexperienced, but they are also talented.

The play of Hafis Williams inside allowed the Irish coaches to kick Ethan Johnson back out to his more natural position at defensive end and while Kapron Lewis-Moore ended the spring on the sidelines with a foot injury, he showed enough to validate his spot atop the depth chart.

Ian Williams and Brandon Newman had impressive moments during the spring game from their interior spots while defensive end Morrice Richardson looked like one of the players who will benefit most from the return to a 4-3.

Toryan Smith was not listed as the starting Mike linebacker on the pre-spring depth chart, but worked his way to that spot after just a few practices. Smith's emergence allowed the coaches to move Brian Smith from Mike to Will.

The change to a 4-3 means that there will not be as many linebackers on the field in 2009, especially since the Irish expect to play so much nickel, but the spring game proved that the second level will be just as active, if not more.

Defensive Backs
The 2009 Notre Dame secondary will be the deepest in South Bend in years, especially at cornerback.

The Irish came into spring with three corners with significant starting experience in Raeshon McNeil, Robert Blanton and Darrin Walls, but the coaches have to feel confident about going four or five deep with Jamoris Slaughter and Leonard Gordon. And that does not include Gary Gray, who is expected to rejoin the team this summer.

The return of Harrison Smith to the secondary helps ease the loss of David Bruton's athleticism at safety while fifth-year senior Kyle McCarthy will take over as the leader of the group. Sergio Brown will try to build on the experience he gained last year while McCarthy's brother Danny will try to break into the rotation.

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