Spring Review: Part II

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. Today, a look at the questions that are still out there for the 2009 version of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Part one of the Spring Review focused on what we learned over the last month, part two looks at the unknowns.

Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis was pleased with the spring and the spring game in particular, but he admitted that there is a ton of work left to do.

"We have a lot of room for improvement," said Weis following the Blue-Gold Game. "Right now, we've got a long way to go.

"There's a different thing in each aspect of the team."



Jimmy Clausen has cemented his spot as the team's number one quarterback, but how many reps will Weis give backup Dayne Crist?

A two-quarterback system is highly unlikely, but will the Irish try to get Crist a series whenever possible and how early will the backup be inserted after the game has been decided?

More importantly, what will Crist get to do when he does get on the field? Will he just hand the ball off to grind down the clock or will he get the chance to run the entire offense?

Also, did Nate Montana's performance in the Blue-Gold Game do enough to allow him to hang onto the number three spot or is John Goodman actually ahead of him?

Running Back
During the spring game, the Irish showed that they have three running backs who can be productive, but how will the rotation work during the season?

It is clear that Armando Allen has solidified his position as the team's lead back, but how often will Robert Hughes and Jonas Gray be worked in?

What about James Aldridge? Weis said that Aldridge would be the top fullback, but could see more time at halfback. Is Aldridge ahead of Gray? Is he ahead of Hughes?

Also, what will the roles of incoming freshmen Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick be?

Wide Receiver
Weis said that he was confident that when the coaches sit down to discuss personnel on Tuesday morning, everyone would have the same opinion on the hierarchy of the receivers.

"I think it'll be very clear, this is one, two, three, four, five, six," said Weis. "I think that everyone on the staff will see it the same way."

But we don't know how that list is going to look aside from the fact that Golden Tate and Michael Floyd will be in the top two. Are veterans Rob Parris and Duval Kamara next or have Goodman and/or Deion Walker moved ahead?

Incoming freshman Roby Toma will need a year in the weight room, but classmate Shaquelle Evans could be ready to contribute right away, how does that change things at receiver?

Tight End
How will Mike Ragone's recovery from last year's knee surgery progress this summer? Ragone and the Irish staff acknowledged that the junior-to-be was having a tough time trusting the knee at the beginning of spring, but all parties noticed an improvement in the second half of camp. Will Ragone be able to get back to full speed by August?

If Ragone does not get close to 100 percent for preseason camp, it is likely that sophomore-to-be Joseph Fauria could move past him on the depth chart, if he already hasn't.

Also, walk-on transfer from Dayton, Bobby Burger may have been an even bigger surprise than left tackle Paul Duncan this spring. With three highly-rated scholarship tight ends ahead of him, is there any chance that Burger makes a meaningful impact in 2009?

Offensive Line
"We have a couple offensive linemen that we need to get back and get involved in the mix to give us so more quality depth," said Weis.

Namely, Trevor Robinson, Taylor Dever and Matt Romine.

Robinson was supposed to compete with Chris Stewart for the right guard position. Weis said before the start of the spring that if Robinson did not beat out Stewart that he would get a chance to compete for the starting left tackle position.

But Robinson was held out of contact during the spring, Stewart maintained his spot at right guard and Duncan was the standout of the spring. How will Robinson's return over the summer impact the depth chart along the offensive line? Also, how will tackles Romine and Dever fit in?

Defensive Line
Similar to the offensive line, the defensive line will also be getting reinforcements this summer. Defensive end Ethan Johnson could very well be the best player on the entire defense in 2009 and starting opposite of him this spring was Kapron Lewis-Moore, who the staff has been very high on.

But where does that leave Kerry Neal, who was not full speed all spring after being moved from Will linebacker to defensive end with the realignment of the defense? Defensive tackle Sean Cwynar and defensive end Kallen Wade are also expected to be back at full speed by the preseason and Tyler Stockton should be in a much better position to compete come summer.

The pre-spring depth chart at linebacker was never truly accurate and the post-spring chart may be no more precise come summer.

Brian Smith, Toryan Smith and Scott Smith finished the spring as the top linebackers at the Will, Mike and Sam positions respectively.

But Brian Smith's move to Will probably had more to do with Toryan Smith playing better than Steve Filer, who was listed as the top Will at the start of spring, than anything else. The issue with Filer has never been athletic ability; it has been displaying that he has a complete understanding of the defense. What happens if the light goes on for Filer between now and the season? Does Brian Smith move back to Mike?

The switch to a 4-3 did not result in Darius Fleming moving to defensive line the way it did for Neal. Instead, Fleming, who was limited all spring with a shoulder injury, will be playing Sam linebacker. What happens when Fleming returns? Who is the favorite to win that spot, him or Scott Smith?

Of course, these are all good problems. And they do not even take into account the shifting that could be made with the arrival of Manti Te'o.

Defensive Backs
The Irish are deep at cornerback, but who will get the starting nods? Robert Blanton? Raeshon McNeil? Darrin Walls? The coaches love Jamoris Slaughter, could he work his way into that discussion? And what about Gary Gray?

The starters at safety are much clearer with Kyle McCarthy as the number one guy at strong safety and Harrison Smith the leader at free. But what about the depth behind them? Sergio Brown is certainly the leader as the nickel back and Dan McCarthy had a good performance in the Blue-Gold Game, but who is behind them? Could somebody be moved to safety?

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