Approximately one year ago I wrote a player projection that predicted Irish sophomore WR Duval Kamara would lead the team in receptions and receiving yards with an outside shot a completing the hat trick by pacing the squad in touchdowns scored. Fast forward to mid May 2009 and you won't find a fan, scout, analyst, or writer in the country who'll make a similar prediction.
Kamara's competition at receiver, junior Golden Tate and sophomore Michael Floyd are now proven commodities, and possibly the best receiving duo in college football. Barring injury, the two will continue to be the focal points of Notre Dame's passing attack and offensive game plans for the next two (to three) seasons.
Technically, he's buried behind Tate, one of the most gifted and competitive receivers in the nation, but head coach Charlie Weis' offense has always welcomed the presence of a third and fourth receiver, especially if those options prove to be consistently reliable.
And therein lies the rub for Kamara. After a 2007 season in which the 6'5" freshman set Irish rookie records (since-eclipsed) with 32 receptions and four (receiving) touchdowns, Kamara suffered an awful start in September of ‘08 with noticeable mental and physical mistakes in both the all-too-close season-opening win over SD State and, two weeks later, in the team's first loss, a 23-7 defeat in East Lansing vs. the Spartans. And he was unable to dig himself out of this early hole, failing to post a multi-reception game until week six in North Carolina (more on that effort below).
But the Irish offense needs a player like Kamara. It needs an imposing target that can catch multiple in-routes as Kamara did as a freshman in '07 at Purdue (when the Irish offense finally came alive) and a physical presence that can take advantage of what will surely be one-on-one coverage in the red zone. And perhaps more importantly, the head-shaking Irish running game needs more of the focused downfield and in-line blocking Kamara provided as a willing freshman.Most of all, the Irish need both Kamara and senior receiver Robby Parris to make defenses pay for any rolled or double-coverage afforded to Tate and Floyd (and there'll be plenty). If Kamara can reemerge as a viable weekly receiver in this, his junior season, the big man from Hoboken could be part of a special Irish offense in '09 and beyond.
Kamara's Season Outlook:The Duval Kamara I watched on tape in '07 as a freshman vs. Purdue, Navy, and Stanford was not the same player that took the field for most of 2008. Whether it was confidence, focus, or something physical, there was a noticeable difference between Kamara the emerging sophomore star and Kamara the on-field product.
It's too early for this type of prediction (but that's what this section is about), but I don't think there'll be much of a gray area surrounding Kamara's '09 contribution: he'll either be the offense's pleasant surprise and X-factor, or a one-catch-per-Saturday contributor on what is a now a young, versatile, and talented receiving corps. As fans we tend to write off struggling players too quickly, especially after a couple of noticeable mistakes, but if Kamara's as competitive (and as willing a blocker) as he appeared on tape in high school and as a freshman there's a good chance he'll be the team's most improved offensive player and X-factor in 2009.
Kamara's Best Moments of 2009:
- His overall effort vs. the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill was lost in the game's puzzling climax, but Kamara came up big for the Irish and QB Jimmy Clausen, finishing with 5 receptions for 58 yards (four of his receptions accounted for Irish first downs), including this forgotten gem: a diving, back-to-the-ball snare of a 3rd and 10 pass that set up a James Aldridge touchdown and gave the Irish a 24-16 lead early in the 3rd Quarter. Kamara was the star of the drive, with three receptions and a "pass breakup" on what was a certain Clausen interception in Irish territory.
- Snaring a 3rd and 6 fade pattern touchdown vs. solid coverage to give the Irish a 14-0 1st Quarter advantage in the Week Two win over Michigan.
Kamara's Moments to Forget in 2009:
- San Diego State: an off-his-pads drop that resulted in an Aztecs interception. That play came on the heels of a dropped 3rd down (laser shot) from Clausen on the season's opening series.li>
- Michigan State: a sloppy route that led to a Spartans interception deep in Irish territory. The State offense took 10 plays to capitalize vs. an amped Irish defense but eventually took a 10-0 advantage.