Robby Parris has already dropped a pass in a Notre Dame uniform. He's missed a key block; blown a route assignment; and he's certainly failed to break open more than once on third and long.
For these and likely many more reasons, Irish fans, followers, and media that cover the team are certain that Parris is no John Goodman; he's no Deion Walker; and he's certainly no Shaquelle Evans. Parris has flaws and no one can deny that these flaws exist.
We think we've seen what he's capable of vs. college athletes thus, intrigue no longer surrounds a senior receiver with 39 career catches for 418 yards and a single touchdown. But accompanying each of those 39 receptions (29 of which occurred in his sophomore season of '07) has been the opportunity to learn what worked on the route or the play. And each time he failed to shed an opposing cornerback, Parris had the chance to understand why he was unable to break free. He's felt the crushing, unexplainable pressure of 80,000 sets of eyes and how those pupils can magically turn the easiest catch into a juggle, stumble, or drop. And he knows that a "live" scrimmage and the contact involved is just that... it's merely "contact." And "contact" in no way defines what it means to reach for a four-yard slant from the slot on Saturdays.
He's gone from potential hero on a 4th Quarter touchdown pass vs. the No. 4-ranked team in the nation to afterthought when a teammate committed a penalty 25 yards away. Robby Parris has played and failed and learned.
And that could be the most important comparison between the senior and his first-year challengers this September.
Parris' Season Outlook:We're at the outset of the speculative period of the Notre Dame Football season (as you know, the season is 12 months long…there's just no game this Saturday) and a player with Parris' body of work is often forgotten during a time when Irish fans dream of an athletic young speedster filling the role of the slot receiver. The position has grown from an obvious team weakness in '07 to challenge as the squad's best unit in '09.
But the promising young base at the position need not leave the senior out of the mix. Parris' best moments as a receiver (detailed below) have occurred almost exclusively out of the slot – a role which the Irish offense still needs to fill in the fall. A healthy, focused Duval Kamara would likely rank as the team's third best receiver, but that necessitates a shift as Kamara is better suited for an outside role already filled by superstars-in-waiting Michael Floyd and Golden Tate. There's room for four receivers in '09, but Parris' spot in the rotation depends on his continued development inside.
A possession receiver cannot drop catch-able balls or fail to break open on crossing routes vs. man coverage (of which Parris would see plenty). For Parris to maintain a meaningful role this fall its essential he earn Clausen's trust and emerge as a security blanket for the junior signal-caller – one that can move the chains on 3rd down.
Like Kamara, consistency and health remain an issue for Parris. He disappeared for stretches in the '07 season (his first as a contributor to the offense) with just 2 total receptions vs. PSU, UM, and MSU; 5 combined receptions for 40 yards vs. USC and Navy; and he failed to notch receptions in wins vs. Duke and Stanford. He also intermittently emerged as the team's go-to threat vs. Purdue (7 receptions), Boston College (4 receptions for 94 yards and 1 TD), and Air Force (5 receptions and the target of 10 Clausen pass attempts).
Game-by-game reception totals that resemble a healthy EKG are hardly a prescription for success for a receiver facing a quartet of receivers champing at the bit to take his spot.
Parris' Best Moments of 2007 and 2008:
- Michigan State 2008: Grabbed a 12-yard out-route from Clausen on 3rd and 10 to keep an Irish drive alive in the first half.
- Penn State 2007: Adjusted his route for a 35-yard 4th Quarter catch and run from Clausen in the freshman's first career start.
- Purdue 2007: Recorded seven receptions for 93 yards. Four of his receptions resulted in ND first downs including a 4th Quarter 24-yard grab on 4th and 7 that kept a touchdown drive alive as the Irish pulled to within seven, 26-19 with 8 minutes remaining
- Boston College 2007: Parris finished with four receptions for 94 yards on the day including catching three balls for 66 yards and a score in the 4th Quarter. The star-crossed receiver also caught a 22-yard touchdown to bring the Irish within six but it was nullified by a late holding call.
Question Marks Regarding Parris Entering 2009:
- Crowded House: For many pass-heavy offenses, the difference in playing time between the third and fourth receiver can be minimal. But sophomore TE Kyle Rudolph will not often leave the field in passing situations (or in any situation). Nor will the Irish likely rely on the "empty-look" (no running back) too often. That leaves one spot for consistent playing time alongside Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. If Parris is to win that role it will likely be because he finds a niche as an inside target.
- Evan Sharpley: Remember him? He's the QB that targeted Parris for 34 balls over a five-game span in 2007. The result was 17 receptions and a touchdown, including a "six-for-six" effort at Purdue (all six of Sharpley's passes to Parris were completions). Clausen, on the other hand, was 12-29 on pass attempts to Sharpley in '07 and hit Parris for an inconsequential 7 receptions on 12 pass attempts (including four catches in six attempts for 22 yards at Michigan State) in '08. Parris must again earn both Clausen's and the coaching staff's trust to maintain a role in the offense.
- Late-Season Decline: Parris has either been shut out or left out of the receiver rotation in five of the last eight games the Irish have played in November (and/or the Bowl Game). Whether a result of injury or ineffectiveness, it's a trend Parris must reverse in '09.