Today's 101 – The Supporting CastTwo spots are on lockdown. Barring injury, indifference, or divine intervention, none of Notre Dame's talented but inconsistent or unproven wide receivers will take an opening day starting job from Michael Floyd and Golden Tate this season.
But to be consistent rather than periodically explosive; to compete with MSU, USC, and the BCS rather than simply the state of Washington, the '09 Irish offense needs a dangerous third and reliable fourth receiver option.
There's no shortage of volunteers:
here. Suffice it to say, the big junior target is the player best-equipped to transform what will inevitably be a strong passing game into one that could match the explosiveness of the 2005 record-setting attack. He remains the unit's best inline blocker and has the body (and previous body of work) to reemerge as a legitimate threat inside the hash marks. But Kamara's focus, attention to detail, and consistent physical play will be the factors that determine whether he's simply a default third receiver or a player that is targeted and counted on as the season progresses.
Robby ParrisAs mentioned in his Pre-Camp Assessment, most college football fans look to embrace "the next great thing" a bit too early in the development process. Make no mistake, unless one of the pair of sophomores John Goodman and Deion Walker has progressed significantly over the summer; or unless Shaq Evans is several stages ahead of the average top recruit's football acumen, the Irish offense's best chance at early season success is Robby Parris in the fourth receiver role. A battle-tested fourth receiver is a valuable commodity.
Parris should retain the role in fall camp, but in order to hold off the trio of younger and faster threats nipping at his heels, he'll have to develop a trait that's been missing from his overall body of work: consistency.
John GoodmanAn accurate forecast for the role of either Goodman or classmate Deion Walker prior to fall camp is a shot in the dark. Of the two, however, I believe Goodman has the greater shot of unseating Parris/Kamara in August or early September. His cross-training at quarterback in the spring reportedly afforded the sophomore from Fort Wayne a better understanding (and purpose) of the routes and role of a receiver in Coach Weis' offense.
Goodman is, above all else, a football player…not just a developing wide receiver. It's not difficult to imagine him succeeding as a mid-level quarterback; lower BCS-level DB; and, relevant to the real world, an Irish wide receiver. He appears to have a confidence the belies his seasoning (and current spot on the depth chart) and that's a key trait for a player that will have to earn a spot in the rotation with fewer practice reps and game snaps than his established competitors.
Deion WalkerLike Goodman, Walker embraced the need to improve his strength (and therefore ability to withstand the rigors of college football) and a year in the weight room apparently paid dividends. A full season and spring of battling the likes of Raeshon McNeil, Robert Blanton, and Darrin Walls has taught Walker how to be tougher off the line; how important it is to be quick out of his break; and what it's like to compete against a DB that isn't there to be part of Walker's personal highlight reel.
Its easy to pigeon-hole Walker as a player that won't challenge the established rotation until 2010, but I think that would be a mistake. He's a natural, fluid receiver – one that could turn heads in the fall and would subsequently have to make the most of an early limited role in September to emerge as a player when the months turn cold.
- He's no longer the best player on the field every day in practice. As a result, unlike his high school days, there are players all over his new "league" that can bury the talented open-field runner despite the fact he's shown the innate ability to excel after the catch.
- If Evans is to provide a consistent play-making presence to the '09 offense, it will likely be in a limited role. An additional adjustment for the promising athlete will be embracing the role of part-time player – a change of pace, big-play threat that can make the most of his two, or three, or ten snaps when Weis feels there's a matchup he can exploit. It's a much different world than that of the go-to, best-player-on-the-field reality of his pre-college career.
- Report to camp stronger, and in the best shape of his life. Catch every pass thrown his way in limited repetitions, spring runners and fellow receivers for additional yardage with blood-thirsty open field blocks, and basically force the offensive staff to put him on the field on September 5…then do the same against Nevada.
- Play as hard as he can for every practice rep, realizing it won't be enough to crack the rotation, but nonetheless making those around him better on a daily basis.
- Embrace the role of seasoned veteran, impart his knowledge of technique and the offense, and help advance the careers of the younger challengers.
Any of the above would help the Notre Dame offense. (Another end-around touchdown to open the home season as he did on his first collegiate play three years previous wouldn't hurt, either.)
It won't be an easy road, from final class addition to a starting role in 2012, but I believe Toma would have been off the recruiting board long ago had he been listed at 6'0" 175 lbs., rather than perceived as too small for the next level.
For the sake of comparison, former Irish starters Mike Miller and Joey Getherall weren't exactly imposing physical specimens, either.
The Notre Dame program has upgraded its talent base significantly, and there's no better example of that development than the seven listed above.