Now sophomores, the heralded class of 2008 did not disappoint in its rookie season. Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph, Robert Blanton, Darius Fleming, and Ethan Johnson each earned starting roles by season's end and the quintet serves as the program's backbone for upcoming seasons.
Irish Eyes continues its review of the sophomore class with five players looking to make a leap from third string after the spring to '09 factors by season's end in our final installment of Delayed Gratification.
Part I discussed sophomores expected to make an immediate impact in '09 after sitting out, or playing sparingly from scrimmage last season.
Part II examined first-time sophomore contributors now looking to cement or win a spot on the Irish two-deep depth chart.
Jonas Gray (Running Back)Current Situation: Gray is the team's third string tailback behind juniors Armando Allen and Robert Hughes. The junior tandem is expected to receive the bulk of the carries, at least early in the season. Two incoming freshmen, Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick, pose additional challenges to Gray's playing time. Gray remains in the conversation as a kick return option as well.
Best Case Scenario for Gray in '09: Dominate fall camp and win the starting job. However unlikely the scenario, it's a situation, if given the opportunity, Gray should embrace as the Irish ground game should have no spot considered safe entering fall camp.
Armando Allen and/or Robert Hughes are expected to show significant improvement in '09. Both hold distinct advantages over Gray in terms of the nuances of the position, such as blitz pick-up, route and sight adjustments, and overall knowledge of the offense. Neither has proven to be a better natural runner than Gray.
While most fans and members of the media expect strong seasons from Allen and Hughes, there's room for any runner that can consistently grind out yards for the '09 Irish.
Sean Cwyner (Defensive Tackle)Current Situation: Cwyner is currently third on the depth chart at nose tackle behind junior Ian Williams, and fellow redshirt freshman Hafis Williams.
Best Case Scenario for Cwyner in '09: There's no doubt the full emergence of Hafis Williams to a starting role (allowing Ethan Johnson to play more DE than DT) would be the fastest way for Cwyner to receive meaningful minutes. Cwyner would still have to earn those minutes, as four players (Johnson, Ian Williams, Hafis Williams, and Brandon Newman) would still rank ahead of him during the inevitable in-season shuffling (due to injury or ineffectiveness) along the D-Line. Cwynar will battle senior Paddy Mullen (expected to return after missing spring practice) and early enrollee freshman Tyler Stockton for a reserve role this fall (Mullen appeared in 12 games last season and won a spot on the team's early-season goal line defense, a role Cwynar could challenge for with a strong camp).
Mike Golic, Jr. (Guard)Current Situation: Golic is currently listed third on the depth chart at (right) guard behind senior Chris Stewart and sophomore Trevor Robinson. Stewart has two years of eligibility remaining while Robinson has three (Golic preserved his fourth year as he was held out of game action last season).
Best Case Scenario for Golic in '09: To work his way into a No. 2 role, most likely by proving a more reliable option than junior left guard Andrew Nuss, as both Stewart and Robinson hold a distinct advantage at this point in their respective careers. Golic could also challenge incoming freshman Jordan Cowart for long-snapping duties on the punt or kicking unit. Golic has experience in the art of the long snap though its logical to assume the coaching staff brought in Cowart to (attempt) win the job from Day 1. As a sophomore looking to make his way onto the field, beating out Cowart in August likely represents Golic's quickest path to playing time.
Lane Clelland (Tackle)Current Situation: Clelland is the third-team right tackle behind senior Sam Young and junior Taylor Dever. The left tackle spots are currently manned by 5th year senior Paul Duncan and highly-touted junior Matt Romine.
Best Case Scenario for Clelland in '09: Win a backup role behind Young. That single move (ahead of Dever) would not only put Clelland in position to spell Young in late game blowouts (or perhaps a single offensive series) but in the conversation for a starting role entering Spring 2010, as both Young and Duncan will have exhausted their eligibility at season's end.
A more likely scenario for Clelland, a lean athlete (and accomplished high school wrestler) still growing in order to endure the punishment that awaits a college offensive tackle, would be a second year with limited game action, but one in which he's impressive throughout the season's practices, putting him in the conversation with Dever and Romine (and possibly guard Trevor Robinson) for one of the starting tackle spots in 2010.
Anthony McDonald (Linebacker)Current Situation: McDonald is the third-string weak side linebacker behind junior Brian Smith and sophomore Steve Filer. Filer will likely challenge senior Toryan Smith (among others) for the less certain MLB role this fall, a situation that would allow McDonald to battle one of three (or four) incoming freshman for the backup role.
Best Case Scenario for McDonald in '09: The 6'3" 225 athlete was held out of action last season, falling behind early in fall camp as a freshman while battling a hamstring injury. Unless Brian Smith is needed back at the uncertain MLB role, its unlikely McDonald can challenge for meaningful playing time in '09. He can, however, play his way into a spring 2010 battle for two-deep spot on a linebacker unit that loses just one member (Toryan Smith) at season's end. McDonald's play over five months of fall practice will be crucial for him to stay in the mix entering Spring Ball. Filer's aforementioned move to the middle would certainly aid McDonald to put his foot in the door at WLB.