They broke into college football as part of the No. 2 ranked team in the nation. In the 38 games played since, the graduating class of 2010 has seen its share of highs and lows. Today, Irish Eyes concludes its breakdown of the Irish roster heading into fall camp with six seniors, each looking to either carve a niche in his final season or continue his crucial role as a member of the Irish special teams.
Eric Maust (Punter)Current Situation: Maust will fill his role as the Irish punter unless freshman Ben Turk can unseat the veteran with an outstanding fall camp. Maust also holds for PAT and field goal attempts.
Single Aspect of His Game in Need of Immediate Improvement: Aside from fulfilling every fan's wish of fewer field appearances, Maust has a tendency to hesitate after catching the snap and had two kicks blocked last season…that's two too many.
Eligibility: Maust did not punt as a freshman (behind Geoff Price) and can apply for a 5th year of eligibility at season's end.
Expectations for Maust in '09: Maust is a solid collegiate kicker, dropping 25 punts inside the 20-yard line over a 19-game span (vs. just five touchbacks), and boasts an average of nearly 41.5 yards per punt. Last season, the Irish punt coverage unit allowed just over six yards per punt return (to rank 27th in the nation). Of Maust's 54 punts, 29 were returned (with just 10 resulting in a fair catch). If he can cut that number of returnable punts by nearly 1/3 the Irish punt-coverage unit will rank among the nation's 10 best.
Leonard Gordon (Coverage Units/Defensive Back)Current Situation: Gordon is the third-string free safety behind Harrison Smith and Dan McCarthy.
Single Aspect of His Game in Need of Immediate Improvement: Production in kick-off coverage. Gordon has shown the ability to make plays (dropping a BC return man inside the 20-yard line in Chestnut Hill last year) but he had just four stops in kick coverage in '08.
Eligibility: Gordon can apply for a 5th year of eligibility after sitting out 2006.
Expectations for Gordon in '09: Gordon made a whopping 144 special teams appearances last fall (and five total tackles). He should remain an essential special teams cog this year and likely for a fifth season in 2010.
Ryan Burkhart (Kickoff Specialist/Backup Kicker)Current Situation: Kick-off Specialist for the No. 1 ranked kick coverage unit in the nation (in 2008).
Single Aspect of His Game in Need of Immediate Improvement: Burkhart produced just one touchback in more than 60 kickoffs last year.
Eligibility: Burkhart can apply for a 5th year of eligibility after sitting out his sophomore season (2007). He appeared in eight contests as a freshman in 2006.
Expectations for Burkhart in '09: To help the Irish kick coverage unit rank among the nations' best yet again. Burkhart has solid hang-time and the ability to pin return men inside the 10-yard line (setting up short returns), but touchbacks are necessary at times, and the momentum-killing play is an essential skill set for any kickoff specialist.
George West (Wide Receiver)Current Situation: Listed as the fourth-team wide receiver behind Tate, Kumara, and Walker. Head Coach Charlie Weis generally enters a game with six receivers available so West will have to work to find a spot in the rotation this season after missing the Blue-Gold game due to injury.
Single Aspect of His Game in Need of Immediate Improvement: Yards after the catch. West has been a stationary target for most of his 24 receptions in the Irish passing attack over the last three seasons.
Eligibility: West played in 13 games as a freshman receiver in 2006, scoring a touchdown on an 11-yard, end-around run vs. Purdue in his fourth college game. He appeared in 12 games as a sophomore in '07 and in five games last season. West has started seven games for the Irish and this will be his final season of eligibility (barring injury).
Expectations for West in '09: West's chief asset at this point is his experience in the offense. If he can impart that experience to the younger receivers, or use that seasoning to win a spot in the (assumed) six-receiver rotation, West will have surpassed fan expectations this fall. As a senior athlete, West's goal should be to return to meaningful playing time, whether in a special teams role or as a player on whom Jimmy Clausen can rely to occasionally move the chains on third down.
Barry Gallup, JR. (Coverage Units/Wide Receiver)Current Situation: Should again fill the role as one of the kick coverage unit's (outside) safeties – that is, a role on the outside of the formation that's asked to stay home on kicks booted toward the middle or the opposite side. He's also listed as a fourth-string wide receiver though he likely won't see playing time (outside of potential mop-up duty on Senior Day) from scrimmage this season.
Single Aspect of His Game in Need of Immediate Improvement: Gallup was often (and understandably) a half-second behind kick coverage star David Bruton last season on kicks toward the duo's side; rendering his stats meaningless. Needless to say a few tackles when necessary would be helpful from the senior who was shut-out in ‘08.
Eligibility: Gallup did not play as a freshman and could apply for a 5th year of eligibility at season's end.
Expectations for Gallup in '09: To retain his role on Irish coverage units and the punt-block team. Gallup will face competition for his spot (Jamoris Slaughter comes to mind) but his experience on the backside of coverage units should again serve the Irish special teams well. Gallup made more than 55 special teams appearances last season, a number he should look to exceed for in his senior year.
Paddy Mullen (Defensive Tackle)Current Situation: Mullen did not participate in Spring Practice due to academic issues. He was a backup DT last season, appearing in 12 games.
Single Aspect of His Game in Need of Immediate Improvement: Mullen was a member of both the Irish goal line defense and kick return units, with 46 special teams appearances. He'll need to prove he belongs back on the field with the 2009 addition of redshirt freshmen Brandon Newman and Hafis Williams in the goal -line and short-yardage sets.
Eligibility: Mullen can apply for a 5th year of eligibility after not seeing game action as a freshman.
Expectations for Mullen in '09: To win a role on the team's goal line defense. The former tight end is also mobile enough at 300 pounds to finally spring an Irish kick returner for a few long runs in '09 if he can retain that special teams assignment.
Kallen Wade (Linebacker)Current Situation: Wade finished 2008 in the hybrid role of a 3-4 DE/OLB. He's technically listed as an OLB for 2009.
Single Aspect of His Game in Need of Immediate Improvement: A fair opinion on Wade's game can't be offered as Wade has been injured and played less six minues in his three-year Irish career.
Eligibility: Wade did not see game action as a freshman and will be allowed to apply for a 5th year at season's end.
Expectations for Wade in '09: Find a way to get on the field. Wade has battled injuries over the last two seasons. With just one special teams appearance last season, Wade is on the outside looking in entering fall camp. Becoming a niche player in a specific role this season (or possibly a 5th year in 2010) should be the senior's goal.