The full depth chart can be found here.
Challenges Up Front
The pesky designation "or" serves as a warning to two senior offensive linemen before the season's first snap: 5th-year left tackle Paul Duncan – the runaway surprise star of spring practice – has a serious challenger in junior Matt Romine. Duncan was absent for nearly a week of practice during the media's viewing session near the end of training camp, but an equally likely cause for the "or" designation is the improvement of Romine as a run-blocker (his increased strength was noted by Weis in late August) and for his pass-blocking acumen (DE Kerry Neal singled out Romine as a top-notch pass protector).
Likewise, senior left guard Chris Stewart has apparently received a challenge from former starting center Dan Wenger. Wenger was replaced as the team's starting center by classmate Eric Olsen on the official pre-season depth chart (revealed August 7) though Weis later noted the move had received an early look during the spring as Wenger missed extended time due to injury.
Weis mentioned that both Duncan and Stewart would start Saturday vs. Nevada, but that Romine and Wenger will receive more than standard backup playing time.
Running Game – Redux
Third-string tight end (and the team's newest scholarship member) Bobby Burger won the backup fullback job over junior Steve Paskorz (with no "or" designation). I spoke with Burger last week and he mentioned he had experience as an option fullback from high school, though one can surmise that his chief purpose in the backfield will be to add a much-needed punch as a lead blocker, as well as a check-down receiver.
Though likely a function of Robert Hughes' first-half suspension for the season-opener (due to a fight in the latter stages of last November's regular season-ending loss at USC), sophomore Jonas Gray is listed as the team's backup halfback while both freshmen runners, Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick, appear among the names for "Key Probable Non-Starters."
My guess is that "Key Probable Non-Starter" is code for, "these guys will play if the game happens to be well in-hand," but we'll see.
Hughes' bio appears in the newly-released media game notes (one of 15 offensive players, a list that does not include any freshman) and is likely to see at least minimal action vs. the Wolf Pack unless the Irish ground game is clicking on all cylinders when the team enters its locker room at intermission.
Regardless, expect plenty of depth chart movement at the position in the season's first month.
The presence of senior (Z) wide receiver Robby Parris ahead of sophomore John Goodman (and indirectly above (X) receivers Shaquelle Evans and Deion Walker) might have surprised Irish fans but it was a non-issue according to his head coach…and has been since at least late April.
"Starting last spring…there were a lot of times that Robby kind of carried the torch for our receivers because Michael (Floyd) was banged up, Golden (Tate) was playing baseball, Duval (Kamara) was banged up and the one guy that kind of separated himself from the pack was Robby.
"So while (everyone) was waiting for one of the young guys to go by him (as if it was inevitable) they could never go by him. Now that doesn't mean we won't play them (the young guys), it just means that one of the most dependable guys we have right now – other than the ‘known two' in Golden and Michael – Robby's probably the most consistent player we've had out there."
Weis added that the Irish receivers' rotation would likely go as deep as seven players (presumably to include freshman Shaquelle Evans and sophomores John Goodman and Deion Walker) but, "right now let's start with four and we'll go from there."
Weis observed that each of the three young receivers (Evans, Goodman, and Walker) are all in true "backup roles" while Parris and Kamara are likely to play a great deal in the offense's extensive use of multiple receiver sets.
Youth Not Yet Served
Contrary to national reports, freshman phenom Manti Te'o will not start the season-opener (but will definitely play). Another true freshman expected to contribute is SS Zeke Motta, a key cog in the 2009 special teams, but also player that should also see increased action from scrimmage as the season progresses.
Also, expect to see Te'o covering kicks Saturday as Weis mentioned him among a group of young players that could help the Irish in that role.
Youth Not Always Wasted on the Young
Three redshirt freshmen appear on the team's two-deep at defensive line, with spring star and certain starter Kapron Lewis-Moore holding down the LDE spot and classmates Hafis Williams (DT) and August star Sean Cwynar (NT) backing up the Irish interior.
There will be two more first-year contributors in the Irish linebacker corps (in addition to Te'o): Sophomores (redshirt freshmen) Anthony McDonald (MLB) and David Posluszny (WLB) were two of four defensive players listed beyond the standard "two-deep" and both should see action Saturday and certainly as September progresses.
Sophomore (redshirt freshman) Jamoris Slaughter also held down a spot on the two-deep at cornerback, though junior Gary Gray (who has three seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out 2007 with a broken arm) holds the coveted "or" designation at corner. Expect five cornerbacks to play multiple series vs. the Wolf Pack.
Finally, sophomore Steve Filer is listed as the "or" backup SLB with 5th-year senior and special teams captain Scott Smith. Expect to see Filer in extensive action during obvious passing downs vs. the Wolf Pack.
What is this, 2007?
Irish fans that were pining to see a host of freshman manning the return positions will have to wait, at least a few weeks. As promised, Weis stuck with Golden Tate and Armando Allen as his punt return duo (with Tate expected to receive the bulk of the action) rather than turn to a trio of 18-year-olds making their first college appearances.
One freshman, halfback Theo Riddick did pull ahead of the pack to secure one of the team's kick return spots, though it's the presence of a veteran name alongside Riddick on the depth chart that caused a few sideways glances among the media and fans alike.
Senior fullback James Aldridge has been entrusted by Weis to act as the voice of reason for Riddick (Weis offered that he expects the freshman to handle the bulk of the actual kick return opportunities). Aldridge's role is that of chief decision-maker; lead blocker; and when necessary, the team's second deep option to return a kick.
Look for more personnel observations later in the week after IrishEyes digests tonight's practice.