Two-deep contributors with an eye on the rotationJonas Gray has a battle on his hands with two seniors (Armando Allen and to a lesser extent, RB/FB Robert Hughes) and one promising sophomore (Cierre Wood) occupying his position. Hafis Williams won't win a starting spot ahead of Ethan Johnson or Kapron Lewis-Moore, but must begin to challenge undervalued classmate Sean Cwynar in the eyes of the new defensive staff.
Jonas Gray (RB) – One of the team's key reserves in September 2009, Gray showed good burst in the home opener (a near-TD on a 19-yard toss sweep vs. Nevada), as well as patience as a backfield receiver in the screen game (two receptions totaling 42 yards at Purdue). The sophomore also committed two critical errors in the opening month, first at Michigan, losing a key fumble early in the third quarter in Wolverines territory that gave the hosts a 24-20 lead. Then one week later, Gray's missed assignment resulted in a sack of Jimmy Clausen and more important, a season-changing injury to the quarterback's big toe.
Pass protection, focus, ball security, attention to detail…if Gray can pay heed to these position essentials, he'll again play a key role for the Irish. If not, there are at least four running backs on the roster that could take his spot on the depth chart.
Hafis Williams (DE) – A spring and summer fan curiosity of 2009 thanks to praise bestowed by former head coach Charlie Weis, Williams played nary a meaningful minute for his former coach last season, officially logging 9:25 of field time.
Williams, who has three seasons of eligibility remaining, was noted by Diaco last week as a player with surprisingly athleticism ("fluidity and flexibility in his hips"). His improvement and ability to play a role in his position's rotation would provide a major boost to the team's late-season run defense next year.
David Posluszny (ILB) – The 6'0" 225-pound ILB is caught in a numbers game: three ‘backers for one inside position next to sophomore Manti Te'o in the team's 3-4 base defense. Good news for Poz and his fans: his competition is unproven as well, as McDonald and redshirt-sophomore Carlo Calabrese have combined for 4 minutes and 29 seconds of field time to date.
Two-Deep in '11?None of the quartet is expected to start this season though each could earn a role with improvement through the spring and next August.
Mike Golic, Jr. – Most likely slated for third-team duty behind classmate Braxston Cave and 5th-year senior Dan Wenger. Golic has three seasons of eligibility remaining (and actually appeared to be working with the "2nd Unit" in our last practice viewing on March 31) so the minimum key to his collegiate development is consistency in spring practice and August camp with an eye on renewed competition entering spring 2011.
Deion Walker (WR) – Walker displayed moments of downfield brilliance in our viewing sessions last season, but he's the only Irish receiver that has yet to hold down a spot in the rotation for even a brief period. (Even expected redshirt Roby Toma had a two-game run of playing time last season).
This is second-hand information, but Walker still reportedly struggles with the exactness of routes and attention to detail at the position – a situation that won't be tolerated under the new regime, and apparently kept him from the field under Weis' staff as well. He has three seasons of eligibility remaining, and though I don't think he's quite as tall as listed (6'2") I won't give up on what I believed was a bright long-term future for Walker at the position until I see these supposed issues with my own eyes.
Lane Clelland (DE) – Clelland played in five games last season as a member of the Irish offensive line, first gaining notoriety for a holding call that nullified a fake field goal touchdown run by holder Eric Maust vs. Boston College; then one week later as the team's emergency tight end against Washington State (Clelland saw action as an eligible receiver vs. the Cougars and later vs. UConn in the home finale).
He's been moved to DE by the new staff and an adjustment period should be expected this fall, but Clelland could certainly challenge for a backup role at DE in '11 (especially if Cywnar moves to nose tackle this year or after the graduation of Ian Williams next spring).
Brandon Newman (NT) – Made a brief appearance in the late-October blowout of Washington State in San Antonio, his only field time in an Irish uniform. Newman is one of three backup options (including perceived DE Sean Cwyar) this spring with senior Ian Williams likely holding down the starting nose tackle spot.
If Newman (or sophomore Tyler Stockton) can impress and gain the confidence of defensive line coach Mike Elston, Cywnar could serve as a prime backup at DE with one of the youngsters in line to spell Williams next fall.
Newman's remaining spring effort and performance over the summer, especially in August camp, will likely determine the big man's future in the program as promising freshman Louis Nix joins the mix for '10 as well.
Note: The 23rd member of the class, tight end Joseph Fauria, transferred to UCLA last summer. Fauria earned limited playing time as a true freshman in 2008 but was suspended by the University for the 2009 fall semester.
Class SuperlativesThey were Scout.com's 2nd ranked recruiting class in 2008. They'll represent the 2011 graduating class at the University of Notre Dame and the majority of them can apply for the opportunity to play for the school through the 2012 football season. Here's how they've fared to date.
- Record at home: 8-5
- Record on the road: 4-7
- Bowl record: 1-0. The program elected not to compete in a bowl following the '09 season.
- Longest Winning Streak: 3 games (MSU, at Purdue, Washington 2009)
- Longest Losing Streak: 4 games (Navy, at Pittsburgh, UConn, at Stanford 2009)
- Longest home winning streak: 4 games from Sept. 6 to Oct. 4 2008 (San Diego State, Michigan, Purdue, and Stanford). Snapped by Pittsburgh on November 1.
- Longest road winning streak: N/A (or 1 on four occasions)
- Record vs. Top 25 opponents: 0-4 (at UNC and at USC '08; vs. USC and at :Pittsburgh '09)
- Record vs. teams that finished with a winning record: 4-10
- Record vs. teams that finished with a losing record: 9-2
- September Record: 6-2
- October Record: 5-2
- November Record: 1-8
- December Record: 1-0
Class of 2008 Individual Leaders (through 25 games):
- Leading Receiver: Michael Floyd (92 receptions, 1,875 yards, 16 TD)
- Leading Rusher: Jonas Gray (55 carries, 209 yards, 0 TD)
- Leading Passer: Dayne Crist (10-20, 130 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT)
- Longest TD Scored: Michael Floyd (88 yards vs. Nevada, 2009)
- Longest TD Combination: Dayne Crist to John Goodman (64 yards vs. Washington State, 2009)
- Most Tackles: Robert Blanton (71 total)
- Most Tackles for Loss: Darius Fleming (15)
- Most Interceptions: Robert Blanton (4)
- Most Sacks: Ethan Johnson (7.5)
- Most Games Played: Ethan Johnson (25)
- Most Career Starts: Kyle Rudolph (21)
- Total Touchdowns Scored by the '08 class: 23 (Floyd 16, Rudolph 5; Goodman 1, Blanton 1)