But in the case of wide receiver Duval Kamara, reaching that level of play in 2010 would offer at least an acceptable starting point.
In late September (check) 2007, Duval Kamara caught a 12-yard slant route vs. Purdue. It was Kamara's sixth career grab and resulted in the first conversion of 3rd and 10 yards or more by the Irish offense that season (Game Five).
Kamara snared six balls that afternoon in Ross-Ade (from two quarterbacks), five of which occurred inside the hash marks, including his first career touchdown reception. He was a young receiver expertly using his big frame to shield defenders, and a plethora of Jimmy Clausen-to-Kamara strikes over the middle of opposing defenses seemed inevitable heading into 2008, 2009, and beyond.
Kamara has since stagnated, never topping his 32-reception or 4 touchdown totals from his rookie season. His play bottomed-out as an out-of-shape, deposed starter in 2008 (23 receptions, 1 TD, and the dual-cause of three interceptions through the season's first three games).
Despite spending most of August camp on the shelf due to arthroscopic knee surgery, Kamara was a better overall player in '09, serving as the team's best perimeter blocker for which he earned two IrishEyes "unsung hero" game balls vs. Nevada and Michigan and was later noted by former head coach Charlie Weis as the unit's best blocker ("it's not even close" Weis offered of the assessment).
But even at his best (7 receptions vs. Boston College in a four-point win) Kamara was primarily a hitch or stop-route receiver last season – all but five of his 20 catches occurred outside the hash marks – with a season-long reception of just 18 yards.
Enter the Brian Kelly era, a new role, and Kamara's last chance to emerge as the player we expected following the 2007 season
Kamara's Season OutlookIn his post-Blue Gold Game press conference, Kelly noted that Kamara had been "moved to the ‘backside' receiver position" and that the staff was still trying to find the best role for each of its receivers. Kamara's move was a result of constant evaluation of personnel, including a late-spring look at Michael Floyd in the slot receiver role (one which Kamara appeared to occupy for the bulk of the spring).
(The "backside" receiver in the Kelly offense lines up opposite the tight end.)
Though Kamara doesn't possess the ideal attributes of a Kelly-slot receiver (quickness and suddenness after the catch; the ability to handle the ball on reverses in the backfield, etc.) he does present an attractive target over the middle for rookie QB Dayne Crist. A Kamara/Kyle Rudolph pairing inside would stress opposing linebackers and safeties next season.
As a stationary target and outside receiver over the last two seasons, Kamara proved easy to defend: a player that lacked magic after the catch and one that didn't possess the necessary speed to beat collegiate cornerbacks down the sidelines.
Lined up inside, Kamara would again be a target on the move, and better able to utilize his short-distance power (the ability to run through contact for extra yards) with a chance to emerge as another chain-mover in the offense. (If not, look for tight end Mike Ragone to take snaps away from his classmate.)
Whether he ends up a backside, slot, or strong side starter, or even the first man off the bench, Kamara will be a regular in the rotation due to his downfield blocking ability, a key feature in the spread offense as players are routinely put in space and in a position where one extra block serves as the difference between a first down and a touchdown.
The key to Kamara's senior emergence is three-fold:
- Physical conditioning – Kamara hasn't looked the part of an explosive athlete since a diving 3rd Quarter catch at North Carolina in 2008. The ability is there, but intermittent effort doesn't make a player or an offense successful.
- Play-to-play focus – Kamara too often suffers the "concentration drop." In other words, he drops or misplays a pass that no athlete should let hit the turf. With eight competitors already in place and at least two more entering the fold next fall, that type of error will provide the quickest path to the back of the bench.
- Regained, or perhaps newfound confidence – Lost confidence is difficult to quantify, but one method for regaining this necessary trait for a pass-catcher is to master the routine. If Kamara can secure every catchable ball, it's likely he'll then be able to come up with the difficult catches that have eluded him since his breakout freshman season.
The good news for Duval Kamara is the new staff's evaluation process is ongoing, and 2010 is his final chance to make a lasting impression.
Kamara's Best Moments of 2009:
- Nevada: On a 26-yard screen pass to Armando Allen, Kamara blocked his man, DB Adam Liranzo, 25-yards downfield and eventually out-of-bounds. Kamara executed two different hits on Liranzo then drive him the final 15 yards.
- Michigan: During the best of his five noted down field blocks in my game film review, Kamara takes out two would-be-tacklers on what appeared to be a 42-yard screen pass touchdown by Armando Allen (the play was called back and spotted at the 22-yard line when Allen was deemed out of bounds).
- Purdue: Three key 2nd Quarter blocks: one an 8-yard gain by Robert Hughes prior to the junior's 2-yard touchdown plunge; the second helped spring freshman Theo Riddick for a season-high 24-yard gain over the right side. Finally, a Kamara crack-back paved a clear path for Golden Tate's 14-yard Wildcat TD run, again over the right side.
- Boston College: I noted Kamara for seven quality blocks (vs. one missed block) during a game in which he set a career-high with 7 receptions.
Kamara's Moments to Forget in 2009:
- Purdue: In position to help sophomore Dayne Crist on his first pass attempt of the contest, a diving/leaning Kamara can't handle a rope delivered into his chest. It's the type of play top receivers make to aid rookie quarterbacks on the road.
Kamara dropped another Crist offering late in the 3rd Quarter and ran a "nothing" route, barely attempting to provide a pass target for Jimmy Clausen, on the game's penultimate play. (Kyle Rudolph caught the game-winner from Clausen one snap later)
- USC: With one second remaining, Jimmy Clausen delivers a pass as Kamara slips out of his break and the potential game-winner sails through the open window in the defense, falling incomplete. USC 34 ND 27.
- Season-ending losses to Connecticut and at Stanford: Kamara was targeted for just two total passes, one of which he dropped.
2009 Season Stats: 23 receptions, 218 yards, 9.5 per catch, 1 TD (vs. WSU), long gain of 18 yards; 12 games (5 starts). Playing time: 191:56 with 0 special teams appearances.