Scouting the Independents: Notre Dame

The Fight is On! Only this time with a solid coach that knows how to utilize the talent placed in front of him. Tyrone Willingham takes over in South Bend and tries to right the Irish ship. The talent is not what it was the last few seasons under Bob Davie but there are still a few pro-prospects. We got a jump-start on ND scouting them personally against Maryland in the Kick-Off Classic.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Many will point to left tackle Jordan Black as the top prospect for the Irish. A big, powerful lineman, Black removes opponents from the play with brute force or easily handles defenders once engaged in a block. He works to play with leverage and solid fundamentals, making good use of his blocking angles but Black lacks any lateral agility, displaying extremely limited blocking range. Black can be successful at the next level but it will be on the right side, possibly even inside at guard. Former quarterback Arnaz Battle seems to be taking to the receiver position well and looks rather natural catching the ball down the field or over the middle, extending his hands then snatching it away from his frame. Battle needs to refine the details of being a wide out; improve his overall timing, anticipation, playing speed and route running. Still; he looks to have a nice upside. Center Jeff Faine is solid on the pivot combining both intelligence and explosion. Faine does a terrific job picking up blocking assignments and working with line-mates but has difficulty handling one-on-one situations on the middle as he is not big, bulky nor does he display great playing strength. Presently we view Faine as a second day choice. Finally, fullback Tom Lopienski is what you expect from a lead fullback; nasty, tough as nails and hard working. Lopienski's a decent short yardage runner, receiver out of the backfield and displays good strength at the point but instead of attacking his blocks has the bad habit of gathering and decelerating into opponents, which diminishes his ability to finish defenders off. Should he rectify this, Lopienski can play at the next level and presently looks like a late round choice.

Notre Dame lost a lot of talent from the defensive front seven last but have almost as much in the defensive secondary. Former safety Vontez Duff moved to cornerback this season and the early results have been good. Duff shows terrific awareness and wherewithal on the corner and rarely gets beat, always positioning himself to make a play on the ball. Duff is neither fast nor explosive enough to be an early selection but is making his way up draft boards and could be headed for the first day. Another that uses great positioning and headiness to get the job done is safety Gerome Sapp. Like Duff, Sapp rarely makes mental mistakes and always keeps the play in front of him in deep centerfield yet at the same fires up the field to support the run. We were very impressed with the discipline Sapp shows and to the eye he seems like a lesser version of Jon McGraw, formerly of Kansas State and presently playing for the New York Jets. Cornerback Shane Walton makes big plays but also gets burnt a little too often for our liking. He could sneak into the later rounds while linebacker Courtney Watson flies around the ball and displays a good head for the action.

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