Archive for the ‘Players’ Category

Another one down

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Once again, we have a semi-official confirmation of something that’s been rumored on a number of ND sites for quite a while now: the playing career of sophomore offensive lineman Bartley Webb is apparently over, due to a shoulder injury. Here’s the report, from Kurt Voight of The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas:

Bartley Webb, the left tackle for Springdale High’s 2005 state championship team, recently “retired” from college football. Webb, who took part in the 2006 U.S. Army All-American game in San Antonio and has been on scholarship at Notre Dame the past two seasons, underwent shoulder surgery after this past season.

The injury was severe enough for Webb’s career to come to an end, though he will continue on scholarship at Notre Dame and help as a coach.

This is really too bad (both for Webb and the team), though it’s great to see that he’ll be able to stay at the university and be involved with the football program. By all accounts he’s a fine young man, and he’ll do very well for himself wherever he ends up down the line. Best wishes, Bartley.

Munir Prince to Mizzou

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

It’s been rumored for weeks, and now it’s being reported in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, with confirmation from his former high school coach:

There will be three DeSmet Spartans heading west to play football at Missouri in the near future.

Wide receiver Wes Kemp verbally committed to Mizzou and defensive back Munir Prince will transfer there from Notre Dame, joining cornerback Robert Steeples, who verbally committed to the Tigers several months ago.

DeSmet coach Pat Mahoney confirmed that Prince is transferring to Missouri after two seasons at Notre Dame, where he played running back and then cornerback. Prince is expected to play defensive back for the Tigers and, after sitting out next year, will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Prince played in 10 games at Notre Dame this fall and registered three tackles and one pass break-up.

Prince, Kemp and Steeples were teammates on the Spartans’ Missouri Class 6 championship team in 2005.

Best of luck to Munir. Hopefully he gets a chance to see the field more than he did at ND.

Snubbed

Friday, December 14th, 2007

Let me just say that this, from SB Tribune writer (and AP All-America voter) Eric Hansen via Irish Band of Brothers, is a bunch of crap:

I think Trevor [Laws] had an amazing year and his numbers were better than most defensive tackles. But in ND’s system, they labeled him as an end. And in that light, his numbers didn’t compare. We could not just simply vote for defensive linemen. We had to vote for two tackles and two ends on the first and second teams. (We did not vote for the third team or honorable mention — those selections came from the points system associated with the voting).

In the first place, while it’s TECHNICALLY true that the 2007 ND depth chart lists Laws’s position as “LDE,” everyone knows that his responsibilities in the 3-4 were largely those of a defensive tackle. Secondly, even if we consider Laws to have been a defensive end, why should the fact that he didn’t have a lot of sacks and tackles for a loss - which is basically what Hansen’s point boils down to (especially since Laws’s numbers were better than pretty much all of the other DE honorees in every other category) - make a difference? From what I understand about the the 3-4 defense, the strong-side defensive end is assigned run-stopping duties, and the outside linebackers handle more of the blitzes. Laws did a SPECTACULAR job in doing what he was asked to do: why didn’t he get credit for that?

Basically, what Hansen is telling us is that the current system makes it all but impossible for a defensive end in a 3-4 system to be considered for All-America honors. Would the same go for a quarterback whose passing yardage wasn’t even in the top 20 nationally but who ran for over 800 yards and 20 scores? Apparently not. Sorry Eric, but you’re going to have to do better than that.

[UPDATE: One more thing. Via Hey Jenny Slater, check out this individualized breakdown of where the Heisman votes went. What we see, of course, is lots of local sportswriters putting their hometown guys down on their ballots to get them some national recognition. I suppose I don't think this is the greatest thing in the world, but it's pretty much harmless and at the end of the day it's a nice way to get some attention paid to kids who are flying under the radar of the national hype machine. Was it really out of the question for guys like Hansen and Jeff Carroll to do the same for Laws, whether in their AA votes or even their Heisman ballots, after the season he had this year?]

Eff the AP

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

The 2007 Associated Press football All-America teams were announced on Tuesday, and guess what? Notre Dame’s Trevor Laws, who led the nation in tackles from the defensive line positions (and was the only defensive lineman ranked in the top 100, let alone the top 50), isn’t on the first team. No surprise there, though: that sort of honor doesn’t go to a relatively unknown player from a 3-9 football team, even if that team does happen to be Notre Dame. But most of us figured that his spectacular numbers and consistently solid performance on an undertalented defense would land him SOME sort of All-America status: and so what’s genuinely shocking is that Trevor is NOWHERE to be found on ANY of the three All-America teams.

[UPDATE: He's also not a first- or second-teamer, nor is he even one of the NINE defensive linemen who receives an honorable mention, on the Sports Illustrated AA list. So eff them, too.]

To give you a sense of the craziness of this, here’s a comparison of Laws’s 2007 statistics with the players who made the AP’s AA squads over him - I’ve included both defensive ends and defensive tackles (first-teamers in yellow, seconds in green, thirds in blue), since Laws played a sort of “tweener” role in the 3-4:

So there you have it folks. If the fiasco of last year’s Heisman “race” wasn’t enough for you, here’s some hard evidence that postseason awards are MEANINGLESS indicators of the quality of one’s on-the-field play.

Lest I be accused of being just another whiny homer making a case for his own guy, let me be clear that I felt very much the same way - and seem to recall saying as much - when Tom Zbikowski was named a second-team All-American after the 2006 season. That was all about hype and name recognition, and had basically nothing to do with what Zibby had and (mostly) hadn’t done on the football field that year. Is the snubbing of Laws a matter of just desserts for the overexposure of Notre Dame football in years past? Maybe. But it’s really a shame to see a season like the one that Trevor had this year go so wholly unnoticed on the national scene, ESPECIALLY given the less-than-ideal circumstances (you know, 3-9 record, historically awful offensive ineptitude, and so on) that surrounded it.

Congratulations to all the guys who made the AA teams. Obviously they had really good seasons, and deserved some serious recognition. It’s just a shame that Laws wasn’t able to get his due.

STFU

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

Over at Fox Sports, some mindnumbingly idiotic sportswriter named Dayn [sic] Perry has pegged ND’s James Aldridge as his top candidate for the “Nixon Trophy,” awarded to “the worst college football player in all the land.” I’m not going to link to the article, but here’s what he had to say:

James Aldridge, RB, Notre Dame

Team Record: 3-9
Damning Stats: 121 carries, 463 yards, 0 touchdowns

He’s heard tell of a magical land called the “end zone,” but he’s not sure it even exists.

After running through the other candidates for the award, Dayn [sic] adds:

After much deliberation, we’re going to cast our vote for James Aldridge. Why? Well, one, we hate Notre Dame, and, two, it’s deeply impressive that he was able to run the ball 121 times without ever crossing the goal line. And kudos on a yards-per-carry that’s basically the equivalent of falling down after every snap.

Gee, thanks Dayn [sic]. Let me start off by adding for the record that one, I hate you and your Irish-hating kind, and, two, it’s deeply impressive that you were able to write several hundred words without a level of intellectual acumen beyond that of a coconut. And kudos on a column that’s basically the equivalent of what you’d find in an elementary school newspaper. While we’re at it, though:

  1. The reason Aldridge didn’t score any touchdowns was that ND divided their carries between four different backs, one of whom - Travis Thomas - got the ball on almost every single carry from inside five yards.
  2. Aldridge’s average of 3.83 yards per carry could only have been achieved by “falling down after every snap” if he had been handed the ball right at the line of scrimmage and he were, oh, 11′ 6″ tall. Given the piss-poor offensive line he had blocking for him, and the fact that he was battling injuries for most of the year, an average of nearly four yards a pop is actually pretty damn good.

So after much deliberation, I’m going to cast my vote for Dayn [sic] Perry as the latest Asshat of the Week. What say you? Write-in insults welcome.

Pleasantly surprised

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

From Charlie Weis’s Tuesday press conference:

I think the younger guys are trying to put themselves in a position to step up, and I think that there will be guys who will probably send us a message here in the next couple weeks of which direction they intend to go.

Not getting into one player, but it was probably one of the most enjoyable parts of my entire week, happened yesterday morning at 5:30. Yesterday morning at 5:30 I’m sitting in my office and I keep the door locked because I don’t like just anyone walking in at 5:30, and my phone rings and one of the players on our team is outside. I said, oh, no, here we go again. He wants to talk to me so he knocks on my door. I thought we had another person that was looking to pack his bags and go.

And it was just the opposite. He said he hasn’t slept all night. He’s an under classman. He hadn’t slept all night and he felt he needed to step up and take on more of a leadership role, and he was asking for some advice on how to do that. I mean, that’s the type of guys you want on your team, guys that aren’t sleeping because they’re worrying about how they can - he’s a regular player, but how they can step up and take on more of a leadership role. I thought that was a good way to start the week.

it’s a great way to start your week, a great way to start your week after you get through the grinds of the game and the aftermath of the game and recruiting and all those things that go on through Sunday, to be in your office early and you’re watching tape and you’re watching some Duke and getting ready for your meetings and everything and have a kid — your double secret probation line that no one knows rings and you think my wife is calling with something wrong, and it’s one of your players outside, hey, can I talk to you. You think, here we go. And he wants to talk to you about how he can be a better leader.

We talked for a few minutes, and I said let me think about it. I set up an appointment and he came back last night and we followed up after I had a whole day to think about it. They’re the rewarding moments, you know, in life, when you see a young man kind of take the bull by the horns.

Now, in a new Rivals.com video feature, we learn that the “mystery player” was none other than second-year offensive tackle Sam Young:

With the line the way it is right now, I’m trying to put myself in a position to help us get better, more than anything, and whatever that role entails for me, I’m more than willing to fill it.

I was there and I just decided, you know, just go up and talk to him, and he was available, so we just talked about a bunch of different things. I think it was a good decision, and just talking back and forth and bouncing stuff off each other - I think how it plays out is yet to be seen, but I think it was a good conversation.

Watch the whole thing - Young (as well as James Aldridge, who is also interviewed) comes off as intelligent and remarkably articulate, and gives you a good feeling about the direction this team is heading. There’s apparently no doubt in the players’ minds about whether they’re going to right this ship and who the coach is who’s going to help them do that - hopefully we fans can be as patient, and really work to understand the difficulty of the situation they’re facing.

***

Later on in his presser, in a different context, Weis did actually talk about the kind of player and leader that Young is capable of becoming:

Q. With Sam, going back to the question I asked you Sunday about leadership, and you mentioned the offense, not really sure who’s going to step up and be a leader there, is Sam a guy that could do that?

COACH WEIS: Yeah, he’s a contender. See, the one thing about Sam, he’s played more football than anyone else on the offensive line, once Sully leaves. Sully is such a domineering personality that you would never really notice the other guys’ leadership ability while he’s there because it’s almost like overstepping your bounds. So it’ll be kind of interesting how that matriculates after he’s not there because that’s exactly what you’re looking for because you want to see who are those people that are going to start assuming that because I don’t think leadership is something you can try to fake or create. Either you have it or you don’t have it. Now, in the offensive line position we really don’t know what the answer is because Sully has really been the man all year long.

Q. As far as the season that Sam had, how would you kind of evaluate where he is now?

COACH WEIS: I think that ever since he settled — after he moved over and then settled down or settled into the position, I think that from about the midway part of the year on, he’s gotten progressively better.

Q. Comment on the expectations for him being off the chart. You described him as an NFL looking offensive tackle when you signed him. Did you ever have to talk to him about his expectations?

COACH WEIS: Actually we’re trying to get him to gain weight. How many times do you hear you’re trying to get a guy who weighs 317 to gain weight, but he’s actually on a program where he’s drinking extra shakes and things like that. He’s so big that he can carry a lot more weight than he’s carrying right now. Some of those guys as the season goes on have a tough time keeping weight on. I think that he’s at the stage now, the offensive linemen are at a stage, there’s really a couple different stages in their development, one in between their freshman and sophomore year when they become more physically ready to play on a regular basis where they came in with some brute strength, now they become more physically ready, and then between the sophomore and the junior year, I think that becomes more where they start to develop into like front line players.

Next year, of course, Young will be the most experienced member along the offensive line, so it would definitely be great to see a peak in his development.

***

Finally, a few more notes from the presser, while we’re at it:

  • John Sullivan, Pat Kuntz, and Sergio Brown will all miss this week’s game, and Mike Ragone and Geoff Price are doubtful. Obviously the most important of these losses are those of Sullivan, who will be replaced by sophomore Dan Wenger, and Kuntz, whose replacement will be true freshman Ian Williams, who is actually seventh on the team in tackles and had 17 in the last two games, when he played significant minutes in place of the banged-up Kuntz. Weis said, though, that while Sullivan has a chance to be back next week, Kuntz probably won’t.
  • Weis also talked about the development of sophomore offensive lineman Chris Stewart, who’s played significant minutes in each of the past couple of games. He said Stewart has been doing a good job of keeping his weight down, and that he’s starting to put himself in a position where he can be a more regular player. Weis also said he plans to give Stewart playing time at both tackle and guard against Duke.
  • Because of Ragone’s injury, sophomore fullback Luke Schmidt will be “cross-trained” at both fullback and tight end this week, and will have a chance to see the field as a “tweener guy.”

Let’s hope the team can get out there and win one - in convincing fashion, preferably! - for the seniors.

Robert Hughes excused from team

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Per GoshenGipper:

Today during his press conference Charlie Weis mentioned that Robert Hughes has been excused from the team for as long as he needs after the sudden death of his brother. His uncle will be picking him up from campus today. Our prayers go out to him and his family.

More on this as it unfolds. Let’s keep everyone involved in our prayers.

[UPDATE (10:54am): Here's what Weis said, right at the start of his press conference:

Well, before we get going on Navy, earlier today we received some bad news, that the brother of Robert Hughes, Tony Hughes, official name "Earl," he died unexpectedly. We don't have all the details at this point, but Robert, I excused him a little while ago, his uncle came and got him to bring him home, to go be with his family. He's obviously upset, and I just want Robert and his family to know that the whole Notre Dame family has their family in our thoughts and in our prayers. I really don't have any more details, so I really am not at liberty to talk about it, but I know his mom called me, and she was shook up, and obviously when I told the - when I told Robert this morning he was shook up, so you know, he'll be gone for a little while. I told him as much time as he needs, I don't know how long that'll be, but when he gets back he gets back. Obviously there's more important things, and that's right now to be with his family. Not to start on a solemn note, but because I don't talk to you guys again until after practice tomorrow, I felt it was important to address it on the front end right here and then move on to Navy.

The video is here.]

[UPDATE (12:56pm): The Chicago Tribune's ND sports blog is on the story now.]

[UPDATE (6:49pm): The transcript of Weis's presser is up now, with this one exchange that wasn't included in my original post:

Q. And as far as Robert Hughes and when he comes back, do you proceed as if you're not going to have him on Saturday?

COACH WEIS: I told him come back whenever he's ready to come back. I mean, something like that, how can you give him a time frame? He might be back tomorrow, he might be back next week. I told him whenever -- I just made sure we covered ourselves with academics and things like that. But when something -- a tragedy like that happens, I think the most important thing is you have to worry about the kid, not worry about him as a football player.]

[UPDATE (Weds., 5:41am): In case you hadn't heard, it turns out that Hughes's brother was shot and killed on Chicago's West Side (link):

Earl Hughes had worked until about 10 p.m. Monday at EFT Sports Performance in Highland Park, where he was a trainer for teenage athletes.

He returned home about 11 p.m. and left about 12:30 a.m. He was killed soon afterward, said his uncle EJ Jones.

A witness said she heard an argument and shots fired, police spokeswoman Monique Bond said.

"It's horrible," Jones said. "We are 100 percent confident this was not drug- or gang-related. He was never in an altercation. . . . We think this has to do with some kind of triangle relationship."

Earl Hughes' only arrest was for disorderly conduct in 2000, police said.

He was the father of a 1-year-old daughter and one of eight siblings.

Earl Hughes was a role model for his younger brother, Robert. They last saw each other Sunday when Robert came home to visit.

"Robert wanted to be like his brother," said Jones, who was a running back for the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1984-85 season.

"His brother was big in sports and probably had more natural talent than Robert, but did not take advantage of his opportunities," Jones said. "His brother worked out with Robert and pushed him. He did not want Robert to make the mistakes he did. He wanted Robert to make the big time."

Still, Earl Hughes was a proud big brother who attended all of Notre Dame's home games.

Robert Hughes has a touchdown and has rushed for 42 yards on 16 carries so far this year. The 5-foot-11, 238-pounder rushed for 5,734 yards in his four-year career at Hubbard High and was considered a top running back recruit.

Earl Hughes had attended Joliet Junior College, where he was an outstanding basketball player, his uncle said.

Recently, Elias Karras hired Earl to work for him at EFT Sports Performance. He knew Earl and Robert Hughes because they both worked out at the facility last year.

Earl Hughes had made the first cut of an Arena Football League tryout last year, but did not wind up playing, Karras said.

"I hired him to do maintenance and entry-level work, but immediately realized he should be helping us train our junior high, freshmen and sophomore kids," Karras said. "He became an assistant trainer in a month. I was going to sign him up to take him for his personal-training certification class."

Karras said he wasn't able to tell Earl Hughes' students about his murder.

"The kids loved him," he said. "We just said he was not here today. I didn't know what to say."

Again, please keep everyone involved in close prayer.]

The Trevor Laws Heisman campaign begins … now

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Yeah, we all know it’s not going to happen, at least not if the powers that be have their way, which will ensure that college football’s most prestigious individual award goes to either a quarterback or a tailback from now until eternity. But in this season of upset wins, devastating losses, broken booty fingers, and the like, and with many sportswriters talking about how wide-open the Heisman race is this year, it’s worth at least making the case for one guy whom nobody’s talking about at all.

Let’s start, as we are wont to do here at the Roundup, with the numbers. Here’s a comparison of Trevor Laws’s season-long statistics with those of the players recently named quarterfinalists for the Lott trophy (yes, Tom Zbikowski is one of them, and Big Trevor isn’t … don’t get me started), which “honors the college football Defensive IMPACT Player of the Year” - while it claims to factor in some sort of off-the-field component, the list of nominees is a virtual who’s-who of big-name defensive players, and so it’s instructive to see how Laws stacks up against them:

The two players highlighted in yellow are the defensive players getting (somewhat) serious attention in the Heisman race: LSU defensive end Glenn Dorsey (see here, here, and especially here for writers who’ve promoted him) and Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis (see here and here). By any reasonable measure, Laws looks to have been having a better defensive season than either of them: the only statistical categories he trails them in are sacks and - in the case of Laurinaitis - interceptions, and he’s nearly doubled Dorsey’s season-long tackle count. And yet, for all the talk about the media obsession with Notre Dame (and Zbikowski’s inclusion in the Lott award list is of course a shining example of this), when we look at the various Heisman polls (see here and here for a couple of examples), what we see are Dorsey and Laurinaitis often quite well-established in at least the “Also Receiving Votes” category, with Laws sharing the fate of the rest of his teammates.

Do I know that I’m pissing into the wind here? Of course I do. The Heisman Trophy - like all the rest of the postseason awards for which Laws won’t be in consideration - is determined by preseason hype and wins alone, as evidenced by the following (italicized numbers projected to 13-game season - click to enlarge):

Don’t despair, though. There’s something you can do. In case you’ve missed the commercials, this year YOU can help decide the Heisman winner! So head on over to Nissan’s Heisman Vote and make Big Trevor your write-in candidate. By my reckoning, the Roundup’s regular readership of a mere few hundred a day could easily get Laws onto the leaderboard, where Georgia Tech’s Tashard Choice currently occupies the bottom spot with just 169 ballots cast in his favor, good for less than 1% of the vote but still enough to get his name up there. (Heaven knows what would happen if the heavyweights *cough*BGS*cough* got behind this.) Together we can make a difference, and salvage one of the few bright spots from this wreck of a season.

Unsettled?

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

One thing that has been partly a symptom but also to some extent a likely cause of Notre Dame’s struggles this year is the way the lineup has shifted around from week to week. As I’ve discussed in some detail (see here and here), each of the last two weeks has seen major changes to the Irish depth chart, and when we compare the chart from the current week from the one at the start of the season (helpfully summarized here by Ben Ford), we find a remarkable number of changes:

  • At only three offensive positions (tight end (with the exception of Konrad Reuland’s departure), “Z” wide receiver (with the exception of Barry Gallup dropping off the chart), and fullback) and four defensive ones (defensive end (with the exception of Derrell Hand’s return from his suspension), “Mike” linebacker, free safety, and right cornerback (with the exception of Munir Prince catching up to Raeshon McNeil)) is the depth chart the same at mid-season as it was at the start.
  • Six players (Duval Kamara, Eric Olsen, Robby Parris, Evan Sharpley, James Aldridge (who is low on the depth chart this week only because of injury), and Kerry Neal) currently listed as starters weren’t starters or even co-starters at the beginning of the season, and two other current starters (Sam Young and Paul Duncan) have switched positions. (Sharpley was of course officially listed as a co-starter, but only as a smokescreen.)
  • A total of eight players (Young, Taylor Dever, Thomas Bemenderfer, Dan Wenger, Olsen, Brian Smith, Anthony Vernaglia, Morrice Richardson) are listed as having switched positions. (Though note that most of those switches, with the exception of Vernaglia’s, are relatively minor, and simply involve being on the other side of the offensive line or linebacking corp.)

Moreover, in part because of injuries but also because of depth chart changes, only ten positions (left guard, center, tight end, fullback, left defensive end, nose tackle, “Jake” linebacker, both safeties, and right cornerback) have had the same starter for each game so far, and only twelve players (Duncan, Young, Mike Turkovich, John Sullivan, John Carlson, Trevor Laws, Pat Kuntz, John Ryan, Maurice Crum, David Bruton, Tom Zbikowski, and Terrail Lambert) have started at some position or other in every game so far. (Since they opened with three wide receiver sets, Asaph Schwapp wasn’t in on the opening plays against Michigan or BC, but perhaps he should count as number 13 on this list.)

(A more complete breakdown, both of game-by-game starting lineups and of depth chart changes, is available here. Note that I haven’t included any of the special teams positions, though there has also been considerable variability at punter, place-kicker, and on kickoffs.)

No matter how you spin it, that’s a lot of guys moving around. (For comparison’s sake, last year’s Irish team had sixteen players start in every one of their thirteen total games, not including Zbikowski, who sat out against Stanford with an injury.) And it’s easy to look at this situation and think that it reflects poorly on Charlie Weis and his staff: either they did a poor job of evaluating talent at the start of the season, or they’ve been doing too much shuffling around from week to week and so have kept the team from settling into a real rhythm, or whatever. But when we look more closely at where many of the changes have come, we see a different story.

Here are the cases where the need to make changes in the depth chart clearly wasn’t the fault of the coaching staff:

  • “X” receiver: George West was listed as the starter here at the beginning of the year, but now the true freshman Kamara, who was originally third-string behind West and D.J. Hord, has moved up to the #1 spot. This is clearly a matter of a player showing what he brings to the field and taking the job away from a more experienced guy who was legitimately ahead of him at the start of the year, not a case where talent was misevaluated in any way.
  • “Z” receiver: Parris is now listed ahead of Grimes for the #1 spot, but that may be in part a product of Grimes’s injury. In any case, Grimes’s solid play last year clearly earned him his early-season starting position, just as Parris’s play this season (second on the team in receptions with 19 and the first in receiving yardage by a long shot with 272) may have done the same for him at mid-season.
  • Right guard: Wenger was the starter here at the beginning of the year, but he suffered an injury against Michigan and hasn’t played since. (He should be back this week, though, and Weis has indicated that he’ll be the primary backup for all of the interior positions along the o-line.) Matt Carufel was Wenger’s replacement for three games until he was beaten out by Olsen last week - but once again, having a player perform surprisingly well at a “need” position (especially when he overtakes someone who was originally a backup) is hardly something a coach can be criticized for.
  • Right defensive end: Early season co-starters Justin Brown (who missed several games with an injury) and Dwight Stephenson Jr. started off dividing playing time between them, but Stephenson has now risen to the #1 spot. During one of the games when Brown was injured, Derrell Hand started in this position, and there have been others where the team started off in a nickle package and either Neal or John Ryan was listed as a defensive end.
  • Right outside linebacker: This is where Neal has been playing extremely well, and taken the starting job away from the once-again disappointing Vernaglia (who’s now listed as the backup to Crum at the “Jake” linebacker spot).

In other words, all of the above personnel shifts can be chalked up either to injury (Grimes, Wenger, Brown) or unexpectedly solid play from underclassmen who hadn’t seen much if any game action before (Kamara, Parris, Olsen, Neal), and so it would be wrong to blame the staff for them.

But that’s not to say that there aren’t some other positions where the coaching staff is arguably at least partly at fault for the fact that there was so much uncertainty through the early part of the season:

  • Running back: This one really is something of a head-scratcher, since it became clear to most fans that Travis Thomas wasn’t going to get the job done long before he stopped getting a significant number of carries, and even though he didn’t actually start after week one, it took until the Michigan State game in week four for Aldridge to take over that position instead of Armando Allen. Allen has shown himself to be a good change-of-pace back who has a chance to be a dynamic every-down player in the future, but he’s not there yet, and trying to work the offense around his speed instead of building around the skill and power of Aldridge was pretty clearly a bad decision. When the guy who is obviously your best running back is basically your third option for the first third the season, something seems to have gone wrong in decision-making.
  • Quarterback: It’s been argued - with considerable force, in my mind, though I don’t think Jimmy Clausen deserved to be pulled before this week - that Sharpley should have been named the starter at the beginning of the season, and that the team would have been better off in the long run if that had been the decision made. It seems clear enough in hindsight that the choice of Demetrius Jones as the starter against Georgia Tech was a disaster, and that the time spent practicing a spread-style offense would have been better used working on more traditional sets. If Clausen would in fact have been the starter if not for his elbow surgery, then replacing him with someone who would run the same type of offense may well have been the best bet. Once again, this seems to be a matter of the staff getting to “cute” with schemes and crafty personnel decisions rather than taking a more careful, “building-blocks” approach.
  • The offensive tackles: The two-game experiment with moving Sam Young to right tackle clearly didn’t go very well, though it’s not as if he’s been stellar since going back to his original position. But if Young is in fact that much more comfortable playing on the left side of the line, then there’s a natural argument that says he never should have been moved in the first place. [EDIT: See Matt's comment below. What I should have said was that the experiment with putting Duncan on the left side of the line and leaving Young on the right did not work well, though it's not as if the line has been airtight since they were switched back. But the need for a mid-season switch like this with relatively veteran players suggests that there were some mistakes made in preseason evaluations.]

The fact is that these four positions - tailback, quarterback, and the two exterior linemen - are obviously crucial to the success of a football team, and so if Weis and his staff did make bad decisions with how they managed them, then it’s very likely that that had adverse effects on the way the team played on the field, as well as on the overall progress the team was able to make, through the early part of the season. And while in each case the questionable decisions I’ve highlighted here were understandable, it seems reasonable to put some blame at the feet of the coaching staff if they really did mis-evaluate their talent in these kinds of ways.

But at the same time, looking at these position changes as a whole reveals two really positive things about the state of the Irish: first, that there are lots of talented underclassmen playing extraordinary football; second, that the coaching staff has continually been willing to put those players on the field and even in the starting lineups, no matter how much seniority may have been had by the players they were replacing. If we continue to see more personnel moves over the remainder of the season, it will probably be for these kinds of reasons rather than the more worrisome ones suggested in the second category above. This is an extremely young team, and it’s going to take everyone a while to settle in.

Gameday news and notes (ND vs. BC)

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

Here are few updates on the Irish depth chart, and the health of ND’s various injured players, heading into this afternoon’s game against Boston College.

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It was reported on the Web Thursday night, and yesterday the Chicago Tribune picked the story up: sophomore offensive lineman Matt Carufel, who started the past three games at right guard after classmate Dan Wenger went down with an injury and was listed to start again against Boston College, has been excused from the team for undisclosed personal reasons and will miss today’s game:

Irish guard Matt Carufel, who started the last three games, has returned home to Minnesota and is expected to decide on his future at Notre Dame by Sunday, the Tribune has learned.

Carufel has been excused from practices this week due to “personal reasons.” On Friday, Carufel was at his former high school in St. Paul, Cretin-Derham Hall, spoke extensively with assistant coach Andy Bishoff, and indicated that he may not return to the Irish.

“He’s struggling with if he’s going to stick around there or not,” Bishoff told the Tribune. “He just doesn’t know if he fit at Notre Dame like he thought he would.”

Carufel also could return to Notre Dame to finish out the semester. If Carufel decides not to return to the Irish, Bishoff said Minnesota and Iowa are two schools likely to be at the top of the list of potential destinations.

Apparently Carufel was absent from practice on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. His departure, together with the elbow injury (I am told it involves torn ligaments) that is going to keep freshman Matt Romine out for the foreseeable future and the obvious questions of whether Wenger’s leg is 100% healed, suddenly leaves the Irish almost paper-thin along the offensive line. Carufel’s backup on this week’s official depth chart (which I’ve already discussed at some length here) is fellow sophomore Eric Olsen, who had previously been listed behind Mike Turkovich on the other side of the line at left guard, and who has played in ever game except the loss to Michigan. Olsen saw the field by far the most of any of the backup offensive linemen through the first five games, so hopefully he’ll be ready to play.

But after that, the rest of the second string o-line consists of freshman Taylor Dever behind Sam Young at left tackle, junior transfer Thomas Bemenderfer behind Turkovich at left guard, Wenger behind fifth-year senior John Sullivan at center, and sophomore Chris Stewart behind Paul Duncan at right tackle. If Wenger is ready to go, it’s obviously not a stretch to see him splitting minutes with Olsen in Carufel’s place, since Sullivan essentially never leaves the field. Stewart and Dever, meanwhile, haven’t gotten into any games yet this year.

(It’s perhaps worth noting that the Notre Dame depth chart published in the South Bend Tribune this morning lists Stewart as the starter at right guard, with Olsen listed as backing up both Stewart and left guard Turkovich, and Bemenderfer as the backup center to Sullivan. Wenger, meanwhile, is completely absent from that chart, though Romine is listed as Duncan’s backup at right tackle. It’s hard to believe this chart is accurate, though, since there are also several other funny things about it, including Eric Maust listed ahead of Geoff Price as the team’s punter, and Anthony Vernaglia absent from the chart altogether.)

So obviously we’re not going to know for sure who’s going to play where until the game is underway, but I’d be surprised if what we see at the right guard position doesn’t primarily involve Olsen and/or Wenger, depending especially on the health of the latter (on which see below).

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Up next, a couple of quick injury updates:

  • David Grimes, who ended up not dressing for the UCLA game because of an ankle injury suffered against Purdue, was back in practice this week, albeit with a heavily taped ankle. Watching Grimes on Wednesday, Ben Ford thought that he was “still having a little bit of trouble with the initial burst and explosion when he makes a break from a standing position.” Charlie Weis was quoted in Eric Hansen’s excellent column in today’s SBTrib as saying that Grimes hadn’t participated in any cutting drills this week, and that he would be a game-time decision, but that he “still doesn’t look full speed to me … If he doesn’t look close to full speed, then I just won’t play him.” My gut here says that we don’t see Grimes on the field today.
  • Meanwhile, I haven’t seen any reports of how Dan Wenger looked in practice this week, but an article from Wednesday’s SBTrib has this little nugget: “We’re finally getting him back on a more full-speed basis this week,” Weis said of Wenger. “He’s not automatically going to get thrown (into the right guard mix). He’s going to have to earn his way back out there.” It could be, in other words, is that the reason Wenger was made the backup to Sullivan on the depth chart for this week is that he’s not fully healthy, and less will be expected of him there because of how little Sullivan comes out of the game. But once again, I wouldn’t read into the fact that Wenger isn’t listed in the SBT depth chart, since they list Romine as a back-up, and Weis has said that he’s at least a few weeks away from returning.

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Finally, one more personnel-related note. Pat at BGS noted earlier this week that sophomore Munir Prince, who was recruited as a tailback but made the switch to cornerback in the off-season, saw some playing time on defense against UCLA. A question in Michael Rothstein’s mailbag from this week picked up on this point:

I noticed late in the UCLA game when the Irish were on defense, Darrin Walls nor Raeshon McNeil were on the field. Is this because the Irish were running a prevent zone and those guys match up better in man-to-man, or did the coaches feel better with the more experienced dime lineup of (Terrail) Lambert, (Leo) Ferrine, (Ambrose) Wooden, (David) Bruton, Zibby but then there was (Munir) Prince, what gives? Thanks.
-Pete McLoughlin

Pete,
Honestly, we’re not sure. From the television view we had, we didn’t even notice the shift in this package and who was in. What we can tell you is we noticed Prince in the game a lot. It shows more than anything that the sophomore is finally adjusted to his move to cornerback. As for that package, we’ll take a good look this week when we’re back on site for games.

Anyway, just thought that was worth noting. That’s great for Munir, and hopefully he’ll continue to get on the field and play well the rest of the season.

[UPDATE: The always-insightful OCDomer has this to say, over at NDLNA:

I noticed Munir in at corner for stretches against UCLA. It seemed he was man-up on UCLA's best wide-out. Coach Weis has always said Munir was very fast. If he has developed his footwork at DB to the point that he is trusted to cover the fastest receivers on the other team, that's awesome. It means we shouldn't see the other team's speed burner running wide open down the field any more. It's also great for Munir. He's obviously been working very hard to learn the new position - hats off to him!

Good stuff.]

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That’s all for today. Go Irish!