Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Spring Wrap Up/Looking to the Fall

So...it's been awhile since my last post, mostly due to the fact that there hasn't been much going on in the world of ND football that we can decipher (other than warm up drills). However, with the Blue and Gold game playing out this past Saturday, I thought I would evaluate our beloved Irish from three view points: The Jim O'C outlook (aka The Pessimist), The Brian O'C outlook (aka The Optimist) and the Kev O'C outlook (mostly whiny, but also Realistic).

The Jim O'C outlook:

Let's start with the D line. While Ian Williams has seemed to solidify himself at NT, he is still only a sophomore. Outside of him, our best player (Kuntz) is currently at VoTech. Our DE's are too small to be a force, and it looks like we will have to rely on freshman to get by this year. If I'm USC, I run dives and FB traps all day long because we won't be able to stop the run.

Our LB corp still does not have a solid ILB next to Crum (Toryan Smith can't grasp pass coverages still), who has been playing out of position for the past couple of years considering he has the size to be an OLB. Yes Brian Smith and Kerry Neal have the potential to be excellent, but we are putting a tremendous amount of pressure on those two SOPHOMORES...God help us if one of them goes down.

Our DB's are OK, better than when we had Toast and a bunch of Smurf's at corner, but I am yet to be convinced that Lambert is the best option playing across from Walls. Bruton is solid, but do we have to suffer through another strong safety who can't cover?

As far as the Offense is concerned, I'm certain our O-line will continue to leak like a sieve. Sam Young is enormous, but still hasn't learned how to turn that girth into production. Paul Duncan also continues to have trouble with the speed rush, and he wouldn't start on a Top 10 team. Wenger, Olsen and Stewart are all unproven in my eyes. I predict another long year for the Golden Boy.

Speaking of that guy, he's no Terry Hanratty I'll tell you that much. He still locks in on one receiver and doesn't know when to get rid of the ball. He's a couple picks a way from being a bust.

Our three RB's are still too young to have the ground game ND is used to. Allen has yet to break a big one and goes down after first contact too easily. Aldridge has yet to live up to his billing and Hughes doesn't have the break away speed we haven't seen since Rocket. Average at best.

That smurf problem I mentioned a couple paragraphs ago seem to have migrated from DB to WR. Grimes and West are still going to see playing time and in reality should be dummy squad fodder with their size. What happened to the big WR's of Samardzija and Mo Stovall? Kamara keeps dropping balls, Parris is a non-factor and Tate can't figure out how to break a route off ---------->
Even if JC gets time, chances are we'll be dropping the ball. Also, we have one scholarship TE right now thanks to Joe Lacrosse.

Overall: We'll beat San Diego St., Syracuse and maybe Navy. Other than that, we're going to lose across the board. Get ready for another 3-9 season and wave goodbye to the Robot Genius. We need to bring Ara back. His defense in '66 only gave up 24 points...all season!

The Brian O'C outlook:

Holy smokes, we're gonna win em all! It's gonna be just like '88 (the year of our lord). We finally have the talent to take it to the big boys. No more blowout losses. No more bowl drought. We are coming back in a big way.

For me, it all starts with the obvious improvement from the hogs up front. Sam Young and Eric Olsen have clearly established themselves as the leaders of this line. Young and Stewart on the right side of our line is eerily similar to two O'C's lining up during the Golden Years at Centennial. Can I tell you how much I love Eric Olsen? Guy is in the middle of every scuffle. We've been missing that along our lineman for a long time (Jeff Faine anyone?). Also, I am a big fan of the fact that Wenger has replaced Sullivan. The line really gelled with Wenger at center, and I feel he will be the first in a long line of solid to excellent centers at ND. The talent and improvement from the last two games, to the spring game performance has me cautiously optimistic for the '08 line.

Jimmy Clausen will win two Heisman's before he leaves ND. The start of those campaigns begins this year. Mark it down: As long as he stays healthy, Clausen will throw for at least 2500 yards this year with a TD to INT ratio of 3:1. He is clearly healthy and putting the ball wherever he wants. With the improvement of the line and the backs picking up blitzes, JC will put on a show in '08.

Now that the OLine has finally figured out how to block, our backs are going to reap the rewards. The stable of Aldridge, Hughes and Allen is as good as anyone in the country, even Tailback U. Hughes is a monster to tackle and I think will lead the way for us early. Allen was a broken tackle or two from taking it to the house all year in '07, and with the extra muscle will be providing ND fans with something we haven't seen since the days of Rocket: A breakaway threat. Alrdidge is an interesting combination of Hughes and Allen. Expect a solid year from him. All in all, put any one of these guys behind 700 lbs of Stewart and Young and we will be in very good shape.

David Grimes, Duval Kamara, Michael Floyd. These will be your starting WR's by the Purdue game. And all three will compliment each other extremely well. Grimes is a solid possession receiver with great hands. He had a rough year last year, but everyone had a rough year last year. He will bounce back and lead this young receiving corp. Duval Kamara is the next Mo Stovall. He has the size and speed to be a great WR and will improve upon his very solid Freshman year. He is a flat out weapon inside of 30 yards. His grab against Gray to win the spring game will be a familiar sight before he leaves ND. Michael Floyd may be the best WR we've picked up since Derrick Mayes. He flat out dominated the Army All American game, and will be our best threat on the sidelines by the end of the year. Oh by the way, Golden Tate is fast. Real fast. He ran by Gary Gray to set Kamara's TD on Saturday, and Gray is also really fast. Throw in Ragone at TE, and you have some folks who can stretch the field. The ceiling is very high for this group.

The only "weakness" I see forthcoming will be along our D line, but I'm not worried about it. Ian Williams will continue to plug the middle. Justin Brown is going to have a breakout 5th year. Mo Richardson added some size to his frame and led the team in tackles at the BG game. He will improve his run D and continue to terrorize tackles with his first step. And Kuntz will come back and lead this young unit with Zorich-like passion (btw, that might be the best...football...picture...iver...it looks like he ripped the manhood from that quarterback and just left him there). Also keep an eye on Nwanko, who Trevor Laws thinks is the dark horse of the bunch. And he knows a thing or two about DLineman.

Despite our perceived "problem" with the DL, our LB's will more than make up for it. In case you haven't notices, Brian Smith and Kerry Neal not only held their own last year, but they dominated some games. Alright, maybe not dominate, but they played pretty freaking well for being true freshman. Neal was solid on Saturday and Smith threw in two sacks for good measure. Both are also versatile, with Neal playing a lot of snaps with his hand on the ground and Smith mixing in some ILB during the spring. Tenuuuuuuta must be dreaming up blitzes you've never even seen before with these two. Mo Crum has had a solid spring and I expect a Courtney Watson-type final season at ND. Add Toryan Smith to the mix, and that is a lot of talent at linebacker.

Which brings me to easily the strongest unit on ND: The DB's. That's right, ND's secondary is the strong point of this team. Gone are the days of Toast. No more Leo Ferrine's in our d backfield. We're talking top of the line talent and DEPTH. David Bruton flashed fantastic potential last year, and all involved with the program believe he is a 1st or 2nd round pick in next years draft. He will cover some serious ground and free up our SS to help in run support. Speaking of which, is there ever a better feeling than knowing someone took a starting spot, rather than just getting it by default? Kyle McCarthy seems to think so. He was solid in the nickel package last year, and took the starting SS spot this Spring. Coaches believe he's the best tackler on the team, and as such he will be huge in the running game. Speaking of earning spots, how bout Harrison Smith. The true sophomore from Tennessee forced his way onto the field, in the form of a hybrid Safety/LB this spring. Corwin and John's payoff? A pick 6 during the BG game. All accounts say Smith has great instincts and could be a pretty big part of our nasty D. Mix in four corners who the coaches are more than comfortable with (Walls, Lambert, McNeil, Gray), and you've got the best ND secondary in more than a decade.

The Kevin O'C outlook:
So...here's the thing. The whole season will come down to our lines. If the O-line can even go from horrible to average, and if the D-line stays healthy, we can probably win about 8 games, maybe one or two more. If neither of those things occur, we will lose 7 games, maybe one or two more. It's as simple as that. Charlie has the talent. It's put up or shut up. No one is saying he has to win a National Title. But there has to be significant improvement across the board, and NO BLOW OUTS! God help him if we get blown out. Our skill positions on offense have the talent and now the experience to be solid to good. If our O line can open up a couple of holes, and pick up a couple of blitzes, we'll be fine offensively. If not, it is going to be another long season. Hell, if they go from horrendous to really good, I'll go out on a limb and say Clausen will be in the hunt for the Heisman. That's how important the line is.

If I am any of the opposing coaches and have any semblance of a running game, I would run the ball at least 50 times against ND. If we can be average to good against the run, we will be in very good shape on D. The problem is our front 7. Right now we are thin and inexperienced at almost every position, save Mo Crum. It does not bode well that we are shifting Neal, H. and B. Smith around in the spring. To me, that means Toryan Smith is not getting the job done. If we have to put Neal up against 300 pounders, we are not in good shape. I am confident in our secondary, but they will have to be as good as advertised in order for us to be a good defense. If they have problems early, it could be a big problem for everyone else.

Mercifully, our schedule is much easier this year (on paper). I think there are 8 winnable games there, with one or two being a coin flip. As long as we continue to develop and show some improvement, I will continue to support C Dub. If not...


Seamus said...

Well said. I was expecting a much more critical view of my view.

Domer OC said...

I don't think I was pessimistic enough for Pops.