The quarterbacks and running backs possess an interesting mix of players that range from 5 star prospects that arrived on campus with ludicrous expectations to converted linebackers. There have been some flashes of greatness out of these players over the last two seasons as well as some well documented struggles. Of note this does not take into account inbound freshmen Running Backs Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick.
Listed below is the opening spring depth chart by position for the Quarterbacks, Fullbacks and Running Backs. Players with an * next to their class are eligible to apply for a 5th year after graduation. None of these players are limited or out for the spring due to injury.
7 Jimmy Clausen (Junior) Clausen’s career to date has been rough. He showed up as a 5 star phenom with ridiculous expectations and honestly did not help himself out too much with the whole CFBHOF commitment etc. He then had elbow surgery, and shortly after getting healthy spent the better part of 2007 playing tackling dummy for opposing defenses. The upside there is that he grew up a lot and appeared to gain some humility in the process. In 2008 he was inconsistent from game to game and sometimes from series to series. So which Jimmy are we going to get in 2009? I think he will come into his own and do a great job running this offense. He has all the tools and the rest of the team around him is coming of age at the same time. The only remaining questions are whether or not he will emerge as a leader and how he will handle success. If he can be a real leader, vice a coach appointed one, and handle success with the grace and humility of Brady Quinn he could be a superstar.
10 Dayne Crist (Sophomore*) Crist will eventually be a great quarterback in this offense. Like Clausen Crist is another 5 star phenom, but Crist more closely resembles Quinn from a personality standpoint. Crist will ultimately benefit from having time to grow into the role without having to start as a freshman or sophomore. I suspect with the 2009 schedule that Crist will get some time this season to further his development. When his time comes he will be ready, in the mean time he won’t seriously push Clausen for the starting job in the immediate future.
16 Nate Montana (Sophomore*) Nate is a preferred walk on that looks just like his dad. Unfortunately he will most likely never seriously be in the mix at this position.
30 Steve Paskorz (Junior*) Paskorz moved over from the overstocked linebacker position last year to fill in behind Asaph Schwapp. He saw very limited action in 2008 and I expect to primarily see him play only in blocking situations. As of now the Irish are technically one deep here with the exceptions being TE/FB Bobby Burger getting some reps as a "Move TE" type guy, and RB James Aldridge who is also now taking reps at fullback.
5 Armando Allen (Junior) Armando has all the makings of a stud running back. One of the comments that caught my attention in Ivan Maisel’s ESPN article last week were the comments about the running backs. I happen to agree with the coaches. Allen is a "Real Guy" and he has all the tools to be a special football player. I expect to see Armando take the next step this year and become a persistent threat as a runner, receiver and returner. He has great speed and takes care of the football. If he continues to develop his ability to find creases he could explode in 2009.
33 Robert Hughes (Junior) Hughes also has all the makings of a superstar and is a great compliment to Allen. Hughes is a bigger back that could develop into a legitimate punisher. The only question mark regarding Hughes are Charlie’s comments last week about him "playing big". I personally think Hughes absolutely needs to play big. In that role he and Allen could be a lethal one-two punch. If he tries to play like Allen he will likely end up spending a lot of time on the sidelines watching Allen play like Allen. The best thing for Hughes and the Irish in 2009 will be for him to play big. If he does he will make a major contribution.
34 James Aldridge (Senior) Aldridge came into the program as a 5 star back the same year that Chris Wells went to Ohio State. I felt like they were very similar at the time and Wells is now preparing for the NFL draft while Aldridge is staring down a position move to fullback as a senior. I could pontificate on my view about "what happened" in the last three years in regards to Aldridge but at the end of the day it is what it is. He won’t play in front of Allen or Hughes and his best bet to contribute is by moving to fullback. Aldridge is a strong downhill runner and I expect Weis is going to use him in the same capacity he used Rashon Powers-Neal in early 2005. In that role Aldridge is a legitimate weapon that can add several wrinkles that defenses must account for. I expect him to have a strong season in his new role.
25 Jonas Gray (Sophomore) Gray might be the most talented every down back out of all these guys but thus far he has a bad habit of fumbling the football. If he ever gets that under control he could legitimately compete for time. With some very talented players ahead of him and two more arriving on campus this summer he will have to get that problem solved ASAP to avoid getting buried on the depth chart.
The Quarterback is key to the Weis offense as are Fullbacks and Running Backs with varied skills that present different dilemmas for opposing defenses. This group has all of that. At Quarterback Clausen has every reason to come into his own in 2009 and Crist is a solid backup that could fill in without a huge drop off in ability. I expect Aldridge will ultimately see most of his time in 2009 at fullback spot. With his ability he will allow
Coach Weis to use the fullback in the capacity he has not been able to since RPN was dismissed from the program in 2005. The running backs are very deep and in conjunction with the skill sets at Quarterback and Fullback will provide the offense a wide array of options to utilize to attack opposing defenses. If the Offensive Line can hold up their end of the deal in 2009 I expect the backs to have a very productive season and put a lot of points on the board.