The only way to really gain much discernible information about why things shake out the way they do in a football game is to watch said game multiple times. You can watch each play repeatedly like coaches do or just sit back and watch it all the way through a few times. Either way you have to watch it more than once to get a real feel for it. With the invention of the DVR I have taken to employing a combination of both methods when it comes to Notre Dame games over the last few years. I suppose that’s a by product of growing up the son of a coach. So I owe a special thanks to the folks at und.com for providing me that opportunity on the Internet since the game was not televised. With that here’s my two cents.
For starters I did not see anything that made me change my opinion on the overall quality of depth on the roster. If you happened to have read any of my posts on the quality depth within the position groups you already know that my overall takeaway is that I think the quality depth is there. With the exception of the Offensive Tackles I am excited about the two’s and in some cases even the threes. Nothing I saw from the game made me second guess myself in that regard but I did see some very positive things that were pleasant surprises. Granted both the offense and the defense ran fairly vanilla packages and it was obvious that Charlie wanted to work on the run game for obvious reasons. Football 101 says that if you can establish the run everything else falls into place. Charlie even said as much in his presser after the game. Despite this there was still some decent info to glean out of the whole affair. Here are some of my overall observations.
9 Ethan Johnson DE- This kid is a serious beast. He’s what I like to call a "Manster" he’s half man, half monster. He looks even better than I expected him to. Stand by for a legitimate All American season.
12 R.J. Blanton CB- R.J. looked very good. Lock down corner good. The pick six was nice but he was all over his man all day. This is bad news for Raeshon McNeil as I still think Darrin Walls will ultimately maintain the other starting corner spot.
87 Joseph Fauria TE- I thought he would be a serviceable three but he looks more like a solid one. That’s not to say I think he’ll jump Rudolph but when mixed in with Rudolph and Ragone he gives Charlie his two and three TE sets back with legitimate threats across the board.
99 Brandon Newman DT- All the talk this spring has been about Hafis Williams stepping up but someone forgot to tell Brandon Newman. He looked very good on Saturday. In his post game presser Charlie stated that it would be important to "keep them fresh" in regards to the defensive line since the Irish plan to bring so much heat. Tenuta should definitely be able to do that with the depth at this group. I like this young Defensive Line more and more.
17 Zeke Motta SAM- This kid was walking the halls of his high school three months ago and today he’s the leading tackler in the spring game. Charlie summed him up in his post game presser by saying "He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know" meaning he still has a lot to learn about the defense etc. Got it, but it is nice to see a young guy in the mix like that. His ability is a welcome addition to what I still think is a ludicrous deep linebacker corps.
16 Nate Montana QB- I’ll admit it, before today I thought Nate was a bit of a novelty but he really looked like he might be serviceable back there. Nice to know the wheels most likely won’t come off if the Irish get down to #3 at QB for some reason.
24 Leonard Gordon FS/CB- Leonard was listed as the #3 Free Safety in the spring depth chart but looked good at corner. This secondary is the real deal.
26 Jamoris Slaughter CB- Ditto on what I said about Gordon.
5 Armando Allen/ 33 Robert Hughes/ 25 Jonas Gray- Any team in the country would be happy to have any one of these three guys as their front line running back. Nice problem to have.
The Offense- So the passing game did not set the world on fire, I’m not worried about it. I think at the end of the day Charlie knows that between Clausen, and the wealth of tight ends and receivers that the passing game is going to be there. The X factor is the offensive line holding up their end of the deal in the run game for a stable of very good backs. Ultimately the passing game and the offense as a whole will fall into place from there. The inside running game looks good but the stretch and other outside runs still need some work. Regardless things appear to be on the right track for the ground game and we didn’t even get to see the Aldridge fullback package as he was held out due to being banged up. Overall Saturday was a positive for the rushing attack and I expect that the 2009 version of the Irish offense will rack up yards and points in very similar fashion to the 2005 version.
The Defense- At the end of the day they gave up a lot of yardage on the ground. This falls into the classic spring game debate of whether or not the offensive line is good or the defensive line is bad. In reality I think the offensive line is much better and that this will probably end up being a top 20 offense in 2009. So the defense had a stiff test today. Once they get cut loose against actual opponents this fall Tenuta will release the hounds and the secondary is more than capable of holding up its end of the deal. This front seven will gel nicely and that mix of great athletes playing for a great DC will manifest itself in a stout defense in 2009.
Special Teams- Charlie said it best himself in his post game presser when he alluded to the coverage units being solid and the return game still needing some work. This team is very deep with several great athletes which lends itself to great coverage teams that in reality already proved themselves in 2008. The return game is still a bit of a work in progress but the returners themselves, particularly Allen and Tate, are the real deal. I know it isn’t optimal to have offensive starters returning kicks and punts but the team is so deep at those positions that Charlie can probably afford to do it. If they need to be spelled here and there on offense as a result then so be it. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Robert Hughes gets a few more carries and Kamara, Parris, Goodman, or Walker get some more reps. Maust is a pretty solid punter and I was happy to see Walker nail the 48 yard field goal. If he can just get to the point where he can consistently capitalize on 35 yard attempts it is money in the bank.
Overall I think the Irish had a very good spring. I’ll most likely have them rated higher than most main stream media outlets in my 2009 pre-season preview and it is not just because I’m an ND Fan. I watch a ton of college football and have for many years. An almost unhealthy amount if you were to ask my very understanding wife. Right now I think this team is on track to have a very good 2009 season. If they can shake off the last two seasons mentally I think the ship will right itself in a very positive way. At the end of the day the only team that can keep Notre Dame out of the 2009 BCS mix is Notre Dame.