Sunday, August 28, 2005

Depth Charged...

After 8 months of planning and strategizing, it has finally arrived for Charlie Weis: his first official Game Week as the head coach of Notre Dame.

At a press conference today Weis unveiled his final determinations for the "two-deep" against the Panthers and his willingness to shake things up continued to be displayed. To begin with, partly because of numbers and partly because they've impressed Weis, 8 freshman cracked the chart at some position - both Mike Turkovich and Paul Duncan at the tackle spots behind Ryan Harris and Mark LeVoir respectively, plus Kyle McCarthy and David Bruton at free and strong safety after Tom Zbikowski and Chinedum Ndukwe. One name that hadn't been on anybody's radar, wideout David Grimes, goes into Pitt as the top punt returner. DJ Hord, the more heralded frosh WR, will be in the mix on kick returns. DT Pat Kuntz, LB Steve Quinn, FB Asaph Schwapp, as well as redshirt freshman Ronald Talley & Justin Brown (DE) and Anthony Vernaglia (LB) also appeared as part of Weis' initial lineup.

The biggest "surprise" came on the offensive line, where John Sullivan is technically listed as second-string at center behind Bob Morton, shifted over so Dan Santucci starts at left guard.
Weis said:
We look at that, as an offensive staff, that we have four players that are starters. I could not list it that way. Between (Dan) Santucci, (Bob) Morton, (John) Sullivan and (Dan) Stevenson, we have four guys to man those three spots inside. You will see in the game against Pittsburgh all four of those guys playing in those three spots.

Makes sense considering earlier statements about countering the depth issue on the line by rotating guys into different positions.

Weis' depth charges lead us straight to point #6 in the countdown:

#6 - Youth is Served?

David Bruton

Don't be fooled by all that experience returning on the offensive side of the ball. This is still a very young football team, learning the second system in four years (for a few, the third in five). And over on defense, even with two returning starters plus plenty of others with game experience, how well can they perform remains an open question?

At the least, Weis' first lineup shows the Irish heading in the direction which turned around other recent struggling programs - get 'em and play 'em. That might not translate into a first year bonanza of wins, but it keeps the Irish well stocked for the future. At USC and Virginia in 2001, Pete Carroll and Al Groh (two other former pro coaches) basically threw caution to the wind and plugged in freshman and sophomores and redshirters whenever they felt it was necessary. If you're good enough, get your butt out there and play. Neither coach had a terribly successful first season (Carroll, 6-6; Groh, 5-7) but the players from those first seasons formed the nucleus which produced top 25 units down the road...oh, and back-to-back national champions at USC, that too.

So what can we expect from the young Fighting Irish? Well, don't expect an Adrian Peterson or Ted Ginn to emerge automatically from this unuheralded recruiting crop, but by the end of the season, who knows? Point is Weis is moving things in the right direction by putting them on the field as soon as he thinks their ready, not according to some time chart which says players are only capable of handling college football in their junior season. Those days are gone; look at any of the top programs and what you see is primarily a never-ending youth movement. Even at USC, with the new crown prince of "Stay in School", Matt Leinart, kids who are only a year (or a few months) out of high school are all over the field.

So while veterans like Brady Quinn and Brandon Hoyte will help determine the fate of the 2005 Irish, the direction of the Irish program could well hinge on what is happening two and three rungs down the depth chart.



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