2009 has potential to be the year the Irish get back on track to being one of the perennial powers of college football. No longer are they bringing in freshman that have to play now in order for the Irish to have a chance to compete. Now they are stockpiling talented individuals to add depth and to help insure that the future is bright in south bend. There are some individuals to keep your eye on this spring and well into the season that will have a lot to say on how well this team is going to be this year.
Everyone has been in a hurry to jump on Jimmy Clausen, but with 2 years under his belt, and a much better understanding of the playbook and understanding the methodology of how the offense should be run. The biggest thing for him to work on now are his leadership abilities he has to believe and he has to make sure his team believes that they can get the job done we will see when they play the men of troy how far the belief in themselves has truly come.
The trio of backs have been marginal at best I don't think anyone can place blame on just the backs or just the line they are a unit that has to learn to work together! I think this area has the potential surprise player of the year for the Irish. Jonas Grey should be able to find his way into some playing time this year. He seems to have some of the speed qualities of Armando Allen and the power attributes of Robert Hughes. In limited action it seems that he may have the best vision amongst the 3 running backs. With J.A. moving to part time Full Back this will give him the reps he needs in order to get some more minutes.
Getting Mike Ragone back from injury should be huge for the Irish this season, Charlie Weis has been big on TE during his short tenure at ND Everyone knows about Kyle Rudolph, Ragone has some of the same receiving capabilities so the Irish should have some match up problems or teams trying to keep the WR from getting deep if you drop your safeties to help over the top Ragone and Rudolph should be able to do a lot of damage. Joseph Furia is going to get some min here also the 6'7 TE is a freakish athlete, the future at this position for the Irish is bright.
There are no secretes here that Golden Tate, Mike Floyd are dangerous, but this year there are some new comers to watch out for. Its not just the fans who need to be watching Duval Kamara needs to round back into form before John Goodman, Deion Walker, or Shaquille Evans takes his spot. All 3 of these guys are on the watch list at this position. I will start with walker who was rated by some people higher than Mike Floyd, but didn't have the body ready to play Division I-A Football, he is lanky and very fast he will be able to stretch the field big time in 3 and 4 wide sets. John Goodman is going to deal with a lot of comparisons to shark lets just hope he has similar production, he has really good ball skills, he has good speed, and he is a smart player having played QB in high school this opens us up for some trick plays potentially if Coach Weis chooses to use them. Shaq Evens is explosive very dynamic, most of all I think getting him shows some future recruits out of the LA area you don't have to go to SC its okay to come to south bend and get noticed the future is very bright at the WR position: It is a very bright and young group.
OL & DL
I group these together because they are the 2 groups of players that Irish fans hear about and talk about the most. In order to be a major player in college football you have to do big time work in these areas. The biggest impact in these area's this season to watch for is coaching with the addition of a new OL and DL coach I believe that you will see better technique, they will be getting after people better than they have in the past.
The biggest change is going to be switching to a 4-3 and having John Tenutacalling the shots. This is going to be the fast aggressive defense we all expected to see when we heard he was coming on board. Tenuta likes having speed at the DE and LB positions which this year I believe we have I expect to see Kerry Neal make an impact as a DE as a frosh he showed signs of a potential great pass rusher!
I think the Irish are going to be strong here new comer to watch played some last year Steve Filer he has a lot of natural ability and teaming him with emotional leader Brian Smith they are going to reek havoc on opposing offenses. The 3rd slot has a lot of competition so it will be interesting to see who can nail down that spot maybe a frosh by the name of Manti Teo? Or Hawaii 50 it will be very interesting to see what effect he has on this Defense and to see what kind of playing time he gets. Most importantly by Manti coming to ND it shows top recruits that ND is the place to be hopefully in the future Top flight Defensive players will follow Manti to South Bend.
This group is the strength of the team Player to watch is easy Darrin Walls, before he left the university for personal reason seemed to be on tract to being a top flight corner back in College football, if he can regain his form added in with Robert Blanton and RaeshonMcNeil the Irish are gonna have a very strong Secondary! Gary Grey will be interesting to watch as well he left the university in the spring, but is suppose to be back in time for summer ball!
New comer here isn't all that new Harrison Smith will be teamed up with Sergio Brown and K-Mac between the 3 of them they should be very athletic and should be able to make a lot of plays in John Tenuta's D. I think Harrison Smiths time at LB will Help him a lot in reading formation, knowing what the people are doing in front of him.
All and all this should be a step in the right direction looking at the schedule the Irish can win 9+ games they should have won 9 last year lost 3 double digit leads! They must Learn how to close games, but the good news is all of those sophomores who couldn't close out remember what it was like and they are Juniors now!