With Notre Dame beginning practice soon and the start of the regular season just one month away, the pressure is beginning to rise in South Bend.
I am taking a look at the top 40 players of importance for the Fighting Irish for the upcoming 2009 season.
Although not necessarily a list of who I believe will be the best players, this countdown will focus on the players who will need to play their best, especially in regards to the team's weaknesses.
The rest of the list will be published in the remaining weeks before Notre Dame opens up its season at home against the Nevada Wolf Pack.
One of the best recruits out of the 2009 class, Motta enrolled early and has shown himself to be a very capable player. As of now he will most likely be a special teams mainstay but there remains a small chance he gets some action at linebacker or safety. Although he lacks elite speed, Motta has tremendous size (6’3” 210 lbs) and has incredible instincts, blitzing ability, and a knack for finding the ball. He looked very impressive during spring ball and led all players with seven tackles in the annual Blue-Gold game. Motta will be a strong candidate for team captain in 2011 and 2012.
After leaving school last season, Gray returned in the spring and looks to reassert himself on the corner depth chart. Although he hasn’t played much since coming to South Bend, Gray could become a solid corner—but will have to fight to keep the fourth spot among corners. If Gray emerges as a strong defender, opponents will find it even more difficult to move the ball through the air against the Irish.
A rich man’s Rudy, there is no clear way to measure what Anello brings to the Fighting Irish. Although strictly a special teams player, he has made numerous big-time tackles in punt and kickoff coverage over the last couple years. Anello might not win any national awards, but he brings a passion and dedication to Notre Dame that is invaluable.
A four-star prospect, Stockton was another early enrollee who has a chance to see some action this season. With uncertainty at the defensive tackle position, Stockton could become an important part of the 2009 Irish defense. Described as a tornado of energy, Stockton has a real chance to make an impact soon and will be a rock on the defensive line for years to come.
Although there may be more important positions than punter, Eric Maust has a role to play and can be that veteran leader that backs opponents into their own territory. Maust has been a solid punter over his career, although not great, and Notre Dame needs him to step up his game in 2009. There will be a handful of critical moments when the spotlight will be on Maust and he’ll need to come through.
Still a bit of a mystery in South Bend, John Goodman is rumored to have extraordinary athletic talent. He may be a long shot to crack the third wide receiver position, but Goodman could be a solid fourth or fifth threat, or step up as a regular if there are injuries throughout the season. Despite two sensational wide outs ahead of him on the depth chart, look for Goodman to have a game or two where he shines brightly. He has the potential to become the next Jeff Samardzija.
Parris is a proven and capable third option for Notre Dame but seems to have maxed out his potential. With Duval Kamara looking to rebound from a disappointing sophomore year and numerous younger receivers chomping at the bit, Parris will have to play well early in order to keep a starting job. Either way the Irish need to find a go-to third option and Weis will surely count on Parris early in the season to see where he fits in.
With the defensive line still the biggest question mark on the Notre Dame team, Morrice Richardson needs to bring experienced and veteran leadership to his position. Pegged to be a backup, Richardson could offer some needed pass rushing ability. There is too much youth and inexperience on the defensive line for Richardson not to contribute in his last season in South Bend.