Before the 2009 season I took a look at the top 40 influential players for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Now, here is a review of that list:
1. Armando Allen (Jr. RB)—Frustrating season for Notre Dame’s starting tailback, as multiple injuries kept him out of the lineup in key games and moments. With Allen in the backfield, the Irish offense was more dynamic. Hopefully he can put together a strong senior season and carry the burden with Clausen and Tate likely gone.
2. Jimmy Clausen (Jr. QB)—Just an amazing season for Clausen, especially considering his lingering toe injury. Not much else to say. It would be nice to see one more year from him in South Bend.
3. Brian Smith (Jr. LB)—Not a good season for Smith this year as he struggled in his spot at middle linebacker. He barks a big game but often times doesn’t back it up. With a new coach, he may find himself on the outside looking in when it comes to playing time.
4. Ethan Johnson (So. DT)—A frustrating season for Johnson as he was moved inside to tackle when he is more suited to play at end. Clearly a talented defender, he led the team with four sacks and will continue to grow and improve his game. He needs to improve his run stopping abilities in the off season.
5. Nick Tausch (Fr. K)—Before losing his starting spot due to injury, Tausch brought much needed consistency to the kicking game in 2009, even setting the school record for consecutive field goals made. One of the bright spots for the future.
6. Sam Young (Sr. OL)—If there is one thing that sums up Young, it is that he is inconsistent. He can dominate at times but lacks the ability to put together all the tools a lineman needs throughout a game. Numerous penalties this year really set the team back as well.
7. Harrison Smith (Jr. LB/S)—Struggled mightily at safety for most of the season before switching back to linebacker to finish the year. Smith is at his best when he is attacking at the line of scrimmage, but lacks speed and smarts in the open field. With a new coaching staff in place, he may not be starting in 2010.
8. Golden Tate (Jr. WR)—Perhaps the finest season for any Notre Dame skilled position player? Tate amazed even his biggest supporters this year with his play making ability. A combination of Steve Smith and Hines Ward, he is impossible to tackle one on one. If he returns to school next season, he could be a Heisman favorite.
9. Paul Duncan (Sr. OL)—The fifth year senior had a poor season in 2009 and was continually beaten by smaller defensive ends with speed coming off the edge. The Irish need a better effort from his replacement in 2010.
10. Kyle Rudolph (So. TE)—A bit of an up and down year for Rudolph who took a small step back from his sensational freshman campaign. Still a work in progress with his blocking, Rudolph is among the best tight ends in the country and will be a huge factor next year.
11. Darrin Walls (Sr. CB)—It was a tough year for Walls, who was continually abused by opponents. He doesn’t seem to be the same player since leaving school in 2008. Although a major disappointment this season, he can apply for an extra year of eligibility.
12. Michael Floyd (So. WR)—Despite missing nearly half the season, Floyd still racked up 44 receptions for 795 yards and nine touchdowns. Clearly a thoroughbred receiver with big game play making ability, Floyd is the real deal.
13. Trevor Robinson (So OL)—The youngest member of the starting offensive line had a pretty good year and will be one of the leaders of the team next year. Teaming up with Sam Young on the right side, Robinson was able to blow open numerous holes for the running game.
14. Kapron Lewis-Moore (So. DE)—Had his moments this year, but lacked consistency. Still a very young and raw pass rusher, Lewis-Moore needs to work on his run stopping and tackling. He will be pushed to keep his starting spot in 2010.
15. Ian Williams (Jr. DT)—Williams played pretty well on a defensive line that showed some improvement in 2009. He is more adept at stopping the run than getting pressure on the quarterback and will be a presence on next year’s squad.
16. Robert Blanton (So. CB)—After a surprisingly strong freshman season, Blanton seemed to take a step backwards this year. He has good speed and footwork, but struggled to make plays on the ball and missed many tackles. Blanton will have to step up his game next year as he becomes an upperclassman.
17. Darius Fleming (So. LB/DE)—Maybe the most devastating pass rusher on the defense, Fleming has really come on strong in 2009. He led the team in tackled for loss (12) and will be a key to the team’s success next year. The future is very bright.
18. Eric Olsen (Sr. OL)—A passionate and scrappy lineman, Olsen played pretty well in 2009 but like the rest of the lineman, had trouble with consistency and penalties. He shows toughness and strength that has been lacking on the offensive line in recent years. May be eligible for another year in 2010.
19. Duval Kamara (Jr. WR)—After a tremendous freshman campaign, Kamara has struggled to return to form. He showed a lot of grit and toughness this year however, and is a dependable possession receiver finishing with 23 receptions for 281 yards and one touchdown.
20. Kyle McCarthy (Sr. S)—Fifth year senior came up with numerous big plays this year and was the defenses most dependable player. McCarthy is a strong tackler but lacked the speed and coverage ability necessary for a safety. His absence will be a big hole in the defense in 2010.
21. Toryan Smith (Sr. LB)—A big run stopper in the middle, Smith began the season as a starter but eventually gave way to younger talent. A serviceable player, Smith does not have the speed necessary to play on every down. Toryan’s leadership will be missed.
22. Christ Stewart (Sr. OL)—Perhaps the most consistent member of the offensive line, Stewart has turned into a solid blocker up front. Despite his enormous size he shows good agility and finesse. He is eligible for another year in 2010.
23. Kerry Neal (Jr. DE)—Quality veteran backup who contributed 25 tackles and three tackles for loss. Had some problems with consistency but made some big plays in key moments this year. Neal will be a key senior leader next year.
24. Hafis Williams (So. DT)—Did not see significant action in 2009.
25. Manti Te’o (Fr. LB)—The sensational freshman recruit was one of the few bright spots on the defense and has already staked his claim as the team’s best defender. He still struggles in pass coverage but he showed tremendous playmaking ability at the line of scrimmage. Will he be leaving for a mission soon?
26. Robert Hughes (Jr. RB)—A solid backup runner, Hughes had his moments this year where he ran powerfully, picked up good yardage and also was a decent option in the passing game. With a lack of speed and play making ability to go along with a crowded backfield, it is almost certain Hughes will move to fullback as a senior.
27. Scott Smith (Sr. LB)—Voted a team captain for 2009, Smith is a really good depiction of the Irish defense: good leader and hard worker, but someone who lacks athletic and play making ability. He filled in admirably when he was called upon registering 21 tackles.
28. Dayne Crist (So. QB)—Before suffering a season ending knee injury, Crist was slowly developing into a solid quarterback. Still a bit raw, he has a strong arm and good athleticism which were both on display this year. A lot of expectations will fall upon his shoulders next year if he becomes the starter and he will need to work on his accuracy and decision making.
29. Raeshon McNeil (Sr. CB)—Like most of the secondary, McNeil underachieved and was not able to make many plays during the season. The corners needed stronger play from the upperclassmen and McNeil was not able to bring that in 2009.
30. Steve Filer (So. LB)—Curiously underused, Filer is a special athlete who played well during the regular season. There is a lot of upside to this young player and with a new coaching staff he could be a starter at linebacker in 2010.
31. James Aldridge (Sr. FB)—At one time a promising five star recruit, Aldridge just could not battle through injuries in his final year. He finished the regular season with just seven games played and seven carries.
32. Dan Wenger (Sr. OL)—Unseated from his starting position at center to begin the season, Wenger was a backup at various positions and played generally poorly. With one year of eligibility left, he will be looking to reassert himself as a starter in 2010.
33. Morrice Richardson (Sr. DE)—Unable to beat anyone out for playing time, Richardson spent his last year without making an impact finishing with one tackle in two games played.
34. Robby Parris (Sr. WR)—Turning into the best third option at wide out, Parris finished the year with 25 receptions for 227 yards and a touchdown. A true possession receiver, Parris was not explosive enough but made some crucial first down grabs in his final season at Notre Dame.
35. John Goodman (So. WR)—It took a while for him to see the field this year, but he had his moments both receiving and out of the wildcat formation. A talented possession receiver, Goodman will undoubtedly continue to fight for playing time at the crowded receiver position.
36. Eric Maust (Sr. P)—Wildly inconsistent, Maust had a very sub-par year for the Irish and constantly left Notre Dame with bad field position. Unable to hold down his starting spot, he was replaced late in the season and has no eligibility left.
37. Tyler Stockton (Fr. DT)—Did not see the field this year as the coaching staff relied heavily on the defensive tackle starters. With some weight gain, Stockton could be a welcome addition to the 2010 defense.
38. Mike Anello (Sr. ST)—An unfortunate quiet season for the special teams extraordinaire. Anello was a terrific story and his presence and heart on the team will be missed.
39. Gary Gray (Jr. CB)—All in all probably the most consistent and strongest tackling corner on the season. Started the year used sparingly, but will be a favorite to start next year.
40. Zeke Motta (Fr. LB/S)—Did a nice job in limited action this year, totaling 12 tackles while playing on special teams and mop-up duty at linebacker. Motta should be one of the front runners to start at safety next year.