Notre Dame vs. Purdue: Meet the New Faces of Irish Football
At the start of every season there is always a collection of new players that will strap on their helmets and play significant minutes on the field each Saturday.
What makes this year different for Notre Dame is the amount of veteran players who are ready to contribute, mixed with a handful of quality freshman and buoyed by new head coach Brian Kelly’s eagerness to dip into the two-deep and beyond for all four quarters.
As a result, I have identified 19* players who are new faces to the program and will possibly be starting the beginning of their steady playing-time under the gold dome.
*Even though he’s the most obvious example, quarterback Dayne Crist will not be dealt since he’s had hundreds of articles written about him during the off-season and cannot be truly described as a new face to the Irish program.
Additionally, I have broken those players into four separate categories and please note that this is not a catalog of purely new starters or true freshman.
The new faces to the program will feature any players that have never stepped on the field for Notre Dame, or those who have played in such a limited role that even many fans are not familiar with them.
The “PT” under each player stands for “playing time” and is a measured guess on a scale from one to ten (ten being someone who is very rarely coming off the field) at how often the player will see quality game action against Purdue.
After the game we will take a look back at how these new faces performed and if there were any surprises from this list or other’s who contributed but did not make the list at all.
Here are the 2010 new faces for the Fighting Irish.
No. 75 Taylor Dever
Position: Right Tackle
Experience: Two Years
Dever was the 60th best prospect out of California in the 2007 class and has been the backup to the departed Sam Young for two years and has seen the field on special teams after redshirting as a freshman.
All indications are that he has locked down the right tackle position and will be the starter all season long. There doesn’t appear to be so much competition that Dever is in danger of losing his starting spot, but he will be pushed by three or four younger players and Brian Kelly has mentioned that there may be some rotation on the offensive line.
No. 70 Zack Martin
Martin came to Notre Dame last year as one of the top tackle prospects in the entire country and has made a very favorable impression on the new coaching staff. Heading into the Purdue game, the true sophomore from Indianapolis looks to be holding down the starting left tackle position.
His situation is similar to Taylor Dever’s in that Martin looks to be the unquestioned starter as the season is about to begin, but there could be a few bodies rotated in and out depending on how the young lineman performs and how the game shapes up this weekend.
No. 52 Braxton Cave
Experience: One Year
Cave was considered the fourth best center in the nation by Rivals and has proven himself to be one of the strongest members on the entire Irish roster. After recovering from a knee injury in 2008 and seeing minimal minutes last season, he is now ready to take over the starting spot at center.
Heading into the first game Cave is still locked in a heated battle with senior Dan Wenger for the starting gig, but due to Wenger’s concussion a week ago, it appears Cave will be the go-to-guy on September 4th.
I believe Cave will ultimately play a lot at center, but the coaching staff will probably rotate Wenger in and give the veteran some minutes as well, if he is proven to be healthy.
No. 44 Carlo Calabrese
Calabrese was a top 30 linebacker and one of the best overall prospects out of New Jersey last year, but sat out all of 2009 learning the ropes behind a collection of older players at his position.
Heading into the season he was looking to crack the two-deep but it appears he will find himself starting opposite of Manti Te’o when the Boilermakers take the field this Saturday.
Calabrese is known as a fierce run-stopper, but has struggled at times dropping back in coverage. With the coaching staff already willing to play at least two other players in the middle with him, Calabrese could start but his minutes may not be as high as the other linebackers.
No. 54 Anthony McDonald
Experience: One Year
McDonald was a top recruit out of California who was high school teammates with Dayne Crist and sat out his freshman year before becoming a special team’s mainstay in 2009.
Out of all of the players on this list, McDonald is one of the few who actually saw a decent amount of playing time last year and he did end up totaling ten tackles. However, by the time fall camp rolled around he was sitting in the starting spot at middle linebacker and was ready to begin his career in earnest.
Unfortunately, McDonald suffered a hyper-extended knee in practice and it is uncertain how much he will play against Purdue, or if he’ll play at all. If he was healthy his PT rating would be higher, but even with the good news of being upgraded from doubtful to questionable by Brian Kelly, the best McDonald could probably hope for is to see some scattered playing time in obvious passing situations.
No. 1 Deion Walker
Experience: One Year
Walker was tabbed as the 25th best receiver in the nation by Rivals coming out of high school in Virginia but has been as big of an enigma as the Irish have seen since he came to South Bend.
After redshirting in 2008, Walker was expected to add some quality depth behind three upperclassmen and Michael Floyd, but instead he was passed by three freshmen. Now heading into his third fall with Notre Dame, people are clamoring for the talented, speedy and tall receiver to make his mark.
Unfortunately, it looks like he is still struggling to crack the two deep and now has another freshman clearly ahead of him on the depth chart. Although there’s still plenty of hope and time to make an impact, Walker has his work cut out for him. Kelly’s offensive system, multiple wide receiver sets and heavy player rotation will help him see the field, so he could catch a few balls against Purdue.
No. 15 Dan McCarthy
Experience: One Year
Dan is the younger brother of the recently graduated Kyle McCarthy and will look to fill the big shoes left by his older sibling after he led the Irish in tackles the past two seasons.
An elite recruit from the state of Ohio, McCarthy has drawn some praise from Brian Kelly this off-season, although he has yet to overtake a starting spot thus far. Unless there are some big time struggles from the probable starters at safety, McCarthy probably will not see the field much, if at all against Purdue.
However, it is not out of the question that he will see some time on the field if the game is in hand and you can bet he’ll be a playmaker on special teams.
No. 91 Emeka Nwankwo
Experience: One Year
Nwankwo was a solid prospect out of Miami, Florida but has never made a dent in the depth chart on the defensive line. And since he did not play at all last year he wasted a year of eligibility and only has two seasons remaining.
Despite his past struggles, Nwankwo could be a solid backup at defensive end this year after moving outside from the defensive tackle position. He had a very solid spring game and could be a big piece to the added depth and leadership Brian Kelly is looking for along the defensive front.
Currently backing up Kapron Lewis-Moore, I expect Nwankwo to be among the leaders in minutes from all of the non-starters on the defensive line.
No. 94 Hafis Williams
Experience: One Year
Hafis Williams is very much a working-man’s type of player who has struggled to see playing time in his first two years in South Bend, but looks poised to make a strong impact this fall.
Although he fits the mold of a 4-3 defensive tackle, Williams will be playing on the outside this year and is currently the backup to junior stud Ethan Johnson. I don’t expect Williams to play as much as Emeka Nwankwo, but he could find himself on the field in certain situations or when Johnson is dog tired.
No. 98 Sean Cwynar
Experience: One Year
Cwynar was one of the top prospects out of Illinois in 2008 and was rated the nation’s 12th best defensive tackle by Rivals. Somewhat surprisingly, he has made tremendous strides during the off-season and is looking to become the primary backup to Ian Williams in the middle of the defensive line.
Given that Kelly will want to substitute a lot of defenders up front, I could have put Cwynar’s playing time a little higher, but I think he’ll settle into a comfortable role where he’s contributing steadily but not on the field a ton.
He’ll definitely be someone to watch in the trenches though, because out of the entire non-starters up front on defense, it seems that Kelly is the most comfortable with Cwynar.
No. 20 Cierre Wood
Wood was one of the top running backs in the entire country last year coming out of high school but was given a redshirt in 2009 as he packed on muscle and gained experience in a college system.
After an ultra-impressive spring game, he has now taken hold of the backup running back position as well as preparing for kickoff return duty. Wood has an incredible skill set and is one of the most pure open field runners the Irish have had in a long time.
He could be the one player who really ignites the offense in 2010 and you can bet he’ll be the most recognizable and hyped player on this list.
No. 66 Chris Watt
Watt came to Notre Dame last year as one of the most highly decorated lineman in school history, but like most freshmen was rarely mentioned as a viable candidate to play on the offensive line.
For how big of a prospect Watt was only 18 months ago, he has kind of flown under the radar, until last week when head coach Brian Kelly mentioned that he would like to see the youngster from Illinois compete with 5th year senior Chris Stewart at left guard.
It seems unlikely that he’ll unseat the starter from last year, but Watt is probably most likely to play out of any of the underclassmen reserve linemen. If the Irish get a big lead over Purdue, we could see Watt take the field for long stretches at a time.
No. 80 Tyler Eifert
Not much was expected from Eifert this year given the two talented and experienced tight ends ahead of him on the depth chart, during the spring, but times have changed and the sophomore from Indiana has been thrust into a backup role in a matter of weeks.
The door was opened up playing time for Eifert because of former backup tight end Mike Ragone’s off-season arrest and subsequent heat-related sickness during fall camp. But word out of South Bend is that Eifert is one heck of a talented player.
Initially, with Ragone’s status uncertain moving ahead early in the season you can expect Eifert to get significant reps. Against Purdue he should be on the field quite a bit and will be just another weapon the Irish can use in the passing game.
No. 7 TJ Jones
Jones was a big prospect coming out of high school in Georgia, and more importantly, he came to Notre Dame incredibly polished as a true freshman. This has led Brian Kelly and his staff to award the young athlete with a starting spot heading into the game against Purdue.
Although he doesn’t have a ton of size, Jones makes up for it with toughness and smarts. He’s already been described as one of the best route-runners and might have the best hands on the team.
We can expect heavy rotation throughout the receiving corps, and Jones may end up losing his starting spot at sometime down the road, but against Purdue he can bet he’ll be making a big impact right away.
No. 13 Tommy Rees
Brian Kelly had hinted a couple weeks ago that the race for the backup quarterback position was coming down to Rees and junior Nate Montana, and it looks as if the freshman from Illinois has won the job.
It will be very interesting to see how the coaching staff handles and uses Rees this year. It’s probably a no-brainer to see him if the Irish are up big in any game, but will Kelly plug him in on occasion for a play or two so that he can get his true freshman some playing time in case there’s a long-term injury to Crist?
That’s why I have him at a four for PT, which may seem a little high but there’s a good chance we see Rees at some point during the Purdue game.
No. 23 Lo Wood
The depth at corner is thin, but it’s probably not thin enough for Wood to see much playing time early in the season. However, he could be one injury away from seeing a significant rise in his minutes.
The praise from the coaching staff was fairly high for Lo Wood and that is great news for a team that needs to develop corners behind the “big three” of Walls, Gray and Blanton.
With Kelly already hinting that we’ll see safety Zeke Motta as the team’s nickel back, Wood will have to fight hard to challenge one of the older cornerbacks. Like many of the young players, Wood may see the field if the Purdue game is a blowout.
No. 28 Austin Collinsworth
Almost immediately the coaching staff had great words of encouragement and praise for the young athlete from Kentucky. With some question marks in the secondary, there was some debate whether Collinsworth would be playing on defense, but it looks like he will stay at receiver and has a viable shot at decent playing time this year.
For the Purdue game I wouldn’t expect him to see the field for anything more than a handful of plays, but if Kelly is really liberal with the amount of receivers he’s using, then Collinsworth may be right in the thick of things.
No. 55 Prince Shembo
Shembo was the most impressive to me on tape from the entire current freshman recruits now on campus, and it looks like the coaching staff is thrilled with his physical and mental maturity.
Nevertheless, it is still rather shocking that a true freshman is listed in the two-deep at outside linebacker of all positions.
But Shembo could be the real deal and he certainly has the rangy size and quickness you’d like to see from a playmaker on the edge. He will certainly be one of the young players to keep an eye on as he could be very special.
No. 13 Danny Spond
In the biggest surprise of fall camp, Danny Spond has now taken the position of being backup to Manti Te’o in the middle of the defense. A couple weeks ago Brian Kelly was praising Spond as a terrific and smart athlete, but I don’t think anyone expected this meteoric of a rise.
Still, it is unlikely that Te’o ever steps off the field, unless the Irish have an extremely comfortable lead so Spond’s minutes could be severely curtailed unlike Shembo’s on the outside.
One thing to keep an eye on is if Spond ends up sharing minutes with Calabrese and McDonald, especially if the latter is not fully healthy and ready to go for Purdue.
This fall we will see more new players on the field for the Irish than in anytime in recent memory, except perhaps in the 2007 season when roster size and sub-par recruiting forced a ton of true freshman and inexperienced sophomores on the field.
This situation is much different for Brian Kelly in his first year at the helm, and is more similar to what the Southern Cal’s, Alabama’s and Florida’s of the world have been able to do in year’s past.
And that is to have a solid foundation of experienced upperclassmen that are supported by a tremendously talented group of younger players who will make their mark and find minutes during the season.
The Irish might not be quite at the level that USC was in the past, where the backups were nearly the same as the starters, but the program is slowly moving in that direction.
With Kelly’s desire to rotate players and develop quality depth at every position, the 2010 Notre Dame team box scores will be a lot longer than usual.
Positions to Watch for Heavy Rotation
From the FanTake blog: One Foot Down
Follow on Twitter: @OneFootDown
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