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The Delightful Dilemma of Depth: Notre Dame in 2009

IsmailAnalyst ISeptember 11, 2009

Two years ago Notre Dame was embarking on one of the most inept seasons in Fighting Irish history.

The 2007 squad would end up losing more games than any other team in school history and it seemed as if the walls of the program were caving in.

That year was a perfect storm caused by a number of factors. First and foremost, the recruiting from 2003 through 2005 was lackluster at best, and certainly not up to par with the normally high Fighting Irish standards.

Also, the coaching staff in place at that time seemed unable to deal with the impending disaster. This was because of the relative inexperience of the coaching staff and the decision to switch to a spread-option offense during the 2007 offseason, which only complicated matters further.

After 15 losses over the next two seasons, the consensus seemed to be that Notre Dame football was in a deep depression and that it would take a long time to climb back to respectability.

Luckily, however, the Irish were able to recruit at a high level during the lousy 2007 and 2008 seasons. This meant that although Notre Dame was being outplayed on a weekly basis, young and talented freshmen and sophomores were getting invaluable experience.

Things would be much worse today if Notre Dame stumbled to a 10-15 record with upperclassmen and would be forced to break in new players with little experience in 2009.

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Now, after the first week of the season has passed, Notre Dame is facing a much brighter future with a roster loaded with talented and experienced athletes all across the board.

The Fighting Irish have one of the top quarterbacks in the country, but also have two capable backups ready to step in and play, if needed. Notre Dame also has two of the best receivers in the nation, but also has half a dozen other wideouts ready to contribute. The same can be said for the running backs and the defensive backfield.

But with so much depth comes the dilemma of getting the best players on the field in order to give the team the best chance to win. It may be a tough decision each week for Coach Weis, but for fans of Notre Dame the depth is absolutely delightful.

Nowhere is this dilemma more apparent than in the freshman sensation Manti Te’o. It was believed that Te’o’s skills would allow him to see plenty of minutes in 2009, although nobody outside the program was sure if he would grab a starting position.

So what does Charlie Weis do with Te’o? During his limited action last weekend against Nevada, Te’o looked every bit the No. 1 defensive recruit in the nation. He has already proven he possesses the three attributes of a great linebacker: speed, awareness, and ferocious tackling.

Te’o would probably be a no-brainer to start at one hundred other college programs, but remember, Notre Dame has finally built a lot of depth and it won’t be as easy as some believe. What’s more, linebackers Brian Smith and Toryan Smith were among the best players on the field last weekend as the Irish played a ton in nickel coverage.

When the Irish take the field with three linebackers in the future it is difficult to believe that Te’o will not be one of the starters. Another option available would be to replace Sergio Brown with Te’o as the nickel back. Te’o certainly has the speed to stay in coverage and would be an absolute menace coming off the edge on blitzes.

Nevertheless, it’s a good problem to have when a team has multiple options to resort to and plenty of weapons to deploy on Saturdays. Suddenly, 2007 seems light-years away as the Irish have broken into the top 20 and are looking for a big win at the Big House tomorrow afternoon.

Charlie Weis and John Tenuta may be fretting over who to play, but rest assured Manti Te’o is licking his chops and readying himself to face two freshmen Wolverine quarterbacks.