With the arrival of a new coaching staff, as the cliché goes, everyone starts from scratch. Throw out the old depth charts and wipe the slate clean, because every player, no matter his experience, is going to be learning a new system and competing for a spot in the starting lineup.
But the reality is that nothing in practice nor read in the playbook can prepare a player for that moment when he steps onto the field, surrounded by tens of thousands of screaming fans. Experience is important. And while the 2004 season just ended 30 days ago, it's never too early to look forward to 2005.
A few days ago, Lou Somogyi of Blue and Gold Illustrated posted an article with the playing times of each player from the 2004 season. Some quick crunching of the numbers shows that while the Notre Dame offense will return virtually intact, the defense will have large holes in experience at multiple positions. Obviously the new coaching staff might make position changes, and young players could surprise and beat out returning veterans. But unlike a stock market disclaimer, past perfomance is a strong indicator of future results when it comes to playing time.
Here's a quick breakdown of each position and a percentage of minutes played in 2004 at that position by players returning in 2005.
Overall, 89% of the offense is coming back, while only 36% of the defense will return.
Quarterback - 95.5%
This is a pretty obvious stat as everyone knows that Brady Quinn is returning for his junior year. But this stat is a bit deceiving in that pretty much all of that 95.5% is Quinn's playing time himself. The inability to put many teams away early last season meant that Quinn usually played the entire game and our backups did not receive much playing time. In fact, the only other returning quarterback who saw time in 2004, David Wolke, played a mere 2 minutes out of the 374 minutes that a Notre Dame quarterback was on the field. So while the returning experience level at quarterback is high, the depth of that experience is not.
Running Back - 67.6%
The bulk of the carries last year were split between Ryan Grant and Darius Walker. Grant has graduated and is the only starter on the offense that will not return in 2005. However, Walker had more carries and minutes played last year than Grant so Darius will hardly be a novice when he steps on the field as the starting running back at Heinz Field next September. However, the same depth concerns at quarterback apply here. While Walker proved durable last year, it is unrealistic to expect him to be able to carry the complete load next year. Marcus Wilson was a pleasant surprise last season in backup work and that should continue next year, but other running backs Travis Thomas, Jeff Jenkins, and Justin Hoskins only combined 28 minutes of playing time last season. At fullback, Rashon Powers-Neal returns but behind him Ashley McConnell has not seen the field yet.
|Running Back||04 Minutes|
Offensive Line - 99.1%
Suffice it to say that Notre Dame will have one of the most veteran offensive lines in college football next year. Not only will all five starters return, but so will all of the second team players. This position should be a strength next year and a source of team leadership. Ryan Harris, Dan Stevenson, Bob Morton, and Mark LeVoir will be marking their third year in the starting rotation at offensive line while John Sullivan returns for his second. Incidentally, John Sullivan came into last season with no playing experience and logged the most minutes of any Irish player.
|Offensive Line||'04 Minutes|
Wide Receiver - 90.2%
Again, every starter returns and the only player who saw meaningful time that will not return is Carlyle Holiday. However, Matt Shelton's recent ACL injury puts a question mark about when and how he will be able to return to the field. Rhema McKnight and Maurice Stovall will make their final appearance in a Notre Dame uniform and my opinion is that they will stand to be the biggest beneficiaries of Charlie Weis' new offense. Surprising, to me at least, was that Jeff Samardzija was second only to Rhema McKnight in playing time last season at wide receiver. He should pick up where he left off in the Insight.com Bowl and round out a deep receiving corp.
Tight End - 71.1%
Notre Dame loses quality contributors Billy Palmer, Jerome Collins, and Jared Clark, but fans are excited about seeing Anthony Fasano return. Marcus Freeman and John Carlson also played well last season and that will result in yet another deep and experienced offensive position in 2005.
|Tight End||04 Minutes|
Now to the other side of the ball, where the percentages are lower and the expectations are, by necessity, higher.
Defensive Line - 42.6%
As with every position on defense, the top two players in terms of minutes played at defensive line will not return in 2005. Those names on the defensive line are Greg Pauly and Justin Tuck, who became the first defensive player to declare for the NFL Draft with remaining eligibility since Brock Williams in 2001. Kyle Budinscak, a co-starter for much of the 2004 season will also graduate. Derek Landri is the returning lineman with the most playing experience in 2004 and will team with Victor Abirimiri, Trevor Laws, Brian Beidatsch, Chris Frome, and Travis Leitko to reload the Irish defensive line. Dwight Stephenson Jr, Justin Brown, Ronald Talley, and Brandon Nicolas did not see the field in 2004, but could make contributions in 2005.
|Defensive Line||'04 Minutes|
Linebacker - 29.4%
With the graduation of Mike Gooslby and Derek Curry, Brandon Hoyte is the only remaining returning starter and the percentage reflects that. Corey Mays also played meaningful mintues, but the rest of the returning linebackers are going to be very short on experience. The purpose of this post isn't to guess who will play where next year, but new names and faces will keep fans flipping through the media guide early and often next year as names like Mitchell Thomas, Joe Brockington, Nick Borseti, Abdel Banda, Maurice Crum Jr., Anthony Vernaglia (just going by und.com roster listings here folks) and the incoming freshman all fight for a starting spot.
Defensive Backs - 33%
This position will undoubtedly be a favorite of Depth Chart Engineers in the off-season. I didn't break down the numbers into cornerbacks and safeties precisely for this reason. The field is wide open and it's likely that position changes will affect this position more than any other. The only returning starter is Tom Zbikowski, although Mike Richardson logged quality minutes at cornerback. Like at linebacker, there are plenty of names but little to no returning experience. In fact, if you take Zbikowski out of the equation, the percentage of returning minutes played drops to a little under 12%. Fans saw glimpses of Ambrose Wooden, Freddie Parish IV, and Chinedum Nduwke last season and the young talent does give hope for the future. But only time will tell how they mix in with other players like Lionel Bolen, Jake Carney, Leo Ferrine, Terrail Lambert, LaBrose Hedgemon, Junior Jabbie, Tregg Duerson, and whatever incoming freshman end up in the defensive backfield.
|Defensive Back||'04 Minutes|