The depth chart for the Pitt game has finally been released and contains more than a few interesting bombshells.
- No one played more minutes in 2004 than John Sullivan. But now he's the #2 center behind Bob Morton, who slid over from left guard. Starting in Morton's old left guard spot is Dan Santucci. Morton was the #1 ranked center coming out of high school and played center in 2003 so it's not a huge change, just more of a surpise considering how much time Sullivan spent there last season. Still, I'd expect Sully to get plenty of minutes and Weis has said as much. In fact, Weis has said that ND has four guys (Sullivan, Morton, Santucii, and Dan Stevenson) for three positions (LG, C, RG). Having depth and flexibility is great, but I'm also a big fan of continuity at center. Nothing kills a drive faster than a botched snap.
- Both backup tackles are true freshman. Even with our lack of linemen, no one predicted this. Turkovich (LT) and Duncan (RT) impressed causal observers at practice and must have done the same to the coaches if they are in the 2-deep only months after their senior proms. But regardless of how bright their future is, the fact they are one twisted ankle from starting is just as much, if not more, a factor of our complete lack of OL depth than it is their own individual talent.
- Sticking with the freshman theme, seven true freshman are listed on the depth chart at either 2nd string or a very close 3rd string. And that doesn't even count David Grimes, who Weis has mentioned as the #1 option at punt returner, and D.J. Hord, who is still being considered for kick returner. Over half of the incoming 15-man class, a class that was ranked as one of the weakest recruiting classes in recent memory, are already prime backups. On the surface there doesn't appear to be a single cause for the appearance of so many underclassmen. Personally, I think it's a mix of better-than-expected freshmen, a lack of depth at multiple positions (probably the biggest reason), and a message from the coaching staff to the upperclassmen that no position is safe and seniority means nothing anymore. Whatever the reason, expect to see a handful of freshmen see the field against the Panthers.
- Our defensive tackles are a bit on the small side. We've pointed out Pitt's undersized defensive line before, but ours isn't all that big at the right defensive tackle spot. Landri looked good when he played last year and is extremely quick for a down lineman, but at 263 pounds, he'll need a few breathers and that's where ND's shallow DL depth comes into play. In fact, both our starting defensive ends are bigger than our tackle backups. If Wannstedt is dead-set on establishing a power running game, this is where he might attack the most.
- Weis is trying to send a message. Obviously the depth chart is not the total number of players that the Irish will bring to Pittsburgh, and Charlie admitted as much during the press conference that around 15 slots are still open "on the bus to the plane to Pittsburgh" and practice performances this week would determine who gets them. It's interesting to note that rather fill in who he thinks might get the spots (like say Sharpley as the #3 QB or Justin Hoskins/Jeff Jenkins as the #3 RB), Weis is content to leave the list blank. It's nice incentive for those who think their backup job is safe and extra motivation for those who really want to claim a spot on the travel squad.
- Chase Anatasio is still one of the leading contenders for kick returner. After spending last year returning kicks with a broken bone in his foot and, to put it nicely, rather subpar special teams coaching (the fact a guy with a broken bone in his foot was still returning kicks being a big indicator of such), it will be interesting to see if Chase looks improved. Fan favorites Wooden and Hoskins are also in the mix along with former walk-on Harris and freshman Grimes, but honestly I'd rather not see everyone get a chance to return kicks on Saturday. Ideally, Pitt will kickoff once, and that's about it.