Let's take a look at the team playing time and the rough percentages of how much experience is coming back next year. Armed with Lou Somogyi's handy 2007 team playing time breakdown, here are the numbers for this year. (For easy reference, here are our previous posts for the 2004, 2005 and 2006 seasons.)
The only major change I made this year to the tables was to break out the "Defensive Back" category into Safeties and Cornerbacks. Now that ND has quality numbers at each position I figured it would give fans a better look at just what is coming back at each spot.
One area where the personnel might be fluid is when it comes to returning 5th year players. Different sources online have mentioned that there will only be three returning 5th year players; Mo Crum, Justin Brown, and Terrail Lambert. However, there has been no official release from the program to that effect. For now I'm going to present the percentages under the assumption that the aforementioned three are indeed the only ones coming back. If more do come back, that will only increase the returning experience.
Now, on to the numbers. It's no surprise that next year's team returns a lot of players and experience. After all, we spent most of the season beating the drum over freshmen and sophomore contributions. Overall, 79% of the offense and 64% of the defense will be back in the blue and gold next year. These percentages nearly match the numbers going into the 2006 season as the highest in the Weis era (although it should be pointed out that the career playing time experience numbers were higher going into 2007.)
Legend: PT = playing minutes, ST = special teams appearances, * = walk-on or former walk-on.
Quarterback - 96%
Not much of a surprise here. Clausen and Sharpley are both back for 2008 after splitting time in 2007. The two will combine to give ND the most experienced depth at quarterback in a long time. It has been at least a decade since ND returned a backup scholarship quarterback who attempted more than 15 passes in the previous season. Only a sophomore, Clausen will still be young next year, but playing over 200 minutes this past season will definitely pay off next season. His 208 minutes are somewhat close to the 250 minutes played by Brady Quinn his freshman year.
|Quarterback||ST Appr. ||PT Minutes|
Running Back - 83%
After breaking in a running back by committee in '07, ND will return most of the major players next season. In addition to returning 83% of minutes played, ND returns 88% of all running back/fullback carries. Fullback Asaph Schwapp played about a third of all possible minutes (using the QB total as a very rough guideline of total possible minutes) while the running back with the most playing time was freshman Armando Allen. James Aldridge didn't play as much as Allen, mostly due to injury, but still led the team in attempts with 121 (compared with 86 for Allen). Armando's classmate Robert Hughes only totaled 4o minutes, but over half of that came in the final two games. His numbers will almost certainly jump up in '08. One added benefit of all the returning talent next year is that hopefully pass protection will improve next as well. The offensive line took a beating from fans this past season, but a fair number of the sacks ND let up were due to mistakes from the running backs.
|Running Back||ST Appr.||PT Minutes|
Offensive Line - 80%
I suppose this category will be another one of those glass half full versus half empty rorschach tests. Nothing improves an offensive line like experience. But when you're bringing back most of the same guys that gave up the most sacks in the history of the program I can see why some might be gritting their teeth. Sam Young tied with John Carlson to lead the offense in minutes played, although the sophomore took a bit of a step backwards in '07 as he fought through injuries and a switch to left tackle. The starting five from the final two games will be back for '08, as well as 6th man Chris Stewart, who garnered most of his playing time in the final few games on the year. Whether all that returning experience means a dramatic turnaround in performance or not won't be answered until next September.
|Offensive Line||ST Appr.||PT Minutes|
Wide Receiver - 99%
No position on the team returns more experience than wide receiver, where every single scholarship player is back for 2008. However, ND returns just 75% of all receptions, losing John Carlson, Junior Jabbie, and Travis Thomas who hauled in 55 of ND's 217 catches. Robby Parris led the group in minutes played, but was losing playing time to Duval Kamara as the year progressed. According to Lou Somogyi, Kamara set an ND freshman record for minutes played at wide receiver, breaking Rocket's record from 1988. As at running back, a more experienced wide receiver corp should translate to improved communication with the QB, better blocking, and better route running.
|Wide Receiver||ST Appr.||PT Minutes|
Tight End - 28%
Next year the Irish will be as inexperienced at tight end as they ever have been under Charlie Weis. Only two scholarship players return, although Will Yeatman did see a fair amount of time in '07. Mike Ragone didn't see all that much action as the 3rd tight end, but at least he did get on the field frequently on special teams. In fact, he saw more special teams time than any other freshman on the team. The departure of Konrad Reuland hurts from a depth perspective because instead of having a junior 3rd tight end in '08 with two years in the weight room under his belt, ND will have two relatively slender freshmen in Kyle Rudolph and Joesph Fauria.
|Tight End||ST Appr.||PT Minutes|
Defensive Line - 50%
The only position to lose two of the top three players in terms of minutes played, the D-Line will have more question marks going into 2008 than any other unit. The loss of Trevor Laws will leave a huge hole to fill. Both Pat Kuntz and Ian Williams spent time starting at nose tackle so it is likely that one of them, perhaps Kuntz, will slide down to defensive end to try and replace Laws. Getting Justin Brown back for one final year will definitely help as the experience at defensive end is nearly non-existent below him. With barely enough players to fill a two-deep (and nothing deeper), there will be plenty of opportunities for whichever freshmen defensive linemen ultimately sign with Notre Dame in February. Enrolling early, Sean Cwynar will have a jump on his incoming freshmen classmates and should have a good chance to work himself into the mix.
|Defensive Line||ST Appr.||PT Minutes|
Linebacker - 72%
Getting Mo Crum back for a 5th year provides a much-needed veteran presence at interior linebacker. Besides him, the most experienced returning player would be Toryan Smith and his relatively paltry 78 minutes. Crum's play trailed off a bit in '07, but he is a smart player and at the very least will provide solid leadership for the new collection of young linebackers. On the outside, the future looks good. John Ryan finished with more PT minutes than the freshmen duo of Brian Smith and Kerry Neal, but was losing playing time to both of them as the season wore on. Smith and Neal are the better bet to start next year, but Ryan's experience will certainly help team depth.
|Linbacker||ST Appr.||PT Minutes|
|B. Smith (so)||36||144|
|T. Smith (jr)||23||78|
|S. Smith (sr)||91||33|
Safety - 53%
Lou Somogyi unofficially figured that Zibby played more minutes than just about any ND player in the history of the program. He easily played the most minutes of any player on the team this year. Without a doubt, ND will miss him next year, and a collection of talented but largely inexperienced players will compete to try and replace him. Kyle McCarthy has a leg up experience-wise; he saw far more time than any other backup safety. Ray Herring (who was sidelined with injuries for nearly the entire season), Sergio Brown, Harrison Smith and others will make strong safety one of the more interesting spring battles. David Bruton saw his playing time increase eight-fold from 40 minutes in '06 to nearly 320 in '07. With a year of experience under his belt to add to his natural athletic talent, he is in line for a great 2008.
|Safeties||ST Appr.||PT Minutes|
Cornerback - 77%
Another returning 5th year player, Terrail Lambert, will combine with rising star Darrin Walls to give ND two veteran cornerbacks. Raeshon McNeil saw limited time as the nickel back but did start to play more later in the year. Gary Gray didn't play at all this season but is expected to be a serious contender for playing time next season. And of course, we can't forget newly minted special teams star Mike Anello, who will be back to track down opposing punt returners next season.
|Cornerbacks||ST Appr.||PT Minutes|
|Anello (sr) *||71||0|