Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Choosin' Up Sides | by Pat

With the Blue-Gold game coming up this weekend, we wondered, how would we choose up teams to make it a competitive match? Last year, if you recall, the coaches basically stacked one team with offense and one team with defense, mostly due to depth issues. This year, Charlie & Co. wanted to make it more even:

"I kind of have it laid out generically now, but I'm trying to make the teams more competitively balanced," Weis said. "I'd like to see it competitive when we're out there playing."
To come up with the rosters, the coaches probably did something boring like sitting down and cordially hashing it out, with Charlie casting the deciding vote. And what do you know, yesterday the scrimmage roster was published, and it roughly follows the line of #1 offense/#2 defense (Blue Team) versus #1 defense/#2 offense (Gold Team).

But here's how we'd do it. We'd get some of the guys together, crack open a few beers, pick a couple of captains and have the first-ever BGS Blue-Gold Fantasy League Draft! Everybody who plays in a fantasy league loves them a good draft. (In some leagues, the draft is about the only redeeming part of the whole season.) The pressure. The second-guessing. The trash talk. The regret. And applying a draft to the Notre Dame roster was intriguing: Who would go number 1 overall? Who would be the first quarterback taken? When would the run on linemen start?

The ground rules were simple. We set up a basic starting lineup (1 QB, 1-2 RB, 2-4 WR, 1-2 TE/FB/HB, 5 OL, 3-4 DL, 3-4 LB, 2 CB, 2 S, 1 K, 1 P) that you had to fill before picking any backups. Teds and John were picked to captain Team Ara while Matty and Mark got the nod for Team Lou. Team Lou won the ceremonial coin flip conducted by honorary game official Marco, and we were off.

The picks are below, along with the captains' rationale for picking that player in that slot. Any quibbles? Surprises? Utterly crazy picks?

John Carlson, TE
He is the best player on the team, a future All American, and with the expected evolution of this offense, he will likely shatter the record for receptions by a TE in a single season. No brainer. And I have a very little brain.
Trevor Laws, DT
Defensive talent and experience is at a premium in the front seven, and Laws could become an extremely valuable and effective DE in the new defense if the other guys on the front wall can hold up their end of the bargain.
Maurice Crum, ILB
Crum brings experience and leadership to a LB squad that will be relatively young. He's poised to have a career year playing inside in Corwin Brown's 3-4 package.
David Grimes, WR
He is far and away our best and most experienced receiver at this point. Great hands, good blocker and route-runner. Not a future superstar but an important and valuable player on this team.
Travis Thomas, RB
After a year playing on the defensive side of the ball, Travis is back at his natural position of running back. He's got a chip on his shoulder and is ready to prove that he can carry the load in what will be a relatively inexperienced offense.
Sam Young, OT
We're going to need to build a wall to protect our new quarterback, and he's our most experienced and talented tackle.
John Sullivan, C
The most experienced player on the OL, Sully will provide veteran leadership for a young group of O-Linemen.
Joe Brockington, ILB
He's sort of "Maurice Crum Lite", and although he acquitted himself well last year once healthy, he might have done a good bit better if he hadn't been sidelined for so long. Good play from the linebacking corps is going to be critical in the new defense.
Terrail Lambert, CB
Lambert exhibited flashes of greatness in the '06 season. I expect even more production from CB from Cali. in the upcoming season with a year of game experience at the CB position under his belt.
Tom Zbikowski, S
He certainly wasn't the same player last year that had been named a preseason AA, but he still possesses first-round ability and the sort of potential big-play impact that a defense loves to have. I think that Corwin Brown is sharp enough to find ways to put Zibby to optimal use. He's also the best punt returner on this team until proven otherwise.
Paul Duncan, OT
Duncan appears to be slotted in a Left Tackle, and for good reason. He's probably the most reliable and experienced Tackle on the team behind Sam Young. He's the best option to protect the new QB's blind side.
Ambrose Wooden, CB
Our most experienced and natural corner. Similar to Brockington, I think that injuries obscured how much he could have done for the defense if healthy for the duration. I need a lockdown type of CB to make this defense hum, and he's the closest thing to it, IMO.
John Ryan, OLB
Ryan has been running with the One's in practice and is exactly the type of player you're looking for to play OLB in the 3-4. He can play with his hand down is necessary and rush the passer, yet is athletic enough to drop into coverage when necessary. He's our pick to be one of the pleasant surprises this year on the defensive side of the ball.
Dan Wenger, C/G
By all accounts, this guy is an animal in the trenches with the physical gifts to boot. And he has the flexibility to play either guard or center with similar aplomb.
Armando Allen, RB
By all accounts thus far, Allen has been beyond impressive in spring drills. He has the speed to make an impact at the RB position and the hands to be put in motion out of the backfield and be a serious threat catching the ball. We expect him to see serious special teams return time in addition. Overall, he's got the potential to have a Rocket-like impact in his freshman year.
James Aldridge, RB
Thomas is the #1 back, but I think that Aldridge is making up ground as he becomes more comfortable and authoritative running on a healthy knee. Reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated...
Pat Kuntz, DL
Another player who has impressed in spring ball, Kuntzie will likely man the middle of the DL in Brown's 3-4. He has bulked up some since last season, and has the tenacity and motor to be a more than serviceable anchor for the DL.
Mo Richardson, OLB
Most likely our best natural pass-rusher among the LB crew, and I expect that Brown will make him a lot more effective in that respect by better disguising our blitzes.
Matt Carufel, G
Tenacious, mean and nasty - all qualities that you want in a solid offensive lineman who can open some serious holes for your running backs. The Cretin Derham Hall product fits the bill here perfectly.
Derrell Hand, DT
More help on a thin DL, and another player who's output and potential were waylaid by injuries in 2006.

We kept going for another few hours, long into the wee night. Roster sheets were filled, arguments ensued, many beers were consumed, and the empties piled up. Somewhere around the 14th round the first quarterback went, and it was none other than Jimmy Clausen. When the dust settled, here's what we were left with:


QB - Jimmy Clausen
RB - Travis Thomas, Armando Allen
FB - Asaph Schwapp
WR - George West
TE- John Carlson
LT - Paul Duncan
LG - Thomas Bemenderfer
C - John Sullivan
RG - Matt Carufel
RT - Bartley Webb

DE - Pat Kuntz
NT - Chris Stewart
DE - Justin Brown
OLB - John Ryan
ILB - Maurice Crum, Jr.
ILB - Steve Quinn
OLB - Scott Smith
CB - Terrail Lambert
CB - Raeshon McNeil
SS - Ray Herring
FS - David Bruton

K - Ryan Burkhart
P - Geoff Price

QB - Evan Sharpley
RB - James Aldridge
FB - Luke Schmidt
WR - David Grimes, Robby Parris
TE - Konrad Reuland
LT - Sam Young
LG - Mike Turkovich
C - Dan Wenger
RT - Eric Olsen
RT - Jeff Tisak

DE - Trevor Laws
NT - Derrell Hand
DE - Dwight Stephenson, Jr.
OLB - Mo Richardson
ILB - Toryan Smith
ILB - Joe Brockington
OLB - Anthony Vernaglia
CB - Ambrose Wooden
CB - Darrin Walls
SS - Tom Zbikowski
FS - Kyle McCarthy

K - Nate Whitaker
P - Eric Maust

Who ended up with the better squad? I'd say the Blue Team clearly has the better offense, with ND's best receiver (Carlson), two good running backs (Thomas and Allen), and a bruising fullback in Schwapp. But the Gold team is stacked on defense from top to bottom. It'd be an interesting matchup, and I think the teams ended up fairly well-matched. And now, onto the 1-game season.

As for the actual Blue-Gold Roster, there are a few notable items.

• Once again the OL depth is so shallow that they will play ironman football as part of the green team. Like last year, it will be the red-green-and-white uniforms against the red-green-and-blue. One of these years we'll actually have enough scholarship OL to field two full lines.

• Senior QB-turned-WR Darrin Bragg isn't listed on the roster and according to Mike Frank on his recent Irish Eyes PowerHour isn't a member of the team any more. I'm sure more on this will come out soon, but in the meantime the senior class is down to only 6 players out of the original 17. Junior Jabbie is the lone offensive player left.

• While the roster is not strictly broken down by 1st string and 2nd string, it is interesting to note that Toryan Smith was put on the with Maurice Crum and the rest of the returning defensive starters while Joe Brockington was placed on the white team. Toryan has the size and Joe has the experience. It will be interesting to watch this position battle as it carries over into the fall. The fight for the starting outside linebacker spots will be interesting too. John Ryan appears to have one of them locked down while guys like Scott Smith, Anthony Vernaglia, and Mo Richardson are all working to lock down the other outside spot.

• The quarterbacks were all given equal time to run with the 1st team offense during spring practice and this week is Jimmy Clausen's turn so not too much should be read into the fact that he, along with Demetrius Jones, is listed with the rest of the first team offense on the Blue team. Still, from spring practice gossip it's sounding like he's definitely played himself into the top 2 spots that Weis plans on picking at the end of spring ball. Don't look for clues based on who starts the Blue-Gold game as that honor is going to be decided by a coin flip prior to the game.

• According to the rules, no kickoff returns. It makes sense as it's an easy way to injure guys and ND just doesn't have the depth for that yet. Still, I can't be the only one who is disappointed he'll have to wait another 4.5 months to see Armando Allen return kicks.