Weis on freshmen who will play for Notre Dame

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Two years ago, Charlie Weis threw a bunch of true freshmen into the fire because he felt he had no other choice.

With 18 returning starters back and more depth than he's had before at Notre Dame, that's no longer the case.

"The guys who get on the field now as freshmen get on the field because they're really good, or they're playing on special teams," Weis said. "But I'm telling you, on offense and defense right now, to get on the field means you're pretty good."

The Irish brought in a well-regarded recruiting class this offseason, so there are several pretty good true freshmen who might see immediate time. The list begins, to no one's surprise, with linebacker Manti Te'o, who very well might start from Day 1.

"He's definitely in the picture," Weis said. "I expect to see him on the field in the opener. I don't think he'll be on the sidelines."

Running back Cierre Wood was one of the more highly-touted signees, and Weis said both he and classmate Theo Riddick have been impressive so far. He said one or both could play early.

"Both these guys have made it more difficult for the coaching staff to make personnel decisions because neither one has played themselves out of contention," he said. "Cierre is a bigger guy, more bruising guy who can run inside and out. Theo is one of those guys who's got a second and third gear.

"Cierre came in with the hype in the recruiting process, but he's got no leg up on Theo, because Theo has been quite impressive as well."

Weis said both guys could play on the kick return team. Whether they get carries depends on if they can climb past Armando Allen, Robert Hughes and Jonas Gray on the depth chart.

Depth is also the reason why receiver Shaquelle Evans will have to fight for time. He's physically impressive already, and Weis said he runs precise routes and has great hands. The only problem -- and it's a great problem for the Irish -- is that he's behind Golden Tate and Michael Floyd.

"So does he backup Golden, because they have similar speed," Weis said, "or do you put him opposite of Golden and now you've got speed on both sides right there?"

On defense, safety Zeke Motta should play on all four special teams and might work his way into the defensive backfield rotation, Weis said. The coaches like nose tackle Tyler Stockton a lot, but because of depth he might be "a luxury item" that the Irish can redshirt and develop, Weis said. The same goes for offensive linemen Chris Watt, Alex Bullard and Zach Martin, all of whom Weis said would probably be in the two-deep in past years.

Ben Turk (punting) and Nick Tausch (placekicking) are both battling for specialist jobs, and Weis plans to decide on those positions after Sunday's practice. If it's too close to call, like it is now, he said he'd likely go with a veteran option instead. Jordan Cowart will serve as the long-snapper.

Even receiver Roby Toma, who went to the same Hawaii high school as Te'o and was viewed as an enticement to get Te'o, has been impressive, Weis said.

"Everybody thought he was the Punahou [School] throw-in, but that's not the way it's working out," Weis said. "He's competitive and is one of our better blockers at 110 pounds or whatever he is. He's a pain in the butt."

What doesn't bother the Notre Dame staff is that it has a lot of skilled freshmen -- and no real pressing need to play them unless they want to do so.