March 9, 2014 // Notre Dame Football

Breaking down Notre Dame’s Spring Offensive Position Battles

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Tarean Folston - Notre Dame vs. Stanford

Tarean Folston (above) is going to have to fight off Greg Bryant for the top spot on the Notre Dame depth chart this spring. (Photo: Tommy LaPorte/Icon SMI)

Notre Dame heads into a rare spring ball “bye week” with this year’s unique scheduling after just two practices.  As the Notre Dame coaching staff dives into the tape of the first two practices and prepares for the final 13, here is a look at all of the competition that will be raged on the offensive side of the ball for the remainder of spring practice.

Everett Golson Returns to Notre Dame

Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Everett Golson (5) throws a pass against the Southern California Trojans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback

All of the Notre Dame coaches and players will say that there is an open competition at quarterback between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire this spring, but in reality, it would be a bigger upset than Appalachian State over Michigan if anyone but Everett Golson were Notre Dame’s starting quarterback in 2014 baring any injuries.  Of course, the coaches will make Golson earn the starting job back and won’t simply hand it to him after his actions last spring that cost him his 2013 season (and cost the Irish a few wins along the way), but all that said, Golson is more than the odds on favorite be the starter come August 31.

Running Back

Competition at running back figures to be fierce throughout spring and fall camps and most likely even into the season.  Notre Dame has the chance to have a three headed monster at running back unlike any trio we’ve seen in years.  Tarean Folston showed he has the skills to be a big time running back as a freshman in 2013, Greg Bryant has returned healthy and looking strong, and Cam McDaniel has performed well whenever given the chance to run the ball over the last two years.

Take any depth chart at running back coming out of spring with a huge grain of salt as this position will likely be fluid throughout fall camp and even week to week during the season in much the same way Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood took turns being the top back during the 2011 season except this year Notre Dame will have a third option with McDaniel as well.

Watching Folston and Bryant specifically will be a lot of fun.  We all know that Cam McDaniel can produce when called upon, but Folston and Bryant both have the ability to be elite college running backs.  Whether either of them, or even perhaps both, become elite backs remains to be seen, but the talent is definitely there.

Amir Carlisle could be in the mix as well, but as Notre Dame opened spring ball, he was listed as a RB/WR.  Junior Will Mahone meanwhile has since transitioned to wide receiver as well.

Corey Robinson & Will Fuller - Notre Dame WRs

Corey Robinson (88) celebrates with wide receiver William Fuller (15) after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter against the Air Force Falcons at Falcon Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Wide Receiver

With TJ Jones headed to the NFL and Davaris Daniels sitting out this spring as an academic casualty for the spring semester, the competition at wide receiver this spring is going to be interesting.  We’ve already learned that James Onwaulu has moved to safety in hopes for more playing time leaving Notre Dame with only a handful of wide receivers with any experience until Daniels returns for the fall.

  • Chris Brown (Jr) – 17 rec, 265 yards, 1 TD
  • Corey Robinson (So) – 9 rec, 157 yards, 1 TD
  • Will Fuller (S0) – 6 rec, 160 yards, 1 TD
  • CJ Prosise (Jr) – 7 rec, 72 yards, 0 TD
  • Amir Carlisle (Sr) – 14 rec, 71 yards, 1 TD (his lone receiving touchdown came as a freshman in 2011 with USC).
  • Torii Hunter (So) – redshirted in 2013
  • Will Mahone (Jr) – no career receptions or rushing attempts
  • Justin Brent (Fr) – early enrollee freshman

So far this spring the starting trio for Notre Dame has been Corey Robinson and Chris Brown on the outside with CJ Prosise lining up in the slot.  The second unit meanwhile has featured Torii Hunter and Will Fuller on the outside with Amir Carlisle in the slot.  I think I can safely guarantee that the top six come time for the season opener against Rice will look nothing like that… at all.

There is so much talent at this position for Notre Dame this year that this might just be the most fun position to watch throughout the spring, fall, and into the season.  Chris Brown had the best game of his career in the Pinstripe Bowl against Rutgers.  Corey Robinson could be the redzone threat Notre Dame was sorely lacking in 2013.  Then there are the more unknown commodities.

Will Fuller and Torii Hunter Jr are the two wide receivers that right now intrigue me the most.  Fuller has looked absolutely fantastic in the sparse footage from the first two practices, but honestly, how much can really be gleaned from a few drills without pads on?  Fuller flashed the kind of deep speed Notre Dame hasn’t had as a frosh though and the limited footage has shown that speed on full display.  Notre Dame also has a quarterback with the kind of arm to take full advantage of that speed in 2014.   Hunter is intriguing since he was unable to play as a freshman after his gruesome leg injury during the Army All-American Bowl.

Throw into the mix Carlisle who has shown flashes of being able to make big plays but hasn’t settled into a position, Prosise who is still learning the position, and early enrollee Justin Brent who already looks like the most put together wide receiver on the team and this is a deep and talented wide receiving corps that needs to utilize every second of the 15 practices of this spring given the relative inexperience of the group.

Tight End

Had Tory Niklas returned for his senior year, there would be very little drama at this position.  Niklas would be the unquestioned starter with Ben Koyack being perhaps the best backup tight end in the country.  Instead, Koyack gets a chance to shine as the starter for Tight End U after resurrecting what looked like a career that was headed towards disappointment. Koyack hauled in three touchdowns on just 10 catches in 2013 (and had a 4th called back against Pitt) and looks like he can fill the role of receiving threat at tight end.  Can he match Niklas’s blocking though?  That will need to be answer over spring and fall camps.

The real competition at tight end, however, comes at the backup position where Notre Dame doesn’t have a single player with a career snap at tight end.  Sophomores Durham Smythe and Mike Heuerman both “redshirted” in 2013 but will be battling it out for the backup role before incoming freshmen Nic Weishar and Tyler Luatua report to campus in July.  Smythe is the more physically advanced and given the need for some blocking help, figures to have the edge over Heuerman who looks like he might need another year in the weight room before he is fully ready to be an impact player.

Dublin, Ireland. Notre Dame Fighting Irish center Matt Hegarty #77 prepares to snap the ball during the American Football game between Notre Dame and Navy from the Aviva Stadium. (Photo - Paul Walsh/Actionplus/Icon SMI)

Dublin, Ireland. Notre Dame Fighting Irish center Matt Hegarty #77 prepares to snap the ball during the American Football game between Notre Dame and Navy from the Aviva Stadium. (Photo – Paul Walsh/Actionplus/Icon SMI)

Offensive Line

Notre Dame lost the rock of the offensive line from the last four years with Zack Martin preparing to be a first round NFL Draft pick.  The Irish also lost his partner in crime, Chris Watt, leaving the entire left side of the offensive line to be replaced heading into 2014.  Notre Dame is not going to just replace the Martin-Watt combo.  It’s just not reasonable to expect to replace a guy who started the most games in the history of the program, let alone the combination of him and the guy to his right who started all but two games over the last three years.

All that said, Notre Dame has the depth and talent to put together a unit that is, on the whole just as strong as the one that kept the less than mobile Tommy Rees’s jersey clean for most of the 2013 season even with Nick Martin being held out of contact drills this spring

At left tackle, it will be very interesting to see how things shake out.  Ronnie Stanley started every game in 2013 at right tackle and could move over to the left side after gaining experience on the right side.  Steve Elmer cut his teeth as a true freshman at guard when Christian Lombard went down to injury.  Sophomore Mike McGlinchey didn’t play as a true frosh, but so far this spring has been seeing time with the first team offense and is a legitimate threat to start along the offensive line in 2014 in much the same way Zack Martin did as a sophomore in 2010.  All three are viable candidates to step in for Martin.

Like wide receiver, the units that we see in spring figure to be much different than the ones Notre Dame heads into the season with once Nick Martin is a full participant again.   In the meantime, it will be fun to watch what competition looks like along a fully stocked offensive for a change.  Too many times in the past the offensive line depth was determined more out of necessity due to a lack of numbers for Notre Dame.  That certainly is not the case anymore.

Matt Hegarty will man the center position in the spring, but depending on how he does he could slide over to left guard when Martin returns which cold prompt a move back to tackle for Elmer who looked like the heir apparent to Martin from the early stages of fall camp 2013.  If that happens, what happens to McGlinchey who has all of the looks of the prototypical left tackle?  If Hegarty were to start at left guard, what then happens with Conor Hanratty?  Hanratty got a couple starts under his belt in 2013 as well at both left and right guard and looked pretty good in the process.

Lots and lots of questions along the offensive line and almost all of them result in an answer that involves a lot of depth and experience across the two deep for the Fighting Irish.  That should be music to the ears of Notre Dame fans.

If Notre Dame can come out of spring with a good idea of who will start at left tackle the rest of the offensive line will fall into place pretty easily.   At quarterback, I expect Kelly to name Golson his official starter by the end of spring so that Golson can use the summer to assume leadership of the offense.  Other than that, I expect the running back, tight end, and wide receiver competitions to continue on through the fall.

Comments to this Article

  • duranko commented on March 9th, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    what’s most exciting here is that true depth has arrived on offense, except at quarterback. (of course, if Golson plays his fifth year, that will be remedied, as next Spring’s QB depth chart would list Golson, Zaire, Kizer and early arrival Blake Barnett)

    But the offensive line is a clear demonstration of where the roster has been brought. It is possible that neither Matt Hegarty nor Conor Hanratty will start, yet, if both started they would have more ability than the starting right guard on the 2012 12-0 team.

    Similarly at wide receiver. Sure only Christ Brown begins the Spring with more than 10 career catches, but Fuller and Brown are jets, Prosise and Hunter are fast enough, and then there are Robinson, Brent, Carlisle and Mahone. And Daniels is making noises like he will return, refocused. It is a long way from relying on Daniel Smith and Robby Toma.

    I expect a lot, a LOT of players to get meaningful snaps at RB, WR, and TE. We have a lot of offensive ordnance.
    Golson, however, must stay healthy.

    [Reply]

    HURLS replied on March 10th, 2014 at 11:09 am

    “ordnance”? YES! Of course I was curious as to whether-or-not it was a typo, or something. BUT NO! (sudden flashback to comedian Steve Martin late ’70′s) Ordnance is ie. ass-kicking ability. “Next-man-in” has taken patience. it appears our patience is being rewarded. GO RISH!

    [Reply]

    HURLS replied on March 10th, 2014 at 11:12 am

    hasty-posting. “BUT it appeasers…” and “GO IRISH!”

    [Reply]

  • Michael the Archangel commented on March 9th, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    With EG’s return, and Malik, the OL, the WRs, TEs, and the RBs continuing to develop,
    as they most certainly should,
    such depth puts expectations for a much more productive O’,
    one we’ve been waiting for
    since we first heard Kelly was hired.

    Can you imagine even having a past discussion how returning reliable late-season starters
    (like Hanratty and Hegarty)
    are only possible starters, and such highly rated soph OL as Montelus, McGlinchey, and Bivin
    would be seen more as depth than first-line starters ?
    And that’s not even including some very promising Frosh OL on their way.
    You win in the trenches at every level.
    Scoring 31
    and still not being done
    will be much more fun.

    [Reply]

  • David Deeb commented on March 9th, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    My concerns revolve around the following coaching issues; getting plays to the QB with at least 15 seconds remaining on the play clock; kickoff and punt coverage; DB and safety allignment and defensive line penetration; forced turnover improVement. The offense will be fine. The success of the team rests on wether the defense can return to the top twenty. Michigan State proved the value of great defense. That was the key to their success. Kelly should take notice.

    [Reply]

    Brad Sinclair replied on March 10th, 2014 at 9:20 am

    I’m with Deeb. The offense is loaded with horsepower and Kelly should finally have a squad that will run his kind of game. The 2012 trip to the BCS was on the shoulders of the defense and nothing has changed this year. Defense wins championships.

    go irish

    [Reply]

  • Joseph Parot commented on March 10th, 2014 at 12:14 am

    If only Nix, Tuitt and Niklas had returned for their senior year—just how far could the 2014 team have gone? (I am a first time contributor, but have been a Notre Dame fan ever since Terry Brennan’s kickoff return for TD against Army in 1947).

    [Reply]

  • Storespook commented on March 13th, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    Progression of depth certainly is better than it was back in 2010 when Kelly arrived. It would now appear that a majority of pieces are available for an offense Kelly was renowned to run and part of the reason for his hiring here at ND, can be implemented here at ND. High expectations should be the norm as fans of ND football. I am excited for spring practice. I am excited for fall to get here.

    Go Irish

    [Reply]

  • bj commented on March 14th, 2014 at 7:14 am

    “Terry Brennan’s kickoff return for TD against Army in 1947.” we wont ever be nat champs without a rocket, tim brown or tom schoen-where is the special teams focus kelly?

    [Reply]

    Shazamrock replied on March 14th, 2014 at 7:39 am

    Kelly Wants Notre Dame Special Teams to Be Special
    (March 1, 2014)

    “While he wouldn’t divulge where he took his staff for special teams clinics this winter, he did note it was several NFL and college programs.”

    “We took our film, with our hat in our hand, and said, ‘What are we doing here? What are we missing?’ Kelly said. “And primarily … it wasn’t scheme as much as it was some coaching points and moving some personnel around, some speed players versus some power players. I think we’ve got a better feel for the positioning of the players in the right positions.

    “So we’re going to make some adjustments to some of the looks that we have in our punt return. We think we’ve answered some questions in our coverage teams.”

    “It’s unacceptable to be where we are,” Kelly acknowledged of the overall special teams. “We went out with that sense of being very open to all things as it relates to special teams, because we’ve got to get better there. And I think we picked up some things that I think can really help us.”

    Booker holds the title of special teams coordinator, but the entire staff will continue to have a hand in individual operations, from field goal/PAT teams, to punt returns, kick returns, punt coverage, kick coverage …

    “You’ve got to have one voice, but it’s going to have hands in it from all the coaches including myself, so everybody will be involved,” Kelly said. “I was involved in the offseason in terms of reaching out to coaches and talking to coaches. That’s the best way to do it from my perspective.”

    bj…I hope this answers your question…you know, so you don’t keep asking it over and over for the next 6 months.

    [Reply]

    Ron Burgundy replied on March 14th, 2014 at 8:07 am

    Let’s not forget that you can’t be national champs if you can’t grow grass.

    [Reply]

  • bj commented on March 14th, 2014 at 9:06 am

    i still think we would all prefer grass, but they have to focus on making it happen, nd taught us all that you can win on any given day no matter what the odds, ask kareem abdul jabar or bill walton

    [Reply]

    Ron Burgundy replied on March 14th, 2014 at 9:43 am

    I did but they said they prefer playing on hardwood vs grass.

    [Reply]

  • Rich commented on March 19th, 2014 at 11:44 am

    It does appear that the Irish have the talent needed to make for a good, maybe great team. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work out as planned, but the possibility does exist. To me Golson is the key and the defensive & offensive lines must produce. Potentially they have the man power….let’s hope it translates into wins! Go ND!

    [Reply]

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