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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.