Obviously, a prediction, not a guarantee. Change happens!! And, both healthy and after injuries, depth is more important in this era of football than ever before.
QB Everett Golson – Strong, accurate arm who is equally comfortable in the pocket or departing from it. Had a 12/6 TD/Int ratio as a redshirt frosh, a ratio which typically improves SIGNIFICANTLY for upper class quarterbacks. Has worked to develop his physique from that of a spindly point guard to a 210 pound football player who can take a hit. A tactical rather than strategic runner, he has maddening (to THEM, not US) escapability. With a full complement of WRS and RBS to work with, should have an explosive, productive year. When he first took the starting job, he was limited in his grasp of the playbook. Early on, Kelly would only let Golson audible from a called run to another run, then from a called pass to another pass. Golson had more flexibility by year end of 2012. Last Spring, Kelly was clear that Golson had seen the light and fully grasped the playbook. Kelly remarked that he was so eager that Everett almost wanted to do too much. In 2013 the passing game to the running backs was weak, particularly early. Golson should be able to change that in 2014.
T Ronnie Stanley – at 6’6″ 318 lbs is the “new normal” for ND offensive linemen. A former starter on Bishop Gorman’s State Basketball champs, he shows that nimbleness on the field. Long arms and quick feet make pass protection easy for Stanley. Can block in space. Has the necessary mean streak. Yet, he’s a happy warrior, could be a captain in the future.
RB Tarean Folston – A strong, quick runner whose vision and wiggle allow him to navigate for extra yardage in traffic inside. Not just an outside threat, he can make defenses accountable if they strengthen the flanks and weaken the middle. Blocked better than most frosh rbs and his receiving yardage should skyrocket in 2014.
T? or G? Steve Elmer – More than adequate as a true frosh, held his own against USC’s Leonard Williams and almost held his own against Aaron Donald of Pitt. He may not see better DL until we play Florida State. Tremendous, even for an OL, lower body strength, long arms, capable of moving to tackle in 2014. But he may play guard again in 2014 (see McGlinchey, below).
WR Davaris Daniels - If he maximized his potential, might be at the top of the list. Tall, fast with good, but not Robinsonian hands, and, even with 49 carries for 745 yards and 7 touchdown receptions in 2013, it seemed that he underachieved. Will he replace T.J. Jones as the go-to guy? If not there are plenty of eager volunteers to so do. While ineligible for the Spring, he is the presumptive starter and go to guy for Fall.
C Nick Martin – First rate DNA, and was a marked improvement over Cave in 2013. Will sit out Spring recovering, but should be ready for Fall. Had a few false starts, rare for a center, but that will be fixed in Spring. Could have a lof of fun blocking for the nimble Golson. At 6’4 1/2′, 295 pounds, could be the runt of the Offensive Line litter if McGlinchey starts. Some runt. Some litter!
WR Will Fuller - Swift and sure handed. Surprise contributor as a frosh. A winter of Longo and a Spring practice will cement his position. Will occasionally carry the ball. More mature and consistent than T. J. Jones was as a frosh receiver. A PLAYMAKER!
G Christian Lombard - Third year starter in 2014, he successfully moved from tackle to guard in 2013, a key part (playing between two first time starters) of the crew who, somehow, left Rees virtually unsacked in 2013. Not an NFL prospect, but a solid career for the Irish.
TE Ben Koyack – Highly rated prospect wandered in the bushes for two years before finding himself as a junior. Even playing behind Niklas, Ben caught 10 passes for 171 yards, with 3 touchdown passes caught. He showed a nice nose for the goal line. Came in with reputation as a pass catcher, but now carries 261 lbs on his 6’5″ frame. A harbinger of things to come for the Fighting Irish. Even when an All-America candidate like Niklas leaves, Monty Hall reveals what’s behind Door #2- a solid, seasoned, accomplished player like Ben Koyack.
WR Chris Brown – Adjustment from track star to football player nearly complete. Had a mid-season sophomore slump, but rallied in the bowl practice for a productive and significant performance in the Pinstripe bowl. Was a one-trick (Fly Pattern, mostly post) pony as a frosh, he has a more diverse repertoire. Could be the primary beneficiary of Golson’s scrambles. If the man covering him makes a false step toward Golson, Chris may be gone!.
T Mike Mcglinchey – OK, we’re out on a limb here, but it’s a mildly educated guess. He may well be this year’s Ronnie Stanley: too big, too athletic (Kelly has contended that McGlinchey is nimble enough to play tight end.) and too mean to keep out of the lineup. Remember last Winter and Spring, the conventional wisdom was that Lombard would stay at RT and Hanratty start at RG. Hiestand kept up the smokescrren, asking, with feigned surprise “Why would you move a successful tackle?” McGlinchey got good reviews all Fall and Kelly noted his progress and athleticism in the bowl prep. He measured at 6’7 1/2″, 290 lbs as an incoming frosh. Should be 320 by Fall. If he starts it could be the tipping point for the new era of ND Olinemen. McGlinchey, Elmer and Stanley are tall, thick, quick-footed, and play with a certain darkness in their hearts.
DISCLAIMER-OBVIOUSLY, starters are not everything, and the second string is important. And then some. Clearly our depth is far better than in recent years.