The last Irish Blogger Gathering of the 2013 regular season takes a look back at whether or not the 2013 season was a disappointment, expectations for next year, and what players stood out in 2013 and more. As we’ve done the last few weeks, each Notre Dame blogger submitted one question for the rest to answer.
My question - What position where Notre Dame will be replacing starters in 2014 concerns you the most heading into the off-season. Additionally, what position where Notre Dame returns starters in 2014 needs to see the most improvement for the Irish to get into the playoff conversation next year?
- NDNation - http://ndnation.com/archives/4416
- Inside the Irish - http://irish.nbcsports.com/2013/12/05/ibg-taking-stock/
- Her Loyal Sons - http://www.herloyalsons.com/blog/2013/12/04/irish-blogger-gathering-looking-ahead-looking-back/
- Strong & True – not yet published
Keith from Inside the Irish – With the Irish not playing in a top-tier bowl, how do you treat the practice and run-up to the game? Is it best served getting young players practice and game reps? Is winning the game most important? If you’re Brian Kelly, what are your priorities?
By virtue of all of the injuries that Notre Dame has suffered this year in a ton of young players are already going to get a lot of reps along with several young players who have earned their reps without injuries – Steve Elmer, Isaac Rochell, Jarron Jones, Cole Luke, Devin Butler, Corey Robinson, Will Fuller, Jaylon Smith, Romeo Okwara, Tarean Folston, Elijah Shumate, and Max Redfield should already receive a lot of reps in preparation for the bowl game.
That said, winning is extremely important for Notre Dame. After the Irish won the 2010 Sun Bowl, they cleaned up leading up to Signing Day on the recruiting trail. A year later the Irish lost to Florida State in the Champs Bowl and the class fell apart with defections from Ronald Darby and Deontay Greenberry. 9-4 with a bowl victory looks much better to recruits than 8-5 with a bowl loss. If I am Brian Kelly, I am pulling out all of the stops and making sure the Irish finish this season on a winning note to build momentum heading into the 2014 season.
Mike from NDNation – As Brian Kelly searches for a new offensive coordinator, what direction do you hope he’ll go? Should he promote from within, or should he look outside? Either way, what name is on top of your list?
As I wrote yesterday, I think Kelly should look to promote from within for the open offensive coordinator position and think either Mike Denbrock or Tony Alford would make fine offensive coordinators for the Irish. Promoting from within will maintain stability and continuity heading into 2014. I really don’t think the Notre Dame offense was that far away from being really good next year and with all of the talent coming back at the skill positions in addition to the imminent return of Everett Golson, having stability would make it easier for the Irish offense to play at an elite level.
If I had to choose between Denbrock or Alford, I really don’t know which I would pick. With Denbrock you get a bit more experience since he has been an offensive coordinator for Kelly before. With Alford, you have an up and coming coach who the players love and play hard for. The one thing I would be wary of with tabbing Alford as the offensive coordinator is that you’d need to find a new recruiting coordinator and Alford has the Notre Dame recruiting machine humming pretty well.
Aaron from Strong & True – Now that the 12-game regular season is done, give me the player who surprised you the most this season and the player you are most excited about for next season.
Nick Martin surprised me a lot in 2013 not because I didn’t think he would be good, but I didn’t think that he would be able to step in and fill the shoes of Braxston Cave as seamlessly as he did. Cave was a four year starter for the Irish and Martin stepped right in without a whole lot of experience and didn’t miss a beat. His development this year is a big reason why I feel pretty good about the offensive line next year even though his big brother will be collecting a NFL paycheck next year along with his good friend and linemate Chris Watt.
I am really excited to see Torii Hunter Jr next year. Before his injury during the All-American bowl practices last January, I thought he had a chance to be an impact freshman. He’s got a great skillset for the slot and I think he is going to be a heck of a lot of fun to watch next fall.
Jonathan from Her Loyal Sons – Does this 8-4 feel any different to you than Brian Kelly’s previous 8-4′s under the Dome? What I mean by this question is this: did this team under-, or over-, perform in your eyes, or did you get what you expected from the 2013 Fighting Irish? Does the loss of Coach Martin change your outlook on 2014? Does the “gain” of Golson?
I actually think this year feels pretty much exactly like the 2011 season did albeit with a couple better individual wins but both were teams that had the talent to be much better than they were but just couldn’t get out of their own way. I wrote on Sunday that the Stanford game was the same story for Notre Dame in 2013 – fall behind early, battle back, and then turn the ball over at the worst time. Notre Dame was within one possession of the lead in the 4th quarter of all four losses and yet they lost all four of them. Bottom line, this team had the talent to be much better than it performed on the whole.
Losing Chuck Martin doesn’t change my outlook for 2014 at all. Notre Dame replaced an offensive coordinator following the 2011 season and ended up playing for the national championship the next year. The return of Golson doesn’t really impact my expectations wither since I had figured he would return all along so my 2014 outlook always included Golson. That said, I think his return could allow for the Notre Dame offense to take the next step we’ve been waiting for because his running ability and arm strength will force opposing defenses to respect both his running and the Notre Dame aerial attack more so than they did in 2013 which should in theory open up the running game like we saw in 2012.