While Michael Floyd is busy getting ready to hear his name called on the first night of the 2012 NFL Draft, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and his offensive coaches are likely still holed up in the Gug trying to figure out a way to replace the record breaking receiver in 2012. The answer they likely will come to? They aren’t going to be able to do it with the old “next man in” approach.
Michael Floyd checked in a 6’3″, 220 lbs and ran the 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine in February and finished his career as the Notre Dame all time leader in receptions, yards, and receiving touchdowns. Name someone on the current roster who fits that bill. You can’t. No one can, because Notre Dame just doesn’t have someone who fits Floyd’s physical measurements or matches his level of production on the current roster.
What Notre Dame does have, however, is a roster full of potential playmakers at wide receiver to help replace Floyd’s production.
In looking for a replacement for Floyd though, Kelly and his staff are likely starting at another positon entirely – tight end. The closest thing Notre Dame has to a player as dominant as Floyd right now is tight end Tyler Eifert. In his first season as a full time starter in 2011, Efiert responded with 63 catches for 803 yards – both stats good enough for single season records for a tight end at Notre Dame.
Eifert is a match up problem for opposing defenses because very few linebackers can keep up with him and very few safeties are physical enough to deal with him near the goal line. With Floyd gone, look for Eifert to become the number one target for the Irish in the redzone in 2012 no matter who ends up starting under center for the Irish. In fact, look for Eifert to just be featured more all over the field in 2012 allowing him to at least equal his production from 2011 and leave Notre Dame as the most productive tight end in school history.
Throughout the spring we’ve heard about just how much the Irish plan on using the tight end in the offense this year and it will most likely be more surprising to see Eifert lined up in a traditional tight end position than it will be to see him split wide by the end of the season – especially if one of Alex Welch, Ben Koyack, or Troy Niklas can develop as a threat in the passing game.
Replacing Floyd will not be as simple as just throwing the ball to Eifert more though. Opposing defenses are all too aware of Eifert’s capabilities and will scheme around him – especially early in the season until some of the younger wide receivers start to establish themselves. In order for Eifert’s skills to be used their fullest, a couple of talented, yet unproven receivers will need to emerge.
Luckily for Notre Dame, the roster is well stocked at the wide receiver position in terms of talent and potential. Turning that talent and potential into production, however, will be one of the coaching staff’s highest priorities this off-season.
John Goodman is back for a 5th year and the early returns this spring have all been very, very positive. We’ve been down this road before though, and for every Jonas Gray, there’s five or six Deion Walkers in terms of spring production. Still, what we’ve seen from Goodman is a receiver capable of getting downfield and using his body to shield off defenders and that’s a major improvement from what we’ve seen in the past.
Outside of Goodman though, it’s still unclear what Notre Dame has at wide receiver. TJ Jones has been in and out of the starting lineup for the last two seasons, but has yet to become a consistent threat in the passing game. He’s got speed and has shown the ability to make the occasional big play, but the Irish staff is still waiting for him to do that on a week in and week out basis.
Robby Toma is an interesting option for the staff. The pint sized slot receiver has been cross training with the running backs with the rest of the slot receivers this spring and has looked solid in the limited practice footage we’ve seen. He’s also done nothing but produce whenever he’s been given the opportunity in actual game situations.
Speaking of the slot position, could this be the year Theo Riddick finally puts it all together and turns the talent we’ve seen glimpses of into a breakout season as a senior ala Jonas Gray? Of all the players we’ve seen in practice footage, Riddick has, by far, looked the most impressive. To this point though, most of that footage is of him running the ball out of the backfield – not getting open downfield and making plays.
Another potential playmaker at the receiver is redshirt freshman/true sophomore DaVaris Daniels. If there is anyone on the Notre Dame roster that could physically fill the void left by Floyd, its the Chicago native. Daniels took some time to learn the offense last year, but is one of the most intriguing players on the Irish roster this spring. If he is able to pick up the offense and let his talent take over, Notre Dame will have one heck of a weapon at its disposal this year.
Throw into the mix Amir Carlisle who is sitting out spring practice with a broken ankle and incoming freshmen Davonte Neal and Kerivarae Russell and its clear that Notre Dame will not be short of options to replace the production they are losing to some lucky NFL team. What is also still abundantly clear, however, is that at this time Notre Dame is short on definitive answers.
Replacing Floyd will clearly start with getting the ball in hands of big old #80 much more this year, but in order to truly replace Floyd’s production, the Irish coaching staff is going to have to get creative and utilize all of the weapons they have at their disposal. No one player is going to replace Floyd, but if a few step up and start to live up to their potential, the Irish offense will be able to give opposing defenses enough to worry about that they won’t be able to simply key on Eifert for 60 minutes each week.
Of course, all of this becomes a moot point if Notre Dame can’t find a quarterback that separates himself from the pack by September, but that’s an entirely different story.