Notre Dame’s offense didn’t gain the national attention its defense did during last season’s 12-1 campaign but was instrumental in returning the Irish to relevance in the national championship picture. Several key members of the Irish offense will not be back for the 2013 season leaving leadership and production holes that must be filled for success to be achieved.
Notre Dame needs a wide receiver to step int a leadership role
The major hole the Irish must fill is the one left by Tyler Eifert. Eifert was the go to guy for the Irish last season sharing the team lead in receptions and receiving touchdowns and holding the outright lead in receiving yards. Eifert led by example as his teammates could count on him to make a play in key situations, this season the Irish will look to T.J. Jones to do the same. Jones is the definition of a dependable receiver who along with Eifert led the receiving corps last season. As a senior Jones will be looked upon to lead a young group of receivers this season and provide a stabilizing force for an offense in transition.
Is George Atkinson ready to pick take the torch from Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood?
The Irish also lost running back tandem Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood to the NFL. Both Wood and Riddick were seniors and mentored a group of young and talented backs for multiple seasons. The primary pupil of Riddick and Wood was George Atkinson III, and now is the time for him to make the transition to leader of the Irish backfield. Atkinson III comes from a football family, with his dad a former NFL star and his brother Josh also a member of the Irish team. Atkinson is the only member of the stable of Irish running backs who has seen significant playing time with Cam McDaniel primarily playing on special teams and with games out of reach and Amir Carlisle suffering through injuries in his time at Notre Dame.
Atkinson has blazing speed but will need to embrace a downhill running style to establish an identity for the Irish offense with the passing game being severely hurt by the loss of Everett Golson for the upcoming season. If Atkinson III steps up and leads the Irish running backs the group could become one of the most deep and effective on the entire roster.
Tommy Rees will be asked to lead the Irish offense once again
The aforementioned loss of Everett Golson changes expectations for the Irish offense this season. With Golson returning the Irish were expected to make another run at the national championship and score a lot of points with an up tempo attack. However, now that Golson is gone it is time once again for Tommy Rees to become the face of the Irish offense.
Rees has drawn the ire of Irish fans for his frequent turnovers and mistakes, yet has managed to quarterback the team to victories over USC, Michigan, Michigan State and Miami among others during his career. By no means does Rees possess the natural ability of Golson but he is a very smart player with the respect of his teammates and he will have to once again lead the Irish this season and deal with immense pressure from a fan base with high expectations.
One area in which the Irish will be returning their primary leader will be on the offensive line with the return of Zack Martin. Martin elected to return for a fifth year at Notre Dame despite surely being selected in the NFL draft had he have chosen to leave South Bend. Martin was a team captain last season and will be again this year and with 39 starts for the Irish Martin will continue to lead the offensive line from the instrumental left tackle position.