As we continue trucking on to the end of spring practice for 2012, here’s a quick look at some upper classmen who Notre Dame need to finish this spring off strong in order to avoid having to rely on some inexperienced players at key positions come the fall.
With Robert Blanton and Gary Gray out of eligibility and chasing down their NFL dreams this spring, Notre Dame is short on experience at corner this spring. In fact, Notre Dame lacks experience at the position so much that the best player at the position is a converted wide receiver who only has a year of playing corner under his belt coming into the spring – junior Bennett Jackson.
Jackson came to Notre Dame as an exciting wide receiver prospect but moved over to defense last spring after being a special teams stalwart as a freshman in 2009. Entering the season without much experience in the secondary, Jackson climbed his way up to the depth chart until he was seeing regular action by season’s end.
In 2012 Jackson will actually be the elder statesmen of the corners and will be leaned on heavily by the Irish coaching staff as the team’s top corner. By all accounts he has responded with a really strong spring performance, but if he is not able to translate that into a solid season, at a minimum, the Notre Dame defense is going to be in some trouble no matter how talented the front seven turns out to be. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Jackson is one of the most pivotal players on the entire roster for 2012 season.
Sticking at corner, the only other corner on the roster with solid playing experience is fellow junior Lo Wood. Wood enrolled early in 2010 and has seen the field off and on over the past two seasons, but hasn’t shown the consistency needed up to this point. So far this spring it doesn’t appear as though Wood has locked down the starting position opposite Jackson which will open up the door for sophomores Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown. The problem there is neither of them has done enough to distance themselves either.
Wood has the experience factor working in his favor which would make it ideal if he were able to secure a starting position as it’s never a good thing to have a starting corner with little to no game experience. When Notre Dame lost Ronald Darby late in recruiting and then Tee Shepard after signing day, Wood became an even more pivotal player Notre Dame this season. At a minimum, Notre Dame needs him to man the nickel position to avoid a situation where there is little to no experience in the secondary.
John Goodman was already discussed in last week’s post about the most intriguing players on the Notre Dame roster, but warrents mentioning here as well because the 5th year senior might be in need of a big spring more so than any other upper classman on the Notre Dame roster.
After four years of flashing potential but struggling with consistency, Goodman enters his final collegiate season with a lot left to prove. Ever since Dayne Crist hit Goodman on that xx yard bomb against Washington State and everyone saw Goodman excellerating away from the defender after the catch, a lot was expected of him. And, it didn’t take long for the obvious Jeff Samardzija comparisons to be made.
Three years later, those comparisons seem a bit silly considering Goodman has hauled in just 28 passes for 315 yards over the course of his entire career and that touchdown in 2008 still represents the only receiving touchdown of the Indiana native’s career.
The return on Goodman this spring, however, suggest that there is a different #81 on the practice field. Goodman has been seen making play after play in the limited practice video released by Notre Dame and has been publicly lauded by head coach Brian Kelly multiple times over the last three weeks.
Has the light finally turned on for Goodman? Or is he just another in a long line of breakout spring practice performers that fail to make the same impact on the field the following fall? Only time will tell.
TJ Jones burst onto the scene as an early enrollee in the spring of 2010 and then exploded during the first two games of his college career with touchdowns in both performances. Since then, however, Jones has played in 21 games and scored just 4 more touchdowns in that span. After bouncing in and out of the starting lineup for two seasons, he has also yet to produce a 100 yard receiving effort.
Like Goodman, Jones is going to be looked at to help fill the void left from the graduation of Michael Floyd as the most experienced returning wide receiver. In 2011, Jones stats show some improvement with 15 more receptions during his sophomore campaign compared to his freshmen, but when you consider he missed three games as a frosh, you could say he really didn’t improve all that much from year to year.
Part of the reason for Jones’ lack of development year over year comes from Notre Dame’s inability to develop a downfield passing game due in large part to the issues Notre Dame has faced under center. Jones has shown the ability to get open downfield. Unfortunately for Jones and the Irish offense, Notre Dame has shown the ability to put someone under center who can consistency deliver the ball downfield.
If whoever emerges at quarterback can indeed work the ball downfield, Jones could be a very potent weapon in this offense.
The left side of the Notre Dame offensive line is pretty much set in stone and set up to be a potentially dominant force. Zach Martin, Chris Watt, and Braxston Cave should have that left side of the line locked down all season. The right side, however, is still a question mark in 2012 with Notre Dame replacing Taylor Dever at tackle and Trevor Robinson at guard.
Lombard was a highly touted recruit who has yet to see the field consistently yet, but part of that had to do with playing behind a steady veteran like Robinson and guard and Dever at tackle. With both gone, Lombard has a gold opportunity, along with classmate Tate Nichols, to look down start positions along the line and help solidify what could be one of the better Notre Dame offensive lines in the last few years.
Right now it looks like Lombard will take over for Robinson with Nichols filling in for Dever. If either is unable to secure those positions, Notre Dame will likely have to use an underclassman who may or may not be fully ready to be an every down player making both of them very important for this season.
Theo Riddick is starting to remind me a little of David Givens when he was at Notre Dame. Is Riddick a running back or a wide receiver? No one seems to know and Brian Kelly has one more season to figure it out before he ends up wasting the talent of a potentially dynamic player much the same way Bob Davie did with Givens back in the late 90′s.
Riddick has shown flashes of being a playmaker over the last three seasons, but as a wide receiver he has struggled with consistency and as a running back he just hasn’t seen the ball enough to really know what he is capable of doing at the position. With the slot wide receivers and running backs forming more of a hybrid position this year, Riddick could be ready to shine.
Like Jones and Goodman, Riddick having a big season will be key in replacing the production lost with Michael Floyd heading to the NFL. If Notre Dame can figure out a way to maximize Riddick’s talent, it will give Kelly and Chuck Martin another weapon to use to get the offense going. As I wrote earlier this spring, Notre Dame isn’t going to replace Michael Floyd with just one player, they are going to need to get production out of multiple players to do so and Riddick is one of those players.