Since that kick return in 2000 by Julius Jones, Notre Dame has returned just two kickoff’s for touchdowns – both by Vontez Duff (96 yards vs. Purdue in 2001 & 92 yards vs. Navy in 2002). And if knowing that Notre Dame has returned just 2 kickoffs for touchdowns in the last six seasons doesn’t depress you enough, its been 174 consecutive kickoffs without the Irish taking one all the way (8 in 2002, 46 in 2003, 41 in 2004, 34 in 2005, and 45 in 2006).
The last two seasons especially its been a rare treat for the Irish to return to close to mid field. There are some young players on the team who may have the ability to become good return men – Armando Allen, Munir Prince, and Golden Tate from these last two classes immediately come to mind. With David Grimes stepping into a full time receiver role, he will likely not see any time on kickoffs this year. George West was solid and showed some promise on returns in 2006, but didn’t really show that extra gear very often.
The problem, however, is not just the return men. Blocking on kickoffs has been anything but solid. All one has to do is look at that 2000 Nebraska game to see how a team can overcome a gap in talent against elite teams. Special teams can change a game around, and until Notre Dame has a defense that can go shot for shot with high powered offenses, an emphasis should be placed on fixing the special teams.
Brian Polian hasn’t done much with the special teams since he was placed in charge of them two years ago. It’s time for him to crack or get off the pot. New defensive coordinator Corwin Brown has special teams experience from his days at UVA, but it’s not really fair to ask one coach to fix the special teams AND the defense… is it?
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