Irish Need More Time at Wide Receiver

Heading into the spring everyone knew that there would be a lot of competition at wide receiver with the loss of Golden Tate to the NFL and the introduction of the spread offense in South Bend. So far that competition appears to be wide open and right now there is still a lot of work to be done at the position.

Shaquelle Evans - Notre Dame WR
Shaquelle Evans and the rest of the young Irish wide receivers still have a lot of work to do in Brian Kelly's new spread offense. (Photo - IconSMI)

“One of the areas that we’re most concerned with is finding that rotation,” Brian Kelly said at the end of last week. With just a week remaining in spring practice, Kelly and wide receiver coach Tony Alford are still waiting for a few receivers to separate themselves from the pack to start alongside Michael Floyd.

There are plenty of options for Kelly and Alford to choose from, and all have had their moments this spring, but right now Kelly just isn’t comfortable enough with the rotation.

“TJ (Tailer Jones), is a freshman (and has) been playing a lot at the X, but he’s a young guy. We lost him at about period 13 on Wednesday. He was gassed,” Kelly said of the mid-year enrollee who started the spring on somewhat of a level ground with the upperclassmen since they were all learning a new offense.

“Theo (Riddick) and him are going to be out at the X,” Kelly added in reference to converted running back Theo Riddick. “Shaq has been making some improvement, Deion (Walker) and those guys are coming on,” he continued. He cautioned, “We just need time at that position. That’s one area is a work in progress.”

This shouldn’t come as a major surprise considering the two vastly different offensive systems in terms of the use of wide receivers. Over the last few years, Weis has stuck mainly with a small group of receivers each season and rarely used more than three wide receivers at a time. Most of the time the Irish went to a four wide receiver look, the 4th receiver would be a tight end or running back split out wide.

In the spread offense that Kelly has brought with him to Notre Dame, there will routinely be four and five wide receiver on the field at a time meaning he will need to find quite a few more capable receivers ready to play extensive minutes by the fall.

The one sure thing at receiver at this point is star wideout Michael Floyd. Despite battling injuries in both his freshman and sophomore years, the Minnesota native has put up numbers that rival any other Notre Dame wide receiver’s production in their first two seasons. In fact, had Floyd not missed six and a half games with a broken collarbone in 2009, he very well could have been the one to break most of the Notre Dame single season receiving records instead of Golden Tate.

As is, Floyd still caught 44 passes for 795 yards and 9 touchdowns during his sophomore campaign. The only two games he played in which he didn’t go over 100 yards were Michigan State and Stanford and he only played half of the MSU game before breaking his collarbone. At the rate he was going, he would have had over 80 catches and 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Despite the impressive start to his career, Kelly noted last week that even Floyd has room for improvement. “Michael (Floyd) we know is a good solid player for us, but he’s got a lot of things he can get better at too,” said Kelly.

Even with the areas where he can improve, there’s little chance that Floyd will be anything except the #1 wide receiver for this offense come the fall.

Floyd can only play one of the wide receiver positions though and outside of him, the entire wide receiving corps has a combined 98 catches; 1,025 yards; and 7 touchdowns in their careers. Most of that production comes from senior Duval Kamara (75 catches, 781 yards, 6 TDs) whose career hasn’t lived up to the expectations set when he set then Notre Dame freshman receiving records.

Take out Kamara’s production and the other six Irish scholarship wideouts on the roster this spring – John Goodman, Deion Walker, Shaquelle Evans, Robby Toma, Theo Riddick, and Tailer Jones – combine for a mere 23 career receptions for 244 and a single touchdown.

With that little bit of experience and an entirely new offensive system, it’s no wonder Kelly isn’t ready to settle on a wide receiver rotation at this point. “I can’t tell you that it’s a position where I’m ever going to sleep easy right now. We’ve got a lot of work to do at that position,” he said last week.

Look for the competition at wide receiver to continue through fall camp with the incoming freshman getting in the mix as well. Bennett Jackson, Daniel Smith, and Austin Collinsworth won’t be as far behind the rest of the receivers as they would be if there was an established offense carried over from last season.

Tailer Jones is one player to really watch here though. Jones has received some playing time with the first team over the past couple of weeks and has displayed very good quickness on practice videos up to this point. It’s possible that Kelly could be inserting the true freshman into the first team to light a fire under some of the older receivers, but it’s also possible that Jones is just that good and could work his way onto the field early in 2010.

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  1. You are right about Obama, John. But I think you are putting too much emphasis on the ESPN 150 recruits. Weis had plenty of them and the team was lousy. Lou Holtz didn’t need many ESPN 150 players, just the working class dogs and look what Lou did. Brian Kelly is of the same mettle as Lou. He is a tough son of a gun from Bean Town who will toughen up and develop his players and they will play as ONE. Kelly went 12-0 with Cincifrigginati. Say that 3 times and think about what you are saying. Unbelievable. And Cincy beat Pitt last year – ND wasn’t tough enough to beat Wannstedt. And the edge that ND will have next year is that they will not whither in the 4th quarter as they have the past 20 years. Kelly and Longo will make them FRIGGIN TOUGH!!! God, you will love these guys next year. Count on it.

  2. From a recruting stand point BK isnt doing a bad job. To say he is turning ND into big east team is kinda jumping the gun. He’s still pulling talent from all over the county, something big east teams dont do. He signed Prestwood (sp?) from Florida, and has many kids from all the hot spots in the country with ND on the top of this lists. Plus, he kept a recruiting class together that had kids from all over the country, including Texas, Florida, NC, etc. Thats definitely something a big east program cannot do, all those schools remain on the east coast for their recruiting. Plus, as BK has already stated hes bringing the “fight back into the fighting irish”. He’s building his program based on hard work, and what you earn on the practice field, not your rating and how many stars you were coming out of high school. which is the exact same thing Lou Holtz did, and that went pretty well for everyone.

  3. Folks,

    Can we give BK a chance before prophesying doom and gloom?! I agree that it’s frustrating seeing Ohio St., LSU, Alabama, UF, etc. picking up one “top 150” talent after another, while ND is “settling” for much less highly rated (for now, at least) players. Three things to recall though: 1) we’ll get our share of “top 150” talent, too; it’s still early;2) some of our guys will become “top 150 recruits”; and 3) like some have pointed out, even if they don’t crack recruiting services lists, they will be coached up by BK and his staff and outperform some of the more highly rated recruits.

    I know this is a free country and a free board, but I’m I alone in seeing the danger of engaging in political debates on this board? NOTE: I’M NOT PLAYING AT BOARD CHAPERON. I’m just saying, aren’t there others sites to debate politics or religion?

  4. I’d be curious to see who the eventual winners are. A five-receiver set with Rudolph, Floyd, Kamara, Theo, and TJ? I hope Shaq and Goodman are integrated into that group as well.

  5. This entire conversion to Brian Kelly is a nightmare. Have you seen the recruits he is bringing in ? This guy is going to turn ND into a Big East Team, not a top 10 contender. I think Brian Kelly is disastrous to ND as Obama is to our county.

    1. Didn’t you see the recruits that Charlie Weis brought in?
      He had 4 strieght top 15 recruiting classes, and a couple of those were top 5!
      And what did we get for it?
      A lousy 6-6 season.
      The only thing that is a nightmare is your ignorant point of view, but you are certainly entitled to it.
      Then agian, since this is a sports blog, no one here really cares to hear your political comparisions.

    2. What is it that you don’t care for in regards to BK John? It appears to me that he’s doing a fine job turning the state of the program around. High energy, hard working, ethical, provides stellar leadership to his athletes…

      We have gone through three coaches in the 15 years…. And looking back some of the had good qualities and plenty of bad.

      However it’s hard for me to jump on board yet that Kelly is going to be “disastrous to ND”. No one but the staff and some media has seen his team suit up yet. (I’ll be seeing this Sat. for the spring game) And that was just for spring practice!

      May be we should hold off pinning him to the stake just yet…

    3. John, If you think this is a nightmare, you must have missed the past three years. I believe, and many other do to, that BK is doing a great job and that this team is going to be special. I wish I were young enough to have the chance to be part of it. I will be as a fan.

      Regarding your comment about Obama, that was down right stupid. Once again, you must have missed the 8 years prior to Obama taking office. Obama didn’t create the mess, Bush did, with some help from Clinton (first part of bank deregulation). Either you are totally ignorant to what he is trying to do and not just a nitpicker, or you like 6 and 6 seasons and full blown depressions.

      Get a life, John.

      Go Irish.

  6. I really like the receivers we have. i just hope Kelly utilizes Rudolf and his talents. If the Irish go 4-5 wide the whole time, does he put Rudolf in as one of the 4-5 wide outs?

    1. The TE was a position I noticed when I watched the bear cats play. and for big yardage. so I would assume yes.

  7. DeltaIrish –

    Indeed – a real nice problem to have. It sounds as if the defense is ahead of the curve verses the offense. Definitely want to enjoy summer but looking forward to fall and some ND football this year!

  8. I know we have a new system and I know we lost Golden and…I know some of these guys are young…but I can’t help but be excited by our receiver corp. Michael Floyd is an absolute beast that may be the best receiver in the country. Kamara showed alot of promise his freshman year and just sorta got lost last year. A new offensive scheme where 4 or 5 receivers on the field will open things up for him. John Goodman, Shaq Evans and Deion Walker are all highly recruited kids with huge potential. Tai-ler Jones looks to be a future phenom at the X-out with Theo Riddick and his agility getting minutes there as well. Hell, even the hawaiian tagalong Toma had hints of electricity last year. We made “need time” at the position to get the rotation right and the sets ingrained in their mind…but overall I can’t think of any team in the country that has a better receiving corp.

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