6 Upper Classmen Needing a Big Spring

bennett jackson
Converted wide receiver Bennett Jackson is going to be counted on to lead a young Notre Dame secondary in 2012. (Photo - Robin Alam / Icon SMI)

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.

Bennett Jackson

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.

Lo Wood

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

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

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.

Christian Lombard

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

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.

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  1. Well, I wanted to be competitive with the SEC teams down here. Guess I should have specified I meant on the field. Not in player turnover and drama.

  2. Anyone else hearing rumors about D. Neal not coming to ND? Seen a couple of BR blogs that say Neal isn’t excited about moving to S. Bend.

  3. Imagine what ND football would’ve looked like in a few seasons with Darby and Shepherd at CBs, D. Greenbery and D. Neal at WRs, etc. These recent defections set back the program one whole class. I hope I’m wrong but you can’t lose so much young talent overs such a shoert period of time and expect to be competitive with the likes of USC and OK. This is a bad trend, lads.

    1. Amen Rob,

      Your spot on! Further, BK knows he has to play the Dad coach also! He’s just not good at it!

      Just ask Lou, Keith! Girls or no girls, it is all part of BK’s responsibility as a head football coach.

      This is not the NFL Keith where your on your own!

  4. I read this kids face book page and his girlfriends. coming from him it says. you are the only thing keeping me together etc etc. dont blame this on BK. He loves his fiance and obviously has his own issues. girl parts will do that to people!!! kelly needs time and notre dame needs to make changes as well. we are running on our history to much. we havent made history in over 20 years… ND will be back. give kelly time

    1. We’ve been singing that sad tune for 20 years. How much more time should we give BK? I’m willing to give him this year and next. What if after 2 more seasons the team is getting worse rather than better, Keith? What then? Should we wait 100 years like Cubs’ fans? I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired waiting for ND football to turn things around. It’s been 20 freakin’ years, Keith!!!

  5. I am starting to lose faith in BK. His players don’t play for him or buy into the University, which is a problem. One thing about CW is that his players were committed to ND and understood what it meant to play at ND. I don’t think he is going to last at ND and I am starting to think that ND as a football powerhouse is over. ND needs to find a coach that can sell the University and put a winning football team on the field. I am finding that with todays athelete they are looking more NFL rather than college and are looking for the big payout. They would rather go to an SEC school where they don’t have to go to class and grades don’t matter. I also think that in the later 80’s ND was on TV every week and now everyone is on TV. I beleive this hurts ND. Finally, I feel that ND will have to go into a conference in order to save it’s football future. The problem with the way it works right now is ND has nothing other than a BCS game to state a successful season. They havnen’t made one in six years, and it puts a negative cloud around the University. ND needs to join a conference and at least winning the conference is a goal each year rather than barnstorming the US and losing 2-3 games a year and winding up in a bullshit bowl. At least conference affiliation gets you into a good bowl. ND needs to change to the 21st century.

    1. i agree a little. the universtiy needs to make some changes to renew its image. but how do you explain stanford. the players there go to school and look what they have accomplished…..

      1. How do I explain Stanford. They are not a national championship calibe team. If you want ND in the top ten with no chance of being number one than accept Stanford. That team is 8-5 without Luck. You will see next year.

  6. OK, now I’m beginning to think BK is losing his team. Between the disastrous end of the recruiting cycle (with the exception of landing D. Neal, and even then there was a lot of drama there!) when we lost one big-time recruit after another to now losing A. Lynch, I’m losing confidence in BK and his staff to build and keep a team together. If Bk doesn’t win at least 8 games this year, he’ll be coaching for his ND future next season.

    How much more miserable team news are we in store for?

    1. Anymore great news like this forget about plan B! I’ll bet serious money the runway guys will show him the door after this year if he wins less than 8!

      Player retention definately not looking like BK’s forte.
      Nor blending upper and lower classmen together. Seems to be a damning pattern developing here. Not good by any stretch of the imagination.

      Especially when BK said not to worry: “Arron is not going anywhere.”


    2. SFR,

      Do you think Nick Saban would lose a player like Lynch after 2 years?

      Or Urban Meyer, or Brady Hoke, or Lane Kiffin, or Mark Dantonio, or Jimbo Fisher, or Les Miles, or Mark Riect, or Mark Stoops, or Mack Brown, or Steve Spurrier, or Skip Holtz, or …..

  7. I can understand an incoming freshmen who gets home sick after a few months on campus.

    But Lynch had considerable playing time last year. His career (and probably his legacy) was set in stone here at ND.

    The timing of this, during the middle of spring practice, leads me to believe that something is rotten in Denmark!

    Either this kid has some serious issues, the university has issues, or Kelly and his staff need to re-evaluate how they conduct business!

    1. That’s it Ron, it’s your fault, you started it with this three word chaos statement. Your not allowed to read NBCsports.com anymore!

      Lie to us like BK PLEASE, this is too painful!

  8. JC I knew it was not a prediction I figured I would chime in on a 5-7 season. If that were to happen some people on this board would get their wish and BK would be gone. As far as meds my family already leaves the house when the game starts and my children go through a vulgar vocabulary lesson as I watch the games. I find alcohol is better than happy pills. I just want a season where at the end off the game I am happy not bitter thats all. Is that to much to ask, a feeling of nice game, good Irish win.

    1. Amen Jack,

      I know exactly what your longing for. Kudos on that. I can’t afford to throw a 60″ TV set out the window. My wife say’s anger management will be no more watching the games period. So I have to behave this year whether I am happy or not. We are definately on the same page here: Happy is better!

      I too, like Walt Disney and want our team to win all their games!!

      But, Shhhhhhhhhh, please don’t tell anybody I’ll get chastised by the Next Year Crowd. 23 years of pain is definately not fun Jack.

  9. Hands off my meds gentlemen. I just realized you are supposed to remove one patch before putting on another. Oh well. Gives the world a delightful green tint. Go Irish.

  10. Is Goodman looking good in spring practice a product of him finding his role as WR or the CBs being so poor … Maybe the difference of a 10-2 season and a 5-7 season.

  11. Gentleman,

    JC you need to take the meds Delta Irish is taking. Do I think this team goes 5-7, no! I also don’t think they go 10-2 or 11-1 either I don’t know what their record will be in 2012 and I also don’t think that the stars will allign automatically for 2013. I will need to see the spring game and the first two games of the year. This team goes as far as the QB and defensive front seven take them. At this point in time I don’t have enough data to make an accurate evaluation of the talent to render a prediction. I knew after the first half at USF the team last year was going nowhere fast.

    On a positive note, to review JC’s first post I will like to give a little history lesson. Mind you I don’t think this happens but as Walt Disney says dreams do come true:

    I would like to take you back to the 1988 preseason team:

    QB: Tony Rice; according to pundits: no arm, no experience
    Offensive Line inexperience
    Frank Stams at OLB was unproven
    Samalgia (sp) at corner was a walk on

    According to many pundits: ND is inexperience with a tough schedule. Their year will be in 1989 as the talent and experience will be there at that time.

    We can sit here on our cyber soap boxes and wax poetically about what we think will happen, but until the season starts no one knows. If and this is a biggggggg IF ND runs the table, they are in the NC game against and SEC team. I reserve to make my judgement on the 2013 season until after the Purdue game.

    1. OK Jack,

      I knew the minute I posted 5-7 you would be posting!
      Not a prediction a safe bet ONLY!

      No worries! Wax on, Wax off!

      Running the table? Who needs the meds??? Hey, Delta send Jack some meds too!


  12. Navy (As long as our defense doenst go comatose we should have no prob)
    Purdue (No way we lose)
    Sparty (without cousins I feel good about our chances)
    Meechigan (It cant happen again, can it?)
    Convict Canes (Replay of the Sun Bowl)
    BYU (War of Independence…has to go Irish)
    Okie (I love ND as much as anyone but I can’t see us leaving norman with a win against a heisman hopeful QB)
    Pitt (Our front seven stops the run. Do they have anything else?)
    BC (Looks like another crappy year for our friendly Anus Eagle)
    Wake (Should be a nice warm up for Suckin Cal)
    SC (Another heisman hopeful QB will lilley be too much for our young secondary)

    10-2…BCS game with a win over a crappy Big East/ACC team…Top 5 going into 2013.

    Happy Delta

      1. I Love it Delta! I hope your right! You make it soooooooooo
        totally painless!


        Go Irish!

  13. I think we have a lackluster 8-4 season this year. No huge wins over the BCS contenders. I think we beat Navy, Purdue, Miami, BYU, Pitt, BC, Wake, and then 1 win between Michgan and/or Mich St. We lose to the usual suspects in Stanford, Oklahoma, USC, and one of the Michigan teams. If we over perform and win a game against a Stanford (they probably will have an off year) then I’m sure we will under perform against a Pitt or a BC to even it out.

    Pretty typical of what we have seen for a while now. Not trying to be the downer, but just trying to be realistic for once instead of always getting hyped going into the season and thinking we are going to go 10-2 or 11-1. In previous years, we have been better on paper than we are this year. Which makes me agree with most of the glaring holes JC pointed out. But hey, that is why we play the game! Should be a roller coaster of emotion this year!

  14. I agree with JC. I feel unless Golson starts and they ultilize his quickness, escapability and running skills much like Michigan does with Robinson, it will a very underachieving offensive mess this year. A spark like that will be needed on offense as the D secondary will be on their horses all games. Opposing teams will expose an almost non existent defensive secondard early and often this year right out of the blocks. Aside from a Navy win, perhaps a win against Purdue, the Irish could easiliy find themselves 2-5 early on. Schedule is brutal and no real consistant offensive identity yet under BK.

  15. I am getting a knot in my stomach before fall practice.

    Almost no experience at the defensive corners.
    No experience on the right side of the offensive line.
    A boat load of low producing WR’s.
    No real experience at QB beyond Rees.
    No real depth anywhere.
    Imploded recruiting year.
    Plan B coach shake-up
    A schedule designed for titans.

    5-7 seems like a safe bet.

    1. Frankly, I think this year will reveal as much about Kelly as anything previous, at ND and his other stops.

      No one, rightfuly so, expects much this year, but the ‘stars’ should align in 2013. If ND doesn’t close out this year looking like a 2013 BCS contender, I’d say Kelly is not the answer.

      Similar to 2007, this is the sort of year where the ability to actually coach is the most important aspect of the job. If Kelly doesn’t have ND looking like USC in Carroll’s 2nd year, it will be a big red flag.

    2. Every college football team undergoes major changes each and every year so you can take Alabama, LSU, Michigan, Wisconsin, etc and make a laundry list of potential position problems due to graduation and injury and cry yourself to sleep every night worrying about what kind of team will they have next season. Notre Dame is no different except most of our players actually graduate! Next season won’t be decided this spring.

    3. JC,

      A knot in your stomach!

      Say it ain’t so!

      I hope it is nothing serious like an ulcer.

      Is it lupis???

      The little green monster trying to escape perhaps?

      Actually, its probably nothing more than a little gas.

      Give it some time and it should passsssssssssss.

      Laughter… now that the best meds there are!

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