Duranko’s Digest: 2013 Offensive Personnel Analysis

Notre Dame Football - Everett Golson
Jan 7, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Everett Golson (5) runs against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the second half of the 2013 BCS Championship game at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

This analysis will look at the offensive groupings (TE/WR/OL/RB/QB)

Three disclaimers:
(1) Roster attrition, by injury or suspension, or alien abduction, will occur. In 2012 it was Lynch, Prestwood, Collinsworth, Slaughter, Wood, Nichols, Hounshell, Carrico, Nichols, Welch, Calabrese, Massa.  That’s a dozen, and, ROUGHLY, par for the course. And not an atypical number for a major program.  There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when each occurs for 2013, but it’s why we have 85 on scholarship, and why the staff emphasizes “Next man in.”
(2) We will list the committed  recruits as of press time.  You know, like a year ago, when we had Darby and Shepherd pencilled in to start at CB in 2013.  How’d that work out for us?
(3) The Notre Dame program has now advanced to the point where freshman, as a rule, will not be expected to contribute significantly. Let’s look at 2012: On offense, only Brown and Neal had any real role.  On Defense, sure, KeiVarae Russell  started and Sheldon Day was the top sub, but after that it was a long drop to the contributing minutes of Elijah Shumate and Nicky Baratti, and a bigger drop to the rare appearances of Romeo Okwara.  This will probably be our baseline henceforth.


KEY LOSS: Tyler Eifert.  Take a bow, Tyler.  In the glorious legacy of Notre Dame’s tight ends, Eifert had the best pure receiving skills of any of them and he was a gamer.  Not sure when, if ever, we’ll see someone with the same skill set again.  But remember, Kelly has been deft in shifting emphases.  In ’10 and ’11 Floyd was the go-to guy by a margin, and Kelly effortlessly shifted that to Eifert in 2012.

OTHER LOSS: Jake Golic

RETURNEES: Troy Niklas, Ben Koyack, Alex Welch.  Not sure how many teams will have a better blocking tight end than Niklas, especially since he will have been in the position a full 18 months.  Welch had nudged past Koyack by a nose before Alex got hurt.  The corps seems a little thin to rely on the multiple TE sets, but we shall see.  We’d expect the targets to shift away from the TE to the burgeoning WR corps, but this threesome means we will be solid, if not spectacular, at TE.

INCOMING FROSH: Mike Heuerman, in already, has the frame at 6’4″ 220lbs.

LONGO PROJECT: Koyack, make him close the strength gap with Niklas


Key losses: Riddick, Goodman, Toma. They all had moments this year, and Riddick was our key offensive player on some Saturdays.

EXPERIENCED RETURNEES:  Daniel Smith, T.J. Jones, Davaris Daniels.  Smith’s niche is primarily as a run blocker, and he may never be more than a token receiver.  Jones made a great leap forward as a junior, and Daniels reflects the bloodline of his dad, Phillip Daniels, who played in the NFL from ’96-2010.  Daniels will be at least a star, maybe a superstar in the years to come.  Jones and Daniels went Tom Petty on 1/7/13, and decided they each would “stand my ground and I won’t back down,” combining for 13 catches for 205 yards

INEXPERIENCED RETURNEES: Davonte Neal, Chris Brown, Justin Ferguson.  Saw only token action.  But Kelly spoke highly of all three in the preseason and said each has a lot of confidence.  Brown, as advertised, can “take the top off the defense.” Keep this in mind: In 2011 Davaris Daniels did not play at all.  Consider his 2012 performance.  If Neal, Brown and Ferguson were all nominally ahead of Daniels’ progress point as frosh, what does that say about possibilities for 2013?

LIKELY OUTCOME:  The soph trio will be inexperienced in September, but by the October break after ASU they should, all three, be figuring it out.  We have a chance to be intimidating at WR by mid-October. INTIMIDATING.

INCOMING FROSH: James Onwualu (already enrolled) Corey Robinson (already enrolled) William Fuller, Torii Hunter, Jr. (Injured).  It’s hard to see how any or alll would get more than the nominal minutes that Neal, Ferguson and Brown logged.

LONGO PROJECT: Daniels-he’s tall enough and if he can keep his speed while getting stronger (that’s what Longo DOES) he will be a tougher matchup for opposing secondaries and increase his tackle-breaking ability.


KEY LOSSES: Braxston Cave and Mike Golic, Jr.  Cave was a stud, arguably the player we, but not the coaching staff, took most for granted.

RETURNING STARTERS: Zach Martin, Chris Watt, Christian Lombard.  Martin and Watt are wonderful doppelgangers on the left side, and Lombard is just a few penalty calls away from nearing their level.

INEXPERIENCED RETURNEES: Nick Martin, Connor Hanratty, Matt Hegarty, Ronnie Stanley,  Mark Harrell, Tate Nichols (check injury status), and yes, he was a reach, Bruce Heggie.  While Nick Martin seems to draw the most favorable coaching comments, the 2013 starting OL is the most difficult to project.  There are a lot of unknowns in the equation, particularly the pivotal center position, which looked like Hegarty’s before his medical downturn.  You’d think that two of Hegarty, Martin and Hanratty would fill the two openings, but a wild card could be Nichols (who swung and missed last Spring before the injury) or Ronnie Stanley at right tackle, with Lombard moving down to guard.  We see here how the pipeline and roster balance works, as Hanratty, Hegarty and Martin are entering their third year.

OL Coach:  Hiestand seems to have nailed the swinging door shut. Martin and Kelly, as well as the players, seem comfortable with him.

INCOMING FROSH:  Steve Elmer, already in, John Montelus, Hunter Bivin, Mike McGlinchey, Colin McGovern.  Hard to see anything but a redshirt year for all five. They’re big, averaging OVER 6/6″

LONGO PROJECT: Ronnie Stanley started on a state championship basketball team at Bishop Gorman, and was not a big HS weightlifter. Ronnie’s fiery, a potential leader,  and a good winter and spring under Longo could slingshot him up the depth chart.


KEY LOSSES: Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick. Hands down, the hardest hit area on the team.  While the offensive line is the most challenging area to project, the running back corps will be a concern until, and if, we see them handle business against the Michigans and Michigan States in September.



FROM THE INJURY LIST:  Amir Carlisle.  Kelly spoke glowingly, not perfunctorily, about Carlisle in winter and spring, and indicated he’d be part of the mix.  The ankle brought that to a halt.  USC insiders thought he would be a significant player for them.  But the concern is the ankle that lingered longer than originally thought.

REDSHIRT SOPH: Will Mahone, with the Robert Hughes body.  Drew some praise for work on the prep squad, including from fellow players, who said “he always runs to daylight”  Was thought the best RB prospect in Ohio his senior year, despite his high school injuries.

INCOMING FROSH: Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston.  Got rave reviews, but the RB roles at ND are complex both because of the blocking responsibilities and the complexity of the passing game.

BURNING QUESTION: Is Atkinson ready to take the bit as the lead back? Sometimes, the third guy can be cowed by uppperclassmen with the polish of Riddick and Wood.  Here, from the neck up and the neck down, coaching matters.

LONGO PROJECT: George Atkinson Jr. Sprinters usually have powerful upper bodies to help in thrust.  Atkinson can certainly carry more weight, and will have to, even though he’s sure to share the load.  But with WHOM???????


Back in the time machine to late January 2010: we look in at a Notre Dame quarterback meeting, Kelly’s first at ND.  While Kelly and Molnar sit at a table with playbooks, the door opens and in hobbles Dayne Crist on crutches. Kelly and Molnar gulp. The door again opens and in walks fresh-faced early entrant Tommy Rees, grinning, with that deer-in the headlight look. Kelly and Molnar turn Exorcist green, realizing that this is the 2010 Notre Dame quarterback “corps.” Well, now, things are a bit different as we enter 2013.


RETURNING 2012 STARTER: Everett Golson

RETURNING 2011 STARTER: Tommy Rees, successfully, and then some, moving to the bullpen in 2012
Letterman:                                  Andrew Hendrix
Redshirt Freshman                   Gunner Kiel
Incoming Freshman (enrolled) Malik Zaire

Now, THAT’s a Notre Dame Quarterback Depth Chart!

It’s a nice position to be in going into Spring  Practice.  Kelly and Martin were masterful with Golson in all of 2012, and Golson responded.  The bar was raised about interceptions and ball security all Spring. Golson finished with 12 TD passes and 6 interceptions, and that is rare air for first year starters.  Barkley, as a TRUE frosh, threw 15 TD passes and 14 interceptions.  Golson went through growing pains the first half of the season, but from the OU game on he was first rate.  Rees is noteworthy.  Genuine Notre Dame attitude.  Even Golson admitted that he doubted that he could or would have been as helpful and nurturing if he were being replaced.  Further, Rees has an amazing ability to stand on the sidelines for an hour, then just jump in and complete a couple of passes, before being replaced by Golson again.  Holtz used to talk about his practices being tough so the games would be easy.  Kelly has not articulated it that way, but he walks that walk, and raised the bar very high for Golson. Tough early, easy later.

LONGO PROJECT: Golson: a little more muscle (7-10 lbs) can increase his endurance and durability.

Kelly went out of his way to say some nice things about Kiel when he was talking about freshmen who were not playing for the varsity, but were showing signs on the practice field.  We can all GUESS ’til the cows come home, but none of us KNOW how good Kiel is.  NONE of us. NO, you do not KNOW.  Kelly and Martin have the most insight and they aren’t saying.  This will be a fascinating  subtext in Spring Practice.

Kiel is somewhere on the five star scale between, say Dayne Christ (left or 0 point on the scale) to, say, Andrew Luck (right or 100 point on the scale) By the end of Spring practice, Kelly and Martin are going to have a great idea what and where Kiel is from 0-100 on that scale, and all the QBS, Golson and Kiel included, will have a pretty good idea of what and where Gunner is.

At some point, Kelly and Martin will also know where Kiel is, today, tomorrow and next year, relative to Golson.  If it’s CLEAR that Golson is the starter for the next three years, and Kiel can wait his turn for 2016, it would be likely that Kiel transfers.  But if it’s CLEAR that, for 2014, Kiel has a good chance, or even a probability, to overtake Golson, then that is a different kettle of fish.  The players will know and see it first, but Kelly will communicate it to them.   STAY TUNED!

2013 offensive overview: September will be choppy, as we work in the new OL, the new roles for the WRS, the RBS and the TES.  But by the time we head to Dallas to play ASU, this offense should be humming.  The WRS will be much more explosive and productive and explosive in 2013, and Golson should be able to find and hit them.  The OL, by October, will be improved because of the big improvement at Right Guard (whoever it is).    The tipping point for the offense is the running backs. Kelly and Martin knew Riddick was leaving and expected Wood to leave so they aren’t being caught by surprise. If the coaching staff conjured up a secondary in 2012, they should be able to have a strong and swift running back corps in 2013.  By October, they shoud be humming along in the high 400’s per game in total offense and well into the 30s each game, at least until the finale in Palo Alto.

Enjoy and Go Irish!

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  1. Dear Friends JC and Duranko,

    I know both of you well enough to risk the following. Can we please ease up a bit on each other? I really enjoyed the banter both of you had going on. It was witty and sarcastic but not too over the top. Just the right balance of wit, humor, saber rattling, and passion. Good stuff, really.

    But I fear there’s a turn for the worse about to happen in your dialogue with each other. As someone who is prone to in-fighting (after being provoked) I’m in no position to give advice. “Physician heal thy self” as Scripture says. I’m working at that. I’ve crossed swords with both of you in the past. Often to much profit for me; “Iron sharpens iron,” again from the Good Book. But too often we ended up going too far, or at least I felt that way. I trust I have a track record of apologizing for my trespasses and profering mea culpas in that regard.

    I esteem both of you too much to pontificate and tell what what to do or not to do. I respect both of your passions for our beloved Irish. In the end I know you’ll say what you want to get it off your chests. So long as you can keep on respecting each other in the end it will work itself out.

    Let’s keep the heavy ammunition in our formidable personal and collective arsenals for the inevitable trolls who come on here and talk smack. For them let us be like the Pharisees and preach an eye for an eye. Among ourselves let’s try to at least sometimes turn the other cheek, so to speak.

    Sorry if I’ve overstepped my bounds and for my hypocrisy. But you brothers and long-timers here do mean a lot to me.


  2. Duranko,

    Do you normally imply someone is gay who has been married for 40 years with grand childern? Or is this your “new normal?” Which is also redundant and vainglorious. My post is far from your last reckless comments coupled with cryptic name calling. I’m sure your capable of wiping out the Harvard debate team. On the other hand, I’m really surprised you have resorted to shock-n-awe childish nonsense to make your point.

    Your Tuiasosopo comment is definately over the top. I now definately understand your superior to all others mentality has no bounds. So, from here on out, you want personal, I can bring personal professor, for this student does not acquiesce to wanton insolence. Bring-it!

  3. In answer to the the question of Darby’s height, even though the question is directed elsewhere, the answer is 5′ 11”. Same height as T. Folston. K. Russell, who converted from RB to CB, is also 5′ 11”. 5′ 11” seems to be a good height for CBs both in college and in the pros (like I said, D. Revis is 5′ 11”). Darby, Russell, and Folson all have enough athletic talent to bring with them position flexibility. Always a good thing!

  4. The Juston Utopu obsession is disturbing, a clear plea for help. This is how Tuiasosopo began…….

    On grammar lessons “rigid ideologue” is redundant. Regarding “comfort zones,” and, as they say, you can look it up, in the late 90’s Warren Buffett was dinged repeatedly in the popular press for not leaving his
    “comfort zone” and enjoying the tech/dot.com ride. Warren called it
    Benjamin Graham discipline and knowledge, but the nattering nabobs persisted. Of course, that was when the dot-com fueled Nasdaq was around 5,000. It ain’t now, and Berkshire Hathaway has, well, returned a tad more than your local CD-or dot com mutual fund. Comfort zone, eh?

    Further, a certain poster is emoting rather than ascertaining facts or
    rendering good judgment. Here’s the key: What height is Ronald Darby?

    Lou is, apparently in Shreveport (most frequently mispronounced by Yankees as “Shrevesport” resurrectin or resuscitating the career of Lou’s wife
    Beth’s son Skip.

    For Rich Matteo, you are correct that we have no proven stud at RB. But, then, neither did Georgia, after Isaiah Crowell fulfilled some Tennessee Williams scrip. But then Gurley and Marshall showed up as frosh.

  5. Awe-Gee-Willakers-Walley!

    As I gaze down Bama’s 2012 RB Roster, 6-2 216 lbs., 6-0 220 lbs and 6-1 242! TANKS-R-US Bama Club! Hmmm….Earth to Coach Duranko, what does this tell us about our analysis-paralysis? Of course, I have yield to our HC’s wish list.

    Howbeit, what NEW SEC team is BK emulating??? Princeton? WHY NOT, cherry pick Justin Utpo 6-1 258 lbs right from our special teams roster for god’s sake! Surely, our RB coach is a good one to transform Utpo to FB!

    Ah yes, I know my tirade is not meaningful. Another bottom-less treasure chest of golden nuggets flushed down the toliet again! Do you have BK’s number I’ll call him today! Otherwise, I will call Lou and whine to him!

    Justin, I am really campaining hard for you! We need another Jerome Bettis NOW!!!

    Here come our beloved Irish!

  6. The QB situation is a good one to have. Golson will have to get the nod. He has experience and can run and throw. He had a super season, with a little help for his relief Rees. The guy I’d like to see play is Kiel. If he is half as good as Golson has been and can throw it would be interesting to see him compete for the job. NDs defense should be just fine as long as Kelly continues to get quality people. The running game is another matter. It looks pretty lean and probably will have to depend on the two freshman to fill the voids. If Bryant can live up to the billing,then we”ll be fine. Only time will tell! Go Irish!!

  7. Our running game against Bama was so poor it was like ping-pong balls unartfully smashed to the ground. Wishfull thinking that our biggest-little 211 lb RB is going to finesse past Bama’s Defense Line.

    So if BK is such a rigid ideologue, which I highly doubt, the three back set page in the play book goes out with the trash against Bama! Otherwise, our RB’s will have visit the dentist again after another Bama game to remove grass stains from their teeth.

    Furthermore, it has been noted here on numerous posts, BK is definately emulating and building a SEC style team. However, I don’t see any WEE-NEE RB’s in Bama’s line-up running the wrong direction. Oh, I must have missed the ABRACADABRA event! Hahahaha!

  8. Well, when it comes to goal line offenses, the wishbone was always great, as easily as effective as the power running game, cf Stanford, SC. And when Kelly went to the three back set against Bama that was a harbinger.

    DB performance in an All-Star game is often a red herring. Zbikowski looked like a sure fire cornerback prospect and Raeshon McNeil looked like a potential All-America.

    1. “Duranko,”

      Point well taken about the CB position.

      Having said that, the kid CAN play CB. If he’s not going to see the field for a few seasons as a RB (notice the “if”), then why not give him a long look at CB if he shows a skill for it (again, note the “if”)? We need all the skill we can put out!

  9. 5′ 11″. Same height as K. Russell. I guess someone better tell BK, who is indeed the head football coach at ND, that his CBs have to be 6′ tall. Good forbid he think about shifting another sub-6′ RB to CB!

  10. Man, at 5′ 11″ I sure wouldn’t take Darrelle Revis on my team. I guess he’s just too short to play CB in any system?

  11. “Duranko,”

    That’s the point!

    BK has to get out of his comfort zone and expand his appetites a bit, if you will. Can anyone really say that our O in general and redzone play in particular are so stellar after 3 full seasons that we don’t need to touch a single them about them? Hardly! Having said that, we just don’t have the personnel for a power running game. We did have a power back in this class but he decommitted once Bryant came on board. (Here is one case where I agree with Patrick and say good riddance, and that’s when a kid doesn’t want to compete. ND should be at a place where recruits know they’re going to have to excel just to see the field!)

    As for Folson not being able to play CB, perhaps the UA All Star Game committee should be told that since that was the position he was selected to play in that game and even had a pick. In fact, if it had not been for Nkemdiche and Hargreaves III, Folson might have been the D player of the game. Of course, Nkemdiche and Hargreaves are only rated in the ESPN Top 3! Plus I think I know of another RB prospect that was recently shifted to CB. That worked pretty well. I do like Luke, though.

  12. Several points. While there is an appetite in this thread to go jumbo
    at the goal line, Kelly, who, apparently, is the head coach, has shown
    little appetite for it.

    The three back set on the goal line is a more likely base formation.

    On cornerbacks,Folson does not fit profile. As will be discussed in
    our defensive personnel analysis, the three incoming CBS, Luke, Kinlaw and
    Butler are all at least “listed” at 6’0″ or TALLER.

    This staff, unlike the predecessors, are pretty good at:

    (1) thinking rather than emoting
    (2) developing sound recruiting profiles
    (3) discipline in recruiting to those profiles.

    It is likely that MOST of our cornerback recruits will be 6’0″ or taller.

  13. Let me reiterate, I think it might be a good ideas, in light of our depth at RB, to give Folston a good look at CB. This kid is a legit CB prospect. It doesn’t seem that we landed much talent at CB again this recruiting cycle. So it would make sense to give Folston a long look at CB.

    Landed a top-rated CB or two becomes a priority next year. It’s great to have depth and talent along the front 7. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a “lock-down” CB either. (I just think of how many more SBs my Stillers could’ve won with just one “lock-down” CB opposite a good starting quality CB like Ike Taylor!)

  14. Norm,

    I didn’t say Mahone was a big back; I said he was a bigger back in comparison to our other RBs. I have no doubts he’s legit. But we have a lot of legit RBs. We need to find a way to get the most out of all of them. Perhaps Mahone could be a bigger RB and have one of our TEs swing back and line up in front of him on short yardage and goal line situations. That at least maximizes what little size we do have among our RBs.

    It seems most if not all of us here are in agreement about some element of smash mouth football being put in. JC and I have offered suggestions. Other ideas are always welcome.

    1. Amen Rob,

      Spread-smash-your-face- football! That’s what we’re talking about!

      BK can do it all with a 6-1 258lb FB! Justin Utpo! We definately need a Bama crusher! A hole blasting to smithereens real tank FB!

      Think in terms of Golston and all our gifted running backs waltzing into the endzone!

      We need a bruiser FB to protect and lead the way for our QB and RB’s! As well as our FB blasting into the red zone when called upon!



  15. Saw Mahone play numerous times in high school in Ohio. Describing him as a Robert Hughes body type back is erroneous. He isn’t that big. He is a solid back and he can get out there and fly. He should be used alot this season to go with Bryant. This kid is not a fullback. He’s a legit tailback.

  16. Kelly is an offensive genius but he hasn’t had the QB to run his offense. I think this year you will see that Golson cements his spot as the starter and we will score loads of points

  17. Hmmm…how about a special teams guy conversion to full back? Like Junior Justin Utpo 6-1 258lbs? An ideal prototype full back. I’ll bet money this guy could mega blast holes through Bama’s defensive line.

    What about it guys, just think, Utpo could be our next Jerome Bettis! Talk about power run the ball! A diamond in the rough FB right on our roster? Yeah, double red zone production anyone?

    What about it Duranko, what you say?

  18. I do agree that the spring/fall story to watch is Kiel.

    I think Neal, Mahone and Carlisle could come of age, and w/ Folston and Bryant in the wings . . . !!!
    Receivers Niklas and Davarius have already shown signs of greatness, and T.J. has improved immensely.

    Next season ought to be the return of a BK high-scoring less cautious offensive game plans.

    Great analysis again, duranko. Thanks for your contributions.

      1. If we can not convert anyone to fullback, put Niklas in front of him to block out of the eye formation!

      2. oops – forgot to click the “notify me if any responses” to original, so hopefully this’ll do the trick.

  19. 3 key players on offense are Brown, Atkinson and Neal. Must get their great speed on the field and work them in space. Also, need a big back in the red zone.

  20. and you didny mention that Zaire kid well all of you will be surprized on how good thid kid is gonna be here at ND he is the truth…

  21. Really looking foreword to the spring game, I think a lot of 2 deep questions will be answered. As far as recruits are concerned its the bird in hand worth 2 in the bush.

  22. I like the offense next year. I think Golson can hide some of the weaknesses (perceived) in the WR and RB department. One thing I’d like to see is Kiel get some play time time when it allows. If for whatever reason Golson gets hurt, I’d hate to see the offense lose 75% of the playbook when Rees or Hendrix come in.

    If the offense can up its average points per game, I can see ND back in the BCS Title game.

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