10 Questions for Notre Dame Football in 2013

Tommy Rees - Notre Dame QB
Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly chats with Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Tommy Rees (11) in game action. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Brigham Young Cougars by the score of 17-14 at Notre Dame Stadium in Notre Dame, IN. (Photo: Robin Alam)

Regardless of how any team finishes the prior year in college football, there are always going to be questions going into the following season. The Notre Dame program is no different, and while 2012 may have given Irish fans a lot to be excited about, a tumultuous off-season seems to have produced some unexpected questions, and ones that need answers quickly. There is a lot to be excited about for Irish fans in 2013, but definitely a laundry list of items that need to addressed before and throughout this year. We wanted to take a look at ten important questions that depending on their answers, can play a large part in Notre Dame’s success in 2013.

1.Is Tommy Rees really “the guy”? – Even though the Irish were pummeled in the BCS championship game, fans were excited to see what a year of growth and maturation could do for former quarterback Everett Golson in 2013. As every Notre Dame fan knows by now, that will not be happening, and Irish Nation is now faced with the very real possibility that senior quarterback Tommy Rees will line up behind center as the starter, at least for the beginning of 2013. The question is, and it’s a big one, can Tommy truly lead this team for a whole year and produce similar results as in 2012? The success of the 2013 Irish may hinge on the success of Tommy Rees, and at this point and time we are not sure if that is a good or bad thing.

George Atkinson - 2013 Notre Dame RB
George Atkinson, seen here avoiding a Miami defender in 2012, has the opportunity to be one of the leaders of the 2013 Notre Dame offense if he seizes the starting RB spot. (Photo: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports)

2. Running Back by committee? – Is there another facet of this year’s Irish squad that is shrouded with the clouds of the unknown as much as the 2013 Notre Dame backfield? There is no dispute that there is talent at the running back position this year, but no one quite knows how it will all play out- even the coaching staff. As of now it is George Atkinson’s job to lose, but he has, at a minimum 3 guys who will be pushing him every week to take the title of starting tailback away. The Irish are trying to replace 1659 yards on the ground with the losses of Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, and will be looking anywhere they can to find that type of production again in 2013.

3. No Te’o, Moore, or Motta – Oh my! This year’s Irish defensive unit is returning 8 of 11 starters, but lost a lot of leadership and experience to the NFL draft last year. While Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt, and Prince Shembo remain the recognizable names on a talented roster, it will be incumbent on guys like Sheldon Day, Jarrett Grace, Dan Fox, and Bennett Jackson to step up and fill the void left by the previously Players. The Irish staff did a great job bringing in new blood in last year’s recruiting class, and seeing how much playing time guy’s like Jaylon Smith, Doug Randolph, Cole Luke, and Max Redfield will receive on the defensive side of the ball will be one of the early storylines for the 2013 Fighting Irish.

4.Can they fix special teams? –While everything seemed to go Notre Dame’s way in 2012, the one group that forgot to show up to the party were the special teams, namely the kick and punt return teams. Ranking at or close to the bottom of many categories, Irish fans hope that Brian Kelly was being truthful when he said that special teams development would an area of focus during spring and fall practice. The truth is that the numbers cannot be any worse than fans witnessed last year, but that doesn’t guarantee that they will be any better.  

5. Who is Tommy throwing to? Without a question, Davaris Daniels and T.J. Jones will listed one and two on the depth chart, but the big question is who is going to step up and fill out the rest of said chart. There is group of people that will be given the chance to do just that, which includes the likes of Chris Brown, Daniel Smith, Corey Robinson, C.J. Prosise, and a handful of others. Make no mistake, there is talent here in this group, but the big question is how quickly can it produce on the field for the Irish?

6. Will Sheldon Day solidify the left end position? – The sophomore from Indianapolis had 23 tackles(3.5 for loss) and 2 sacks in his first year with the Irish, and had fans and the coaching staff excited about what this young man is capable of. Day is excellent when it comes to stopping the run, but needs to work on getting pressure on the quarterback more consistently. It should help tremendously having Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix on the same line providing support, and if Day performs like many think he can, the Irish defensive line should be among the elite in all of college football.

Troy Niklas - Notre Dame TE
Notre Dame Fighting Irish tight end Troy Niklas (85) catches a touchdown against the Boston College Eagles during the first half at Alumni Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

7. Is Troy Niklas the next great Irish tight end? 50 receptions, 685 yards, and 4 touchdowns – those were the final 2012 stats for former Irish tight end and safety valve, Tyler Eifert. Now that he is catching passes for the Bengals, the Irish offense needs to not only replace those numbers, but the consistent threat that Eifert brought each and every weekend. Niklas certainly has the frame, checking in at 6’7” 270lbs, but does he have the ability to constantly be a threat in the red zone, and a “go to” guy on third down and long? Niklas showed signs in 2012 that the athletic ability is there to do just that, but now will be required to show it on a weekly basis.

8. Is the secondary no longer a concern? The Irish secondary injuries in 2012 were well documented, but even with a long list of casualties, the Irish secondary still held their own last year. So it would seem they are poised be a true strength in 2013, as they now have a healthy Lo Wood, and KeiVarae Russell, and Austin Collinsworth back. If you also consider the fact that they return Mathias Farley, Elijah Shumate, and Bennett Jackson, one would think that the Irish secondary is ready to become a true strength in 2013 – as long as they stay healthy of course.

9. Is Malik Zaire ready to go if needed? A highly touted recruit out of Kettering, Ohio, Zaire has been compared to of all people, Everett Golson – but a left handed version. In his senior year in high school, Zaire threw for 1990 yards, ran for another 1120, and accounted for 33 touchdowns. If you have watched any film on the young man, then you know that he has good vision, a nice release, and possesses the ability to run if needed, but needs to work on his accuracy a bit. Zaire was an early enrollee, so that may help in his development early on, but will it be enough for Kelly to call on him early if needed?

10. Are the Irish ready for the next level? The Irish are an extremely talented bunch and absolutely have the ability to have a successful season. The question is are they talented, experienced, and deep enough to play at the level that they witnessed their opponent playing at in last year’s BCS Championship game? Now the big question for 2013 is can Notre Dame shorten the gap that was so evident last year in Miami, both mentally and physically? Brian Kelly has gone on record stating that he is building the Notre Dame program in the same mold in which Nick Saban did down in Tuscaloosa, but is 2013 the year that the Irish end the SEC reign in the national title game? – We will know by January 6th of 2014.

These are just some of the questions that a large contingency of Irish fans have on their mind as we enter the 2013 season. The Irish have just started fall practice in Marian, IN a couple of days ago, and some of these questions will start to be addressed, but we will not know the full answers until late September, to mid-October. Most would agree that the 2013 Irish are primed to have a good year, but how good is all dependant on the answers to the questions listed above, and we are sure more will arise before the Irish hit the field on August 31st, against Temple.

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  1. In all honesty Golson was no better than mediocre last year. I believe he showed improvement in the last four games but he never showed himself to be even a good QB, much less a great one.

    It has been two years and I would hope that Rees has learned how to take care of the football. QB is a question mark but replacing Riddick, Wood and Eifert will not be easy. I don’t see any playmakers on this offense right now but maybe Carlisle, Bryant,GA3 or Prosise will emerge as real offensive threats. At this point it is all speculation.

    This is a tough schedule and I see the Irish going 8-4 or 9-3 at best. Last year’s 12-1 record was almost entirely due to great defense. This year to do better than 8-4 the Irish need a much improved offensive team.

    1. I couldnt agree more. With all the talent that BK and his staff have brought in on both sides of the ball the one area that is lacking is a top tier QB. I dont believe Golson or Rees would be in the top 30 of anyones top QB list. Both are just mediocre at best. Doesnt mean we wont win 11 or 12 games this year because the defense should be even better than last year.

      I also think that BK would love to redshirt Zaire but due to lack of depth at QB its not likely to happen. Rees gets dinged up and then you have Hendrix or Zaire.

      1. Top 10 Dual threat QBs 1 Manziel, Miller, Boyd, Mariota, Hundley, Martinez, Lynch, Kelly, Fajardo, and Keetan. There are probably ten others before Golson. Why have Kelly and his staff had such a difficult time recruiting a Stud Dual threat QB.

  2. I can forgive Tomy R mistakes as he was inexperienced and under the gun. What I question is his arm strength. I don’t think he has a the arm of a contender.

  3. Why are all ND correspondents not mentioning how much Theo Riddick will be missed by the team? He was the best running back and the best receiver out of the back field last season. Whenever ND needed a play to move the chains, Riddick was the one who they counted on. I do not know if George Atkinson III can fill in Riddick’s shoes, especially in the run game department. I really hope Amir Carlisle can have a big year on the ground, because ND looks like they need a few backs just to fill in Riddick’s shoes.

    1. I agree Spicey. Riddick was about as tough as you get in short yard situations and came to play every week. The Irish need a good tough inside runner but also some receivers that can spread the field and strike some fear into opposing secondaries. Haven’t really seen that after Michael Floyd left.

  4. I’m not sure why you’d say Zaire has to work on his accuracy. It’s Rees who needs to work on accuracy. Just look at the clip from today’s practice. Rees, as he usually does, threw to a wide open receiver and he threw it behind him causing the receiver to twist around for the reception. Zaire on the other hand had a wide open receiver and lead him perfectly. Zaire looks to be fairly accurate (in looking at this vid clips), in the least he’s more accurate than Rees. But then I would say all QB’s need to work on accuracy.

    1. I have to correct myself – in the video it’s AH who makes a poor throw. However that does not alter what I say about Rees and his type of accuracy.

  5. On the same note it would be unfair to be shortsighted on Zaire’s opportunity. Practicing with the starting offense equates to ‘more than likely’ Zaire will not be redshirted for the season if he has a great fall practice. BK in my mind, as he demonstrated with Golson will bring Zaire along as quickly as it merits. I believe Zaire will be in the mix this year. So with a tandem pair of QB’s, one experienced and one with extreme talent ‘this year again,’ we are solid at QB! Only the Temple game, BK has decided to named a starter. Beyond that, hopefully it unfolds like a flower to 13-0.


  6. I am agnostic on the whole “we lost these players” discussions.

    In any successful enterprise, commercial, corporate, athletic or familial
    the most healthy organisms examine and elevate and empower what they have, not what is lost.

    Yesterday was yesterday. Today is today. In college football, ceteris paribus, 1/4-1/5 or your roster departs each year, give or take.

    Coaches discuss with the players who are there for the year, those players who are there, their abilities and potential. Comparing players (or salesmen, or investment advisors, or chefs,) to those who have departed is a loser’s game.

    Winners, and those who succeed do so much differently.

    Without knowledge or confirmation, I would venture to speculate that Diaco and Kelly speak to Grace (and Moore) about being the best that Grace and Moore can be, without going to a chart comparing either with the departed.

    Similarly, it would be shortsighted and stifling, and sell those three young men short to compare Niklas, Koyack and Welch to Tyler Eifert.

    You are where you are, not where you were.

    There is a reason why coaches like Kelly win constantly and in multiple venues.

  7. ND has the ability to beat every team on their schedule. They did last year, and arguably, none of the teams this year are substantially better.

    The question facing ND fans has changed from years past. It is no longer about being able to out-muscle Michigan State, or having the playmakers of Michigan or USC. It is about competing with the SEC. That is who they will face to win a national title, this year, or any year moving forward.

    Are they an upper-level SEC team? Not yet. Close? Sure. But they need more depth, more playmakers at the skill positions, and an extremely talented QB. They are really close . . . but not quite there.

    1. I will agree to a point patrick, however, let’s flip to a poor game for Bama in the Championship like we had and the trophy would be setting in our case. So depth objectification in reality would be singing another tune.


      1. By the way Patrick, Zaire will be practing with the starting offense. I suspect Zaire is indeed an extremely talented QB. So the redshirt looks in question. What’s your take on this?

  8. Move up and watch the videos. “We have never had this much depth since I have been here!” – BK. Do the math! How many players on this team have Championship experience? Shock yourselves! There is not anyone on this schedule we cannot beat period. Especially NOW do to the Championship experience this is indeed a CHAMPIONSHIP CALIBER TEAM!


  9. ND had the potential to go all the way this year, if Golson was the quarterback. I just don’t think Rees has the ability to play at the level needed week after week to go 12+ wins. His tendency to throw interceptions when he is pressured is a huge problem for this offense. I think Rees is a reliable back-up, which is a huge resource for any football team. How many teams (even in the NFL) can say they have a back-up that can go in a game and effectively run the offense. That’s a big asset. But start to end, 12 games, I think we’ve seen as good as he’s able to give.

    The other problem Rees presents is he doesn’t play into Kelly’s style of coaching very well. Golson was ideally suited to Kelly’s system. Kelly will have to dial back his playbook as a result. Having to coach someone who is outside your system is a huge challenge for any coach.

    1. Damian,

      I don’t think ND was a NC caliber team with Golson at QB. I think there are still some depth issues that have to be addressed. Golson, could be the difference between a BCS team and a lower tier bowl.

      I think if Tommy can over come the stupid interceptions and the Irish O-line can accomplish a run game inside the redzone Golson’s loss will be minimized. If the Irish also are able to protect the passer against Michigan, Oklahoma, USC and Standford it will be a good year.

      Again the O-line is the key to a successful season not the QB. If ND controls the line of scrimmage Golson’s ability to scramble will not be needed as much.

      1. I think we were definitely a NC contender if Golson was here this year. Think about all of the experience he just got as a freshmen starting qb. Not too many freshmen make it to the NC and get to experience that. Golson never even came close to reaching his potential nor did Kelly ever really turn him loose like Meyer does with Miller at OSU or the A&M coach does with Manziel. Kelly would have felt so confident in Golson going into this season and I really feel like this offense would have been very powerful, only if, and to the point you made about depth, our running backs step up and do something.

        With Rees, we are pretty limited, and Kelly has even stated that. Rees is great getting the ball out on time and is actually pretty accurate. I think we will move the ball with Rees at QB, but Golson would have provided that huge spark that Rees just doesn’t have. And not to mention, the arm strength. Golson was the one player we couldnt afford to lose the most, and we lost him. What a challenge this year’s team will have getting back to the NC.

        Go Irish!!!

    2. I don’t really get why people think Rees can’t get past “the tendency to throw INTs.” He threw quite a few as a FR and SO. But that’s something many QBs do. Something Clausen did, for example. People seem to assume that — unlikely any other player, really — Rees just doesn’t have the capacity to mature as a player. As a JR, I believe Rees only threw two INTs. One, under pressure with a Pitt player in his face. The other simply bounced off a WR’s hands. Will Rees be much better at protecting the football as a SR than he was as a FR/SO? I guess we’ll see. But, like I said, I don’t get the negative assumptions.

      The other thing I don’t completely agree with is the idea that Kelly is hamstrung by an immobile QB. Sure, he’d like to have someone with better mobility. But let’s not forget that arguably Kelly’s best offense was the one helmed by Tony Pike, who wasn’t at all a runner.

      Golson was a big loss, don’t get me wrong. He had a much greater upside than Rees. And I would have loved to see how much EG matured. I’m not at all suggesting that Rees is EG’s equal. I’m just saying that some of the negative assumptions about Rees aren’t necessarily going to prove out in 2013.

      IF he protects the ball, IF the OL plays well, IF the running game is effective, . . .

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