This analysis will look at the offensive groupings (TE/WR/OL/RB/QB)
(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.
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.
EXPERIENCED RETURNEE WITH CRUNCH TIME MINUTES: George Atkinson, Jr.
EXPERIENCED RETURNEE WITH EXCELLENT GARBAGE TIME MINUTES: Cam McDaniel
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.
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.
KEY LOSSES: Nada
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.
THE GUNNER KIEL FACTOR
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.
QUALITATIVE RANKING (CARDINAL SCALE)
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.
RELATIVE RANKING (ORDINAL SCALE)
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!