Friday, August 20, 2010

Notre Dame Position Previews: Offense


Spotlight: Dayne Crist

Also Returning: Brian Castello, Matthew Mulvey
Lost: Evan Sharpley (graduation), Jimmy Clausen (NFL)
Gained: Nate Montana (transfer), Andrew Hendrix, Luke Massa, Tommy Rees (freshmen)

In the last 10 years, Notre Dame has had nine starting quarterbacks. Of those nine, seven were playing there first year of college football, including three (Matt LoVecchio, Brady Quinn, and Jimmy Clausen) were true freshmen. So Dayne Crist's experience, although limited, is somewhat impressive in comparison.

Of course, like the true freshmen (and Pat Dillingham in 2002), there's the added challenge of learning a new system. The good news is that Crist's knee is (knock on wood) essentially a non-issue at this point, with the brace remaining only as a precautionary measure.

Plus - if the spring game is any indication - it appears that system has been simplified for the new starter. The Blue and Gold scrimmage featured a bevy of simple patterns on repeat. The most popular play may have been a middle screen/shovel pass. Also popular was a traditional playaction rollout, where the field is cut in half and the quarterback has three receivers at different levels right in front of him.

Nate Montana, coming off a Community College stint and a spring game that impressed the fans in attendance, was scheduled for the backup spot. But he may have already been passed by early entrant Tommy Rees. Behind Montana and Rees are two more talented freshman in Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa.

With three quarterbacks in the same class, and with Coach Kelly's propensity to recruit first and figure out positions later, it will be interesting to see which freshman will stick around to supplant Crist in 2012. But let's worry about that when the time comes.

Running Back

Spotlight: Robert Hughes

Also Returning: Armando Allen, Bobby Burger, Jonas Gray
Lost: James Aldridge, Mike Narvaez (graduation), Steve Paskorz (position change - linebacker), Theo Riddick (position change - wide receiver)
Gained: Patrick Coughlin (walk-on), Derry Herlihy (position change - wide receiver), Cierre Wood (DNP as freshmen), Cameron Roberson (freshman)

The running back rotation for 2010 consists of Armando Allen and four guys fighting to be his backup. Each of those four has something to prove as well.

Hughes wins the spotlight because, as a senior, this is his last chance to prove himself. Bigger backs can succeed in the spread offense, pinballing off of the opposition's extra defensive backs. Hughes has shown he could do that in 2007 and 2009, and will look to do the same in 2010.

Jonay Gray is looking to get over his reputation for fumblitis, and to redeem himself for losing minutes to then-freshman Theo Riddick in 2009.

Speaking of players who lost minutes to Riddick in 2009, Cierre Wood will look to get on the field for the first time in his college career. Brought in with a great deal of hype, Wood sat out the entirety of his freshman campaign. Of course, that may have just been a move to preserve his eligibility. Either way, we'll finally be able to see what all the fuss was about.

Cameron Roberson is this year's version of Cierre Wood. Although the way he's been praised in recent press conferences, it sounds like it will be hard to keep Roberson out of the rotation this year.

Wide Receiver

Spotlight: Duval Kamara

Also Returning: Shaquelle Evans, Michael Floyd, Dan Franco, John Goodman, Christopher Gurries, Robby Toma, Deion Walker
Lost: Brian Coughlin, Robby Parris, Kris Patterson, Sam Vos, George West (graduation), Golden Tate (NFL), Barry Gallup (position change - cornerback), Derry Herlihy (position change - running back)
Gained: Theo Riddick (position change - running back), Austin Collinsworth, Bennett Jackson, TJ Jones, Daniel Smith (freshman)

Not many teams can lose their Biletnikoff winner to the NFL and still be able to brag about their wide receiver depth.

Michael Floyd is the proven quantity, of course, provided he stays healthy. He has a God-given talent for catching the ball in (and above) traffic). However, that doesn't necessarily mean he should be running end-arounds (ends-around?), as seen in the spring game, or returning kicks, as is wanted by many an Irish fan. Floyd is a very talented receiver, but not exactly in Golden Tate make-people-miss mold.

Opposite of Floyd on the outside will be Duval Kamara. With all the attention going to Floyd and Kyle Rudolph, Dayne Crist will need have a reliable set of hands as a checkdown option to rely on. It's up to the senior Kamara, who has had cases of the dropsies in the past, to be that option and keep Crist's confidence up.

In the slot, Theo Riddick and TJ Jones are 1 and 1A right now. Jones earned praise from coaches and fans alike in the spring, but Riddick tops the latest depth chart. No doubt both will see plenty of playing time, especially if and when the Irish go with four wideouts.

Riddick, the shifty converted running back, is ideal for running plays and screens out of the slot - especially the shovel pass/middle screen the team fell in love with in the spring game. Jones is more of an all-around receiver with the ability to go downfield, although the staff has been harping on his consistency.

The rest of the unit is a good mix of playing styles. Freshmen Austin Collingsworth and Bennett Jackson could both see playing time this year, which speaks to their talent and development, as they are fighting against seven players who saw collegiate action last year. In fact, Collingsworth is rumored to already have a spot "on the bus" for his special teams play. On top of that, it speaks to the freshman's abilities as a pass catcher that he's stuck at wideout and not been moved to defensive back (his other high school position), considering the relative depth situation at each position.

Tight End

Spotlight: Bobby Burger

Also Returning: Kyle Rudolph, Mike Ragone
Lost: (none)
Gained: Tyler Eifert, Jake Golic (DNP as freshmen), Alex Welch (freshman)

Yes, part of the reason I spotlighted Burger is because he's a personal cheeseball. But the H-back will play a vital role in this offense, even if he doesn't catch a single pass. Both tackle positions on the line are still in flux, but whoever wins those positions will be getting assistance from a proven blocker in Burger. That assistance, of course, translates into more time in the passing game for the new starter at quarterback, Crist.

Kyle Rudolph, like Michael Floyd, is a known quantity. He's been called the most complete tight end in recent Notre Dame history, an impressive compliment considering the NFL factory the position has become.

Behind Rudolph, Mike Ragone will fight to get his career back on track after it was derailed by injury and then legal trouble. If he cannot, Eifert, Golic, and Welch will be more than happy to get their Notre Dame careers started in his place.

Offensive Line

Spotlight: Trevor Robinson

Also Returning: Braxston Cave, Lane Clelland, Jordan Cowart, Taylor Dever, Bill Flavin, Mike Golic, Mike Hernandez, Andrew Nuss, Matt Romine, Chris Stewart, Dan Wenger
Lost: Paul Duncan, Eric Olsen, Jeff Tisak, Michael Turkovich, Sam Young (graduation), Tom Freeman (former preferred walk-on is not on the roster this year)
Gained: Dennis Mahoney (walk-on), Alex Bullard, Zach Martin, Chris Watt (DNP as freshmen), Christian Lombard, Tate Nicols (freshmen)

With so many question marks along the offensive line, the spotlight goes to the one constant this unit has seen over the past few years. Trevor Robinson may not have gotten the same fanfare given to Sam Young and Ryan Harris when he cracked the starting rotation as a freshman in 2008, but he's been a steady force on the line ever since.

Robinson's counterpart at guard is again Chris Stewart, who's gotten a lot of attention for his improved chin-up numbers. But let's see how well Stewart's new combination of size and strength translate to the playing field.

The remaining three positions each have a pair of players competing for reps. That may not be what you want with a new quarterback, but it is the reality nonetheless.

At center, veteran Dan Wenger is trying to fight off sophomore Braxton Cave. Cave's work ethic may lead to both seeing snaps this fall.

The two tackle spots are seeing competition from three career reserves and one talented sophomore. Taylor Dever and Andrew Nuss will fight for the right tackle spot, while Zack Martin (the underclassman) and Matt Romine will battle for the right to protect Dayne Crist's blind side.