Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Notre Dame Position Previews: Offense


Spotlight: Dayne Crist
Also Returning: Matthew Mulvey, Tommy Rees
Lost: Brian Castello (graduation), Luke Massa (position change), Nate Montana (transfer)
Gained: Andrew Hendrix (DNP as freshman), Everett Golson (freshman)

As long as Brian Kelly is the head coach at Notre Dame, there may never be a lack of depth at quarterback. There will probably be no lack of controversy, either. This year, Dayne Crist wins back his starting job even after Tommy Rees finished 2010 undefeated as a starter.

Of course, Rees was the beneficiary of a vastly improved defense and run game late in the season. Had Crist been healthy, he likely would have finished the season on a similar high note. Crist finished 2010 with better passing numbers than Rees, plus he is a threat to run - a major component of the Brian Kelly offense. One thing to watch this season is how much Kelly will let Crist run. Will Dayne run less, knowing his propensity for injury, or will he run more, now that he has a more than capable backup in Rees?

The second thing to watch is the fight for playing time for newcomers Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson. Both are greater running threats than either Crist or Rees, and speculation abounds that one or the other will be used in wildcat or goal line situations. Of course, with all the depth in front of him, it may benefit Golson to preserve a year of eligibility.

Running Back

Spotlight: Jonas Gray
Also Returning: Patrick Coughlin, Cierre Wood
Lost: Armando Allen, Bobby Burger, Derry Herlihy, Robert Hughes (graduation), Cam Roberson (injury)
Gained: Tyler Plantz (walk on), George Atkinson III, Eric Lee, Cam McDaniel (freshmen)

In a very thin running back rotation, Jonas Gray is the key. With the graduation of Armando Allen and Robert Hughes, and the loss of Cam Roberson for the year with a knee injury, Gray is the only separation between starter Cierre Wood and a collection of freshmen and walk ons. Sure the freshmen are talented. But the play of Jonas Gray will determine how often Notre Dame will have to rely on those freshmen in key situations. Cierre Wood is good, but he can't play every down. Plus, as with the end of last year, the more Notre Dame can rely on their run game, the less they have to rely on their quarterback to do everything.

There have been a number of running backs in recent memory - Travis Thomas comes to mind - that began their Irish career as "that running back who fumbles too much," but left Notre Dame as an effective player. If Gray can become the next such back, the offense will be in good hands this year.

Wide Receiver

Spotlight: TJ Jones
Also Returning: Michael Floyd, John Goodman, Theo Riddick, Daniel Smith, Robby Toma, Deion Walker
Lost: Dan Franco, Christopher Gurries, Duval Kamara (graduation), Austin Collinsworth, Bennett Jackson (position change - defensive back), Shaq Evans (transfer)
Gained: Luke Massa (position change), Nick Fitzpatrick, Ryan Liebscher, Ryan Sharpley (walk ons), DeVaris Daniels, Matthias Farley, Eric Lee (freshmen)

TJ Jones came out strong at the start of last season, but nagging injuries prevented him from having a truly great freshman campaign. (In fact, the injuries limited his production so much, I didn't even realize he got into 12 games - it seemed like far less.) Jones, Michael Floyd, and Theo Riddick will truly be working as a unit this year. If the opposing defense puts an extra player on Floyd for being Floyd, or Riddick for being a threat to run or catch, then Jones will be in a position to catch some passes in single coverage - and he will need to make those plays to keep the offense going. And if TJ can prove himself as a reliable threat in this offense, it will prevent defenses from doubling up on Floyd or Riddick, allowing them to do what they do best.

For some reason, it seems like the receiving corps is a lot thinner than last year, but that may not be the case. In Floyd, Riddick, and Jones, the team has three capable starters. Robby Toma, originally the "player to be named later" when the team added Manti Te'o, had a very productive 2010 and could see starter's minutes in 2011. John Goodman proved himself as a reliable option when injuries increased his playing time. There are a trio of talented freshmen coming in, plus former quarterback Luke Massa, who had a few nice catches in the spring game. The wild card is Deion Walker. Now a senior, Walker appeared to be a casualty of the coaching change after not getting any playing time last year. The coaches then called his number quite a few times in the spring game, and he responded with five catches and 56 yards. Any production out of Walker this fall would make the unit so much stronger.

Tight End

Spotlight: Tyler Eifert
Also Returning: Tyler Eifert, Jake Golic, Mike Ragone
Lost: Bobby Burger (graduation), Kyle Rudolph (NFL)
Gained: Arturo Martinez (walk on), Alex Welch (DNP as freshman), Ben Koyack (freshman)

Anyone worried how the tight end position would fare in the transition from Charlie Weis to Brian Kelly are at ease after Tyler Eiffert's freshman campaign. Forced into action after Kyle Rudolph's injuries, Eiffert finished with one less catch and one less touchdown than the current NFL rookie. Eiffert proved himself a more than capable receiver on long or short passes, and a matchup problem for opposing defenses as well. His blocking needs some improvement, which one can expect from a young catch-first tight end. But that will come with time.

As a whole, the tight end position is finally building up some depth again. Mike Ragone has never been much of a receiving threat, but he has been a reliable blocker when healthy. Jake Golic, now already a junior, will continue to struggle for playing time if he can't beat out Alex Welch, who had four catches in the spring game, and freshman Ben Koyack.

Offensive Line

Spotlight: Trevor Robinson
Also Returning: Braxston Cave, Lane Clelland, Jordan Cowart, Taylor Dever, Mike Golic Jr, Ryan Kavanagh, Dennis Mahoney, Zack Martin, Andrew Nuss, Chris Watt
Lost: Bill Flavin, Mike Hernandez, Matt Romine, Chris Stewart, Dan Wenger (graduation), Alex Bullard (transfer)
Gained: Matt Tansey (walk on), Christian Lombard, Tate Nichols (DNP as freshmen), Brad Carrico, Conor Hanratty, Matt Hegarty, Nick Martin, Jordan Prestwood (freshmen)

Trevor Robinson gets the spotlight for the second year in a row. Last year, it was because he was the best young lineman coming in. This year, it's because injuries led to a disappointing season, and he's looking for redemption. Robinson is one of four returning starters on the line, as only opposing guard Chris Stewart ran out of eligibility. Chris Watt will replace Stewart in the starting rotation after being one of the team's top backups last year.

This year, the line's "sixth man" will be Andrew Nuss, who could see as much playing time as Watt. The unit will also have plenty of depth with Mike Golic and Lane Clelland coming back as veterans, Christian Lombard and Tate Nichols joining the mix, and a full line's worth of freshman joining the squad.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Trade Deadline Thoughts


Acquired Kosuke Fukudome from the Cubs for Abner Abreu and Carlton Smith

The Indians do need outfielders while Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo are out. While Fukudome isn't the power right handed bat they were hoping for, he is a serviceable veteran starter with a high on base percentage. His tendency to fade down the stretch is a concern, but Sizemore and Choo will be back relatively soon, and hopefully before that fading does any serious damage.

On top of that, the Indians didn't give up much in return. Smith is a AAA reliever, which the Indians have plenty of. Abreu is having a good season, but he's also playing high A ball the second time around this year.

Traded Orlando Cabrera to the Giants for Thomas Neal

Neal also isn't the power-hitting right-handed outfielder the Indians were hoping for, but he's a decent return for Orlando Cabrera. With tons of depth at second base in the majors and AAA, the Indians could afford to get rid of Uncle Orlando. Jason Kipnis's home runs in three straight games since the trade has helped as well.

The Giants, meanwhile, continue their role as a final resting place for former All Star middle infielders.

Didn't acquire Ryan Ludwick

As mentioned above, the Indians were looking for a right-handed hitting outfielder. Ludwick and his 90 OPS+ (which does take Petco Park into account) isn't the answer, and when the Padres raised his price, the Indians were wise to let him go.

Acquired Ubaldo Jimenez from the Rockies for Joe Gardner, Alex White, Matt McBride and a player to be named later (Drew Pomeranz)

Yes it's a gutsy move, but it's a good one. Jimenez is only signed through 2013, but so are all the other Indians stars. As much as I don't like the model of competing only once every five years, at least the Indians are committed to it, and this trade proved it. Playoff success is built with two ace pitchers, and the Indians may have them now in Jimenez and Justin Masterson.

Of course, Jimenez didn't come cheap. White is already major league ready (as evidenced by his 3.60 ERA in a handful of start), and Pomeranz is expected to be better. But both are injury risks at a certain level. Gardner and McBride are essentially throw-ins; the latter is a great hitter at AA but hasn't proved much above that level.

So again, although the Indians gave up quite a bit in the trade, I like it because it shows they're going all in for the next two and a half years.


Acquired Ryan Ludwick from the Padres for a player to be named later
Acquired Derrek Lee from the Orioles for Aaron Baker

Both acquisitions show an aggressive Pittsburgh front office, which is just what Pirates fans want to see right now. Lee may only be a league-average hitter at this point, but that's still an improvement over what the Pirates had been getting at first base.


Traded Francisco Rodriguez to the Brewers for two players to be named later

Closers, good or bad, aren't needed much on rebuilding teams, so they're always a good piece to trade away.

Acquired Zack Wheeler from the Giants for Carlos Beltran

Beltran was perhaps a bit underappreciated during his time in New York, but Mets fans were still sad to see him go. Beltran will add some pop to a lifeless Giants offense and move to right field, where his range will be a benefit in San Francisco's home park.

Wheeler is a great return for half a year of Beltran. The pitching prospect does have control issues, but he also comes with tons of upside.


Acquired Mike Adams from the Padres for prospects Joe Wieland and Robbie Erlin

When I first heard about this trade, the announcer erroneously reported that the Rangers acquired Heath Bell, not Mike Adams. While I have nothing against Bell, Adams may in fact be the better pitcher. This move obviously gives the Rangers great bullpen depth. Plus, if they can re-sign him again next year, they have the option of moving him to closer and making Neftali Feliz a starter, if they so choose.

Blue Jays

Acquired Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen from the White Sox for Jason Frasor and Zach Stewart
Acquired Colby Rasmus, Trever Miller, Brian Tallet, and PJ Walters from the Cardinals for Edwin Jackson, Marc, Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, and Corey Patterson

Teahen, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion are all 3B/RF/DH types. Bautista is obviously a star. Teahen isn't, but he's a definite step up from Encarnacion.

The unenlightened Blue Jays fan may think Colby Rasmus is another underachieving center fielder in the mold of Vernon Wells or Alex Rios, but in fact Rasmus is a burgeoning star. In a way it's funny that Rasmus, highly underrated by the casual fan, was traded for Edwin Jackson, who's somewhat overrated by the casual fan.

Also, Brian Tallet is awesome.

Red Sox

Acquired Erik Bedard and Josh Fields from Seattle as part of a three-way trade

Bedard is having a great comeback year, and Boston starters are having trouble staying off the DL. If Bedard can hold off that DL curse, this will be a great pickup for the Sox.


Acquired Jason Marquis from the Nationals

Playoffs, here they come!


Acquired Jordan Schafer, Brett Oberholtzer, Paul Clemens, and Juan Abreu from the Braves for Michael Bourn
Acquired Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, and Josh Zeid from the Phillies for Hunter Pence

The Astros were wise to at least try rebuilding for once. I think they were helped by the down year for available position players as well. Schafer and Cosart are the headliners in this deal, and Schafer will step into the starting outfield right away.


Acquired Rafael Furcal from the Dodgers for Alex Castellanos
Acquired Edwin Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, and Corey Patterson from the Blue Jays for Colby Rasmus, Trever Miller, and Brian Tallet

Tony LaRussa's personal grudges may finally be catching up for him. The Furcal deal is to make up for trying to replace Brendan Ryan with Ronnie Theriot, and replacing Rasmus with Patterson doesn't look like a good move even with the other names thrown in that deal.


Traded Jonny Gomes to the Nationals for Bill Rhinehart and Chris Manno

Does this mean my "Jonny Gnomes" gnome is even more of a collector's item now?


Acquired Mike Cameron for a player to be named later or cash

Cameron was underappreciated in Boston, as he was everywhere he's been. That said, I fail to see how this move benefits the Marlins at this stage, unless it's too take some pressure off of Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton in the lineup and in the outfield.