The spring game is an odd box of chocolates. Some players look amazing and are rarely heard from again (see prior MVPs for a list of who’s not) others are hardly noticed or used and turn into integral players. The team always looks discombobulated (a Davie hold over) because the coaches are creating a faux game out of a scrimmage to please the fans. Many fans walked away from last year’s game shaking their collective heads over this or that, when the general takeaway inside the program was that the team was primed for a great year.
So what to expect from this box of chocolates this Saturday given that you have to take your chocolate with a grain of salt? Not a bad combo, btw.
The big news out of spring is that Kelly has handed over play-calling duties to Martin. Last year Kelly said that Martin would give him choices and Kelly would call the plays, but many suggested Martin was fully in charge by the end of the year. Regardless, Martin will be calling plays this Saturday. Of the few notes from spring, the offense has been practicing the fade and running option plays.
The biggest question mark heading into 2013 is how much Everett Golson’s evolution will affect the offense. The coaches have focused on aligning Golson’s immense talent with his decision-making. As Kelly mentioned last year, Golson has always had the art part of the QB equation and the physical skills, the key to a great versus a good offense will be how he executes the science of the position. Kelly operates an offense predicated on unconscious competence (repping plays until you can perform them unconsciously) which is a key element in being able to dictate tempo. Notre Dame used very little tempo in the first three years due to the QB situations, but expect that to change this year. If Golson can master the science he is simply fantastic throwing on the run and Notre Dame’s putrid offense could finally ignite.
Of the backups, Hendrix has been more accurate and Rees has gained strength. I wouldn’t be surprised to see either QB look much improved on Saturday. Malik Zaire has reportedly come in as a great student of the game. He’s already built better than Golson and is an excellent runner. His passing is fairly accurate even with his big looping Tebow-motion. QB seems to be fully stabilized.
Perhaps the biggest surprise at running back has been the chatter around Cam McDaniel, whose cameo at Miami last year opened some eyes. McDaniel is very quick, runs low, works well in traffic and catches the ball exceedingly well out of the backfield. He’s been pushing George Atkinson, who’s starting to look more like a running back, but some seem to still doubt whether or not he’s enough of a true running back to carry the load as an every down back. He has caught the ball well and has blazing open field speed.
The front line wide receiver corps looks strong, but thin. TJ Jones is a very polished and consistent receiver. DaVaris Daniels still has the big P (potential) label, but has made some noticeable strides in the weight room and has made some spectacular grabs. There still seems to be some doubt about his heart and head, but little about his ability. CJ Prosise has been working in the slot and in a few short clips has caused more than a few jaws to loosen and descend. He’s a big kid with great speed, but still very raw after shifting from safety. Hopes seem to be very high for Amir Carlisle, but Carlisle is injured again and won’t play on Saturday. Of the backups, Corey Robinson has been performing “admirably”, the 6’5” son of David Robinson has made spectacular catch after spectacular catch and his catching radius (new term) is off the charts. He’s reminding many of Maurice Stovall.
Thor Niklas has been the story at Tight End. The giant former California Lineman of the Year shifted from linebacker to Tight End last year and has emerged as both a blocking and catching threat with Eifert moving on. Word is that he’s going to be next in the line of Irish greats and at 6’7” 265, he’ll give the staff fantastic options. Ben Koyack has also looked very good in the few clips I saw and has decided that blocking is a Tight End’s job. Alex Welch is back. He brings a strong blocking element and has made some great catches in practice. In sum, the tight end position is strong and deep.
There is a lot of concern about the offense line, which lost Braxton Cave at center and Mike Golic at guard position. Nick Martin and Matt Hegarty are running 1-2 at center and while it’s usually difficult to measure yourself against yourself, Martin and Hegarty have been going against Nix (who looks like he ate Cave) and doing well. Overall, some good noise coming from the OL, but tough to make much of it at this point. With Martin, Lombard and Watt returning the Irish have three big seasoned OL to build around. Let’s hope no one gets hurt. A lot of eyes are on Elmer and Stanley, two potential stars. Stanley is recovering from elbow surgery, but is a big kid.
Speaking of Irish Chocolate, the DL will be enormous on one side with Nix in the 360 range and Tuitt at 322. Sheldon Day is a bit undersized but brings a honey badger quality to defensive end. Kona Schwenke is bigger and has been more aggressive. If they stay hungry (and apparently Lou and Stephon have) this Notre Dame line will again be among the best in the country.
Linebacker is intriguing. Only Shembo at Cat seems set in stone. Ishaq Williams is bigger, but is he better? He’s been playing some defensive end in passing situations. Spond and Councell both bring excellent athleticism to the Dog position and are reportedly battling like cats and dogs. With heralded Jaylon Smith coming in, the Dog, traditionally the most difficult position on the field to recruit for, looks stacked. No one will replace Teo’s intangibles, but the Irish bring a lot of experience back on the inside with Fox and the under-appreciated Carlo Calabrese (needs to get his people on that – I kid Carlo, I kid). It’s a luxury to bring back two talented experienced kids like Fox and Calabrese to pair with werewolf Jarrett Grace (whom the coaches are very high on) and the talented enigma, Kendall Moore.
The big surprise at defensive back has been the emergence of Elijah Schumate who’s been registering big hits. Keivarae Russell, despite getting roasted by CJ Prosise in practice, has matured into his frame and looks ready for a great year two. I’m reminded of Diaco’s quote, pre-Miami, “He’ll probably be the best corner in the country before it’s all said and done”.
If you’re worried about punt returns and I know you are, word is that if Amir Carlisle stays healthy he might get the nod next year. I wouldn’t be surprised if Collinsworth does well there.
By that I mean does more than fair catch it.