It’s clear from interviews with Kelly that Everett Golson will be charged with running a higher octane offense in 2014. In 2012, Kelly and Martin increased the run/pass mix dramatically (a 8.8 % swing) in an effort to protect Golson and play to what the coaches figured to be a strong defense. Last year, Kelly touted that the team would be more vertical and use tempo… part of that proved true as Tommy Rees threw deep with some success. The problem was that the rest of the offense was predictable, the running game was tepid much of the season and the idea of running at tempo seemed to have been shelved in favor of the look at the sideline play calling farce that seems to have swept over college football in the past year.
This year, Kelly seems bent on instituting “his” offense and as a self-proclaimed “pass spread guy” that will probably mean a higher percentage of pass plays mixed with some read option.
Here’s a position breakdown (noting that everything in the spring has to be taken with a giant block of mine salt: )
- 5 Everett Golson JR 6-0/200
- 8 Malik Zaire FR 6-0/208
Front runner: Everett Golson
The closest analog for Golson is Russell Wilson, who put up 3 mediocre seasons before having his breakout season at Wisconsin. 5’11” with a strong arm and ability to improvise, Golson trails Wilson in terms of speed at the same point in their careers, but Golson probably has the stronger arm. The tools are there, whether Golson will ever develop the mental aspect of the game as Wilson did, remains to be seen. Of course one key to Russell’s success is that Wisconsin didn’t just let him run around and make plays, they used a strong running game to set Wilson up for success. If Golson can make half the jump Wilson did, the Irish offense will look good. Golson returns much thicker and stronger and reportedly with a better focus, but the crucial factor in Kelly’s offense will be his ability to make the right pre-snap reads and quick and accurate throws. If Golson can improve here, he should be able to make the offense run efficiently if the reads are there and of course, if protection breaks down, his ability to create with his feet and his arm will add a completely different dimension to the offense and keep defenses on their heels. It’s also likely we’ll see more designed running plays, both QB runs and read option. Behind Golson, the Irish run into shaky ground. Zaire was redshirted in 2013 and doesn’t come from a heavy passing offense as Golson did. Zaire hasn’t shown great consistency in the passing game and it’s likely the Irish will become much more run oriented if Golson goes down. The caveat is that Zaire is still on a very steep learning curve.
Recruiting: Deshone Kizer is a heck of a find for the Irish. At 6’4” he actually exhibits running ability similar to Golson and improved dramatically in the passing game in 2013. In adding junior Blake Barnette into the mix, the Irish will finally have a lineup of quarterbacks all with the same skill set: the ability to make plays with their arms and their feet.
Front runner: Tarean Folston
- 1 Greg Bryant FR 5-10/204
- 25 Tarean Folston FR 5-9/207
- 33 Cam McDaniel JR 5-10/207
Brian Kelly’s had two very good running tandems in three years at Notre Dame. In 2011 Jonas Gray (until he was injured) and Cierre Wood racked up more yards for two running backs than any tandem since Bettis in Brooks in the 1990s. In 2012, Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood anchored a run heavy offense that propelled Notre Dame into the title game. It appears as if Notre Dame has another tandem ready to take over. Tarean Folston stood out in 2013, cracking the starting lineup late in the season and showcasing a tantalizing combination of speed, cutting ability and power. The latter being the biggest and most pleasant surprise. The more highly touted Greg Bryant had surgery in the off-season and appears to be back at full strength, which is what Bryant brings the equation. His style is reminiscent of Theo Riddick… he runs with low power and has great ability to stop, cut and go. Cam McDaniel led the team in carries and yards last season and finally started to run with power that allowed him to break tackles and showcase his speed, but I’d be surprised if he can overcome the sheer talent Folston and Bryant bring to the running game. The bottom line is that running back should be a strength if not a starring position for the Irish in 2014.
Front runners: Davaris Daniels/Corey Robinson, Chris Brown/Will Fuller, CJ Prosise/Amir Carlisle
- 2 Chris Brown SO 6-2/191
- 3 Amir Carlisle JR 5-10/190
- 7 William Fuller FR 6-0/171
- 11 Justin Brent FR 6-1/204
- 16 Torii Hunter Jr. FR 6-0/190
- 20 C.J. Prosise SO 6-1/220
- 32 Will Mahone SO 5-10/214
- 81 Omar Hunter FR 5-8/175
- 88 Corey RobinsonFR 6-4/205
There’s a lot of young talent competing for playing time at wide receiver. Davaris Daniels, hopefully, returns as the featured receiver in 2014. Daniels is a player who has the perfect set of skill to be a dominant wide receiver, but so far, has been plagued by inconsistency. 6’2”, with a 4.4 40 and a 40 inch vertical leap Daniels has been shown flashes of becoming a great wide receiver, but has also been a non-factor. Battling on the other side, will be Chris Brown who’s sprinter speed and play-making ability have teased Irish fans, but Brown has yet to show he can be anything more than a change-up player. The early reports from spring are promising. Corey Robinson and his giant fly swatter arms continues to impress in early practice time and in making circus catch after circus catch, has made them look easy. Torii Hunter continues to generate buzz about his play-making ability. Will Fuller, if he can ever grab a few milkshakes, has play-making ability but at 161 pounds has to be put on some weight to become a full-time player.
The battle for slot receiver is proving to be an interesting one. CJ Prosise has great size at 220 pounds (that’s a big ole slot receiver) coupled with surprising speed (6.53 60) and open field moves. Amir Carlisle is coming on (again), the speedy converted running back has proven very reliable as a pass catcher early on and has explosive ability to make yards after the catch. Either player could give the Irish a dynamic player in the slot.
Recruiting: Justin Brent may not carry a five star designation, but the 6’1+” 210 pound receiver was rated one of the top 4 receivers at the Nike event “The Opening” (something Micaiah Quick didn’t do), has the body to play right away and is an early enrollee. Brent will surprise a lot star/cohort watchers. He has a great combination of size, speed, catching ability and moves in the open field.
Corey Holmes comes in with the tag “a taller TJ Jones”… technically proficient with good size. Holmes likely will take a year to fill out but he comes in as a polished receiver who has starter potential. The Irish failed to nab a speedster in the class, but came away with two players with exceptional talent, size and receiving ability.
Front runner: Ben Koyack
- 9 Mike Heuerman FR 6-4/225
- 18 Ben Koyack JR 6-5/261
- 80 Durham Smythe FR 6-5/242
No one wanted to see Troy Niklas leave early, but I don’t expect the Irish to miss a beat with Ben Koyack as a pass catcher. Koyack had to work on his blocking, but the former #2 tight end has always has receiver ability and now checks in at 261 pounds and looked every bit as good as Niklas near the end of last year. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he becomes the next great Irish tight end. But behind Koyack, the Irish are thin. Mark Heuerman and Durham Smythe, both tight ends with exceptional receiving skills are still too slight to be factors in the run game. Smythe has impressed early on and many think he’ll be the next in line after Koyack at tight end U, but he needs some time to develop. Heuermann has yet to put on good weight and appears a tweener at the moment, though a tweener with great skill as a pass catcher.
Recruiting: Nic Weisher was another guy who didn’t come in with stars or “cohort”, but dominated practices in the all-star game. An exceptional prospect, he’s probably too light and too green to be a factor in 2013. Regardless, he’s a great catch at tight end and is likely to follow Durham Smythe’s trajectory. The other tight end recruit, Tyler Luatua is an enigma. At one time rated the top tight end in the country, he struggled in all-star games and had an unimpressive senior year. Luatua fits more into the H-back mode. He’s very strong, a little on the short side, but powerful and athletic if not exceptionally fast.
Front Runners: LT Ronnie Stanley, LG Steve Elmer, C Nick Martin, RG Connor Hanratty, RT Christian Lombard/Mike McGlinchey
- 60 John Montelus FR 6-4/320
- 62 Colin McGovern FR 6-5/313
- 65 Connor Hanratty JR 6-5/309
- 68 Mike McGlinchey FR 6-8/300
- 70 Hunter Bivin FR 6-5/291
- 72 Nick Martin JR 6-5/295
- 74 Christian Lombard SR 6-5/315
- 75 Mark Harrell SO 6-4/305
- 77 Matt Hegarty JR 6-5/300
- 78 Ronnie Stanley SO 6-6/318
- 79 Steve Elmer FR 6-6/317
- 99 Hunter Smith SO 6-3/204
No one’s going to look at the left side of the Irish line and think, “those guys are undersized”. Ronnie Stanley and Steve Elmer are going to form an imposing duo for opponents and have engulfed some of the smaller defensive linemen they’ve practiced against so far. With Martin injured for part of the spring and now Lombard sidelined, Matt Hegarty has thrust himself into position to challenge. Connor Hanratty gives the Irish and old soul at RG. Experienced and solid, but not spectacular he’s been joined on the right side by right tackle Mike McGlinchey in the spring. The giant McGlinchy is athletic enough to have Kelly toying with the idea of playing him at tight end. Second year OL coach Harry Heistand has exceeded all expectations to date. The bottom line is that the Irish are still fairly young on the OL, but have put together multiple classes of deep talented recruits and should form a solid line at the very least in 2014.
Recruiting : The Irish landed a very good, if not spectacular follow-up group to the 2012 recruiting class. The star is offensive tackle Quenton Nelson who has the quickness to play defense. Advanced beyond his years, is as ready as a freshman can be coming into college. Sam Mustipher is a top rated guard and brings road grader ability to the inside. Alex Bars is a big framed kid who slightly underperformed in the all-star circuit. Jimmy Byrne is a good looking OL recruit but likely has a ways to go to make an impact.
The story of the 2014 team will be pressure and “multiplicity”. New defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder has been moving players around and cross training them in an effort to disguise pressures. Luckily that approach happens to work well for a defense trying to hide holes which ND has at the inside linebacker spot and on the defensive line. The secondary certainly has the numbers and the talent to be much better than last year and they may be asked to shoulder more of the burden in the form of man coverage in 2014.
Front runners: Romeo Okwara, Sheldon Day, Jarron Jones, Ishaq Williams
- 11 Ishaq Williams JR 6-5/271
- 45 Romeo Okwara SO 6-4/258
- 50 Chase Hounshell JR 6-4/271
- 53 Justin Utupo SR 6-1/290
- 56 Anthony Rabasa JR 6-3/243
- 69 Tony Springmann JR 6-6/296
- 89 Jacob Matuska FR 6-4/285
- 91 Sheldon Day SO 6-2/290
- 94 Jarron Jones SO 6-5/310
- 95 Marquis Dickerson FR 6-2/280
- 90 Isaac Rochell FR 6-3/287
- 98 Andrew Trumbetti FR 6-3/260
This is certainly an area of great concern for the Irish heading into 2014. As I’ve noted before, the Irish entered 2012 minus Aaron Lynch, neither Nix nor Tuitt were playing at a high level at that point and there was much consternation about the ability of the defense to play with Oklahoma and USC. That written, I don’t think it’s likely that Okwara, Ishaq and Jones will all make a similar leap in 2014. Sheldon Day is the mainstay and, in his third season, is a veteran with excellent disruptive ability. One strength Van Gorder will have to build upon is quickness in the front four. Rochell, Jones and Okwara all have excellent athleticism. The Irish will need Tony Springmann back (who played a fair amount of snaps on the 2012 team) and will have to have some surprises emerge in the second line or from the freshman group.
Recruiting : I think fans are going to be very surprised by this recruiting group. It doesn’t stand out from a star or “cohort” perspective, but the Irish landed some much needed size and athleticism up front. Andrew Trumbetti won the skills competition at the all-star game and played running back in high school. Undersized at this point, he has a great motor and physical nature to his game. Jhonathan Williams has great athleticism for his position. At 6’5” (and at times playing wide receiver) he’s reminded some of Aaron Lynch in terms of ability. Grant Blankenship is another big bodied athletic prospect. 6’6”, (to continue with the comparison game) he’s drawn comparisons to Troy Niklas. Those three stand out in terms of length and ability to penetrate. Jonathan Bonner is a kid who impressed the staff at camp where he bested some of the top OL in the country. In the middle the Irish landed a potential great one in Jay Hayes. Hayes has natural size and enough speed to play on the outside. When it comes to size, Pete Mokwuah is a giant. A late find he carries 314 pounds naturally and isn’t a plodder. Daniel Cage is a thick stocky kid, a bit in the mold Sheldon Day, though less productive to this point. Overall the Irish landed size speed and a lot of potential up front. And after two years of thin numbers, it was much needed. If my count is right, there will be 19 players on the defensive line on scholarship.
Front runners: Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt and..
- 8 Kendall Moore SR 6-1/251
- 9 Jaylon Smith FR 6-2/230
- 30 Ben Councell JR 6-5/254
- 31 John Turner SO 6-1/217
- 38 Joe Schmidt JR 6-0/230
- 42 Michael Deeb FR 6-2/242
- 44 Doug Randolph FR 6-2/240
- 52 Austin Larkin FR 6-3/220
- 59 Jarrett Grace JR 6-3/253
Outside of Jaylon Smith, the Irish have no proven players. Smith is a sure NFL round top draft pick and had been playing inside at times, but is now exclusively playing on the edge. Joe Schmidt is undersized, but has picked up Van Gorder’s defense quickly and been a spring surprise. Doug Randolph is big and fast, but green. The Irish will likely need Councell and Grace to come back healthy in the fall and/or a significant contribution from the freshmen. That the Irish moved John Turner to LB and have Onwualu playing there at times could signal a commitment to disguise the defense or a giant red flag.
Recruiting : By far the biggest name on the recruiting trail this year was middle linebacker Nyles Morgan. Morgan may have to live up to his billing early in his career to shore up the inside positions. Nile Sykes and Kolin Hill may not have had the offer lists of other linebackers, but both possess excellent quickness. Geer Martini is a big bodied linebacker who was either a reach or a find depending upon who you talk to. Overall a good, not great, group.
Front runners: KeiVarae Russell, Max Redfield, Austin Collinsworth, Cole Luke
- 6 KeiVarae Russell SO
- 12 Devin Butler FR
- 21 Jalen Brown JR
- 24 Josh Atkinson JR
- 34 Jesse Bongiovi FR
- 36 Cole Luke FR
- 41 Matthias Farley JR
- 4 Eilar Hardy JR
- 10 Max Redfield FR
- 17 James Onwualu FR
- 22 Elijah Shumate SO
- 28 Austin Collinsworth SR
- 29 Nicky Baratti SO
On the outside, KeiVarae Russell is already a veteran in his junior year. Recruited as a running back-hybrid he’ll have to stay healthy for the Irish pressure defense to work. At the other spot, Cole Luke is a fluid athletic corner, but still a bit on the thin side. Matthias Farley has been working as the third corner and has apparently looked much improved after healing. Everyone is waiting for the “light to go on” for Max Redfield. Blessed with great size and speed he has the ability to take away a broad swath of the field. Austin Collinsworth is the classic glue guy who has picked up the defense fast, but he may face a challenge in the fall as more athletic safeties learn the defense. Overall the Irish have a solid front line of backs with questionable depth at the corner position. With the numbers at safety the Irish should be able to find a combination that can play at a high level. By adding Cody Riggs, a veteran of 24 starts at Florida, the Irish will gain a player capable of playing safety or corner.
Recruiting: Nick Watkins. He’s the only guy recruited in the defensive backfield. A natural corner with size, he may have to see action this year with the numbers looking a bit thin at corner.
Brindza is very good.