The independent voice of Notre Dame Athletics

  • A Closer Look at the 2012 Offense

    by SEE

    (Notre Dame Football News | The Rock Report) – Notre Dame’s offense in 2012 will have a different look and a lot of looks if you listen to coaches Kelly and Martin.  Likely starting quarterback Everett Golson is a passing and running threat and he mentioned that if teams “drop 8” in coverage against ND as teams did to Rees late last year, he’s been instructed to run against their three man lines.  You can also count on seeing some read option to keep defenses honest, a skill Rees simply doesn’t possess.  The other crucial asset Golson brings to the offense is the ability to throw down-field and attack the “deep thirds”, an essential part of the spread that opens up the field vertically.

    With star Michael Floyd gone, Tyler Eifert will become the focus of the passing game and Notre Dame plans to use multiple look two tight end sets to force defenses into make choices about whether to put a linebacker or a defensive back on the preseason All-American.  The other focus Kelly has talked about is getting a lot of play-makers on the field at the same time. Players like Wood, Atkinson, Carlisle, Neal and Brown all have big play potential and putting them on the field at once should force defenses to defend more of the field.  In theory, that will present match-up problems for linebackers and defensive backs and loosen up run defenses for Wood and Atkinson.

    With just a few weeks before the season opener in Ireland, Notre Dame’s first string is beginning to become solidified. Here’s a quick look at each position and the likely starters.

    Quarterback – Projected Starter: Everett Golson

    Golson is the presumptive starter for 2012 and anyone frustrated by the lack of ability of Notre Dame Quarterbacks to make plays when the protection broke down, will enjoy Golson’s style.  He has a very strong arm, was very accurate in high school and threw few interceptions.  That’s usually a good combination for future success.  If the staff incorporates him into the offense in a way the will allow him to run the offense without having to carry the offense, Golson could have a surprisingly strong sophomore year.   His ability to buy time in the pocket and avoid the rush while scanning the field for open receivers gives him a very big advantage in Kelly’s offense which calls for quarterbacks to be able to “extend plays.”   Kelly will now have a proven backup in Rees if Golson should falter, a strong running QB with some experience in Hendrix and the most highly recruited quarterback in the country (during his year) in Gunner Kiel. Kelly has made it clear that he won’t be afraid to put Kiel in the game if necessary.

    Conclusion: The quarterback position will likely be shaky this year at times as very few sophomore quarterbacks excel in that year (see Quinn/Clausen), but by mid-season Irish fans should finally begin to see what this offense can produce with a quarterback who can run the full offense.  On the flip side, the limitations of the offense should also become apparent.

    • 5    Golson, Everett       6-0/185        SO       Myrtle Beach, SC/Myrtle Beach
    • 12 Hendrix, Andrew    6-2/220       JR        Cincinnati, OH/Moeller
    • 1    Kiel, Gunner             6-4/210       FR       Columbus, IN/Columbus East
    • 11 Rees, Tommy           6-2/210        JR        Lake Forest, IL/Lake Forest


    Running Back – Projected Starter: Cierre Wood.

    Unless he’s injured, Wood will likely become the 5th Irish running back to run for 1,000 yards in back to back seasons.  Wood played very well last year averaging just over 5 yards per carry.  He hasn’t been as explosive as last year’s partner Jonas Gray, but his consistent ability to gain yards in the open field and catch passes out of the backfield combined with his third year in the offense make Wood a lock to start the season.  The interesting call will be when/if the staff chooses to use George Atkinson who is not only the fastest man on the team, but the among the most elusive.  Atkinson showed his talents as a freshman in taking back two kickoffs for touchdowns, the same number of kickoffs that Rocket returned for touchdowns his freshman year.  Theo Riddick would likely slide back to running back if Wood couldn’t play and is listed on the Notre Dame roster as a running back.  Amir Carlisle is an intriguing player.  He was one of the most impressive running backs at USC’s fall camp last year and has excellent speed, but he also has an ongoing foot issue has held him back.  Freshman Will Mahone has some quick feet for a power back and Sophomore Cam McDaniel appears to have been moved back from corner to add depth.

    Conclusion: Running Back should be a strength of the team with a proven runner in Wood, a potential game breaker in Atkinson and Theo Riddick available to fill in.

    • 4          Atkinson, George   6-1/210        SO       Stockton, CA/Granada
    • 3          Carlisle, Amir           5-10/185      SO       Santa Clara,CA/Kings Academy
    • 32       Mahone, Will           5-10/211      FR       Austintown, OH/Fitch
    • 33       McDaniel, Cam       5-10/195      SO       Coppell, TX/Coppell
    • 49       Plantz, Tyler             5-9/202        JR        Frankfort, IL/Providence Ca
    • 20       Wood, Cierre           6-0/215        SR       Oxnard, CA/Santa Clara


    Wide Receivers – Projected Starters: John Goodman, TJ Jones, Theo Riddick

    There is a lot of concern across NDNation about the effect losing Michael Floyd will have on the offense.  It was noted by many that Notre Dame often threw to Floyd even when he was covered and other wide receivers appeared open.  No one will replace Michael Floyd, but that doesn’t mean the offense can’t be more effective by spreading the ball around.  6 of the top 7 receivers return to the team.  TJ Jones showed excellent ability last year and at times I thought it was Floyd making the catch.    Theo Riddick is a proven if not dynamic receiver.  Riddick has to have a breakout year ala Jonas Gray and Harrison Smith for this offense to be able to move the ball.  Kelly’s spread seeks to exploit one-on-one matchups and Riddick has to be able to win his fair share.   The enigma is John Goodman who reportedly ran a 4.45 40 this winter. Goodman has speed, he has size and the has decent open field moves, but his consistency (and Floyd) have prevented him from becoming a big part of the Irish attack .   Like Riddick, Goodman needs to have a breakout senior campaign.  If Riddick and Goodman don’t rise to the occasion, players like Robby Toma and 6’4” Daniel Smith may get a shot as well as some talented wide receivers who have the skills to succeed if not the experience.  Toma was a favorite of Mike Mayock last year and is every quick with good hands.  Smith is a big kid with leaping ability.    Davaris Daniels owned the tag, “most athletic wide receiver” coming out of the spring, but he has yet to show he can be the type of playmaker ND needs in the spread.  He’s tall and fast with great leaping ability, but he still wears the potential label.

    That also describes freshman Chris Brown (10.51 100m) who’s a bit faster than fast (his 100m time is faster than Atkinson’s coming out of high school.)  Brown has turned many heads this summer and fall with his speed, leaping ability and his nose for the ball.  Brown is likely the only reason fellow freshman Davonte Neal hasn’t stood out more in fall practice.  Neal consistently looks like the quickest player on the team and is expected to compete for punt return duties (assuming we’re going to return punts this year.) Justin Ferguson arrived as the most physically ready to play freshman wide receiver and has also been active in fall camp.    Kelly has said he expects to distribute the ball around a lot this year, and given their talent and the fact that he’s involved them heavily in practice, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the freshmen receive a lot of balls their way.

    Conclusion: Other than quarterback, wide receiver is the biggest question mark on offense.  If Riddick and Goodman don’t evolve into true threats, then the younger players will have to fill that role, if they can’t it could be a long year as teams will be able to shorten the field against the Irish.

    • 33       Anderson, Josh       5-9/180        FR       Chatsworth, CA/Notre Dame
    • 2          Brown, Chris            6-2/172        FR       Hanahan, SC/Hanahan
    • 10       Daniels, DaVaris     6-2/190        SO       Vernon Hills, IL/Vernon Hills
    • 15       Ferguson, Justin     6-2/196        FR       Pembroke Pines, FL/Flanagan
    • 81       Goodman, John      6-3/215        GS       Fort Wayne, IN/Bishop Dw.
    • 7          Jones, TJ                    5-11/190      JR        Roswell, GA/Gainesville
    • 14       Massa, Luke             6-4/225        JR        Cincinnati, OH/St. Xavier
    • 19       Neal, Davonte’        5-9/171        FR       Scottsdale, AZ/Central
    • 6          Riddick, Theo           5-11/200      SR       Manville, NJ/Immaculata
    • 84       Smith, Andre           6-2/190        SO       Davie, FL/North Broward Prep
    • 87       Smith, Daniel           6-4/215        JR        South Bend, IN/Clay
    • 9          Toma, Robby           5-9/185        SR       Laie, HI/Punahou


    Tight End – Projected Starter: Tyler Eifert

    Not much more can be said about pre-season All-American Eifert, but behind him are two very talented tight ends in Ben Koyack and giant, Troy Niklas at 6’7”.   Koyack is more of a wide receiver/tight end in the mold of Eifert while Niklas is a massive tight end who can run extremely well.  The main concern with this unit is their ability to block, especially if ND moves to a two tight end offense.   Jake Golic has entered the mix  with the loss of Alex Welch for the season.

    Conclusion:  Tight End, with the All-America, Eifert, is a strength of the team, but the loss of Alex Welch is a big hit for this unit.  Welch was the strongest blocker at the position and without him, Koyack, Golic and Niklas will have to improve their blocking skills immensely to make a two tight end offense effective.

    • 80       Eifert, Tyler  6-6/251        SR       Ft. Wayne, IN/Bishop Dwenger
    • 88       Golic, Jake    6-4/245        SR       West Hartford, CT/NW Catholic
    • 18       Koyack, Ben 6-5/253        SO       Oil City, PA/Oil City
    • 85       Niklas, Troy  6-7/260        SO       Fullerton, CA/Servite
    • 82       Welch, Alex  6-4/250        JR        Cincinnati, OH/Elder

    Offensive Line – Projected Starters: Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Braxston Cave, Mike Golic, Christian Lombard

    Watt, Martin and Cave will form a seasoned trio that Notre Dame should be able to exploit in the running game.   All three have a legitimate shot at the NFL.  Cave’s injury last year was one of the smaller story lines that may have had a major impact on the end of the season.  Zack Martin is the two time Guardian of the year winner and one of the best players in the country.  Watt is noted for his nasty streak and may be the team’s best run blocker. Mike Golic played for Cave last year and showed some growing pains, but is reportedly playing very well this fall.  Lombard is an unknown at this point, but overall the staff seems pleased with their progress. After those five Nick Martin, Conor Hanratty and Tate Nichols form an inexperienced and thin back line of support.  Staying healthy will be crucial to a good season.

    Conclusion:  Watt, Cave and Martin give the Irish a great core strength on one side of the line, all three have talent and experience.  Whether Golic and Lombard can play at their level or at a USC/Michigan State/Oklahoma level is far from certain.  ND may look “one-handed” much of the year if they don’t play at a high level.


    • 52       Cave, Braxston        6-3/304        GS       Granger, IN/Penn
    • 77       Hegarty, Matt         6-5/296        SO       Aztec, NM/Aztec
    • 51       Heggie, Bruce          6-5/285        JR        Sorrento, FL/Mount Dora
    • 57       Golic Jr., Mike         6-3/300        GS       West Hartford, CT/NW Catholic
    • 65       Hanratty, Conor     6-5/305        SO       New Canaan, CT/New Canaan


    • 66       Watt, Chris               6-3/310        SR       Glen Ellyn, IL/Glenbard West


    • 74       Lombard, Christian            6-5/309        JR        Inverness, IL/Fremd
    • 72       Martin, Nick             6-4/290        SO       Indianapolis, IN/Bishop C
    • 73       Furlong, Dan           6-7/250        FR       Livonia, MI/Orchard Lake St. M
    • 75       Harrell, Mark           6-4/287        FR       Charlotte, NC/Catholic
    • 78       Stanley, Ronnie       6-6/304        FR       Las Vegas, NV/Bishop Gorman


    • 71       Mahoney, Dennis   6-7/294        SR       Baltimore, MD/Boys Latin
    • 70       Martin, Zack                        6-4/304        SR       Indianapolis, IN/Bishop Ch.
    • 64       Nichols, Tate            6-8/320        JR        Walton, KY/Ryle


    Other Top Story Lines:  Chuck Martin and Harry Hiestand

    In Martin, Kelly is giving the reigns to his most trusted advisor.  I anticipate he’ll be a substantial upgrade from Molnar who seemed in over his head and overly consumed with the pass. Martin believes in having four base passing and running plays and disguising them in multiple ways in an effort to create  favorable match-ups through the air or on the ground.  Though he hasn’t been an OC in years, Martin knows the offense well and I think will bring much needed perspective to an offense that seemed far too predictable last year. His talk of running a two-tight end offense is encouraging, though it resides in the “I’ll believe it when I see it” category.   While Martin’s teams ran 60% of the time when he was a head coach, Martin professes not to worry about what the run/pass mix looks like.  Hiestand has purportedly wowed the troops early with his passion and knowledge (and citing Joe Moore doesn’t hurt fan perception. ) All of this is just hopeful speculation at this point, but Martin and Hiestand could have a far greater impact on the offense than any one player. ~ SEE

    15 Responses to “A Closer Look at the 2012 Offense”

    1. I am encouraged. Evidently Molnar wasn’t what the doctor ordered for the offense last year. They did struggle.
      Tight end looks awesome. The running attack looks promising, especially with depth in Atkinson and Carlisle. Although in the Spring Kelly said that Golson and Atkinson had potential but were also a potential heart attack for him. Can they protect the ball?
      Are Andrew Hendrix and Tommy Rees going to stay around if they don’t start?
      How about Jordan Prestwood? Is he gone for good or is there hope that he may come back to back up Zach Martin?

    2. If QB and WR’s are not your strong points you have some problems. I see Golson as very exciting but I expect many mistakes from him. I think the best receiver they have is Robby Toma and feel he can get 40-50 catches in the role of a possession receiver. Goodman has produced basically zero to date. Riddick has been hampered by injuries and not lived up to his billing. I think Kelly better find a way to get the ball to Davonte Neal. He is the real deal I believe. Screens, sweeps, short passes, returns etc.

      Bottom line is this looks like another 8 win team at the very best IMO.

    3. I am really surprised that more people cannot see the parallels with 1988.

      Of course people love Lou Holtz today, but leading up to the 1988 Season, the fans saw a Notre Dame team that had gone 5-6 and 8-4, and though it began to show some promise, Holtz’s offense was shutout against elite Miami, with an embarrassing 24-0 loss, followed by an embarrassing Cotton Bowl loss to Tx A&M 35-10. Holtz was trying to force an option offense onto Quarterback U. – the same system he tried to make work in the Big 10, where he went 4-7 and 6-5 at Minnesota before joining ND. We were losing our Heisman winner Tim Brown and most of our starting Offensive and Defensive Lines. Few were looking for real change in the near future, though many did appreciate the improvements in fundamentals.

      Now looking back – we can see that Holtz was taking over for a program that floundered under Faust, who although he could recruit top athletes (like Weis), he could not develop them (like Weis). And although it did not come together for Holtz during those first two years – up to ND standards – we could see improvement in the Line Play and development of players – just like we’ve seen with Kelly these first two years.

      And by 1988, Holtz finally had a QB sufficiently developed to run his system (Rice/Golson), and despite losing some key starters from the year before – was in a position to bring enough of his own recruits on-ine for a break-out year, including incoming playmakers that had been missing (Rocket/Atkinson/Neal). Heading into 1988, many ND fans bemoaned Holtz trying to run the ball so much at QB U. using his odd system, pining away for the glory days of Theisman and Montana. And heading into 2012, many ND fans are bemoaning Kelly trying to throw the ball so much using his odd system, pining away for the glory days of Holtz and power running.

      In the meantime – have ND fans learned anything from history? Well – if you read what many say, they have been beaten down too much over the last couple of decades to be interested in history lessons. I guess that’s understandable.

      • Great points Dan. Also, ND has not caught any breaks in BKs tenure. I have a feeling ND is due for a few “lucky” breaks.

        • SC Trojan says:


          They caught a break when Barkley couldn’t play against you guys two years ago in the Coliseum. With Barkley out, that’s the only win in how many years?

          • So Mustain came in for USC’s injured QB and Rees came in for ND’s injured QB. Hmmmm …..

            Mustain was a five-star HS recruit. You need to talk to some ND fans about whether there’s any excuse for Rees ever beating out a 5 star HS recruit. There must have been something wrong with your coach – maybe you fire him.

            So Notre Dame caught a break when its first year coach was forced to play an 18-yr old pure freshman at QB on the road against USC. That really is funny. Maybe – just maybe – USC beats ND this year with an NFL-bound four year starter at QB against ND’s redshirt freshman. But after that – you can forget it. If you have any doubts – look at 2010. That was Rees. Now you are looking at Golson, Kiel and Zaire. Good luck, Trojans. LOL

      • To be perfectly honest, what happened in 1988 has zero to do with 2012. That is part of the problem being an ND fan. Constant comparisons to the past are completely useless. Different team, different coachs, different times, different era. I still say 8 wins at the very best. Mediocrity has become be the new normal at ND. Sad to say but the facts are the facts.

        • Although some ND fans have difficulty learning the lessons of history, there are others who also have a tough time with logic.

          History shows that a different “era” is not what matters. The Notre Dame football program was poor in the 1960s when it had poor coaching, and it was poor again in the 1980s with poor coaching. The bad programs back then were turned around with good coaching – not as a result of the football era that existed at the time, but as a result of a change in coaching. That is part of the problem being an ND fan. Constant refrain that Notre Dame can no longer compete because of academic standards or changes in the game she cannot keep up with – her glory is a thing of the past. The precise same things were said in the 1960s and 1980s – Notre Dame can no longer compete with the football powerhouses. Not only is clearly true for Notre Dame – it is clearly true for all other programs. Florida, Alabama, LSU and USC all floundered under poor coaches and all then rebounded under good coaches. Those schools will remain as powerhouses so long as they have good coaches – and Notre Dame is no different. All of the top programs fall under poor coaching – all of them.

          8 wins “at the very best.” “Mediocrity is the new normal.” Really? Why? Because of what happened to Davie, Willingham, and Weis? “Different team, different coachs [sic], different times.” Either the results achieved by other teams, other coaches, and at other times is logically relevant or it is not. That’s where the difficulty with logic kicks in for some fans. The Davie, Willingham and Weis regimes have very little in common with Kelly’s program. The only real relevance of those past three coaches is that they have lowered fan expectations, which is what jimbo is really expressing.

          And there again is the connection to 1988 – after 5 years of Faust and Holtz’s first two years of trying to right the ship – fan expectations were very low then as well – very close to what you hear expressed by many of todays’ fans, as exemplified by jimbo’s sentiments. What is difficult for fans to understand is the impact that coaches like Faust and Weis can have on a program. Coaches with no experience or understanding concerning the need to physically develop HS kids into college football players.

          Fans cannot seem to appreciate what it says about the state of a program, player development and fundamentals to have Clausen in his 3rd year as a starter, combined with Tate, Floyd and Rudolph and still go 6-6. They cannot connect the dots as to why Weis was able to win in his first two years, but was not able to win after that. Whatever failings of Davie and Willingham had – they had the basic competence to develop HS football players into college football players. The precedent for what Kelly inherited from Weis is what Holtz inherited from Faust, and precedent for how long it takes to turn that around is Holtz taking three years. On paper, Holtz inherited a lot of talent from Faust – but it was not well developed.

          8 wins at best? To say that we win 8 at best is to say that we are not as good as last year. Notre Dame is clearly better than last year. We dominated Michigan for 3 Qs on the road with Tommy Rees and lost in the last minute, but we cannot beat Michigan at home with Everett Golson? Really? Would not “at best” include beating Michigan? And if we can beat Michigan – clearly we can win “at least” 10. And if we could beat USC on the road in 2010 with freshman Rees, before USC’s depth was impacted by sanctions and with 2 additional years of superior player development, and Golson with a full year of experience under his belt – including on the road against Oklahoma …

          Finally, something needs to be said about Stoops, who is held up as some super coach. Last year, with an NFL quality QB in his 3rd year as a starter, and having a team that he fully recruited and developed — Stoops went 9-3 with losses to unranked Tx Tech and 22 ranked Baylor, in addition to State rival OK St. And that’s what ND fans pine away for? Really?

          I want to see ND beat OK this year – but anyone thinks Stoops on a different plane than Kelly – let’s see how Stoops does in 2013 coming to ND and breaking in a new QB with Golson in his second year. I can tell you already how that one will turn out. Stoops’s team is going to get schooled.

    4. If we get Golsen, which we “fans” have yelled for, are we ready for some mistakes? Or are we “fans” going to yell and scream for Kelly’s head every time Golsen screws up. He obviously has potential and talent – but inexperience and maybe a little undisciplined. I feel like an 8 – 9 wins is a fantastic year with the schedule we have. Are any of the tough games at home? Why do we have “home” games away from home. If this team wins 10 – 11 games and a BCS bowl then OH MY GOD what a team and all the Kelly boo-birds should have to publically apologize. For two years I’ve seen improvement, I’ve seen spirit, I’ve seen players that know how to win and are getting better. All I can say is GO IRISH!

    5. 15 and a wakeup.

      Californians, and others in the Pacific zone – I (almost) envy you. Rolling out of bed around 4:30 or so to watch a football game will test your mettle, it will strengthen your character.

      While making your coffee and mumbling to yourself and wondering when the damn sun is going to come up, you can console yourself with how drop-dead cool the whole idea is, and only NOTRE DAME gets to do do it, which fact you can rub in on your non-ND colleagues.


      You can sleep through the whole thing

      Your choice

    6. Why do i have a feeling this season is going to be a homerun or whiff season? Things could go really well for us or could be another L5 season. I am not sure what to expect from this team. But, I am going to keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best like I do everyyyy season. I will puke tho, if I have to watch turnover galore happen again inside the redzone. Go Irish!

    7. I just entered a 9-4 projection for 2012 season record in our local club contest. I hope I’m wrong – I do think there’s more upside potential than downside in my prediction. But even if we had a settled situation at QB the schedule would still be a meatgrinder.

    8. Hoping for an exciting season. Golson looks like he has a feel for the game and does not overthink what he does when the ball is in his hands. Not much to go on except the Spring game and a couple practices I saw this Spring. But he seems to have that “it” factor about himself. We will see but there is an excitement building around this team, at least in my mind. Go Irish!

    9. I hope for te first time in recenet years that we can look at the punt and kick-of teams
      as a key pat of our offense. Last year punt returns were non-existent. Every retrun is a potential
      TD and should be viewed that way.

    10. Gary Canori, '72 says:

      I think way too many ND fans/alum are hesitant to speak/think the truth. We got the wrong Kelly. Look what the Ducks have done. I cheer for the Irish every weekend, but I understand their limits.
      You can see from their play on the field (so many turnovers) and their actions on the sidelines that they are playing scared. Scared of all that yelling that Kelly does on the sidelines.

      I wish them well, but since they are not the Fighting Irish off years gone by, they need to dummy down the schedule just a tad.