NCF Nation: Jake Golic

Roster breakdown: Offense

March, 28, 2012
3/28/12
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With Notre Dame a week into spring practice, the fifth-year players officially returning and the 2012 recruiting class finalized (we think), let's break down the Irish's complete roster, position-by-position, as it gears up for Year 3 under Brian Kelly.

We'll start with the offense today and delve into the defense tomorrow, with special teams coming Friday.

QUARTERBACK

The players: Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson, Gunner Kiel

The incoming: None

The breakdown: Experience is the only real way to rank these guys, as Rees has 16 starts, Hendrix has played in five games, Golson has sat a year learning the offense and Kiel arrived on campus just two months ago. Nonetheless, that likely won't matter as Kelly goes to a square-one approach, opening the playbook from the beginning to allow for a fair chance for everyone. The decision -- which will likely be up in the air deep into the summer -- may prove to be Kelly's biggest so far with the Irish.

RUNNING BACK

[+] EnlargeCierre Wood
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireCierre Wood is still the clear favorite in Notre Dame's backfield, but the Irish have other running backs ready to vie for playing time.
The players: Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, George Atkinson, Amir Carlisle, Cam Roberson, Tyler Plantz

The Incoming: Will Mahone, KeiVarae Russell

The breakdown: Wood is the clear No. 1, as he was heading into last season as well. Riddick broke off a pair of huge runs toward the end of Saturday's scrimmage, and Kelly wanted both him and Atkinson to see more time back there as Wood rested with a minor quad injury. (Kelly said Wood did go in the rodeo drill earlier.) Both Riddick and Atkinson are capable of playing in the slot, and may end up seeing more time catching balls this season than taking handoffs, though Tony Alford will coach both regardless.

Carlisle, the USC transfer, is eligible to play in 2012 but out for the spring with a broken ankle. Where he fits in will be interesting, as carries may be hard to come by if Atkinson really progresses this spring in the backfield. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Carlisle was featured on kickoffs last season with the Trojans, and there, or on the punt return team, may prove to be the fastest way on the field for him.

WIDE RECEIVER

The players: John Goodman, T.J. Jones, Robby Toma, DaVaris Daniels, Daniel Smith, Luke Massa, Eric Lee, Nick Fitzpatrick, Ryan Liebscher

The incoming: Justin Ferguson, Davonte Neal

The breakdown: Goodman has talked about making the most of this last chance, and the coaching staff would not have invited him back for a fifth year had it not believed in him. Whether he can be a top target is up in the air, but he should bring some stability and leadership to a group loaded with youth. Jones has been solid through two years and Kelly has said he is on the cusp of breaking out. Toma has done everything asked of him and then some in the slot when replacing the oft-injured Riddick, and he may have the position to himself this year.

Daniels has the complete package physically, but he has yet to take a snap after redshirting last season. He was seen running with the 2s to start spring, but that could easily change with a strong showing. Smith, too, ran with 2s to open spring, but he must stay healthy first. Ferguson has the tools to compete for playing time upon arrival, but that could likely depend on how the incumbents step up in front of him. Neal is pegged as an athlete, but Kelly said there are no plans right now to play him at corner upon his arrival. He could possibly be a playmaker at receiver or on special teams.

TIGHT END

The players: Tyler Eifert, Troy Niklas, Alex Welch, Ben Koyack, Jake Golic, Arturo Martinez

The incoming: None

The breakdown: We all know what Eifert can do, which is why he almost entered the draft this year. Niklas is the big question mark. And by big, we mean it literally. A switch from linebacker -- where he started one game last fall as a freshman -- to tight end for the 6-7, 252-pounder has many excited to see what the offense can do with a potential two tight end set. Everyone saw what the New England Patriots did last year with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

It would be foolish to expect that much so soon -- both without Tom Brady as the Irish's quarterback and without Niklas having played the position since high school. How quick Niklas can master the playbook and blocking could go a long way in seeing some of these sets come to fruition. The move does leave some to wonder what this means for Welch and Koyack, but the duo is young and, according to tight ends coach Scott Booker, up for the challenge.

OFFENSIVE LINE

The players: Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Braxston Cave, Mike Golic, Tate Nichols, Christian Lombard, Bruce Heggie, Jordan Prestwood, Matt Hegarty, Conor Hanratty, Nick Martin, Brad Carrico, Matt Tansey, Dennis Mahoney

The incoming: Mark Harrell, Ronnie Stanley

The breakdown: Cave will not be playing much, if at all, this spring as he recovers after injuring his foot last season. Golic, who started in his place, is the center with Cave out, but it would not be surprising to see Golic move to right guard upon Cave's return. Right now Lombard is manning the right guard spot, with Nichols at right tackle. How the second unit gets shuffled upon Cave's return to the starting unit remains to be seen, but to open spring, it consisted of Heggie, Prestwood, Hegarty, Hanratty and Martin.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- How will Notre Dame's offense operate if star receiver Michael Floyd is gone for a significant portion or even all of the 2011 season? Maybe like the New England Patriots.

[+] EnlargeMichael Floyd
AP Photo/El Paso Times/Mark LambieNotre Dame plans to run more tight end sets if receiver Michael Floyd is out for an extended period of time.
Without Floyd, who was suspended following a recent DUI arrest, the Irish could lack a wideout who can truly stretch the field. The good news is they have plenty of players who can catch the ball and a tight end corps that head coach Brian Kelly says can go five deep.

"When you lose a player like Michael Floyd, I don't know if you replace him without an issue," Kelly said. "But you can do certain things with our personnel groupings where we change our look a little bit. I really believe that our go-to would be more tight end sets. We'd be a little more like the New England Patriots team that used multiple tight end sets but still could spread it and use ball control."

Kelly is excited about what the Notre Dame tight ends can do, led by Tyler Eifert and Mike Ragone. He said Jake Golic has made great progress in the offseason, and incoming recruit Ben Koyack could be a weapon right away.

As far as downfield threats, that's a different story. Physically speaking, the 6-foot-4 Daniel Smith might have the closest attributes to Floyd. But Smith has been slowed this spring by a hamstring injury and lacks experience. It remains to be seen if John Goodman can develop into a No. 1 target, and Theo Riddick is more of a slot guy. Kelly said incoming freshman DaVaris Daniels could make an immediate impact. But the Irish may have to rely on the short passing game and running the ball more than explosive plays downfield.

"We can still win football games and score points without having four wide receivers on the field," Kelly said.

Floyd's future will first be determined by the school's Office of Residence Life, and Kelly said Friday that a decision from that group could come soon. Whatever punishment it doles out, Kelly said the senior receiver still must meet the coach's own guidelines before being reinstated on the team. Without divulging specifics, Kelly said Floyd has taken steps toward meeting those goals.

Kelly said Floyd -- who has had other alcohol-related problems in his past -- would be better served to remain a part of the program.

"He needs help," Kelly said. "I think I fail if I read about him in the NFL in two years doing something like that. He's looking for help and we're going to be there for him."
The Notre Dame offense has gone in fits and starts this season. And now the Irish will be without one of their top playmakers for rest of the year.

Tight end Kyle Rudolph will undergo hamstring surgery later this week and will be out for as long as six months. Rudolph had, by coach Brian Kelly's estimation, been playing at only about 75 percent all season because of hamstring issues that began this summer. Yet he still managed 28 catches for 328 yards and three touchdowns through six games.

But against Pittsburgh, the muscle separated from the bone as Rudolph tried to play through the injury. Now Kelly has to look for other options

[+] EnlargeEifert
Robin Alam/Icon SMITyler Eifert will be the starting tight end for Notre Dame.
Starting out at No. 1 on the depth chart will be sophomore Tyler Eifert. The 6-foot-6, 242-pound Eifert missed most of last season with a back injury, and he sprained his shoulder a few weeks ago and was very limited in practice.

"He's going to have to tape an aspirin on that shoulder," Kelly joked. "Because he's going to play. We think he's able to play winning football for us or we wouldn't put him in there."

Backing up Eifert will be senior Mike Ragone, who had an interesting preseason. He was arrested and charged with marijuana possession in May. Then in preseason camp, he suffered a heat illness and didn't practice much. His rustiness showed on Saturday when he dropped a wide open pass that would have gone for a first down and sealed the game.

"He just needs more playing time in an offense that's obviously a bit different than what he's used to," Kelly said. "This is really just about getting him more and more reps."

Kelly said Eifert and Ragone would split reps since neither is in the physical shape to play an entire game. Sophomore Jake Golic will serve as the third-string tight end. True freshman Alex Welch was a well-regarded recruit, but Kelly said he probably won't burn Welch's redshirt this year.

While Kelly said he's "very confident" in all three tight ends, none offer the package of skills that Rudolph had. The 6-foot-6, 265-pounder is nimble and a great pass-catcher who could line up wide as a receiver in certain sets. Though Kelly runs a spread offense, he likes to keep the tight end in on most plays.

This injury does increase the likelihood that Rudolph will come back for his senior year rather than go the NFL draft a year early. Rudolph, who missed time last year with a shoulder injury, may need to prove to scouts that he can play a full year healthy.

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