NCF Nation: Justin Tuck

Notre Dame helmet stickers: Week 1

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
9:09
AM ET
Notre Dame had a number of players stand out in Saturday's 28-6 win over Temple. Here's who stood out above the rest:

Tommy Rees, QB: Rees had a career-high 346 passing yards, completing 16 of 23 passes with three touchdowns and no picks. This was just the kind of start Notre Dame needed to see from Rees, who has endured a barrage of questions throughout his college career but has managed to keep an even keel throughout it all.

TJ Jones, WR: Jones also turned in a career-best effort in recording 138 receiving yards. He caught six passes, made several shifty maneuvers after the catch and looked very much like the go-to threat Brian Kelly kept calling him throughout camp. He also netted 23 yards on three punt returns, something worth noting on a Fighting Irish return unit that has struggled mightily the past three years.

DaVaris Daniels, WR: Like Jones, Daniels also picked up right where he left off. The Irish's two best receivers from the Discover BCS National Championship loss had strong outings Saturday. Daniels notched his first two career touchdowns, both 32 yards, and finished with three catches for 69 yards despite sitting out the second half for precautionary measures because of a groin problem.

Stephon Tuitt, DE: So much for all that weight talk. Tuitt, who put on 19 pounds this offseason after undergoing a hernia operation, picked up right where he left off, notching four total tackles and a sack. Don't be surprised if he makes another run at Justin Tuck's single-season school record of 13.5 sacks.
It's never too early to look really, really, really smart. (Or not so smart.) Here are a few fearless predictions for next season, all of which I will stand by through thick and thin ... obviously.

1. Everett Golson will be the Week 1 starter ... but his leash may be even shorter than it was this past season. Tommy Rees is there waiting for the two-minute drill when called upon, but with Andrew Hendrix seasoned another year and with Gunner Kiel's redshirt season now out of the way, coach Brian Kelly is quick to insert a new guy whenever the opportunity presents itself. Nonetheless, Golson will enter spring and fall camp as the No. 1 guy and will emerge from both as the winner.

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillEverett Golson will begin the season as the starter, but there's plenty of competition behind him.
2. Notre Dame will make a BCS bowl game, but yes, will lose a few regular-season games. The schedule is easier than this past year's, but trips to Michigan and Stanford certainly present big challenges, not to mention a number of potential trap games that almost tripped the Irish up in 2012. The Irish had ridiculously strong leadership in 2012 that proved to be the difference in a number of close contests. Despite having what would appear to be a more talented team in 2013, it is asking an awful lot of this group to run the table for a second straight season.

3. Stephon Tuitt will break Justin Tuck's sack record and have a very tough decision to make at season's end. The defensive end and his mother have said in published reports that they aren't thinking about an NFL future just yet, but that will become harder to avoid after Tuitt takes yet another step in 2013. Following a 12-sack sophomore campaign that Tuitt deemed a "learning year," the 6-foot-6, 303-pounder will add a couple of more, breaking Tuck's single-season Irish record of 13.5 and becoming a universally accepted first-round pick should he choose to enter the draft after his junior year.

4. Greg Bryant will be the No. 1 RB by midseason. There is a logjam in Notre Dame's backfield, but none are all that proven. George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel have performed well in complementary roles, but neither have handled anything close to the workload that a No. 1 back requires. While the carries will likely be divvied up among those two, USC transfer Amir Carlisle and redshirt freshman William Mahone, Bryant's size and speed fit the mold of an every-down guy, and his first year will go a long way in proving that he is the future answer in the Notre Dame backfield.

5. Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese will be the returning fifth-year guys. I suppose this would be a bold prediction if I gave you an announcement date. But considering we didn't officially hear about last year's fifth-year guys until the spring, I won't be holding my breath.
We're two days removed from Friday the 13th, and no bad news has come for Notre Dame.

That wasn't the case three months ago, when a hastily called news conference was set up the morning of April 13 to announce the decision of Aaron Lynch to transfer. The move wasn't without its drama — Lynch had been sent home days earlier, his mother pleaded on Twitter with former Irish lineman Justin Tuck to convince her son to stay — but when the dust cleared, Lynch was heading closer to home.

The Cape Coral, Fla., native will play for Irish alum Skip Holtz at South Florida, where he will look to build on a freshman All-America season that saw him start six games and lead the Irish in sacks (5.5) and quarterback hurries (14). He also had 33 tackles, including seven for a loss, and forced one fumble.

The 6-foot-6, 270-pound Lynch has first-round NFL talent, getting to the quarterback with ease and capable of making a game-changing play at any given moment. He was expected to key an Irish pass rush that would ease the burden of breaking in two new starters in the secondary.

But if one position group can handle a defection, it is the defensive line. Stephon Tuitt is more versatile and, possibly, more valuable than Lynch, able to play inside or out. Kapron Lewis-Moore is back for one more year and a proven starter, and Kona Schwenke emerged in the middle this spring, creating the potential for a very strong interior with him and Louis Nix splitting snaps. Lynch also picked up six penalties last season, mostly after the whistle, and he didn't exactly apologize for them when given the chance.

While the energy, athleticism and overall threat of Lynch on the field can't be replaced, the Irish do have plenty of talent that is capable of filling the void and still producing a strong pass rush this season.

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