NCF Nation: Robby Toma

The NFL does not wait for everyone, and so what was an otherwise 10 a.m. ET call out of Baltimore turned into an early-morning wake-up for the latest former Notre Dame player to take his talents to the next level.

Toma will join fellow Irish player Kapron Lewis-Moore with the Ravens. The often-overlooked 5-foot-9, 185-pound receiver is now the 13th former Irish player who will get a shot at the NFL in one form or another.

The official Notre Dame football page has a nice graphic of most of the players here.

To recap:
Asked if early enrollee freshman James Onwualu would line up in the slot or outside this season, Mike Denbrock offered an answer befitting his depleted group: "Yes."

The Notre Dame outside receivers coach has found himself with a smaller pool of talent to work with this spring following the transfers of sophomores Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson, forcing him to mix and match faces all over the place in hopes of finding the best solution for the Irish passing game.

"We're kind of trying to find a way to incorporate everybody that we've got available to us right now kind of in the mix, and kind of put them in some different places and give some other guys some opportunities," Denbrock said. "Anytime that you're a little bit short numbers-wise, you've got to find them somewhere. So we're not going to practice any shorter, we're not going to take any fewer reps, so we've got to find bodies to do it."

Eight scholarship receivers remain on the roster, with two more, Torii Hunter Jr. and William Fuller, on the way this summer.

Denbrock likes the two freshmen he has right now, saying that Onwualu and Corey Robinson have impressed in their short time on campus.

"Corey Robinson, everything he does that comes near him -- his catch radius reminds me a lot of Tyler Eifert in that even if the ball's somewhere on the perimeter, he's going to find a way," Denbrock said. "Great ball skills, good knowledge of the game of football, surprisingly, even though he's from a small school in Texas and is basketball-oriented maybe family-wise, but has done a really nice job.

"James Onwualu is a tough guy, physical, loves the game, plays with tremendous passion. Good skill-set. Those guys are a pleasant surprise. And when you sit down and you think -- and we talk about this sometimes when we're watching practice film -- and you go, 'This guy's supposed to be getting dressed for the prom, and here he is out here competing,' and those guys are doing a great job."

The Irish lose four of their top-six pass-catchers from a year ago, but even the returnees could see themselves spread to different spots of the field.

Senior TJ Jones, whose 50 grabs last year tied for the team lead, is a candidate to play in the slot after the loss of Neal and the graduation of Robby Toma. So, too, is converted safety C.J. Prosise.

"I'd say the jobs open for anybody, all comers," Denbrock said. "Anybody who proves they've got the ability to go in there and do something positive for our offense is going play in there. We don't obviously have as much depth as we'd like to have, so that's a great opportunity for a lot of guys to do a lot of different things and not pigeonhole themselves into one specific position, but get out there and perform and earn your reps."
Jim Kelly Streeter Lecka/Getty Images"Pretty darned good football team," coach Brian Kelly said of his Irish, "but not good enough."

MIAMI -- The "Rudy" theme is playing over the loudspeakers. And when the Rudy theme is playing over the loudspeakers, it is usually playing late in a tight game to inspire Notre Dame to pull out one more thriller in a season full of them.

This was the case two months ago against Pittsburgh. The Fighting Irish defied everyone by winning at Oklahoma a week earlier, got off to a lethargic start against Pitt and fell behind 14. But this was Notre Dame and this was the Irish's year, and so the Notre Dame Stadium speakers blared that famous tune less than a minute into the fourth quarter. Notre Dame scored 23 of the game's final 29 points, won in triple overtime, extended its perfect campaign and marched onward.

Now the song is playing inside Sun Life Stadium, Notre Dame again needing another miracle. The Irish have just failed to convert on fourth down. Alabama has gotten the ball back. The Crimson Tide have had the ball plenty already, and they have scored every single time they have had it.

This is with 13 minutes, 20 seconds left in the second quarter.

This is with Alabama boasting a three-touchdown lead, well on its way to a 42-14 victory in the Discover BCS National Championship.

This is reality crashing down hard on a team amid a renaissance campaign, no history nor luck nor year-three magic on its way to the rescue.

"Maybe Alabama doesn't come back in the second half," an almost-resigned coach Brian Kelly says at halftime. "It's all Alabama. I mean, we can't tackle them right now, and, you know, who knows why? You know, they're big and physical; I guess I do know why. It's just that our guys have not tackled the way they have all year. We've got to go in there and we've got to get after it and play with some pride in the second half and try to get this thing closer so we can try to find a way to win."

Notre Dame gets the ball back first, and its offense finally gets something going. A 6-yard run here, a 21-yard pass there, nine more yards on a completion … and here the Irish are at the Alabama 36-yard line, the closest that they have come to the end zone all night.

Everett Golson takes a shot deep down the right sideline to DaVaris Daniels, and Dee Milliner is ready to pick it off, except he doesn't. No matter, because Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix is close enough to dive and catch the tip while falling out of bounds, one more blow to a Notre Dame team that has already taken all it can handle.

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesManti Te'o couldn't find the momentum-shifting play that marked his, and Notre Dame's, run to Miami.
This was the case all night for the Irish, from a highly questionable kick-catching interference call on Matthias Farley that took away a chance for early momentum, to Manti Te'o's diving attempt at a second-quarter interception going just off his fingertips -- or the exact opposite of what happened to him in a season-defining pick at Oklahoma.

Breaks? There was Davonte Neal's fumble of a second-quarter punt return bouncing out of bounds, allowing the Irish to keep the ball. Or AJ McCarron's inches-too-long throw to Amari Cooper, who had outrushed two Irish defenders and fell just shy of a ball that would have accounted for a 59-yard score and a 28-0 Tide lead.

Instead, the Tide simply scored on their next possession to make it 28-0. They rushed for 265 yards against a defense that had allowed 92 per game. They had scoring drives of 82, 80, 97 and 86 yards; Notre Dame had not allowed one longer than 75 yards entering Monday night.

"I think Coach Kelly told us before the game that there are eight minutes that are very important in the game," said Te'o, whose legendary career came to a close. "The first two minutes of the game, the last two minutes in the second quarter, the first two minutes of the third quarter and the last two minutes of the game."

Alabama scored on the first drive of the game and on the last drive of the second quarter. The Tide picked off Notre Dame in the first two minutes of the third quarter, and by the last two minutes of the game the "S-E-C" chants were making their final appearance of the night.

Just before then, a pin drop could be heard on the Irish sideline, players staring everywhere and nowhere at once, the hopes and dreams of capping this magical season with a crystal football all but officially dead for three hours now.

"Pretty darned good football team," Kelly would say, "but not good enough."

Robby Toma walked off the field first, helmet on, a stoic stride into the tunnel. Everyone soon followed, and when the locker room opened Theo Riddick was crying all by himself in front of his stall. Roommate and backfield mate Cierre Wood eventually appeared, tapping his left hand on Riddick's head every now and then for comfort during interviews. Eventually the emotions of this season and a four-year, whirlwind career gave in, and soon a towel was covering Riddick's face in its entirety.

Kelly was the last to emerge from the locker room, his mission to fulfill the third-year destiny of great Notre Dame leaders falling short, the coach stopping to thank a couple of men in orange jackets for their hospitality while a fan's cry of "Get 'em next year, Coach" faded in the background.

There were 25 teams ranked ahead of his in the Associated Press preseason poll, and there were 23 mostly unfulfilling seasons preceding this year's outfit.

Loss No. 1 came four months later than anyone had expected, and it was on to 2013 and finishing the gap-closing that the 125th team in the history of Notre Dame football thought it was so close to completing.

"There are 121 FBS schools," Kelly's boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, would say, "and we're in pretty good shape relative to all but one of them."

Video: Notre Dame WR Robby Toma

January, 6, 2013

Mark Schlabach talks with Notre Dame wide receiver Robby Toma.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Brian Kelly was the first off the plane, joined by Jack Swarbrick and both men's families. Kelly was greeted by a couple of men in orange jackets, and he looked out into a sea of orange blazers and shirts — and yes, the orange mascot — while taking in the number of cheers from a segment of fans who made the trip for Notre Dame's arrival here.

Then he walked the orange carpet and proceeded to a bus, stopping to kid that there was no way in the world he was squeezing into the small opening that the media pack had left for him before it crowded the Irish head coach even further.

[+] EnlargeRobby Toma
AP Photo/Alan DiazOn the schedule for Robby Toma and his Notre Dame teammates in Florida: watching LeBron James in action.
Every Notre Dame player who should be here for the Discover BCS National Championship is here, Kelly said. DaVaris Daniels, seven weeks removed from a broken left clavicle, will play a role against Alabama, the coach re-affirmed. And even though the third-year Irish head man has stated that this is a business trip, he can appreciate the attention bestowed upon his program following a 24-year absence from a stage like this, and he hopes his players can, too.

"We want to have fun while were here, too," Kelly said. "It's a business trip; there's no question we're here to play the game. But I want our guys relaxed. They've done all the work. We got some practices that we got to take care of, but I want them relaxed and ready to play."

"We're going to get our work done and we're going to enjoy our time here," he later added, "but we're going to get the proper rest necessary. Look, you don't go 35 days and condition your team to come out here and blow it for three days, so we've had plenty of fun. We'll enjoy our time here, but we're here to win a football game."

The team playing for a championship Monday against the team that has won two of the past three will get an up-close look at another title winner later Wednesday, as the Irish players are going to the Miami Heat's home tilt with the Dallas Mavericks.

The other heat will await the Irish on Thursday, with temperatures expected to be near the 80s in the days leading up to the game.

Indoor practices in the frigid South Bend, Ind., winter have been the best the Irish can do until now, when the waiting has turned into something more tangible with the game just five days away.

"I'm definitely a little nervous right now," receiver Robby Toma said. "But if you don't feel nerves then something's wrong with you. This is a huge game. This is what you grow up for and what you want to play for when you're young."

Kelly saw a different look in his players' eyes in boarding this flight, their fifth and final one of the season.

"Absolutely," he said. "They're going to play the national championship game in Miami. It's not like any trip that they've had before. It's not like any trip that I've had before. So there was anticipation that when we got on the buses to the airport that they were really excited about this trip. It's something that you dream about when you play this game and when you coach this game."

For Irish, '07 seems a lifetime ago

November, 28, 2012
One does not need to look too far back to find perhaps the worst team in Notre Dame history.

"I was talking to [Robby] Toma about this earlier," fifth-year senior receiver John Goodman said recently. "Coming back from Notre Dame being the worst it's ever been to being maybe the best it's ever been -- maybe starting a little franchise here with a bunch of wins in a row, a bunch of good seasons in a row -- it's really special to be able to be the beginning of that."

Goodman and five other players on Notre Dame's current roster had committed to the school following a 3-9 mark in 2007, the program's most losses ever. They will cap their college careers in the national title game, either as the national champion or runner-up.

The Irish have come a long way in a short time, with even athletic director Jack Swarbrick saying that the program is a year ahead of schedule. In 2007, they did not score an offensive touchdown in their first three games, getting outscored 102-13. They lost their first six games.

They lost to Michigan and USC by identical 38-0 scores, lost to Michigan State by 17, to Purdue by two touchdowns, to Boston College by 13 and to Navy in triple overtime, giving up 46 points.

One head coach and five years later en route to a perfect regular season, Notre Dame swept those six opponents, allowing them just four total touchdowns.

It's been a long five years in between, but the Irish are finally seeing the payoff now, and memories of such hard times have made reaching the heights even sweeter for them.

"In any program, whether you're at Notre Dame or for me at Grand Valley State when we built national championship programs, there's going to be a core guy, core group of guys that have to go through those tough times," coach Brian Kelly said last week. "Every group that I've had that have gone through those tough times, they're stronger for it. So I think there's no question that this group is stronger because of the experiences that they've had along the way.

"And that's what makes this team such a good football team, because they've had the down times and they know what that end looks like, and they don't like it very much. And so that's where you really feel good about your football team, if they've had those kind of experiences."

Video: Notre Dame WR Robby Toma

November, 16, 2012

The Irish senior talks about taking the home field for the final time for undefeated Notre Dame, which hosts Wake Forest.

Daniels coming on strong for Irish

November, 8, 2012
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- DaVaris Daniels had to stop himself.

The redshirt freshman receiver knows more lucrative days likely await him and some of Notre Dame's other younger players, and yet it's hard to do much better than his team's 9-0 start in his first year seeing the field.

"We talk about [that] this is ... we don't want to say the future," Daniels said, "but we've got to step up and make plays for the team, for all the seniors on the team and everybody. So we kind of take on that 'count on me role' as young guys and kind of run with it."

Two of those first-year players accounted for the biggest play in Saturday's win, Daniels staying active deep and winning a 45-yard jump ball from Everett Golson after the other redshirt freshman found himself scrambling on the first play of a game-tying drive.

[+] EnlargeDaVaris Daniels
Mike DiNovo/US PresswireReceiver DaVaris Daniels is finding that his redshirt season, and plenty of practice, are paying off.
Daniels hauled in career bests of seven catches for 86 yards in the victory over Pitt and is just starting to scratch the surface after a season on the sideline, one that he now sees the benefits from -- the biggest of which probably remain ahead of the No. 4 Irish.

"I think they've gotten more confident with each other," his father, former NFL defensive lineman Phillip Daniels, said of DaVaris and Golson. "DaVaris will run the right routes, get open and [Golson] will find DaVaris and throw him the ball, so I think they're going really well. And for them to have the season they're having right now, an undefeated season, next year they'll go out and play and have the confidence to do the same thing."

Team combine testing before this past spring revealed a player with a 4.5-second time in the 40-yard dash, a 10-foot, 5-inch broad jump and a 38-inch vertical, though Daniels' father has said his son has leapt 41.5 inches before.

Ask anyone about the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Daniels, and all signs of his breakout point to a talent now understanding what it takes to succeed every day on a national title contender.

"His blocking has gotten a lot better," receiver Robby Toma said. "He's getting in there, he's throwing his body around there to try to protect his guys. It really shows when we watch film, and he's grown a lot."

Added coach Brian Kelly: "When he goes and runs his routes, he's pretty difficult to defend. Then when he doesn't think he's getting the ball, it's one of those things he is learning every week about how to be that elite receiver in the BCS. It requires practice preparation, it requires the attention to detail, all those things, and he's starting to get there."

Daniels got a head start on such improvements from NFL Films clips his father would show him as a kid, with highlights of Isaac Bruce and Reggie Wayne serving as inspiration.

Right now better footwork and diversified route-running have helped give way to a deep threat for an offense still opening up the playbook, and a 23-catch, 353-yard debut campaign that was slowed early on by an ankle injury looks to be taking shape at just the right time.

"I think it's just learning," Daniels said of his progress. "You shouldn't expect to be completely open in college football, very rarely does that happen. Going up, getting contested balls is something that I've practiced over the last couple months -- it just happened in a game and I'm happy it's happening."
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Manti Te'o's parents landed here roughly a half-hour before he the took the podium to address the media Wednesday. The senior linebacker has played in front of his parents only about eight times, he said, and the experience never gets old.

"It's special. I've been playing in front of them ever since I was eight years old," Te'o said. "That feeling never leaves. It never gets old. It's always a special feeling when you know that the two people that sacrificed the most for you to be here are in the stands. They're watching you and they're watching someone who they've given everything they have to live his dream.

"My dream is to help them in their dream, too. So, no, it's always exciting. It's going to be a special occasion to see them in the stands."

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Matt Cashore/US PresswireOver his past three games, Manti Te'o has 30 tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
Te'o saw them two weeks ago when he returned home to Hawaii with teammate and fellow Laie native Robby Toma to attend his grandmother's funeral. Coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday that if he had any concern about the attention surrounding Te'o -- be it from all of the Heisman talk or national features about the captain just weeks after his grandmother and his girlfriend passed away -- it would have been last week.

Instead, Kelly said, Te'o played his best game of the season, recording 10 tackles.

"It's hard for a guy like Manti Te'o to keep pushing that bar, and he does," Kelly said.

Te'o shook his head, unable to say whether that was the case, noting that he focuses on the plays he failed to make rather than the ones he did.

"For me personally, I think I did OK," Te'o said. "I could have done more. I wish I could have had a pick or something to really change the momentum of the game. But I have a lot work to do. To know that my head coach thinks that brings me a lot confidence."

Te'o said the feeling of knowing his family will be in the stands watching him this weekend is more incentive to improve, crediting his strong play the past three games -- 30 tackles, two interceptions, one fumble recovery -- to the knowledge that his grandmother and his girlfriend were watching him from up above.

His parents will be on the field for Senior Day next month. Still, Te'o said, it will be hard to beat the first time his parents saw him enter Notre Dame Stadium as a freshman, which he recalled Wednesday.

"That was when I knew all this hard work and all the sacrifice, the distance, the travel and all that, was worth it," Te'o said. "That all started on that walk. My mom was crying, my dad was crying. My mom was actually in the back of a crowd. I know all of you, everybody has mothers, but when you hear your mom's voice it stands out.

"So amidst all the people out there I heard my mom's voice all the way in the back. The Notre Dame community brought her up. They made way so I could give her a hug, and it was a very special moment for me."

What to watch: Week 6 vs. Miami

October, 4, 2012
Here's what to keep an eye on Saturday at Soldier Field:

1) Uniforms! C'mon! These have been talked about more than the game. The Irish finally break out their 60/40 split uniform helmets -- more than half sparking gold, less than half navy, with a leprechaun for good measure -- along with darker jersey and striped pants. As Robby Toma recalled Wednesday, coach Brian Kelly said October is the month everyone dresses up in, so have some fun.

2) Irish's D-line. Eyes will be on that young secondary waiting for it to show its age, but much of the defensive backs' success or failure will depend on the pressure Notre Dame gets up front. Facing a young offensive line that lost a redshirt senior last week, the Irish should have as clear an edge as they've had since facing Navy in Week 1.

3) Quarterback. Coaches and players remain convinced that Everett Golson's bad night against Michigan was just that -- one bad night. The jitters will have to be put aside for another prime-time performance this weekend, and the Irish offense has to take advantage against a struggling Miami defense.

Notre Dame helmet stickers: Week 3

September, 16, 2012
No. 20 Notre Dame had quite a few noteworthy performances in Saturday's 20-3 win at No. 10 Michigan State. Here's who stepped up the most:

Manti Te'o, LB: What more can you say about the guy? Days after his grandmother and his girlfriend passed away, Te'o notched a game-high 12 tackles, one for loss, while adding a fumble recovery and two pass breakups.

Prince Shembo, LB: The Cat linebacker had the best game of his college career Saturday, recording nine tackles, two for loss, while adding a sack and two quarterback hurries.

Robby Toma, WR: Toma had arguably his biggest game in a Notre Dame uniform as well, hauling in a game-high five receptions for 58 yards and helping to keep the MSU defense honest.

Ben Turk, P: Field position played a big part in this game early, and Turk helped Notre Dame maintain an edge in that department. The punter had eight kicks go a total of 339 yards, an average of 42.4 yards per punt. He pinned the Spartans inside their own 20 four times.

Te'o leads Irish after tragic week

September, 16, 2012

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- So this was how Manti Te'o would respond to a week out of left field, tragedy striking him not once but twice, two of the most important women in his life gone in a matter of hours.

The postgame television interview was done and here he came, the linebacker the last one to meet his fellow students in the northeast corner of Spartan Stadium, their adoration slowly carrying him through the final words of the Notre Dame alma mater after a 20-3 victory over Michigan State.

"We love you Manti!" the gathering repeatedly shouted, with Te'o responding by blowing them kisses.

He had fought his way to a game-high 12 tackles, five of them on Le'Veon Bell, the Heisman candidate he helped limit to 77 yards on a night the Spartans struggled to move the ball against the Irish's defense.

And still, here he was, extending his hand toward the crowd, leaping and greeting Irish basketball players Eric Atkins and Joey Brooks, two of the hundreds who made the 150-mile trip to watch Notre Dame go 3-0.

This was validation of Te'o's return for his senior year, his decision to pass up millions repaying him now, letters and support coming from all over after he said goodbye to his grandmother and his girlfriend earlier in the week.

"My family and my girlfriend's family have received so much love and support from the Notre Dame family," Te'o said. "Michigan State fans showed some love. And it goes to show that people understand that football is just a game, and it's a game that we play, and we have fun doing it.

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Matt Cashore/US PresswireManti Te'o, playing days after the deaths of his grandmother and his girlfriend, had 12 tackles and a fumble recovery against Michigan State.
"But at the end of the day what matters is the people who are around you, and family. I appreciate all the love and support that everybody's given my family and my girlfriend's family."

He had made it to practice every day last week, stopping right before one to remind his teammates that he loved them, that he wasn't going anywhere, that he'd be playing for them and for his family.

"He's just one of our great leaders and one of our best all-time players," receiver John Goodman said, "and if you don't rally around a player like that, the camaraderie isn't right, and I think the camaraderie is right on our team."

He had gotten a big lift, too, from the little man who always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Five-foot-nine Robby Toma led Notre Dame with five catches covering 58 yards, but his biggest impact came earlier in the week.

So close with Te'o back in Hawaii that he calls Teo's father "Uncle Brian," Toma has been there for Te'o throughout their college careers -- from the earlier deaths of Te'o's grandfather and two of their good friends from home, to the past week, when they chatted in their apartment together and in the hotel room before Saturday night's game.

"Earlier in the week he told me he needed me," Toma said. "I've known him since we were 5 years old. And I was just there for him when he needed to talk or whatnot.

"He's a real strong guy -- spiritually, mentally, physically -- and I was just there to be his backbone."

When Te'o stopped Bell a yard behind the line of scrimmage early in the third quarter, he got up, kissed his fingers and gently pointed to the sky, a thank-you to the grandmother and the girlfriend who helped bring him to the brink of stardom.

"There's nobody," Brian Kelly said when asked if he'd ever had someone like Te'o over his 22 years of coaching. "He's so strong for everybody that when he was at a time, everybody wanted to help him out, and I've never seen that dynamic amongst a team and a group of players. It's a pretty close locker room."

With Notre Dame up by 14 late, Bell was shoved out of bounds on his 19th and final carry of the game, the ball popping loose and landing in Te'o's arms for his second career fumble recovery.

The remaining fans let out their biggest roar of the night, and the worst week of Manti Te'o's life was on its way to a good ending, though the pain was still alive.

"Yeah," he said when asked if Saturday could have ended any better. "I could call my girlfriend right now and talk about the game.

"But I've just got to get on my knees, say a prayer and I can talk to her that way."
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- John Goodman was unsure five months ago if he would even be welcomed back to Notre Dame for a fifth season. And yet halfway through spring practice, with the Irish's 2012 season five months away, he has been walking and talking like the leader of a unit looking to fill the void left behind by the program's all-time leading receiver.

"That's the kind of guy I want to be, and I really think I can be that," Goodman said of Michael Floyd, a likely first-round draft pick in three weeks. "I have the utmost confidence about that, it's just, I've got to go show it."

[+] EnlargeJohn Goodman
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireJohn Goodman hasn't reached his potential at Notre Dame, but he's determined to do so his senior year.
Goodman's 2011 season did little to inspire the notion that he could capably fill Floyd's shoes, as the Fort Wayne native had just seven catches for 65 yards. In fact, Goodman's three-year total of 28 grabs for 315 yards looks like little more than any strong two- or three-game stretch by Floyd from the past two seasons.

But with the role of No. 1 target up for the taking this spring, Goodman has thus far risen to the challenge, locking in whenever he walks into the LaBar Practice Complex in a manner unseen the previous four years.

"I always saw ability," current offensive coordinator and former safeties coach Chuck Martin said. "We try to cover -- he's hard to cover. We cover good receivers on a lot of teams and Goody, our defensive backs are like, 'The kid's a good player.' I watched him, I'm like, 'God, he can run, he's tall, he can start, he can stop, he runs great routes.' But it's been the consistency.

"And that's what we've been saying: 'Are you going to be a 70-30 guy? Are you going to be 70 percent a really good player and 30 percent a guy that's going to help us lose a football game, or are you going to be the 100 percent guy?' And he's really approached it and taken it, and a lot of it is probably just senior, this is my last go-round. But just the emphasis that you can be a really effective player on our offense and play a ton and catch a lot of balls, but that's up to you. We'd love it to be you, but we'll find somebody else that's going to be consistent if you're not going to be consistent. So he's really done a nice job."

Goodman has been running with T.J. Jones and Robby Toma on the first team this spring, with head coach Brian Kelly calling the fifth-year senior the Irish's go-to guy thus far.

"He has stepped up his game considerably, and he's got a ways to go, but I expect him to do really big things for us," Kelly said. "He's fast -- he's one of the fastest guys on the team. He's got length. He can play taller than the average defensive back. I think more than anything else is just consistency with John. He's going to have a really fine year for us."

Goodman became the Irish's de facto punt returner last season, which, given the Irish's return struggles, essentially consisted of calling for fair catch after fair catch. He netted just five yards on eight returns and lost a fumble.

A U.S. Army All-American and multipurpose threat out of Bishop Dwenger High School four years ago, Goodman is aware of the expectations that were placed upon him when arriving at Notre Dame. And he knows, much like running back Jonas Gray's renaissance senior campaign in 2011, it's not too late to fulfill them.

"I haven't accomplished everything I wanted to, and there's so much left to be done here for me," Goodman said. "And I felt like my leadership skills have gotten better throughout the year and I just feel like I just needed that last year. It was just essential that I have it and without it, I don't even know what I would've done, because I had my mind set since I'd been a redshirt freshman that I'm going to play this fifth year. And all last season I wasn't sure about it and I just wanted to let Coach Kelly know, the other coaches know that I'm ready for it. I'm good. Once Mike leaves, I want to step up and take that position."

Roster breakdown: Offense

March, 28, 2012
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.


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.


[+] 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.


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.


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.


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.

Weekend rewind: Notre Dame

November, 21, 2011
It is time to look back at the weekend that was for Notre Dame, which eked out a 16-14 win over three-win Boston College to win its fourth straight game overall and third in a row over an ACC opponent.

The Good: A win's a win, right? This one was the Irish's fourth in a row against an overmatched opponent, and the end result is all that matters. Looking at the fact Notre Dame had lost two of its previous four Senior Day games -- and the fact it ended the day with the same win total as last season -- the Irish will take it and not look back.

The Bad: As mentioned earlier, Boston College is a three-win team. Notre Dame jumped out to an early 10-0 lead but could never run away from the overmatched Eagles, whose last hope was not officially wiped out until an onside kick recovery by Robby Toma. Notre Dame started six different drives inside its own 20-yard line, and it did not score on any of those drives.

The Ugly: Jonas Gray's likely season-ending knee injury fits in this category. So, too, does Stephon Tuitt missing the game with an illness. And Harrison Smith going to the infirmary the day before the game. And another unidentified player, according to Brian Kelly on Sunday, getting sick after the game.

Turning point: David Ruffer's 27-yard field goal with 8:08 left made it a two-possession game, giving the Irish a 16-7 lead. After starting the season just 2-of-6, Ruffer has connected on eight straight field goals, including three Saturday -- two from 40 yards or beyond -- in what ended up being a two-point game.

Play of the day: Tyler Eifert's spectacular one-handed grab for 37 yards in the first quarter takes the cake here, though Toma deserves an honorable mention for his full-extension 20-yard diving catch in the second quarter while absorbing a hit.

Next up: Notre Dame's biggest test of the season comes this Saturday at No. 6 Stanford in what is likely Andrew Luck's final home game. Who? Just arguably the greatest NFL draft prospect of the last decade and a strong Heisman Trophy contender. The Cardinal will likely be playing for an at-large BCS-bowl berth, something Notre Dame can only have a fringe chance of by pulling off the road upset this weekend.