- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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2011 overall record: 8-5
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 1
QB Tommy Rees, QB Andrew Hendrix, RB Cierre Wood, RB/WR Theo Riddick, RB/WR George Atkinson III, TE Tyler Eifert, LT Zack Martin, LG Chris Watt, C Braxston Cave, C/G Mike Golic Jr., WR Robby Toma, WR John Goodman, WR T.J. Jones, DE Stephon Tuitt, NG Louis Nix, DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, ILB Manti Te'o, ILB Dan Fox, OLB Prince Shembo, S Jamoris Slaughter, S Zeke Motta
2011 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Cierre Wood* (1,102 yards)
Passing: Tommy Rees* (2,871 yards)
Receiving: Michael Floyd (1,147 yards)
Tackles: Manti Te'o* (128)
Sacks: Aaron Lynch (5.5)
Interceptions: Robert Blanton/Gary Gray (2)
1. Tyler Eifert: His offensive teammates -- and the next starting quarterback, in particular -- owe Eifert the world for returning. New offensive coordinator Chuck Martin will use Eifert in a variety of different ways this season, and his position will resemble that of Michael Floyd's more than it will a traditional tight end's. A strong season will likely propel Eifert into the first round of next year's NFL draft.
2. No shortage of skill players: Yes, the all-time leading receiver is gone. But the Irish still boast a plethora of skilled, versatile assets who can make big plays with their speed. Tony Alford is in charge of the running backs and slot receivers this season, and Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, Robby Toma and George Atkinson III all have the ability to make things happen out of the backfield. Look for a big year from DaVaris Daniels on the outside as well.
3. Defensive leaders: Manti Te'o would appear to be a shoe-in for a captain role this season, and he'll have plenty of help bringing along some of the unit's young talent. Jamoris Slaughter is back for a fifth year, and becoming a father this spring has forced him to grow up fast. Kapron Lewis-Moore is back for a fifth year as well, and the defensive end is one of the more respected voices on the team.
1. What will happen to Tommy Rees and, by extension, the QB race? Rees' immediate future is up in the air following his May 3 arrest, though his chances of starting this season figure to have greatly diminished in light of being charged with four misdemeanors. Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson will likely benefit the most and should enter camp as the favorites, while prep phenom Gunner Kiel continues to adjust after enrolling in January.
2. What about those corners? Bennett Jackson has the talent to play well at the boundary in his first year starting but will likely have to endure some growing pains, especially against some of the elite passing offenses the Irish will face in 2012. At the field, Josh Atkinson has pushed Lo Wood for the No. 1 spot, and that will be one of the more intriguing position battles once preseason camp opens.
3. Can anyone handle this schedule? The two Big Ten favorites, the Big 12 favorite, the Pac-12 favorite. A trip to Dublin. The 2012 schedule is absolutely loaded, and the Irish will have several new pieces in key places entering the season. How quickly everybody can adjust to their roles will go a long way in determining whether Brian Kelly's third season at Notre Dame is a success.