Notre Dame Football: George Atkinson III

Notre Dame pro day notes

March, 20, 2014
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Fourteen former Notre Dame players were back on campus Thursday for pro day, with many doing drills in front of executives from all 32 NFL teams and two head coaches, Mike Tomlin (Steelers) and Gus Bradley (Jaguars).

Here are a handful of notes from the event, courtesy of the Irish's sports information department:
  • Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox and Kona Schwenke were the only players to take part in every drill, with Tommy Rees and Chris Watt skipping only the bench press. TJ Jones, Zack Martin and Prince Shembo only did position drills, with Shembo working with both defensive linemen and linebackers.
  • Bennett Jackson, who ran a 4.51 40-yard dash at last month's NFL combine, improved that mark to 4.40 Thursday. The only cornerbacks to top that at the combine were Justin Gilbert (4.37, Oklahoma State), Phillip Gaines (4.38, Rice), Jason Verrett (4.38, TCU) and Bradley Roby (4.39, Ohio State).
  • Fox, who was not invited to the combine, ran a 4.59 40, which, among linebackers, would have trailed only Boston College's Kevin Pierre-Louis (4.51) and Florida State's Telvin Smith (4.52) at the combine.
  • Rees, who also was not invited to the combine, had a vertical leap of 31 inches, which would have topped fellow quarterbacks Tajh Boyd (30.5, Clemson), Jimmy Garoppolo (30.5, Eastern Illinois), Teddy Bridgewater (30, Louisville), Stephen Morris (30, Miami) and Jordan Lynch (29.5, Northern Illinois). Rees completed 32 of 34 passes Thursday.
  • Louis Nix improved his 40 time from 5.42 at the combine to 5.36 Thursday. He improved his three-cone drill time from 8.29 to 7.94.
  • Watt, whose PCL tear kept him from all but the bench at the combine, ran a 5.39 40 on Thursday, in addition to a 4.76 20-yard shuttle and 7.60 three-cone drill. He did a 28.5-inch vertical and 8-foot, 8-inch broad jump.
  • Schwenke, also not invited to the combine, ran 4.88 40, 4.59 20-yard shuttle, 7.16 three-cone drill, did 29 inches on the vertical leap, nine feet on the broad jump and 27 reps on the bench,
  • George Atkinson III improved his 20-yard shuttle from 4.46 at the combine to 4.38 Thursday.
  • Calabrese, another combine snub, ran a 4.86 40, 4.60 20-yard shuttle, 7.10 three-cone drill, did a 30-inch vertical, jumped 9-feet, 2-inches on the broad jump and did 25 reps on the bench.
Sixteen former Notre Dame players will take part in Thursday's NFL Pro Day at the Loftus Sports Center, the school announced Monday.

Though each's exact participation has yet to be determined, the names scheduled to be in attendance this week are George Atkinson III, Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox, Mike Golic Jr., Bennett Jackson, TJ Jones, Zack Martin, Troy Niklas, Louis Nix III, Tommy Rees, Kona Schwenke, Prince Shembo, Nick Tausch, Stephon Tuitt, Robby Toma and Chris Watt.

Golic and Toma both finished their Irish careers during the 2012 season.

One player from that list who won't be participating in any drills is Tuitt, who told ESPN.com in a text message that he already completed such drills during his Feb. 28 pro day at Lovett (Ga.) High. Tuitt had surgery earlier this month to repair a stress fracture in his left foot that was discovered during the NFL scouting combine.

Testing and position-specific drills Thursday start around 11:45 a.m. ET.

Five things: BYU-Notre Dame

November, 23, 2013
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Notre Dame hosts BYU this afternoon (3:30 ET, ABC) in a battle of 7-3 teams. Here are five things watch out for when both teams take the field for the Irish's Senior Day

Senior Day. Notre Dame is honoring 33 seniors before kickoff in a ceremony that is sure to be emotional for many of these players. Some had joined the program under Charlie Weis, while others seemingly were committed to no particular coach, part of the transition between Weis and Brian Kelly. Once the game starts, however, the Irish need to control their emotions and play even-keeled. They were able to do this last year in a 38-0 Senior Day rout of Wake Forest, but they are facing a much better team this year in BYU.

Tommy Rees. This is it at home for the senior quarterback, who has been cheered, booed and called everything from savior to goat to everything in-between. What kind of outing can we expect from Rees in his Notre Dame Stadium finale? Many thought he was past the kind of mistakes he made two weeks ago in a costly loss at Pitt, but he usually has been at his best when the stage has been the biggest, and perhaps his efforts will be recognized beforehand, given the #ThankTommy movement that has been generating some steam on Twitter this week.

Defensive line. Louis Nix is out for the season. His No. 2, Kona Schwenke, is less than 100 percent, and who really knows just how close. Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell are playing in their first contests since suffering ankle sprains, too. Against a BYU offense that likes to move at a very fast pace, the Irish need as many healthy bodies as possible to keep up. They already were just holding it together before Nix went down, so his loss could end up proving crucial.

Taysom Hill. Hill was not a part of last year's game, but he might just be the difference this year as BYU looks to redeem itself after losing a game at Notre Dame Stadium last year that it thought it should have won. Hill has thrown for 2,379 yards and 16 touchdowns on the season, but he is a real threat on the run, as he is second among quarterbacks nationally with 956 rushing yards. He has 12 picks this year, too, so the Irish will need to take advantage of some of his mistakes.

Ground game. What, you thought we would make it an entire Saturday without hitting on this point? Notre Dame's last outing was George Atkinson III's time to shine, if you consider his whopping six carries just that. (Cam McDaniel also had nine.) Tarean Folston looked better than any of them three weeks ago against Navy but had just four carries for 13 yards the following week. Someone will need to step up for the Irish against the Cougars, as Notre Dame would be wise to have something to fall on in the backfield to help give its banged-up defense some much-needed rest against an offense that will look to tire it out soon.
Notre Dame kicks off the first of three games this year against the Pac-12 with Saturday’s showdown against No. 22 Arizona State in Arlington, Texas. What should you be looking for? Glad you asked. Notre Dame reporter Matt Fortuna and Pac-12 reporter Kevin Gemmell talk it over.

Matt Fortuna: Arizona State is a newcomer to the Pac-12 portion of Notre Dame's schedule this year, Kevin. The Sun Devils have looked great against USC, not so great against Stanford and, well, fortuitous in their win over Wisconsin. They put up 62 points last week against what was believed to be a good Trojans defense, getting Lane Kiffin fired in the process. So I guess we'll start there, given Notre Dame's defensive struggles so far this season: What makes Todd Graham's unit so explosive offensively, and what do the Irish need to really keep an eye on Saturday to keep the points down?

Kevin Gemmell: Tempo, tempo, tempo. Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell, who Graham trusts to run the show offensively, uses “tempo” as a verb, not an adjective. As in, he wants to tempo teams into submission.

[+] EnlargeD.J. Foster
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriNotre Dame will have to find a way to slow down D.J. Foster and the Arizona State offense.
They want to have as many possessions as possible. And they get that with a fast-paced attack that stretches and then compacts a defense. Quarterback Taylor Kelly is off to another outstanding start, and a huge reason for that is the addition of wide receiver Jaelen Strong, a junior college transfer who already has 31 catches for 433 yards. He gives Kelly that sideline threat the Sun Devils were lacking last season, and Kelly has been fantastic at spotting him on the outside shoulder and letting him make plays. Strong has been targeted 51 times, so it’s only a 60-percent completion rate when they look to him. But when he does catch it, it’s usually for a substantial gain; he averages 14 yards per reception.

They use running backs Marion Grice (12 touchdowns already!) and D.J. Foster in creative ways in the screen game and like to splt Foster out into the slot. Tight end Chris Coyle has also emerged as one of the top players at his position in the country.

How about the Irish? Things don’t seem to be going as swimmingly as they did last year. Only 25.4 points per game. ASU is going to blitz early and often. What does Notre Dame have to do to get its offense moving in the right direction?

Matt Fortuna: It will get overlooked because Notre Dame lost Saturday, but the Irish were finally able to establish a ground game, tallying 220 rushing yards against the Sooners. They had eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark as a team just once before, in the opener against Temple. Junior George Atkinson III, who was the No. 1 back entering the season, finally played like it, lowering his shoulder and looking more like a downhill runner. He finished with a career-high 148 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

Aside from not turning it over on their first two possessions and falling behind 14-0, it is very important for the Irish to continue to establish the ground threat early, as they often can become predictable in second- and third-and-long with a non-mobile quarterback under center in Tommy Rees, though Brian Kelly did insert Andrew Hendrix in for some zone-read, change-of-pace packages against the Sooners. Receivers must run better routes, too. TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels have been big playmakers, but they both had route-running miscues Saturday that were costly. Kelly has said that ordinary things need to be done better. The Irish also regularly play three true freshmen wideouts (Corey Robinson, James Onwualu, Will Fuller).

I'm interested in ASU's defense, particularly Will Sutton. Before the season, everyone had pegged this as a matchup of the two best interior defensive linemen in the country, between Sutton and Notre Dame's Louis Nix. It's been hard to gauge Nix's performance so far, as the Irish have faced some mobile quarterbacks and quick-strike offenses that have utilized the short passing game early to essentially take the line out of the game. What challenges do Sutton and the rest of the Sun Devils' defense present?

Kevin Gemmell: They like to blitz a lot. Todd Graham fashions his defense as a “hybrid attacking defense,” meaning at times they’ll substitute speed for bulk to create pressure from anywhere on the field.

Sutton hadn’t made much of an impact the first few games for a couple of reasons: One, they were facing mostly run-based power teams like Wisconsin and Stanford; two, he’s been seeing a lot of double and triple teams. Makes sense. His first step is so quick that it precedes his reputation. But he finally broke out against the Trojans with two tackles for a loss and a sack. I think, as the season pushes on, we’re going to see more pressure from the front seven based on the teams they’ll face.

That said, you have to look out for safety Alden Darby, who is coming off a fantastic performance against the Trojans. He had two picks (one returned for a touchdown) and has 19 tackles on the year. Hybrid linebacker Carl Bradford is explosive and Chris Young has really emerged, leading the team with 29 tackles.

The front seven is a little undersized, but it’s quick and if your protections aren’t set, someone will get missed with as much as the Sun Devils like to blitz.

Now that the Sun Devils are back in the top 25, it’s a huge game for them to keep some of that momentum going on a national stage. The Pac-12 is already coming off of the nonconference season with a 29-4 record.

Notre Dame, however, seems to be scrambling to salvage its national reputation. And with three games against the Pac-12, which many believe is the deepest conference in college football, it seems the Irish could restore some of that lost credibility. How do you see them matching up with the now Lane-less Trojans or Stanford in the season finale?

Matt Fortuna: Based on everything we have seen from both Notre Dame and Stanford so far, that matchup might not be a very pretty one for the Irish. Fortunately for them, it is not until the regular-season finale, meaning they have plenty of time to fix their issues in the six games before then.

The bigger question pertains to what kind of team the Irish will be heading into that matchup in Palo Alto, a status that will largely be dictated by their performances in both the ASU and USC games. The Irish need to get it together, fast, and Rees has to avoid a repeat performance of this past Saturday (three first-half interceptions) and get the offense going again. In theory, that should be enough to beat a USC team that looks to be reeling after the firing of its coach, though that kind of midseason move can have different lingering effects, good or bad. It's not like the Trojans aren't talented, and it's not like they won't be up for another night game at Notre Dame Stadium.

Still, I say the Irish win that one, especially coming off a bye. And especially with the threat of falling under .500, as a loss to ASU would make them 3-3 on the season. Notre Dame might be the better team, but the Irish have shown me little over the last four weeks that suggests that they are capable of keeping up with the Sun Devils' offense.

So that's an early 1-2 prediction for Notre Dame against the Pac-12 this season. What say you, Kevin?

Kevin Gemmell: I’m an ASU lean right now simply because of how explosive that offense can be. And if the Sun Devils can fix a couple of assignment issues on defense, I think they have the firepower to be a top-20, maybe even top-15 team. But they have to show they can do it away from home. A neutral field setting provides a nice opportunity. It’s close enough for their fans to travel, but it’s not a true road game.

As of today, we’re in lock-step when it comes to the Stanford matchup. The Cardinal offense is looking better and better each week. I thought back in April that Tyler Gaffney was going to be a game-changer for Stanford, and so far he’s shown that he is. That season finale could also have huge BCS implications, and I don’t see the Cardinal tossing one away at home in a game that could potentially lock them into a fourth straight BCS game.

As for USC, well, who knows? Haven’t heard any USC players come out and condemn the firing of Lane Kiffin. Maybe this move reinvigorates them? The Trojans certainly have talent. But as of today (as always, I reserve the right to change my mind), I’d go with Notre Dame at home.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Here's a quick look at what went down in Notre Dame's 28-6 season-opening win over Temple:

It was over when: George Atkinson III's two-yard touchdown rush with 5:37 left in the third quarter gave Notre Dame a 28-6 edge and some needed breathing room against a Temple team that hung around longer than most expected.

Game ball goes to: There is plenty of credit to go around on offense, but at the end of the day you have to go with Tommy Rees. The senior signal caller completed 16 of 24 passes for 346 yards with three touchdowns. Most importantly, he did not turn the ball over.

Stat of the game: Four total missed field goals will stand out. So, too, will Temple's Jim Cooper having his extra-point attempt blocked by Jarron Jones. Irish coach Brian Kelly had said that Saturday would be somewhat of an audition for kickers Nick Tausch and Kyle Brindza. Each missed a field goal try, leaving the Irish with a minor issue heading into Michigan next weekend.

Video: RB a key battle at ND

July, 11, 2013
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"College Football Live" breaks down some of the key position battles across the nation including running back at Notre Dame.

Players to watch: Purdue

July, 10, 2013
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Our series continues today with Purdue, which hosts Notre Dame on Sept. 14 in yet another prime-time contest. The game will be the Boilermakers' third under new head coach Darrell Hazell.

To read previous entries, click here.

Offense: Akeem Hunt, RB. Think of Hunt as the Purdue of version of George Atkinson III, because both will be counted on to provide more offense this year. Hunt ran for just 335 yards and two scores last season but averaged 8.0 yards per carry, 15.7 yards per catch and 22.2 yards per kick return. He added two receiving touchdowns and a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown. Four different times in 2012, Hunt reached the end zone on plays of 50 or more yards. His 19 carries for 134 yards and a touchdown in Purdue's spring game only enhances his case heading into the fall.

Defense: Ricardo Allen, CB. Allen was selected by Big Ten coaches as a second-team all-conference performer in each of the last two seasons, and the media named him second-team All-Big Ten as a freshman in 2010. Allen notched 45 tackles last season, including four for loss, to go with a sack, four break-ups, five passes defended and one interception -- which he returned 39 yards for a score in a Week 3 victory over Marshall, giving him the school record of four career pick-sixes. He is one off the national record of five. Allen has seven picks for his career, and he forced a fumble against Notre Dame during the Irish's 2011 win in West Lafayette, Ind.

Golson's departure impacts ground game

June, 10, 2013
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Ric Tapia/Icon SMIEverett Golson's departure from Notre Dame will have an effect on the rushing attack.
The loss of starting quarterback Everett Golson is major cause for concern at Notre Dame.

Though the offense in 2011 was slightly better with Tommy Rees at quarterback (2.3 points per drive) than it was with Golson last season (2.2 points per drive), the loss of Golson's rushing ability will be an issue.

Golson's departure means the Irish will be without their top three rushers from a year ago (Theo Riddick was a senior in 2012 and Cierre Wood left school early for the NFL). The only returning contributor from the backfield is George Atkinson III. He’ll be joined by USC transfer Amir Carlisle (who missed 2012 due to injury) and Greg Bryant (No. 2 RB in 2013 ESPN 150).

After a slow start last season, Golson and the Irish rushing attack came into their own in October. The team averaged 3.8 yards per rush in its first four games, but that average jumped to 5.3 from that point forward -- and that includes the 19-rush, 32-yard performance against Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game.

Starting with the game against Miami on Oct. 6, more designed runs were called for Golson. He also took it upon himself to pick up yards with his legs more often. Golson's designed runs went from 2.0 to 5.1 per game, and his scrambles went from 1.2 to 2.9 per game.

In the first four games of the season, Golson rushed a total of 13 times for one first down and two touchdowns. After that, 23 of his 64 rushes resulted in a first down and he reached the end zone four times.

Rees simply does not have this element in his game. He has exactly one rushing play in his career longer than 8 yards -- a 12-yard run against Tulsa during his freshman season -- and has never had more than 6 net rushing yards in a game.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Big Louis Nix entered the media room in Notre Dame Stadium and was immediately intercepted by sports information director Michael Bertsch.

"You know quarterbacks go to the podium," Bertsch said.

Up Nix went to the center of the cramped room, facing a throng of media members who generally hang on his every word anyway, given the fourth-year junior's penchant for saying whatever in the world is on his mind at that moment.

One such instance came early in the 2012 season, when Nix explained how younger brother Kenneth, one of his 13 siblings, had told classmates during a presentation in Jacksonville, Fla., that his big brother was the Fighting Irish's quarterback.

Nix had no idea where that idea came from, but then joked that he would love to be inserted as a Wildcat-only signal caller in the "Irish Chocolate" package, an ode to his nickname.

His dream came to fruition during the fourth quarter of Notre Dame's Blue-Gold spring game Saturday before 31,652 fans, as Nix lined up in the backfield for a two-point conversion following the game's only touchdown. He took the shotgun snap and galloped into the end zone untouched for the score, continuing the roll he has been on in the past year.

"I really am a quarterback," Nix said. "I told you guys it would happen and it did."

That was Louis Nix being Louis Nix; as he provided a refreshing spark to a ho-hum exhibition on a 38-degree April afternoon. He was Notre Dame's best defensive player on the nation's biggest stage this past Jan. 7 against Alabama, and he was the anchor of a defense that happened to feature the Heisman Trophy runner-up.

By playing even bigger than his out-sized personality -- a trait that turned his every word into a soundbite and made his video news series a YouTube sensation -- Nix faced a decision that would have changed the lives of everyone back inside his family's three-bedroom home.

[+] EnlargeLouis Nix
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsLouis Nix capped off Notre Dame's spring game with a two-point conversion in the Blue-Gold Game.
Last spring Nix publicly expressed feelings of homesickness, as he fell into a rut and lost his spot on the first team to Kona Schwenke. But the film, television and theatre major thought back to senior night four years ago at Raines (Fla.) High School, when he was the only player who took the field without a loved one. His mom, Stephanie Wingfield had a shift at a hospital cafeteria that night and cried when she found out her son had taken the field alone. She begged him to stay in college, earn his degree and celebrate senior day with her.

The decision to stay ensures that the senior day moment will happen. The play that highlighted Saturday's scrimmage served as proof that he is on the right track in the classroom.

Nix's two-point conversion was the result of an academic wager he made with head coach Brian Kelly, who credited the conversion to offensive coordinator Chuck Martin and his new responsibilities as play-caller heading into the 2013 season.

"He surprised me, and so I paid up," Kelly said of Nix. "I said, 'What do you want?' I figured he would want something. He came up: 'I want to score a touchdown in the spring game.' As you know, we had a hard time scoring touchdowns in the spring game and I didn't think that was going to come to reality."

So Nix went up to quarterback Malik Zaire with 14:05 left in the contest, ordering the early-enrollee to get him to the promised land. Six plays and four minutes, 55 seconds later, C.J. Prosise was in the end zone with a 35-yard touchdown reception, allowing the blue-jerseyed Nix to step into the huddle with his white-jerseyed teammates. It set off a minor social media celebration of a FAT GUY TOUCHDOWN. (Or, in this case, a FAT GUY CONVERSION.)

Is this something Temple needs to scheme against come the teams' Aug. 31 opener?

"That's what all teams need to be scared of. Everybody needs to be scared of Irish Chocolate," Nix said.

"Everyone," he continued, staring at the reporter who had inquired, "including you."

The defense charged with stopping the play certainly seemed scared, though it adjusted enough to keep the new quarterback from beating them with his arm.

"I just made a few checks or whatever. You couldn't hear them. They were silent checks," Nix said. "I just told them where to line up, give me a nice pass-block. My O-line did a great job, that's why I was successful."

Or simply because he looked up, stared at nothing but daylight and entered a state of shock, with linebacker Kendall Moore getting the heck out of the way once Nix committed to running straight ahead.

"I saw fear in his eyes," Nix said of Moore.

George Atkinson III said afterward that Everett Golson should worry about losing his job. Fellow defenders expressed relief that they will never have to face Nix again.

But that might not be the case, not if Nix continues to ride this surge.

"It's a dream of mine to happen [in a game], hopefully it does -- hopefully Coach thinks I can handle the ball," he said.

"I'm 305 right now," the listed 347-pounder deadpanned. "If I gain a few pounds, maybe he'll just hand me the ball off."
Spring ball is one week from today. Our series continues with the running backs.

Starters returning: None
Players returning: George Atkinson III, Cam McDaniel, Amir Carlisle, William Mahone
Players departing: Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood
Newcomers: Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston (both enroll this summer)

The breakdown: This is likely the most interesting position battle, one that should produce some intriguing competition through the spring, fall camp and likely even into the 2013 season. Atkinson and McDaniel are the only two with experience at Notre Dame, though whether either can assume the No. 1, 15-to-20-carry-a-game role is a question mark. Atkinson carried it 51 times for 361 yards and five touchdowns in 2012, while adding two catches for 4 yards. McDaniel made the most of limited action, netting 125 yards and a score on 23 carries, adding two catches for 41 yards. Both players figure to be split to the slot as well, as that is what running backs/slot receivers coach Tony Alford looks for in a back, something Riddick provided last season. We'll see if either's kick-returning duties interfere with their action in the backfield as well. After notching two touchdowns in 2011, Atkinson averaged 20 yards on 22 kick returns in 2012, while McDaniel averaged 19.3 on seven returns.

Carlisle is one to watch as well. As a true freshman at USC in 2011, he carried the ball 19 times for 118 yards and caught seven passes for 41 yards and a touchdown. The NCAA granted him a waiver to play immediately last season, but a broken ankle suffered before spring ball ultimately forced the staff to use the redshirt option on him. Mahone also redshirted last season, his true freshman year. The 5-foot-10, 211-pound Mahone was an ESPN four-star prospect coming out of Austintown Fitch (Ohio) High School in 2012.

Then there are the summer enrollees, Bryant and Folston. Bryant, a one-time Oklahoma commit, would appear to possess all the tools necessary to become an every-down No. 1 back, but he will have a lot of ground to make up early. ESPN ranks the 5-foot-11, 197-pound American Heritage (Fla.) High School back as the nation's No. 2 prospect at the position. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Folston is a four-star back, and ESPN's No. 66 player overall, out of Cocoa (Fla.) High School.
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.

Top 25 player countdown: No. 3

August, 29, 2012
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(Note: These rankings were made before head coach Brian Kelly suspended Cierre Wood and Justin Utupo for the first two games of the season.)

No. 3. Cierre Wood, RB

2011 numbers: Wood played in all 13 games and started nine, rushing for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns on 217 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per carry. He added 27 catches for 189 yards.

Making the case for Wood: Wood became just the 11th player in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. And he did it despite splitting time with Jonas Gray for much of the second half of the year. Named to the preseason watch list for the Maxwell Award, Wood figured to head a rushing attack that includes the talented Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III. But he may have some catching up to do after being suspended Sunday for the first two games of the season following a violation of team rules.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said there were no contingency plans in the days leading up to Sunday's announced two-game suspension of Cierre Wood.

"When I made my decision to suspend Cierre and Justin Utupo, we then began to get more reps to other guys because he wasn't gonna be playing," Kelly said during Tuesday's news conference. "But there wasn't a long period of time that we had a contingency plan because I didn't know what I was gonna do relative to the rules violations."

Theo Riddick, George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel -- who for now is an offensive player -- will see carries in Wood's place. Amir Carlisle, who broke his ankle prior to the spring, is unavailable for Saturday's game against Navy but Kelly remains optimistic he will return early this season.

Wood, meanwhile, was not made available to reporters throughout camp and the preseason, an odd silence considering he is a returning 1,000-yard rusher. Kelly wouldn't delve into when he first became aware that a violation occurred with Wood, though he did say that the discipline was strictly an independent decision made by him.

"I don't wanna get into specifics of time and place because at first, probably wouldn't be accurate," Kelly said. "What's the most important is anytime I suspend somebody from the football team it's perceived as discipline, and I understand that. These are educational opportunities for me. So when I suspend somebody I look at it as how are we gonna get this young man to live up to the standards that I have for our program, and in this instance relative to his suspension, we want it to be educational. And we want them to come back better citizens and better young men."

Depth chart notes

August, 27, 2012
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Shortly after the announced two-game suspension Sunday of Cierre Wood and Justin Utupo, Notre Dame released its opening week depth chart. Nothing too surprising was revealed -- Theo Riddick slid up after Wood's suspension -- but there are a few items worth noting.


SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Everett Golson wanted a visor for his helmet. Brian Kelly gave him much more than that.

In naming Golson as Notre Dame's starting quarterback Thursday, the third-year Irish coach is showing a commitment to stabilizing the position once and for all, entrusting the car keys to the guy who ultimately can take the spread offense to the level everyone's been waiting to see since Kelly's arrival in 2010.

"You're starting DaVaris Daniels and Chris Brown, two guys that are gonna play a lot for us on the perimeter that are first-time starters, and then George Atkinson didn't play very much at running back. You're gonna see a lot of him," Kelly said. "Troy Niklas. I could go on and on. So Everett Golson, there's four or five guys right there that are gonna be impactful in the games. So yeah, certainly there's gonna be some learning there. But one thing we don't have a lot of time on is that curve. We gotta come out running and doing our thing right away."

That starts with the redshirt freshman whose strong arm and nimble feet make him the ideal man behind this wheel. It's not like Notre Dame's offense is composed of all first- or second-year players, either: The Irish return seniors Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick, in addition to the nation's best tight end, Tyler Eifert, and an offensive line that is as solid as they come.

Those weapons present a perfect opportunity to help break Golson in, as will the relatively tame defenses he is set to face in the season's first two weeks -- Navy on Sept. 1 in Dublin, Ireland, and Purdue the following Saturday in South Bend.

"I would say what makes me more comfortable back there is just my teammates," Golson said. "You talk about the veterans, you’ve got the O-line, you’ve got veteran wide receivers. Like I said, the quarterbacks out there just helping me. That’s made me more comfortable."

Mistakes will come because they always do, especially for first-year players. Golson, calm and collected in facing every badgering reporter's question so far, showed a glimpse of some of that child-like giddiness when describing how he found out he won the job.

Golson had wanted a visor for his helmet before Wednesday's practice, an item Kelly said he would get once he was officially named the starter. Golson rushed over to the Romano Family Locker Room before class Thursday, only to see the same old gap between his facemask and helmet.

"I came back in [after class] and it was just there," he said of the visor. "I was kind of happy about that."

If Golson lives up to his potential, those happy times will continue for Notre Dame.

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