Notre Dame Football: Mike 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.

How ND's starters fared as recruits

January, 31, 2012
1/31/12
5:00
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With signing day one day away, let's take a look back at where Notre Dame's 2011 starters stood as prep prospects before arriving on campus. For the purpose of timeliness, we'll go with the official starters from the Irish's most recent game, the Champs Sports Bowl. We'll sprinkle in a few key contributors here and there, too.

We'll go by ESPN RecruitingNation's rankings. For further explanation on the evaluation system, click here.

OFFENSE
QB Tommy Rees: No. 19 QB in Class of '10, 79 Scout Grade
RB Cierre Wood: No. 11 ATH, No. 122 overall in Class of '09, 81 Scout Grade
WR T.J. Jones: No. 10 WR, No 68 overall in Class of '10, 81 Scout Grade
WR John Goodman: No. 43 WR in Class of '08, 79 Scout Grade
WR Robby Toma: No. 199 WR in Class of '09, 68 Scout Grade
TE Tyler Eifert: No. 13 TE in Class of '09, 79 Scout Grade
LT Zack Martin: No. 10 OT, No. 109 overall in Class of '09, 81 Scout Grade
LG Chris Watt: No. 5 OG, No. 68 overall in Class of '09, 82 Scout Grade
C Mike Golic: No. 4 C, 79 Scout Grade
RG Trevor Robinson: No. 8 OG, 80 Scout Grade
RT Taylor Dever: No. 141 OT, 69 Scout Grade

Others worth noting:
  • QB Dayne Crist: No. 2 QB, No. 22 overall in Class of '08, 84 Scout Grade
  • QB Andrew Hendrix: No. 11 QB in Class of '10, 80 Scout Grade
  • RB Jonas Gray: No. 11 RB, No. 89 overall in Class of '08, 82 Scout Grade
  • WR Michael Floyd: No. 9 WR, No. 29 overall in Class of '08, 83 Scout Grade
  • RB/WR Theo Riddick: No. 48 ATH in class of '09, 78 Scout Grade
  • C Braxston Cave: No. 1 center, No. 126 overall in Class of '08, 81 Scout Grade
DEFENSE
DE Ethan Johnson: No. 6 DE, No. 81 overall in Class of '08, 82 Scout Grade
NG Louis Nix: No. 6 DT, No. 64 overall in Class of '10, 81 Scout Grade
DE Aaron Lynch: No. 3 DE, No. 15 overall in Class of '11, 84 Scout Grade
OLB Darius Fleming: No. 7 DE, No. 94 overall in Class of '08, 81 Scout Grade
ILB Dan Fox: No. 76 OLB in Class of '09, 76 Scout Grade
ILB Manti Te'o: No. 1 OLB, No. 2 overall in Class of '09, 93 Scout Grade
CB Robert Blanton: No. 50 S in Class of '08, 76 Scout Grade
SS Harrison Smith: No. 26 S in Class of '07, 78 Scout Grade
FS Jamoris Slaughter: No. 5 S, No. 85 overall in Class of '08, 82 Scout Grade
FS Zeke Motta: No. 28 S in Class of '09, 79 Scout Grade
CB Gary Gray: No. 2 CB, No. 13 overall in Class of '07, 85 Scout Grade

Others worth noting:
Of players who saw significant time for Notre Dame in 2011, 16 were ESPNU 150 players coming out of high school. If Cave and Slaughter are granted fifth years, 10 of those 16 will be back next season.

Six of the Irish's current 17 Class of 2012 commitments are ESPNU 150 players.

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