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On the Run: Notre Dame’s Quest for 2,000 Yards Rushing Wed, 26 May 2010 13:51:36 +0000 Eric Murtaugh

During the winter there was a lot of moaning and groaning about the hiring of Brian Kelly at Notre Dame because the team was switching control from one pass happy coach to another who is just as determined to air the ball out.

However, do not take Kelly’s penchant for throwing the ball as a sign that Notre Dame will continue to have a weak running attack.

In fact, the Irish may have a very powerful ground game in 2010, one which could see the Golden Domers gain the most yards in nearly a decade.

That means Notre Dame may approach a milestone believed unthinkable during the Charlie Weis era:

2,000 yards rushing.

Thanks to Weis’ strong recruiting efforts, Brian Kelly is now walking into a situation in South Bend where there is a lot of talent and experience at the running back position.

So much so that I believe Kelly will ultimately lean heavily on the ground game this coming fall.

It may seem unbelievable given Notre Dame’s past struggles in this area, yet the running game could end up being the strong point for the offense in 2010.

Now, let’s address the four main questions heading into the season.

Will Armando Allen Stay Healthy?

This is obviously the biggest question heading into the season since Allen is the anointed starter and a senior with a ton of experience.

Without a healthy Allen, it is likely Notre Dame will struggle on the ground in the same manner the program has over the past eight seasons. Not since 2001 has Notre Dame rushed for 2,000 yards as a team, a depressing fact if there ever was one.

But, with a strong, rested and healthy Allen the Irish ground game has a lot of potential to do damage on Saturday afternoons.

If Allen is able to run more north-south and hit the holes with speed in Kelly’s new offense, then a 1,000 yard season is well within reach.

How Much Production from Cierre Wood?

Cierre Wood is an x-factor simply because he is projected to be Allen’s backup and his yardage could swing the potency of the Irish ground game in either direction.

A nice and productive red shirt sophomore season from Wood likely means Notre Dame will be, at minimum, a good running football team, while a season of struggle from the Oxnard, California native means the Irish will probably stay a below-average rushing team.

I’m betting on the former and I believe Wood should immediately share carries with Allen at the start of the season.

I don’t think Wood should be the backup and only handle the rock whenever Allen is tired, but that the sophomore is ready to be treated as if he is a legitimate number one runner.

Knowing Kelly’s penchant for using multiple backs, it is likely that Wood will get his fair share of carries and make an impact from the opener against Purdue and onward.

I know Wood is still very young and hasn’t proved anything yet at the college level, but this kid could be something special.

He was one of the top running back recruits in the country a year ago who had a sensational high school career (4,234 yards with a 13 YPC average to go along with 54 touchdowns as a junior and senior), and he looked amazing in the spring game (even if it was against a vanilla defense).

Perhaps more importantly, Kelly switched Theo Riddick to receiver specifically to get Wood carries in the backfield this year, quite a statement for a player who has yet to step on the field for any game action in an Irish uniform.

Most Irish fans would agree that it was freshman Theo Riddick who looked like a future superstar with his admittedly small sample size as a kick returner and running back in 2009, but now Kelly is basically saying Wood is going to be the future at the position.

Is it possible that Wood will be even better than Riddick?

Will Wood be part of a revival of the Notre Dame running game in the future?

That may very well be, and it looks like Wood will be an integral part of the offense from the beginning and is thought of very highly by the new Fighting Irish coach.

What Will Dayne Crist Add?

A lot of pressure will be riding on Crist to take over this new offense and move the ball through the air, but his ability to make plays with his feet could add another dynamic weapon on the ground.

Due to his injured knee, we may not see Crist run the ball a lot early in the season, but at some point he will increase his carries and begin racking up yardage on the ground.

Given the lack of a rushing attack from the Irish quarterback position in recent years, anything Crist offers can be seen as a bonus and just another reason why Notre Dame could have a stronger ground game than in past years.

Last season, with mobile sophomore quarterback Zach Collaros under center, Brian Kelly had his signal caller rush for 344 yards on 57 carries with four touchdowns.

That is 72 fewer yards on 31 fewer carries with one less touchdown than Robert Hughes, Notre Dame’s second-string back in 2009. And that is also with Collaros stepping in for the injured Tony Pike and not even playing a full season.

So, it may not be realistic to expect a whole lot from Crist in the running game in 2010, but his talent combined with the coaching and offensive system indicates that there is the possibility that Crist makes plays with his feet this fall.

Crist may not be a true burner, but given full health he should be able to scamper for six or seven yards on quarterback keepers and reads from time to time.

How Many Carries and How Many Runners?

How often will Brian Kelly run the ball, how many different runners will he use and how many carries will each player receive?

In terms of offensive plays from scrimmage, there was not much of a difference between Kelly’s Cincinnati teams and Weis’ Notre Dame teams as Her Loyal Sons has documented over the past week.

From 2007 to 2009 Kelly’s teams averaged 69 plays per game while Weis’ teams averaged 68.5 plays per game for the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

Since the amount of plays per game should be roughly the same, how many rushing plays can we expect under the new regime?

Again, the amount of rushing plays for both coaches mirrors the overall amount of plays from scrimmage.

Kelly averaged 33 rushes per game, while Weis averaged just over 32.

Certainly neither coach ran the ball a ton, but these are pretty decent numbers from coaches who are known to throw the ball and it shows that both were at least somewhat committed to the ground attack.

And anyway, the problem with Weis’ Notre Dame teams wasn’t that they didn’t run, but rather, his teams weren’t very good at it when they did so.

Poor red zone play, missed opportunities on third and short and a general inability to keep opponents honest with the ground game have all been well documented problems from the Weis era.

Kelly on the other hand, is much more efficient.

Last season Notre Dame averaged only 3.8 yards per carry, while Cincinnati averaged 5.0 per rush.

That extra 1.2 yards per carry is a huge difference and one that can translate into winning two or three more games a season.

In Kelly’s first year at Cincinnati he actually ran the ball 13 more times than he threw it, and I expect the run-pass ratio in 2010 to be about even and it wouldn’t surprise me if he ends up calling more running plays throughout the entire season.

This means, we may see Notre Dame run the ball close to 500 times in 2010.

At any rate, let’s assume Notre Dame averages 70 plays per game and that the run-pass ratio is even. At 35 running plays per game, here is how the season could play out:

Allen-182 carries, 1,019 yards (5.6 YPC)

Wood-130 carries, 663 yards (5.1 YPC)

Gray-52 carries, 223 yards (4.3 YPC)

Crist-52 carries, 234 yards (4.5 YPC)

Hughes-26 carries, 114 yards (4.4 YPC)

Others-13 carries, 97 yards (7.5 YPC)

If you add up those numbers, the team will have rushed for a whopping 2,350 yards putting them somewhere close to 30th in the nation.

As mentioned before, it is highly likely that Kelly will use a running back by committee philosophy as he is not known to rely on one player to carry the team’s load on the ground.

Keeping his runners fresh and utilizing the depth chart could be a big advantage for Brian Kelly in his first season in South Bend and a key to maintaining a potent offense from September through late November.

Last season, Kelly had one runner with over 100 carries while the back up carried the ball 74 times. The remaining 166 carries were given to a handful of players, including quarterback Zach Collaros.

In 2008, Kelly had two players with 130 carries or more and five players shared the 477 carries during his first season at Cincinnati in 2007.

This fall, Allen should get the most carries and I have him projected to run the ball 14 times a game with a decent increase in his yards-per-carry average from 2009. As long as he stays healthy I think these are very reasonable numbers.

What’s more, Cincinnati’s starting running back Isaiah Pead averaged 6.7 yards per carry in 2009, so is it too optimistic to think that Allen could do the same?

I have Wood running the ball 10 times a game with a very respectable yards-per-carry average, but he is still an x-factor who could be a boom or bust player. He may struggle and not come close to this kind of production, but I think he has the necessary skill set to do so.

Jonas Gray is another interesting player who may very well end up getting a lot more carries than this, but it is still too early to tell what role he will have.

As a back with a great mixture of size and speed, Gray may be used quite heavily in short yardage situations and will certainly be called upon if there are any injuries ahead of him on the depth chart.

As I mentioned before, it is tough to tell what Crist will do on the ground, but three rushes and one sack per game is probably a good estimate, if not slightly conservative.

Nevertheless, I think Notre Dame fans will be happy with at least 200 yards and a quarterback that is able to convert third down plays with his feet. Instead of throwing fades and passing the ball at the three yard line, Crist will be much more likely to stuff it home on his own.

I don’t see Robert Hughes getting a lot of carries, but there should be sufficient short yardage situations where he’ll be touching the ball a couple times each game. This fall, his impact may be felt more as a pass receiving fullback or blocker rather than a runner.

The last category involves the three playmakers that will get their hands on the ball in any number of ways. Personally, I think this category could triple in carries and yardage but we’ll have to see what kind of plays Kelly draws up for Riddick, Floyd and Rudolph.

We can probably expect a handful of reverses to Floyd and some running plays to Rudolph through the tight end option play that was used in the spring game. Maybe these plays only pick up a small amount of yards over the course of the season, but there is also potential for something bigger.

Just thinking about Rudolph taking a quick flip from Crist as a hole opens up in the middle of the line should get any Irish fan excited about the upcoming season.

A lot of people are probably wondering how Riddick will be used now that he has switched to receiver.

He probably won’t be a prime-time threat in the passing game early in the season because he still has much to learn at his new position, but Riddick could make a sizeable impact on gadget plays, reverses, and plays in which he motions into the backfield.

Even if Riddick only touches the ball twice a game in this regard and still averages a healthy yards-per-carry average, the team will have rushed for an additional 200 yards or more.

In fact, don’t be surprised if Riddick surpasses Golden Tate’s rushing statistics from 2009 because Kelly’s system is more conducive to getting the ball to the team’s playmakers and he will probably want to get Riddick a certain amount of touches outside of catching the ball from Crist in the slot.

There may be no wildcat formations, but you can bet that Riddick will get his fair share of looks through the running game even though he’s moved to wide receiver.

Summary: Realistic or Rosy Expectations?

Maybe it was the promise shown during the Blue-Gold game (soft defense duly noted) or the fact that Kelly has coached surprisingly good running teams in the past, but I like Notre Dame’s chances on the ground next year.

Perhaps we’ll see a couple injuries and too steep of a learning curve with the new offense and the ground game will struggle to gain 100 yards each game.

But I think those days are long gone with the arrival of Brian Kelly and his coaching and offensive playbook.

I think it’s more likely the Irish approach 2,000 yards and turn into a spread offense similar to Oklahoma’s that can beat teams through the air as well as on the ground.

So expect Notre Dame to continue throwing the ball with fervor this fall, but don’t be shocked if the Irish also have a very respectable running game.

There are only about 100 more days until we find out.

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Brian Kelly and Dayne Crist: Can This Arranged Marriage Work? Sat, 01 May 2010 21:02:29 +0000 Erin McLaughlin

Ever since Dayne Crist was recruited by Charlie Weis, he knew that he would have to be patient and wait for his opportunity. Barring any kind of injury to Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame fans would not really get to know Crist until after Clausen left. That time is now.

There is no doubt that Crist has high expectations to live up to. Not only will he be replacing Clausen, but he will be wearing Brady Quinn’s #10. In fact, Weis made Crist get permission from Quinn to wear that number. If that isn’t pressure, I don’t know what is.

If Crist is going to make it three great Irish quarterbacks in a row, he will have to do it by learning a new system that is being implemented by new Head Coach Brian Kelly. Not only does Kelly run a completely different offense than Weis, but also everything about Kelly is just different from Weis.

Weis was known to be very positive with his players and was always encouraging. Kelly on the other hand is just nasty. That is not a put down. It is probably what these players need. All throughout spring, Kelly was very hard on his players especially the offense.

Kelly has to realize that although he did not recruit Crist, that he is his best chance at winning right away. He is the only guy with any kind of game experience at all. Crist definitely showed some positive stuff against Purdue and Washington State last year.

Although Crist and Kelly clearly need each other in order to be successful, this is clearly an arranged marriage. While that does make me nervous in some ways, the last arranged marriage was Weis and Quinn. That worked out alright.

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The 5 Best Places For Golden Tate To End Up On Draft Day Thu, 15 Apr 2010 20:41:42 +0000 Erin McLaughlin

In spite having a season in which he won the Blientikoff Award as the nation’s best receiver, Golden Tate has really been overshadowed by Jimmy Clausen heading into the draft. It is understandable to a point since Clausen is projected to go in the top 10 and Tate is probably a 2nd round pick.

Even still, Tate has a chance to very a very good pro. Like anything else though, he needs to be in place where his talents will be utilized in the right way in the right system. Below is a list of five teams where Golden Tate would have his best chances of success. It is ranked in order of best chance to worst chance.

#1. Kansas City Chiefs

What better place for Tate to go than to a team that has an offensive coordinator that already knows how to utilize his talents. Of course, I am referring to former Notre Dame Head Coach Charlie Weis. Weis will undoubtedly run the same system in Kansas City that he did in South Bend.

The Chiefs also have a very promising young quarterback in Matt Cassel. Cassel to Tate could become a household name.

#2. Denver Broncos

If Tate can’t get hooked up with Weis once again, maybe he can get the next best thing. That is Josh McDaniels who was mentored by Weis and runs an offense that is nearly identical.

Who will be throwing Tate the ball is still a bit of a mystery. It will likely be Kyle Orton to start the year. If he falters however, Tate would then be catching balls from fellow Notre Dame alum Brady Quinn. That would be a great fit having a quarterback and recevier both from the same system working a more advanced version of that system.

#3. New England Patriots

Now if Tate doesn’t end up going to teams that have taken the same system he was in in college, how about the team that started that system to begin with?

For Tate to be able to go to a team where he can catch passes from a legend like Tom Brady would really be a dream come true for him. The only problem is that he would be be behind two Pro Bowl receivers in Randy Moss and Wes Welker.

At the same time, that could be a good thing. There will be less pressure on him to come in and challenge for a starting job right away. Also, defenses will key on Moss and Welker and that could open Tate up.

#4. Arizona Cardinals

This could be a good fit for Tate even though it is a different system than he is used to. Arizona in recent years has featured a triple threat at wide receiver with  Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston. With Boldin now gone, they need somebody to replace him.

Defenses will put alot of attention on the other receivers and that could open up Tate.

The only trouble is that this team may be in trouble at quarterback. With Kurt Warner retired, Matt Leinart will now finally have to live up to the hype that made him a first round pick. If that doesn’t work out, newly acquired Derek Anderson could be throwing balls to Tate. That has the potential to be really good, but also really bad.

#5. Pittsburgh Steelers

Here is another team that really features wide receivers in recent years. With the recent trade of Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets, this team desparately needs somebody to line up across from Hines Ward. With all the winning tradition of this organization, it could be a great fit.

Of course Ben Roethlisberger is one of the best quarterbacks in the league when his is able to keep his pants on.

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Hopefully, Jimmy Clausen goes anywhere but Cleveland Sun, 11 Apr 2010 20:00:54 +0000 Erin McLaughlin

As the NFL draft is less than two weeks away, Irish fans anxiously await to see what uniform Jimmy Clausen will be wearing next fall.

Will he be in red and blue in Buffalo? How about teel and black in Jacksonville? Is it possible that he could be sporting purple and gold in Minnesota if they trade up? As much as I would hate to see him in silver and black in Oakland, even that is better than seeing him in orange and Brown in Cleveland.

I know that there are other Notre Dame fans like Eric Murtaugh, Kenneth Kacala, Mike Muratore, and Bobby Hogan who are also Cleveland Browns fans. Therefore, they wouldn’t mind seeing him go there but even they realize that it is a place where quarterbacks go to die since they rejoined the league.

From Tim Couch to Notre Dame alum Brady Quinn, that organization just is clueless on what to do with a talented quarterback. It is true that there is a new sheriff in town in Mike Holmgren. Holmgren has a proven track record with quarterbacks. However, he has proven nothing as a team President. He will not be coaching.

The fact is that the same coaching staff that was there a year ago is still in place. Eric Mangini is not a good head coach and Brian Daboll is a joke as offensive coordinator.

Even if Holmgren is the change in management the Browns need, there is one thing that will never change and that is the fans. Although I am not a Derek Anderson fan at all, I totally agree with everything he said about the fans.

Those are the same fans that screamed for Quinn to come in the game constantly only to call for his benching as soon as he ran into any trouble. Many of these fans are calling him a bust although he has started only 12 games.

Going even further back, Tim Couch was beginning to develop into a decent quarterback and was able to lead them to the playoffs. However, he was hurt for the game and Kelly Holcomb stepped in and had a huge statistical game in a loss. Then all the fans wanted Holcomb to be the guy and he was. That lasted about 8 games.

As much as we would like to say that the fans don’t influence the decisions, that is wrong. The NFL is a business and the fans are the consumers. Businesses have to listen to their consumers.

So forgive me if I want Jimmy Clausen to have no part of that organization. I was hoping that he would fall to number 11 to the Denver Broncos. However, now that they have acquired Quinn I am not sure I want to see two Notre Dame guys competing for the same job. Besides I think we can all agree that Quinn deserves a fairer chance than he got in Cleveland.

I am really hoping the Minnesota does trade up as there are rumors they might. Although that would likely mean Clausen would have to sit for a year and learn from Brett Favre, he would be a great situation loaded with talent and a really good offensive line. I heard they have a pretty good running back too.

One thing is for sure, I will be supporting him no matter where he goes. I just pray it is not Cleveland. If they want to ruin another qaurterback fine, just don’t do it to another domer.

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So Called NFL Experts Need To Get Over Notre Dame Hate Fri, 09 Apr 2010 06:26:09 +0000 Erin McLaughlin

It happened three years ago to Brady Quinn and it is happening now to Jimmy Clausen. What am I referring to? That is blatant Notre Dame bias. Recently, ESPN’s Todd McShay described Clausen as have an average arm and average accuracy. He also said that Clausen should not be a first round draft pick.

Mr. McShay should go watch the last play of the half versus Washington State and then come back and say that. He should also look at his long bombs to Golden Tate that I witnessed personally in the Hawaii Bowl. Then call his arm average. Finally, McShay should look at his 68% completion percentage and four interceptions and then say he has average accuracy.

I am not saying that there isn’t reason to have doubts about Clausen at the NFL level. I myself think it will be very difficult for him if he goes to a team with a poor line. Since Clausen is not fast on his feet at all, his escapibility is a concern. He had a hard time with Navy’s rush, so an NFL pass rush could cause trouble for him.

So to be fair, there is reason to have doubts about Clausen. Let’s be real though, his arm strength and accuracy are not even remotely a concern.

As mentioned earlier, the same thing happened to Quinn three years ago. In spite having a near flawless workout on his Pro day, the media just hammered him saying that he didn’t impress the scouts. Later they hammered him more as he fell in the draft.

Three years later, the media is ready to call him a bust in spite starting only 12 games for a team where any quarterback would struggle. Hopefully, he gets a fair shake in Denver and shuts them all up. Let’s also hope that Clausen gets a much more fair shake by the team that drafts him. 

The other thing that I am finding very annoying is all the attention that is given to Dez Bryant. Excuse me, but wasn’t it Golden Tate who won the Blientekoff Award. Sure Bryant was exciting and has the potential to be a really good pro. But why is nothing hardly even said about Tate?  He was a human highlight reel the last two years.

I certainly understand that Notre Dame is one of those teams where either you love them or hate them. However, these are just fine young men trying to live their dream. I don’t think it is fair for media to be this blatant about their Notre Dame hate.

What did Brady Quinn or Jimmy Clausen ever do to anybody to deserve the hate they recieve? They played for Notre Dame so they must be overrated. What did Golden Tate do to deserve to be ignored like this?

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Notre Dame Begins Spring Practice: Kelly’s Changes Take Root Sun, 28 Mar 2010 18:43:52 +0000 Eric Murtaugh

On Friday March 26th, a football program makeover was unveiled as Notre Dame held its first spring practice under new head coach Brian Kelly.

After three months of leading the Fighting Irish, Brian Kelly has already brought significant change to South Bend and that transformation was on display as Notre Dame took to the LaBar practice field complete with their gold helmets and cleats.

Even before Friday’s practice, the program had been subject to numerous changes from the departure of Charlie Weis and the previous coaching regime. Yet, nothing was more eye-popping and dissimilar than this first practice under Kelly.

Moving at a frantic pace for the entirety of the practice, Notre Dame demonstrated the up-tempo style it will be perfecting over the next five months.

Unable to take their helmets off during any point during the workout, the Irish showed incredible emotion and energy in what has been described as the fastest practice in Notre Dame history.

In a press conference before the practice, Brian Kelly told the media what his practices would be all about and how he will handle the program for the spring.

He stated that there will be no posted depth charts and players will work in “pods” or groups that can and will be moved around as time goes on. Kelly also described his system of holding guys back who have injuries while reaffirming the importance of taken part in practice.

Luckily, only Theo Riddick and Dayne Crist were “protected” players, still nursing off-season injuries yet still fully participating in practice. There are a few “restricted” players, such as Kyle Rudolph who is coming off shoulder surgery, but the entire roster took the field on Friday.

Although there is a lot of learning to do, Kelly said he was happy with the team’s effort and also added that the offense is already into their five-wide sets.

For anyone who watched the practice, it is clear that Brian Kelly wants to address a number of issues with his ball club, none more important right now than fitness and thinking on your feet.

Moreover, even though Kelly has only been head coach for a short time, and Friday’s practice was a bit of a surprise to watch, the fact is he has been instituting some major changes in South Bend since day one.

It’s almost like Notre Dame has finally joined the 21st century and is ready to compete at the highest level possible.

To address the fitness problem, Kelly brought in his long-time strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo who has whipped the team into shape over the past couple months with high intensity weight lifting and football drills.

The players were also subjected to the brutal mental and physical trials of “Camp Kelly” a Rocky-like training regiment designed to test the collegians to their max.

What’s more, a much needed training table has been introduced and is helping to keep the players at optimal playing weights with the addition of a proper meal after workouts are complete.

The results so far are that almost the entire team is in phenomenally better shape.

Offensive linemen have slimmed down, dropped fat and added muscle to fit into Kelly’s fast-paced offense. Defensive linemen and linebackers have added bulk and muscle. Players like star wide receiver Michael Floyd have dropped ten to fifteen pounds in an effort to become more lean, muscular and able to handle the load of a quick-strike offense.

The mental aspect has already been in place with the addition of a computerized playbook that trains and teaches players Brian Kelly’s new offensive and defensive philosophies. That training meant the team was ready to open the playbook, audibles and player motion included, on the first day of practice.

Also, Kelly has been using a similar computerized system to track recruits like no coach at Notre Dame before him has ever been able to do.

The Irish head coach says it’s all about maximizing your time and effort and these changes could play a key role in his success later down the road.

Maybe the best news of all from the first weekend of practice was the relative health of quarterback Dayne Crist who was able to participate in all of the drills and show off his mobility. Although he may not be 100 percent at this time, it is clear he will be more than ready when the season starts.

Overall, it was an exciting and intriguing weekend for the Fighting Irish as they embark on yet another spring practice and the first under Brian Kelly.

The players are in excellent shape, the roster is nearly injury free and it is clear the team is ready to learn Kelly’s system and has done extremely well so far in this area.

Although it is still much too early to be talking about “awaking the echoes”, I think the program and its fans are quietly surprised and ecstatic about the changes taking place at Notre Dame.

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The Top 16 Candidates to Start at Safety for Notre Dame Thu, 25 Feb 2010 15:02:09 +0000 Eric Murtaugh

The biggest question mark and hole to fill on the depth chart for Notre Dame this off-season, will be the position of safety.

Going into spring camp next month, the Irish will have only one veteran with any significant playing time at safety and it is believed both positions are completely up for grabs.

With Tom Zbikowski, David Bruton and the recently graduated Kyle McCarthy, Notre Dame has had a few very good safety’s in the recent past.

In order to field a strong defense in 2010, Brian Kelly will want to fill this position with the best available options. More to the point, he will be well served to lock up an elite prospect at this position in his next recruiting class.

Here are the top 16 candidates to play safety for the Fighting Irish in 2010:

The Rookies

Austin Collinsworth (Freshman) WR/S

The son of former NFL stand-out Chris Collinsworth, the young Austin was a great all-around athlete in high school who played safety, wide receiver and quarterback. It may be a year or two before Kelly begins finding him a position, so the chances of him starting at safety are fairly low as of now.

Lo Wood (Freshman) CB

With the body type of a smaller cornerback, Wood will probably stay at his natural position. However, with such a depleted depth chart at the safety position, it is not inconceivable that he could impress the coaching staff enough to get on the field at some point next year.

Spencer Boyd (Freshman) CB

Like Wood, Spencer Boyd has the body type of a smaller cornerback and will need to bulk up in order to see some playing time in the immediate future. However, he has impressed with his speed and play making ability, so we can’t rule him out just yet.

Chris Badger (Freshman) S

Badger joins Wood and Boyd as early enrollees this spring which will undoubtedly help their chances of seeing the field sooner rather than later. Badger is bigger than the other freshman defensive backs and safety is his more natural position. It still may be a long shot for him to start in 2010, but it could happen.

The Playmakers

John Goodman (Junior) WR

The athletic Indiana product had some moments of brilliance last year in his limited action as receiver and wildcat quarterback and may very well stay on the offensive side of the ball. Still, Goodman possesses great size and speed and could be an ideal candidate for safety with his soft hands.

Shaq Evans (Sophomore) WR

Besides Michael Floyd, Evans is probably the most highly regarded recruit at the receiver position to come to Notre Dame in some time. As a freshman he played very little, had some ups and downs, and struggled with being away from his native California. Coach Kelly will probably want to keep the budding star on offense, but a move to safety would give the team in instant athletic freak roaming the defensive backfield.

Deion Walker (Junior) WR

Walker has been a bit of a mystery over his first two seasons in South Bend after coming to Notre Dame with a decent amount of fan fare. Since he hasn’t logged many minutes at wide receiver, he could be a prime candidate to move to safety with three years of eligibility left. With his mix of size and speed Walker could start right away for the Irish in 2010.

Jonas Gray (Junior) RB

After a freshman season that saw Gray become a very capable backup, the 2009 sophomore campaign ended in a step back for the powerful runner. He doesn’t have ideal size or speed to play safety, but Gray has quickly found himself squeezed out of carries at running back and could fall as low as third or fourth string in 2010. He may be a bit of a project, but Kelly might consider making the move.

Cierre Wood (Sophomore) RB

Here’s a player who was one of Notre Dame’s biggest running back recruits over the past decade, but did not see the field as a freshman in 2009. We’re left wondering what this guy has, but all indications are that he is supremely talented. He doesn’t have ideal size to play safety, but with four years of eligibility left and at least two runners ahead of him on the half back depth chart, Wood may make the switch.

The Corners

E.J. Banks (Sophomore) CB

Banks did not play as a freshman last season, but could be ready to contribute significant minutes in the defensive backfield in 2010. Even though he is undersized, Banks is a tremendous athlete with a variety of skills. With a few veteran corners ahead of him on the depth chart, Kelly could move him to safety.

Gary Gray (Junior) CB

Although he didn’t start for most of the season and played fewer minutes than three others at his position, Gray might have been Notre Dame’s most consistent corner in 2009. He has all the tools to be a great corner, but those same tools would also make him a great safety as well. With a good amount of eligibility left, Gray might be moved to safety if Coach Kelly solidifies the depth at corner.

Robert Blanton (Junior) CB

After a pretty successful freshman campaign, Blanton took a step back last season seemingly losing that special swagger and playmaking ability from 2008. Although he will probably lock down a starting spot at corner, Blanton has the length that could turn him into a great safety for the Irish. Some improved tackling and added weight could make him an ideal candidate for the switch.

The Leaders in the Clubhouse

Dan McCarthy (Junior) S

The younger brother of graduating and fellow safety Kyle McCarthy, Dan has been slowly making a name for himself in South Bend while pushing for playing time. McCarthy actually came to Notre Dame with more fan fare than his older brother, so it isn’t crazy to think that he will someday start at safety for the Irish.

Jamarious Slaughter (Junior) S/CB

Slaughter found himself inserted into the lineup last season and played his first significant minutes of his career in 2009. He replaced Harrison Smith at safety for the latter part of the season and although he didn’t make much of a difference, he didn’t play terrible. With another off-season under his belt, Slaughter could find himself starting at safety from day one.

Zeke Motta (Sophomore) LB/S

One of the top recruits from last season, Motta played a decent amount on special teams and mop up duty on defense as a freshman. Known to be one of the strongest and best conditioned athletes on the entire team, he will be one of the favorites to start at safety in Brian Kelly’s first season at Notre Dame. His size has been trending towards linebacker, but if his speed can be improved Motta will probably start for the next three years at safety.

Harrison Smith (Senior) S/LB

A week ago, Brian Kelly let it be known that Smith was having a tremendous off-season and would be moving back to safety next season. Given his experience, it is hard to believe he won’t be the top safety all year long. Still, Smith struggled mightily in 2009 after making the transition from linebacker to safety, making many wonder if he has the tools to succeed at safety. Perhaps with a less complicated defensive system and the encouragement and support of a new coaching staff, Harrison Smith will flourish.

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