April 4, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Craig Chval, the official 2013 football beat writer for the Strong & True blog, is currently a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Over the course of the year Craig will bring you insight from within the student section, interviews with Fighting Irish players and previews of each game. You can follow Craig (and the rest of the Notre Dame student beat writing staff) on twitter at @JrNDBloggers.
The football team has one more week of spring practice before the Blue-Gold Game, and the squad is using its limited amount of time to make some heavy adjustments from the previous season. There's a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive coordinator, a new quarterbacks coach, and a newish quarterback in returning starter Everett Golson.
For fans attending the Blue-Gold Game, the team might look a little different from when they last watched the Irish. Here's a rundown of what the offense might look like next weekend.
* - indicates an incoming freshman not on the current roster for Blue-Gold
Golson talked to the media today about the new-look Irish offense and his re-acclimation to the team. The 2014 Irish will be without Tommy Rees, but many have speculated that Golson will be able to build off his solid end of the 2012 season despite his time away. His lessons with "quarterback guru" George Whitfield may have done a lot for his fundamentals.
"Coach Kelly always talks about the knowledge of the game, and I've become more knowledgeable about the game," he said. "My footwork - working with Coach LeFleur and working with George - that's improved tremendously."
Now a senior (with one more year of eligibility after 2014), Golson may see a heavier load of responsibility this season, and watch for some new plays to utilize his strengths. At practice he mentioned the pistol formation and read-option looks, which were not a staple of the playbook in 2012.
Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer, two former four-star recruits from Ohio, look to be waiting in the wings. Although Golson is the clear starter for Notre Dame, Zaire won't be afraid to push him in his sophomore season.
Player to watch at Blue-Gold:
I think the obvious answer here is Everett Golson, but everyone should also be very curious about what Zaire can do. But since it's been 15 months since anybody's seen Golson in a game, I can't really deny that everyone's excited to see what's been picked up since 2012.
"I'm anxious," Golson said of playing in Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since November, 2012. "Words can't really describe the feeling it is coming out of that tunnel. You anticipate being back out there, so I can't wait."
Even with the loss of George Atkinson III to the draft, the 2014 Irish running back corps is still a deep stable that blends talent and experience. Cam McDaniel was the team's leading rusher last season, but Tarean Folston also got two starts as a freshman.
And don't be foolish enough to count out Greg Bryant, a highly touted recruit who suffered an injury last year.
Golson's only experience with this group from 2012, however, is with Cam McDaniel, who had 23 carries, all against Navy, Miami and Wake Forest. So far this spring, though, Golson has come away impressed with the depth and versatility of his new teammates.
"I think this year we got a little bit more diverse [than in 2012]," he said. "It's pick your poison because we can spread you out and throw the ball on you or we still have it in our arsenal to really just sit down and run the ball and power it out."
It's going to be a tough competition between the backs this year, and don't be surprised to see a backfield by committee, similar to last season.
Player to Watch at Blue-Gold:
One of Notre Dame's most anticipated recruits from the class of 2013, I'm really excited to see what Greg Bryant can do. His mix of speed and power could be a sight to see for Irish fans, who only got a small glimpse of Bryant's potential last year before his injury.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
#88 - Corey Robinson - Sophomore
#2 - Chris Brown - Junior
#20 - C.J. Prosise - Junior
#7 - William Fuller - Sophomore
#3 - Amir Carlisle - Senior
#32 - Will Mahone - Junior
#16 - Torii Hunter, Jr. - Sophomore
#81 - Omar Hunter - Sophomore
#11 - Justin Brent - Freshman
#37 - Eric Lee - Senior
#46 - Josh Anderson - Junior
#35 - Cam Bryan - Junior
#86 - Buster Sheridan - Sophomore
#18 - Ben Koyack - Senior
#9 - Mike Heuerman - Sophomore
#80 - Durham Smythe - Sophomore
#54 - Ben Suttman - Sophomore
#39 - Luke Hamel - Freshman
Wow, there's a lot of youth, depth, and talent in the Irish receiving corps. That brings a large degree of excitement, but also significant unknowns. And keep in mind the above list does not include DaVaris Daniels, who is not enrolled at the University for the spring semester.
All the wide receivers and tight ends on the roster, there are 53 career receptions for six touchdowns. Daniels has 80 career receptions for seven touchdowns.
The inexperience of the receiving corps could be a concern, but it is certainly talented and deep. There are a number of guys who could have a breakout year, and I think it starts with Corey Robinson, who showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman in 2013.
The other question mark has again to do with the lack of experience this group has with the man throwing them the ball. Of everyone on the list, only Koyack and Brown had reception in 2012, and there were only five of them. Of course, you probably remember Brown's 50-yard reception against Oklahoma.
"I'm throwing to a whole different group of guys than I was two years ago," Golson said. "It's been good. It's a process, and you've got to treat it as just that. You're going to have ups and downs but you've got to keep confident that everything's going to take care of itself."
Amir Carlisle is listed as both a running back and wide receiver, so he could mix up the looks at the slot position.
Player to Watch at Blue-Gold:
I already mentioned Corey Robinson, but I'm going to have to go with Chris Brown. Almost every Irish fan knows about his speed by now, and it will be great to see if he can get to balls with some zip on them, as Golson has a stronger arm than Tommy Rees. Can Brown supplement his speed with some route running, deceptiveness, and catching ability?
#74 - Christian Lombard - Graduate Student
#72 - Nick Martin - Senior
#78 - Ronnie Stanley - Junior
#65 - Conor Hanratty - Senior
#79 - Steve Elmer - Sophomore
#77 - Matt Hegarty - Senior
#60 - John Montelus - Sophomore
#68 - Mike McGlinchey - Sophomore
#70 - Hunter Bivin - Sophomore
#75 - Mark Harrell - Junior
#62 - Colin McGovern - Sophomore
Perhaps the strength of the team, the offensive line has a great mix of experience and youth and is chock-full of talent. The biggest question mark will be how to replace the left side of Zack Martin and Chris Watt, who started a combined 89 games in their storied careers.
The leader of the group is Christian Lombard, who will not play in the Blue-Gold Game after a March wrist surgery.
And I hate to keep beating this horse, but Lombard is the only returning starter from the 2012 team, giving Golson yet another personnel adjustment. However, he was extremely complimentary of his protectors on the line.
"The O-line, they're doing a great job honing into their protections, sometimes even checking things when I don't even have to say anything," he said. "I think they're doing a great job."
While dealing with injuries to Martin and Lombard, Golson has gotten a glimpse of the type of young depth the future of the Irish offensive line has to work with.
With only 13 sacks allowed on the year, the offensive line was one of the brightest spots of the 2013 season. Martin and Watt are tough to replace, but look for another stalwart unit under coach Harry Hiestand.
Player to Watch at Blue-Gold:
After sitting his freshman year out, sophomore Mike McGlinchey might be called on to do some big things this season. But it's hard to tell with the large sophomore class exactly who has the potential to step up. Any one of them could emerge before the fall as someone who can take important minutes.
Remember, to get an early outlook into the 2014 season, come to the Blue-Gold Game Saturday, April 12 at 12:30 p.m., or tune in to NBC Sports.