2012 Notre Dame Preview – Offense
Notre Dame RB Cierre Wood
Notre Dame RB Cierre Wood
Posted Jun 22, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Notre Dame Fighting Irish Offense

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Preview 2012 - Offense

- 2012 Notre Dame Preview | 2012 Notre Dame Offense
- 2012 Notre Dame Defense | 2012 Notre Dame Depth Chart
- Notre Dame Previews 2011 | 2010 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006

What You Need To Know: With Charley Molnar leaving to take over the UMass head coaching job, now it will be up to new offensive coordinator Chuck Martin to get more out of a veteran bunch that has the upside and firepower to average more than he 413 yards and 29 points it did last season. However, make no mistake about it; this is Brian Kelly's offense. The first step will be to find a starting quarterback and stick with him, but with four good options the issue probably won't be settled all season long. Step Two will be to get everyone to hang on to the ball after the O turned it over 29 times. The running game has the potential to be more dangerous with Cierre Wood and speedsters Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III working behind a very good, very experienced line. The front five will be terrific again in pass protection, but the passing game will take a step back with Michael Floyd gone. Tyler Eifert might be the nation's best tight end, but the Irish desperately need TJ Jones to become a No. 1, go-to wideout.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Tommy Rees
269-411, 2,871 yds, 20 TD, 14 INT
Rushing: Cierre Wood
217 carries, 1,102 yds, 9 TD
Receiving: Tyler Eifert
63 catches, 803 yds, 5 TD

Star of the offense: Senior TE Tyler Eifert
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior WR TJ Jones
Unsung star on the rise: Senior OG Chris Watt
Best pro prospect: Eifert
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Eifert, 2) OT Zack Martin, 3) C Braxston Cave
Strength of the offense: Line, Experience
Weakness of the offense: Wide Receiver, Turnovers


The four-way quarterback battle will come down to who's the most efficient and who'll give the ball away the least. The most experienced option on the lot is junior Tommy Rees, a 6-2, 210-pound bomber who had a few moments of brilliance last year marred by big, giant mistakes coming at the worst possible times. He completed over 65% of his passes for 2,871 yards with 20 touchdown passes, but he also threw 14 picks with six in the first four games. Dominant at times against Michigan, he threw for 315 yards and three scores with a great late drive in the loss, but he also threw two picks. Razor-sharp one week against Maryland, he struggled and sputtered the next against Boston College – consistency has been a problem. He has a quick release, a live arm, and the skills to become a superstar in the Brian Kelly offense, but he has to cut down on the picks and he has to get past his off-the-field problems after being arrested on misdemeanor charges of resisting law enforcement and illegal alcohol consumption. Even with the issues, he's still expected to be deep in the hunt for the starting job again in fall camp.

It might be Everett Golson's time to show what he can do. The superstar recruit of last year is only 6-0 and 185 pounds, but he's mobile, accurate, and athletic enough to consider playing for the Irish basketball team. One of the most accomplished passers in the history of high school football, throwing for 11,634 yards and 151 career scores despite missing half of last year hurt, he was great as a scout teamer last season and dominated in the spring game completing 11-of-15 passes for 120 yards and two scores while also running for 25 yards.

While Andrew Hendrix is being given every shot to win the starting job, and he saw a little time last year completing 49% of his throws for 249 yards with a touchdown, and finishing third on the team with 162 rushing yards and a score highlighted by his terrific performance in relief against Stanford, keeping the Irish in the game with 192 passing yards and 20 on the ground. Despite blowing off Florida, Ohio State, Miami, and Wisconsin for the Irish, and even though the talent is there to be the face of the program, he has to fight an uphill battle. He's not as experienced as Rees; he's not as dynamic as Golson; and he doesn't have the upside of Gunner Kiel, one of the nation's top recruits. Kiel chose Indiana, and then LSU, and then Notre Dame, with much fanfare and controversy. The 6-4, 220-pound nephew of the late Blair Kiel gas great size, a pro-style passing arm and good enough running skills to not be a sitting duck. It's all there to become a special star, but he has to first show he can be consistent.

Watch Out For … Golson. Rees would be the easy choice because of his experience, but Golson has done nothing but produce in practices. There might be four talented options on the Irish roster, but Golson has been the best of the lot. However, he hasn't yet shown it on the field.
Strength: Options. The Irish offense will roll no matter who's under center. All four players are more talented than former starter and current Kansas Jayhawk, Dayne Crist, and all four could develop into something special if given the shot. However …
Weakness: Options. The starting quarterback will never, ever be safe. Job security will be a myth with the first mistake or the slightest bump in the road certain to bring out calls for one of the other options. In a perfect world, the Irish would sink or swim with one guy, but that's not going to be the case.
Outlook: Interceptions, interceptions, interceptions. The Irish offense will move the ball, but the quarterback job will come down to who makes the fewest mistakes while also showing the most upside. The coaches have to be far, far more definitive in coming up with a true pecking order, and it's vital to come up with one clear-cut, won't-get-yanked starter to develop for the next few seasons. With the exception of Steve Spurrier, no one puts quarterbacks through the ringer like Kelly, but he hasn't gotten the production at Notre Dame like he did at Central Michigan and Cincinnati with less talented players.
Unit Rating: 8

Running Backs

Don't forget about the running game. With all the attention paid to the Notre Dame passing attack, it's been easy to overlook a terrific year from senior Cierre Wood, a former superstar recruit who could've gone anywhere after rushing for 2,612 yards and 34 touchdowns as a high school junior, and with 1,632 yards and 20 scores as a senior. The 6-0, 215-pounder followed up a promising 603-yard, three touchdown sophomore campaign with the Irish by running for a team-leading 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns with 27 catches for 189 yards. While he's not necessarily a big-play runner, he averaged 5.1 yards per carry in each of the last two seasons with a nice blend of speed and power through the hole. He's a steadying force for the offense, but he needs to be used more around the goal line with just one of his scores coming in the final five games.

5-11, 199-pound senior Theo Riddick was used as a receiver over the last few years, finishing third on the team with 38 catches for 436 yards and three scores in 2011, but he started out his career as a running back and got 14 carries last season for 63 yards. Extremely quick, he's a solid kickoff returner who'll be used more as an outside runner and outlet target out of the backfield.

While Riddick is quick, sophomore George Atkinson III is really, really fast. The son of the former Oakland Raider defensive back by the same name, Atkinson has elite, California state high school track star wheels, showing them off as a kickoff returner averaging 26.1 yards per pop last year with two scores. The 6-1, 210-pounder is built more like a big receiver, but he'll be used as a running back after getting nine carries for 27 yards and two scores.

Watch Out For … Riddick. Great this offseason whenever he had the ball in his hands, he'll work in a variety of ways being used occasionally as a wideout when he's not working out of the backfield. Electric, the coaching staff will get creative with him.
Strength: Speed. Wood isn't known as a blazer, but he's hardly slow. Riddick and Atkinson bring home run hitting ability to the backfield for a running game that could use a few more big plays. All those two need is a little bit of a gap and they'll be gone.
Weakness: Fumbles. The quarterbacks had a lot to do with this, but as a team there were 22 fumbles, losing 12 of them. For a coaching staff that demands ball security there were way too many miscues.
Outlook: This could quickly turn into one of the team's biggest strengths. A rotation of Wood, Riddick and Atkinson should combine for over 2,000 yards with even more flash and dash than there was last year, even with Jonas Gray averaging 6.9 yards per pop. Wood is a good back to revolve the ground game around, and Riddick will be the difference-maker in at least one win.
Unit Rating: 7.5


The passing game lost the greatest receiver in school history, Michael Floyd, but it got a huge break when senior Tyler Eifert decided to come back for one more year. Notre Dame has become a factory for tight ends over the last few years, and Eifert has the potential to be an even better pro prospect than Kyle Rudolph was. At 6-6 and 251 pounds he has prototype size with great route running ability and terrific hands. He stepped up as a big playmaker when Rudolph got hurt in 2010, finishing the season with 27 catches for 352 yards and two scores, but last year the job was all his from the start and he came up with a consistent campaign catches 63 passes for 803 yards and five touchdowns averaging 12.7 yards per grab. He didn't score over the last three games of the season and was steadier than spectacular, but he's as reliable as any short-range target in college football and is a good enough blocker to get by.

With Floyd gone and Theo Riddick moving to running back, TJ Jones will be asked to do even more. He stepped in as a true freshman and made 23 catches despite suffering through a hamstring injury, and last year he started 12 games making 38 grabs for a pedestrian 366 yards and three touchdowns averaging just 9.6 yards per catch. At 5-11 and 190 pounds he has decent size and he's a great route runner, but he needs to do more with the ball in his hands. Good enough to be wanted by Alabama, Auburn and other SEC teams, it's time to breakout and become a No. 1 target. 5-9, 185-pound senior Robby Toma is a smallish, quick receiver who'll need to find the holes across the middle. The longtime spot starter caught 19 passes for 207 yards and a score as a part of a rotation, cranking out seven grabs for 73 yards against Maryland. He has terrific hands and he knows what he's doing, but he has to go from being a nice complementary piece to a key playmaker.

There will be a battle for one of the receiver spots between senior John Goodman and sophomore DaVaris Daniels, with Daniels showing the bigger upside. The 6-3, 207-pound Goodman only caught seven passes for 65 yards, but he has great size and enough of a burst to do far, far more. He's not a big play target, while Daniels is ready to break out after coming in as a good recruit last year. At 6-2 and 190 pounds he's big and extremely athletic with the ability to be the team's next great receiver, but first he has to get over the off-the-field issues after being cited for consumption of alcohol by a minor. It's not a big deal and he's expected to shine in a breakout season.

At 6-4 and 215 pounds, junior Daniel Smith has tremendous size, and he has the high school résumé, but he hasn't been anything more than a special teamer after getting hurt last season. He'll be a big backup, while 6-7, 252-pound sophomore Troy Niklas and 6-4, 250-pound sophomore Alex Welch will be the main backups working behind Eifert. Welch made one catch for eight yards, while Niklas is moving over from outside linebacker after making 20 tackles as a true freshman.

Watch Out For … Jones. There are a ton of question marks in the receiving corps with several unproven players needing to step up. Jones has to rise up and be The Guy, and there's no reason not to be with a ton of talent and athleticism.
Strength: Size. Outside of Toma this is a big group across the board with large tight ends and even more bulk among the reserves. At 5-11 and 190 pounds, Jones is a good-sized receiver.
Weakness: Michael Floyd. Is there another one like him? The Arizona Cardinal made 100 catches for 1,147 yards and nine touchdowns, and with Theo Riddick working at running back, the next-best wideout from last year is Jones with his 38 grabs for 366 yards.
Outlook: An okay group is made great by Eifert. If he's not the best tight end in America, he'll be close, but it'll be up to Jones to kick things up a notch and make it a good year for the passing game. It'll take a village to make up for the loss of Floyd, and it still might not be enough.
Unit Rating: 7

Offensive Line

The line has three returning starters led by the quarterback up front, Braxston Cave, a 6-3, 304-pound senior who has been one of the team's offensive rocks over the last few years before getting knocked out late last season with a foot problem. Steady and physical, he has grown into the role in the middle.

As a backup behind Cave or as a possible replacement for Trevor Robinson at right guard will be 6-3, 295-pound senior Mike Golic Jr.. While he's not a great athlete, he stepped in when needed late last year in the middle and was solid. Smart, experienced and good enough to work in several spots, he'll be given a long look for one of the interior jobs, but he'll have to battle with Nick Martin for the right guard gig. The 6-4, 285-pound sophomore didn't play last year and is built more like a tackle, but he'll be part of the starting mix somewhere up front soon.

Cave might be the leader of the line, but 6-4, 304-pound senior Zack Martin should be the star. With 26 straight games of starting experience, he's a strong left tackle who had a great year as a pass protector and should get more recognition as a possible all-star. He bulked up a bit over the last few years and has only gotten better keeping his athleticism to go along with his toughness. Great against the speed rushers, he'll be one of the key parts of the passing game again.

Working on the other side is junior Christian Lombard was a backup and special teamer last year but now will get the first shot at Taylor Dever's right tackle job. At 6-5 and 309 pounds he's big and talented, earning high school All-America honors and named the 2009 Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year honors. He'll be more than fine in pass protection.

6-3, 310-pound senior Chris Watt started every game last year after stepping in as the one new starter up front. A good, sound veteran with the versatility to play any spot up front, including center, he got over a foot injury to be solid in pass protection and now he should be one of the key players the running game works behind at left guard.

Watch Out For … the right guard job. Four of the spots are set up front but there will be a bit of a battle for Robinson's open space. Golic showed he could handle the work at center when needed, but Martin has the athleticism to do a bit more.
Strength: Experience. Three starters are back with Cave at center and Martin at left tackle two great pieces to build around. Golic has starting time logged in and Lombard is more than ready to take over at left tackle. The all-around production will be great in pass protection.
Weakness: Proven depth. Brian Kelly has done a nice job of ramping up the talent level on the lines, but there could be huge problems if injuries strike. One of the keys to last season was health with all five starters getting the call in every game until Cave went down late.
Outlook: The line was a strength last season and it should be even more of a positive if everyone can stay healthy. There could be a little more blasting for the ground game, but as long as the quarterbacks are kept upright – the line allowed just 17 sacks – the front five will be doing its job.
Unit Rating: 8
- 2012 Notre Dame Preview | 2012 Notre Dame Offense
- 2012 Notre Dame Defense | 2012 Notre Dame Depth Chart
- Notre Dame Previews 2011 | 2010 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006