2013 Notre Dame Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Notre Dame Fighting Irish Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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The offense under coordinator Chuck Martin wasn't all that explosive, but it was effective, clutch and worked just well enough to get by. There's speed at running back, but losing Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood will be a problem unless a few new recruits can shine right away. The superstar freshmen are in the receiving corps and at tight end, but they're going to need time to work their way in with a decent group of veterans led by No. 1 target T.J. Jones. The line will be a positive with Zack Martin and Christian Lombard back at tackle, and they're going to need to be effective to keep Tommy Rees upright. There are decent quarterback options with Everett Golson suspended, but it's Rees who'll have to take his game to another level.
Star of the offense: Senior OT Zack Martin
Passing: Tommy Rees
34-59, 436 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: George Atkinson
51 carries, 361 yds, 5 TD
Receiving: TJ Jones
50 catches, 649 yds, 4 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior RB George Atkinson III
Unsung star on the rise: Freshman RB Greg Bryant
Best pro prospect: Martin
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Martin, 2) OG Chris Watt, 3) OT Christian Lombard
Strength of the offense: Line, Freshmen
Weakness of the offense: Running Back, Explosive Receivers
Can Tommy Rees come up with a big final act? The Everett Golson drama threw Two-Minute Tommy into the starter spotlight, and he has the experience to and skill to surprise a bit and be fantastic. The 6-2, 210-pound passer had a few moments of brilliance over the course of his career and has proved he could come in cold off the bench and shine – completing all four of his passes for 43 yards and a score in the win over Stanford last season – but he's known just as much for his huge mistakes and bad picks at the worst possible times, throwing 14 interceptions to go along with his 20 touchdown passes two years ago. He hit 57% of his throws last year for 436 yards and two scores with two interceptions, and he has shown the potential to be a special player at times – he was brilliant in his duel with Denard Robinson in the 2011 loss to Michigan – but he has to keep the errors to a bare minimum and he has to be consistent. The basic passing tools are there with a live arm and a quick release, and with the off-the-field issues of last offseason well in the rearview mirror, it's time to make the offense his.
6-2, 220-pound senior Andrew Hendrix has been just good enough to push for the starting job in practices, but he hasn't been quite strong enough to take over the gig. A more mobile option than Rees – a mailbox is a more mobile option than Rees – Hendrix took off for 41 yards in his limited time last season and was fantastic in relief against Stanford two years ago. Unfortunately, he has always been the odd man out in the fight for time, and now he has to contend with Malik Zaire, the perfect recruit for the Brian Kelly offense. The 6-1, 190-pound freshman left-hander is a fantastic dual-threat option with tremendous speed, a nice throwing motion and the smarts and vision to keep plays alive. He's not a polished passer quite yet, but neither was Golson; Zaire is the better athlete.
Watch Out For … Everett Golson. Sometimes these things have a way of working themselves out, helped by a last minute comment from a coach about the player "doing everything we asked
of him." Suspended from the school due to "poor academic judgment," one of the leaders and catalysts in the BCS championship is expected to be back in 2014, but he's still listed on the Notre Dame web site's official roster. The 6-0, 185-pounder has extreme confidence, a gutsy arm, and great feet, completing 59% of his passes for 2,405 yards and 12 touchdowns with six picks, while running for 298 yards and two scores. 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 his last year hurt, he's a baller's baller who showed what he could do as one of the few bright spots in the loss to Alabama with 270 passing yards and a score to go along with a rushing touchdown.
Strength: Options. How many teams could lose an offensive star like Golson and likely be fine? If Rees struggles, Hendrix will step in. If Hendrix isn't quite right, Zaire will take over. It's a Brian Kelly offense. Everything will be fine.
Weakness: Golson's moxie. The Irish might have talented quarterbacks, but Golson had a way of seemingly willing the offense on key drives and giving the team the right attitude in some nasty settings. Rees might be experienced, but doesn't have the same personality of Golson.
Outlook: Can Rees go from being the ultimate relief pitcher to a steady starter? The Irish offense needs him to be a player and not just a caretaker, and there's a chance he could be that. With the exception of Steve Spurrier, no one puts quarterbacks through the ringer like Kelly, but Rees knows how to handle himself. If he can't, there are other options.
Unit Rating: 8
With Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick gone after combining for over 1,600 yards with nine touchdowns, it's going to take a village to get the running game going. Speedster George Atkinson III has been a brilliant kickoff returner, and he ripped off 99 rushing yards and two score and 123 yards and a touchdown against Miami, but he only carried the ball 51 times for 361 yards and five touchdowns on the season. Averaging 7.1 yards per carry, he's a home run hitter with the potential to do far, far more as a receiver as well as a runner. However, the 6-1, 210-pound junior and son of the former Oakland Raider defensive back by the same name isn't a workhorse. He has California state high school track star wheels, and he needs to get in space to be effective.
USC transfer Amir Carlisle ran for 118 yards for the Trojans after coming in as an elite, Parade All-American recruit, but he hasn't been able to do anything yet for the Irish. Banged up, he missed all of last year and he's trying to get past a broken collarbone, but the talent is undeniable with terrific hands as a receiver and shifty moves with the ball in his hands, but he has to stay healthy. Also in the equation is junior Cam McDaniel, a 5-10, 195-pound part corner and part running back. While he ran for 125 yards and a score, he mostly worked as a special teamer, but now he might be needed more in the rotation.
Watch Out For … Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston, two true freshmen who'll be given every opportunity to see time right away. Two fantastic recruits, they're each four-start talents who could've gone everywhere, and now they're needed. The 5-11, 200-pound Bryant ran for over 3,500 yards with 42 touchdowns over the last two years for his high school in Delray Beach. He's not a speedster, but he brings the power and toughness in the interior. The 5-10, 190-pound Folston is also from Florida, but unlike Bryant he's more of a home run hitter who can shine as a kickoff returner and a playmaker on the outside.
Strength: Speed. As soon as Folston is in the mix, the Irish will have some serious wheels in the backfield. Atkinson is deadly and there's more speed and quickness to crank out big plays in chunks.
Weakness: Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood. Unsung stars in the big 2012 season, these two, along with Everett Golson, gave the Irish a dangerous and effective ground game to settle games down and get control at times. With Tommy Rees at quarterback, the Irish won't have a rushing element under center, and there isn't enough appreciable experience to expect big things right away.
Outlook: The rushing game can't be along for the ride after cranking out 2,462 yards and 23 touchdowns. There will be plenty of big plays, but a No. 1 back has to emerge from the lot and power the ball from time to time. The chances are there for the taking, and now one runner has to take control. Somehow, though, the numbers will be fine.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The Irish lost tight end Tyler Eiftert, who received all-star honors across the board and was one of the nation's most dangerous weapons. While he was phenomenal, he caught 50 passes with four scores – as did receiver T.J. Jones. The 5-11, 190-pound senior was steady, good for around four catches a game, topping out with seven grabs for 90 yards in the loss to Alabama, and now he has the experience to do even more as a No. 1 target. He stepped in as a true freshman and fought through a hamstring problem to produce, and after three years, he knows what he's doing. While he has decent size and he's a great route runner, he's not a big play target. Good enough to be wanted by Alabama, Auburn and other SEC teams, there's no denying his talent, but he has to be more explosive.
6-2, 190-pound junior DaVaris Daniels has a world of big upside with great size and dangerous deep ball potential averaging 15.8 yards per pop catching 31 passes for 490 yards. A great recruit, he's extremely athletic and has all the tools, and with Jones being the top target, he doesn't have to do it all by himself; he can be a great complementary playmaker. Also looking to step in and do far more is 6-4, 215-pound senior Daniel Smith, a local product with a phenomenal high school résumé and great size, there are decent tools, but he hasn't been much more than a good special teamer while making just seven passes for 47 yards last season.
Sophomore Chris Brown is a promising young target who jumped in off the bus and saw time in every game as a true freshman, but he only caught two passes for 56 yards. An elite speedster, the 6-2 172-pounder might be the team's fastest and most athletic player, winning the South Carolina state title in the high jump and long jump and was a star sprinter.
There's talent in place, but the true freshmen are the real stars to get excited about with James Onwualu, Torii Hunter, Corey Robinson and Will Fuller all phenomenal talents who'd each be the highlight of just about any receiving recruiting class. The 6-1, 180-pound Fuller is the best prospect of the bunch with good size and a physical style. The 6-0, 180-poun Hunter, the son of the baseball star of the same name, has to get back from a broken leg, but when he's right, he has gamebreaking ability. At 6-5 and 190 pounds, Robinson, the son of former NBA superstar, David Robinson, is big and ultra-productive, catching 67 passes with 20 touchdowns as a senior. Onwualu is in the mix right away, likely to push Smith for a job, with 6-2, 210-pound size and the all-around ability to be used as a running back and a returner. If needed, he could be moved to defensive back.
Trying to do the impossible, 6-7, 260-pound junior Troy Niklas will replace Eifert, but he'll be more of a big blocker than a receiver. The former outside linebacker made 20 tackles as a true freshman, and while he has the size and athleticism, he's not going to be an elite target. However, he caught five passes for 75 yards last season and will be a bigger part of the attack. 6-4, 250-pound senior Alex Welch has a little bit of experience, but he's trying to come back healthy after missing all of last year with a knee injury.
Watch Out For … Durham Smythe and Mike Heuerman. The new haul of talent for the receiving corps is getting all the press – and rightly so – but as a factory for tight ends, Notre Dame was able to get two phenomenal talents in Smythe and Heuerman, who might be part of the equation right away. The 6-5, 230-pound Smythe is like a huge wide receiver, but the former defensive lineman is tough and physical. At 6-4 and 225 pounds, Heuerman is a dangerous receiver out of Naples, Florida who got away from all the Sunshine State teams.
Strength: The blend. There's enough experience in Jones and Daniels to give the passing game some reliable veterans to count on, but the star power is in the freshman class. The combination of the two should be make the Irish receiving corps dangerous.
Weakness: Proven explosion. The passing game wasn't exactly efficient last year and there weren't enough big plays down the field. The potential is there to start taking the top off a defense, but this is more of a midrange receiving corps.
Outlook: The receivers should be more serviceable than devastating, but there's enough talent and enough upside to be effective. The loss of Eifert takes away a focal point for the passing game, and while Jones is good, he has to be great to help carry the load until the freshmen are ready.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The offensive front did a fantastic job both in pass protection and for the ground game, and despite some key losses, it should be a good group as the year goes on led by senior Zack Martin, an all-star and the team's top offensive lineman over the last three seasons. The 6-4, 304-pound left tackle has 39 straight starts under his belt, and while he's not massive, he's strong, sound and athletic. Great against the speed rushers, he's a great technician who should be on everyone's All-America short list.
Next to Martin is 6-3, 321-pound senior Chris Watt, who started every game over the last two years after getting past a foot injury. A strong part of the ground game, he's the team's biggest blocker with tremendous talent and blasting ability when needed. While Watt is the team's star guard, 6-5, 309-pound junior Conor Hanratty is a decent prospect who'll get a long look at right guard but could see time at center if needed. A nice recruit a few years ago, he hasn't done much yet – working mostly on special teams – but he's a good, versatile athlete.
It'll be a fight for Braxston Cave's starting center job. 6-5, 291-pound junior Matt Hegarty was a decent recruit two years ago who saw time as a special teamer last season. With decent size and the toughness to be thought about as a defensive lineman and able to work at guard, he's a run blocker in the middle. However, he'll battle with a few other options including Nick Martin, Zach Martin's younger, smaller brother with 6-4, 294-pound size and decent ability. Extremely versatile, he can play tackle or guard, but he'll also be tried out at center moving around where needed.
6-5, 309-pound senior Christian Lombard might not be Zack Martin as a talent, but he's a good, sound right tackle who started every game last season and showed the potential to do even more. The 2009 Gatorade Illinois Player of the Year and Parade All-American might not be a massive blocker, but he's tough for the ground game and has NFL potential in the right scheme – he's coming into his own.
Watch Out For … John Montelus. The 6-5, 300-pound Steven Elmer, 6-5, 300-pound Colin McGovern, 6-7, 287-pound Hunter Bivin and 6-7, 280-pound Mike McGlinchey are four of the nation's top tackle prospects in a phenomenal haul in this year's class, but the 6-5, 305-pound Montelus is the team's best recruit for the line. Possibly the nation's best guard prospect, he's extremely athletic for his size with the ability to burst out of the box and blast away down the field. While he could end up as a tackle if needed, he'll make his next-level money as a guard.
Strength: Tackle. The interior might be undergoing a little bit of work, but Martin and Lombard on the outside are rock-solid. With the relatively immobile Tommy Rees at quarterback, the tackles will now be even more important in pass protection.
Weakness: Proven reserves. The freshmen might be in the rotation sooner than later. There's still a big question mark at center and the right guard spot needs to be secured, but more than anything else, there will be problems if injuries strike early on at tackle.
Outlook: A strong point over the last few years in the Kelly era, the line should be fine and could occasionally be dominant if the interior is settled. It's more of a technical blocking unit than a physical group of blasters, but it'll be a positive again as long as everyone can stay healthy.
Unit Rating: 8
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