2010 Notre Dame Preview – Offense
Notre Dame QB Dayne Crist
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Notre Dame Fighting Irish Offense
Preview 2010 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Charlie Weis stocked the shelves with talent, and even with the loss of Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate, and key offensive linemen Sam Young and Eric Olsen, the offense should be even more effective. It was terrific at times last year, finishing eighth in the nation in total offense and fifth in passing, but it stalled at some odd moments and wasn't nearly consistent enough. Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Charley Molnar's biggest change is to speed things up. The idea will be to get the tempo moving, keep defenses on their heels, and take control of the game by staying focused in the movement. The receiving corps should be among the best in America thanks to the return of Michael Floyd and tight end Kyle Rudolph, and the backfield is deep and experienced. Dayne Crist is a big-time talent at quarterback, but he's coming off a major knee injury and needs to prove he can handle the quicker pace behind a line that's patching everything together. There will be some rocky parts, but Kelly had less talent at Cincinnati and he created a monster.
Star of the offense: Junior WR Michael Floyd
Passing: Dayne Crist
10-20, 130 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Armando Allen
142 carries, 697 yds, 3 TD
Receiving: Michael Floyd
44 catches, 795 yds, 9 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore OT Zach Martin
Unsung star on the rise: Freshman WR T.J. Jones
Best pro prospect: Junior TE Kyle Rudolph
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Floyd, 2) Rudolph, 3) QB Dayne Crist
Strength of the offense: Receivers, Running Back
Weakness of the offense: Backup Quarterback, Tackle
Projected Starter: It's this simple. If junior Dayne Crist isn't healthy enough after suffering a torn ACL less than a year ago, and if he's not great, Notre Dame's season goes into the tank. With no experience behind him whatsoever, Crist's injured knee is the focus of the entire Irish nation and he'll give it a go even though he realistically could use a lot more time to get healthy. The 6-4, 235-pounder has the size and he has the big-time arm needed to run the Charlie Weis offense, but will he have his mobility back to run the Brian Kelly attack? He saw a little bit of time last year completing 10-of-20 passes for 130 yards and a score with an interception, and now he takes over for his lifelong friend, Jimmy Clausen, and he has to be special. Even though no one was allowed to breathe on him the wrong way, he wasn't always sharp this offseason and he has to get used to the sped up tempo and he has to place a premium on accuracy even though he ran a similar offense in high school. The tools are there, and as long as the knee isn't an issue he'll be terrific with a little bit of time.
Projected Top Reserves: For the moment, junior
Nate Montana will get the No. 2 job. Joe Montana's son is 6-4 and 200 pounds, and has a live, accurate arm, but he was inconsistent throughout spring ball and didn't come up with a good performance until the spring game. He started out his career with the Irish, transferred to Pasadena City College rather than sit on the bench behind Jimmy Clausen, and now he's back and showing some decent flashes. He walked on, and now he needs to be ready in case Dayne Crist's knee isn't healthy, and he has to be sharp with a slew of good prospects waiting in the wings.
6-3, 200-pound Tommy Rees got to school early to take his cuts at the backup job. While not necessarily considered an elite prospect, he was given an offer from Tennessee and was courted by several MAC schools, he has the skills to fit what Kelly wants to do with a quick release and good decision making skills. He might not be ready quite yet, but he's accurate and has the tools to eventually be fantastic.
True freshman Andrew Hendrix could eventually be the key player in the first Brian Kelly class. The 6-3, 226-pounder spurned Florida, Ohio State, Miami and Wisconsin for the Irish, and he has the talent to be the face of the program. From Cincinnati's Moeller High, he knows all about Kelly's offense, and he might have the best arm on the team with great touch on his short throws and the ability to let it rip deep. Not necessarily a runner, he's a pro passer who looks the part with the polish and the ability to step in right away.
Watch Out For … Crist's knee. From all indications everything is fine, but he's coming back very, very soon from such a serious injury. Considering the offensive line is a mega-concern, and Crist isn't exactly going to be flying around, there will be a lot of held breaths every time there's a pass rush.
Strength: The system. You probably could've stepped in at quarterback for Cincinnati and had a decent efficiency rating. Kelly has had some good talents to work with at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, but he also had a Ben Mauk or two and has gotten production out of everyone. The Bearcats played several quarterbacks throughout the 12-0 season, and Kelly will have his Irish backups ready this year.
Weakness: The backups. Yes, Kelly is the Quarterback Whisperer, but if Crist has any problems whatsoever it's uh-oh time. The rest of the offense simply isn't going to be strong enough or tight enough to play at an ultra-high level with a No. 2 or 3 quarterback.
Outlook: Kelly beats up his quarterbacks and works them as hard as any coach in the country, but he also makes them play at a high level. Crist will be fantastic if he can stay healthy with more skills than Tony Pike, the former Bearcat quarterback who blossomed into an NFL prospect under Kelly, but the backups have to be at the ready. Montana and Rees are interesting prospects who'll be solid, but they could use all the time in the new system that they can get.
Unit Rating: 7.5
5-10, 201-pound senior Armando Allen led the way last year with 697 yards and three touchdowns with 139 yards against Michigan and 115 against Michigan State as he started out hot, but he suffered an ankle injury against the Spartans and wasn't quite the same the rest of the way. While he's versatile enough to catch 28 passes for 216 yards, and he had some nice rushing outings after he came back from missing the Purdue game, but he didn't score after the third game of the year. He has the size, he has the wheels, and he has the ability to run inside and out. Now he has to stay healthy and he has to be the versatile back the Kelly offense is looking for. He'll be able to do it.
Projected Top Reserves: Always a fan favorite, the 5-11, 245-pound Robert Hughes is a physical, punishing back who became a folk hero late in his freshman year with 246 yards over the final two games. The senior hasn't been able to recapture the glory, but he has been a decent option from time to time battering Washington State for 131 yards and a touchdown and finishing with 88 carries for 416 yards and five scores. Quick for his size, he was effective out of the backfield catching 19 passes for 193 yards. Able to move to fullback if needed, he'll be more than just a No. 2 rusher behind Armando Allen.
There was a feeling going into last year that Jonas Gray was going to be the forgotten man in the equation, but he managed to carve out a niche in the rotation over the first four games before having a hamstring problem and only carrying the ball nine times over the final eight games. At 5-10 and 225 pounds, the junior is a compact runner who was a great recruit coming out of Detroit, and while he has the speed and the power to see plenty of carries, he has to stay healthy and he has to make the most of his chances.
Sophomore Cierre Wood was a superstar recruit who could've gone anywhere after rushing for 2,612 yards and 34 touchdowns as a high school junior and 1,632 yards and 20 scores as a senior. The 6-0, 210-pound speedster has a great blend of speed and power, and it's just a question of time before he becomes a major part of the offense. He didn't get on the field last year, but the Californian was great this offseason and appears ready to handle the workload when needed.
Watch Out For … the ground game. The old regime relied on Brady Quinn, Jimmy Clausen, and the passing attacks to carry the offense, and while there were some good moments for the running game, led by some big seasons from Darius Walker, it was along for the ride. Brian Kelly isn't going to scale back the playbook, but one of the team's strengths should be the backfield and he's not going to ignore it.
Strength: Depth. Allen might not be special and Hughes might be limited, but throw in the talents of Gray and Wood and the Irish have an excellent foursome to form a tremendous rotation. The offense can go with the hot hand, or legs, and can try out several backs every game to keep everyone fresh.
Weakness: Allen's ankle. While the depth means that any one injury won't be that big a deal, Allen was the best back of the bunch this offseason and will likely be the workhorse that Kelly and the staff relies on from the start. He appears to be fine, but he has to prove now that he can be a reliable, healthy back for the entire season.
Outlook: The Irish have a nice group of backs to take all the pressure off the passing game. Among the top four options there's speed, power, and potential for the offense to tilt more to the ground game to set up the rest of the attack. The Irish won't be 84th in the nation in running again.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Projected Starters: Forgotten in Golden Tate's Biletnikoff Winning season was how junior Michael Floyd was the star of the receiving corps over the first three games. The 6-3, 220-pound junior went from being Minnesota's Mr. Football to a star in the Irish passing game without a problem catching 48 passes for 719 yards and seven scores as a freshman before having leg problems. All healed up, he was unstoppable against Nevada and Michigan catching 11 passes for 320 yards and four touchdowns before catching two passes for 38 yards and a spectacular 22-yard touchdown grab against Michigan State … but he landed wrong. He broke his collarbone and was out for the next five weeks, but he picked up where he left off with three straight 100-yard games, including a 10-catch, 141-yard, one score effort against Navy, before closing out with two touchdown grabs against Stanford. All the ability is there to become special, but he has to go a full season without getting hurt.
6-4, 220-pound senior Duval Kamara didn't exactly pick up the slack when Michael Floyd got hurt, but he had a nice year as a third option catching 23 passes for 218 yards and a score. While he has had hamstring problems and he isn't a speedster, he's good at getting down the field and he'll be decent with all the attention paid to Floyd. He'll have the impossible task of trying to replace Golden Tate.
True freshman Tai-ler Jones will get every shot at seeing a starting spot right away. While it's a major stretch to call him the next Golden Tate, he has a lot of the same skills and looks the part at 5-11 and 185 pounds with tremendous quickness and phenomenal athleticism. Alabama and Auburn put on the full court press to get him, and he should quickly become a major factor who should be deadly after the catch and is physical enough to take shots over the middle and dish a few out.
Junior Kyle Rudolph is one of the nation's most talented tight ends and would be a key part of an NFL attack if he could've left early. At 6-6 and 265 pounds, he has the size, the quickness, and the hands to act like a huge wide receiver, finishing third on the team with 33 catches for 364 yards and three scores. He got hurt late in the year suffering a shoulder injury that ended things three games early, and he didn't catch a touchdown pass after week five, but he's good enough to become an even bigger part of the offense and on the short list for All-America honors.
Projected Top Reserves: Will junior John Goodman be ready to take on a bigger role? At 6-3 and 205 pounds, he's big and has tremendous speed with the ability to play any of the three receiver spots. He'll push hard for the open No. 3 job after a decent midseason stretch with six catches for 104 yards and a score, but he didn't do anything over the other nine games. Quick enough to be used as a returner and occasionally getting the ball as a runner, he's too athletic to not get the ball in his hands.
Sophomore Theo Riddick isn't Golden Tate, but he's a 5-11, 190-pound hiccup quick target who was originally considered a running back before moving over to receiver. The team's top kickoff returner, he moves extremely well and is terrific in the open field. He got a few passes thrown his way last year catching six balls for 43 yards and finished fourth on the team with 160 rushing yards averaging 5.5 yards per carry.
After getting busted for possessing pot, senior tight end Mike Ragone was deep in the doghouse. He's expected to be back in everyone's good graces in time to become a key factor in the passing game after catching just six passes for 60 yards. The 6-4, 250-pounder has the talent, but he has had a rocky career with a torn ACL as a sophomore and having to work behind Kyle Rudolph. Health again, he's ready to be a do-it-all tight end with great blocking ability (he was a superstar high school wrestler) and excellent athleticism.
Watch Out For … Jones. Floyd will end up being draft in the top 50, Rudolph might be the first tight end off the board, and Kamara is about to blossom now that he gets to play on the outside, but it was Jones who had the coaching staff raving. He might be the third or fourth option to start the season, but he's going to be special.
Strength: Floyd and Rudolph. The Irish have two possible first round draft picks to help make the passing game go. With those two taking away all the attention, the rest of the receiving corps should blossom in single coverage.
Weakness: Golden Tate. Yeah, the Irish receiving corps is loaded, but it'll still hurt to lose a player of Tate's caliber. All he did was catch 93 passes for 1,496 yards and 15 touchdowns on his way to the Biletnikoff, and he'll be missed … at least a little bit.
Outlook: The receiving corps has two superstars in Floyd and Rudolph, emerging stars in Reddick and Jones, and the experience and talent to make the quarterbacks look great. As long as Dayne Crist gets time to throw, the receivers will blow up and quickly make up for the loss of Tate.
Unit Rating: 9
Projected Starters: The new coaching staff is blowing up the line moving several pieces around, but left guard Chris Stewart is back for his third year as the starter. The rock of the returning line, he's versatile enough to move just about anywhere, but the staff wants at least one player up front who knows what he's doing. The 6-5, 344-pound senior is a bit too big, but he's extremely physical with a defensive lineman's mentality, and he should be the one everything works around when the team needs a hard yard.
Junior Trevor Robinson started every game but one at right guard and will get the first look at his old spot … if he doesn't move to right tackle. The 6-5, 300-pounder has the frame to move to the outside, but he's arguably the team's most talented blocker working as a guard, and the new staff might not want to mess with that. He has seen practice time at tackle, but he's a talented player on the inside who should be the anchor.
If Robinson doesn't move to tackle, senior Taylor Dever will get a shot at Sam Young's old position. The 6-5, 301-pounder has seen plenty of backup action and will hardly come in cold, but he has to prove he can handle himself against the speedier pass rushers. Staying healthy has been a problem, missing all of spring ball last year, but he's a nice enough veteran to ease the loss of Young.
Working at left tackle will be sophomore Zach Martin , and he's coming in green after not getting on the field as a freshman. The 6-4, 280-pounder isn't all that big, but he's agile talent who was considered a strong recruit. While he'll take his lumps as he figures out what he's doing, he's the type of prospect who can quickly grow into a strong all-around blocker to plug in for the next three seasons.
In an interesting fight, junior Braxston Cave took over the starting center job. He hasn't seen much action, working mostly as a special teamer, but he got his chance with the new coaches and he came through this spring showing good tenacity and surprisingly steady play. The 6-3, 309-pounder can play guard if needed, but it'll take something big for him to be knocked out of the middle at this point.
Projected Top Reserves: Senior Dan Wenger started every game in 2008 at center and was all set to be the main man early last year, but he was pushed out of a job by Eric Olsen and now is the backup after expecting to quarterback the line starting this year. He got a start against Navy at right guard and could move around where needed, but going into the season the 6-4, 297-pounder, surprisingly, is going to be a key backup and not a veteran starter.
6-5, 298-pound senior Matt Romine has been a decent backup over the last three years with 15 games of experience, but he's not a starter. He has decent size and he can step in at left tackle, but he hasn't started and he hasn't played up to his potential after coming in as a top prospect. An ankle injury has been a problem in the past, but he's healthy now and he'll make a big push for time in fall camp.
Watch Out For … the center battle. It seemed like a foregone conclusion going into spring ball that Wenger was going to be the man in the middle, but Cave came up big to make it a fight. The job might still be there for the taking if Wenger is great in late August.
Strength: A clean slate. The coaching staff is going to piece together a line looking to put the top five players on the front line and make them work. Everyone is fighting for a job, and while that's supposed to be the case on every team, it really happened with Brian Kelly coming in.
Weakness: Anything to rely on at tackle. The last thing a team with a gimpy quarterback needs is question marks up front, and that's exactly what Notre Dame has. The interior will be solid with Stewart and (potentially) Robinson as two good veterans, but Martin and Dever have to produce immediately or the attack goes kaput.
Outlook: Kelly did more with less at Cincinnati. The Irish line was underwhelming considering the parade of high school stars who made their way to South Bend, and while this group doesn't have any big names or certain NFL talents, it should be a scrappy group that works well with the up tempo style. As long as the front five can keep the quarterback from getting flattened (Cincinnati led the Big East in sacks allowed), everything will work out … eventually. This is the team's biggest area of concern.
Unit Rating: 6
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