Notre Dame Football: Nothing Can Happen to These 5 Players in 2012
It isn't realistic to think that no player on the Notre Dame football roster will get hurt during the 2012 season.
Every college football program has players go down at times throughout the year, but injuries to these five guys would make the season all the more difficult to get through.
Whether it is the player who fits the hybrid running back/wide receiver role the best, the most versatile player on defense, a stud offensive tackle, a talented defensive end or a pillar at linebacker, it would be hard for the Irish to overcome the loss of any of these five.
5. Theo Riddick, RB/WR
Would you like to see Theo Riddick catch the football on a slant route and go for a 50-yard touchdown? How about seeing him hit the corner on a toss play for a big gain.
With the slot receivers and running backs combining into a single unit this season, be ready to see running backs catch the ball in space as they line up at the slot, and watch slot receivers take to the backfield for some running action on occasion (like Robby Toma).
While there are plenty of capable running backs and slot receivers on the team, most fans expect Riddick to have a breakout year. He has big play potential every time he gets a touch.
And Riddick is perfect for a hybrid running back/slot receiver role (although he certainly can play any of the wide receiver spots and will).
He played as a running back under Charlie Weis before switching to wide receiver in 2010. However, late last season, he switched from wide receiver back to running back after Jonas Gray's knee injury forced him to become Cierre Wood's backup (while still playing wideout as well).
Riddick will also serve as a punt returner once again, but this time don't expect a failed experiment.
Wood is going to get the most touches of any running back (with Riddick a close second), and other players like George Atkinson III and Amir Carlisle will get a few carries as well. But in 2012, fans will have to pan the field on every play to see just where Riddick is going to do his damage from.
And while Tyler Eifert could have potentially taken Riddick's place on this list (there is no questioning his value), he didn't truly emerge until star tight end Kyle Rudolph was out for the season (possibly one Eifert's backups would do the same).
4. Zack Martin, LT
Center Braxton Cave, left guard Chris Watt and projected starter Christian Lombard are players the Fighting Irish don't want to be without in 2012 even with the depth Notre Dame has along the offensive line, but the loss of left tackle Zack Martin, a sure early NFL draft pick when he decides to enter the draft (either 2013 or 2014), would be a devastating blow.
With tremendous footwork and agility for a 6'4", 304-pound Goliath, Martin, an Indiana native, has been a star in South Bend.
While Martin's quick feet make him an excellent pass-blocker, he can also open up holes for the running back at the line of scrimmage or use his quickness to get downfield for a pancake block.
The loss of any one of the projected starters on the offensive line would be hard to get past, but if there is one player on the line that the Irish can't afford to lose, it's Martin.
3. Jamoris Slaughter, S
Jamoris Slaughter is the most versatile player on the Fighting Irish defense.
He has played at safety, cornerback and linebacker during his time at Notre Dame, and he has played each position well.
This season, Slaughter may end up playing in each of those roles again, and fans can expect the same quick reactions and big hits that have made him so popular.
And with a young and untested cornerbacks, Slaughter's experience is all the more important.
There is no doubt that Slaughter is an invaluable member of the Fighting Irish roster, and hopefully the team won't have to put that to the test by trying to play without him at any point in 2012.
2. Aaron Lynch, DE
Stephon Tuitt is a vital component to the defensive line. If he isn't playing at defensive end, he can switch to nose guard or 4-3 defensive tackle and bull-rush his way to the quarterback.
Kapron Lewis-Moore has looked better than ever as well. He has been easily beating his opponents when going up against the offensive line in spring practice.
But Aaron Lynch will be the primary reason that the Notre Dame defensive ends are going to dominate game in and game out in 2012.
With only one year of experience under his belt, Lynch won't just look to be the best defensive end on the Notre Dame roster, he has the talent and could become the best in all of college football.
Fans got goosebumps after watching him play in the Blue-Gold game last year, and he didn't disappoint during the season with his 5.5 sacks.
Lynch is only a sophomore, and his potential is off the charts. While I wouldn't be surprised if Lynch has 10 or more sacks this season, at the very least he will draw double-teams and open things up for the other players.
With Lynch, this unit goes from good to great.
Manti Te'o, ILB
Aaron Lynch may take over as king of the defensive castle once Manti Te'o departs for the NFL, but until then, Notre Dame is still the Hawaiian native's team.
The loss of Te'o would be like ripping out the heart and soul of the defense. His attitude and effort are just as infectious as his play on the field.
Te'o struggled through an ankle injury last year (he rarely was able to practice) and still was able to put up impressive statistics (four solo and two assisted sacks, 66 assisted and 62 solo tackles, two pass breakups, a forced fumble and four QB hurries).
He was even nominated for the Butkas Award, given to the nation's top linebacker.
Te'o should wreak havoc on opposing offenses as he takes advantage of having a stellar defensive line in front of him, but if he wasn't able to play in 2012, the team's morale would plummet.