10 Notre Dame Players Who Will Shine for the Fighting Irish in 2012
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The 2012 season won’t be easy for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and third-year head coach Brian Kelly, but then again when is it ever easy for Notre Dame?
The Irish will play one of the toughest schedules in recent memory as they play the usual suspects and add Oklahoma, BYU and Miami to what is always a tough lineup of opponents.
If the Irish hope to improve on their 8-5 record from a year ago, there will have to be many players to step up and have an even bigger year in 2012. Here are some players that will shine in South Bend during the 2012 season.
George Atkinson III
Atkinson is extremely explosive, and has the potential to do great things in 2012.
In his first season in an Irish uniform, George Atkinson III had a huge impact returning two kickoffs for touchdowns, and he had arguably the best Notre Dame play in the USC game a year ago. This season look for the rising sophomore to make even more of an impact.
GA3 has fantastic speed, and has been quoted as saying he ran a 4.43 this offseason. That is blazing speed, and Irish fans will hope he has more opportunities to show off his talent in 2012.
At 6'1" and over 200 pounds, Atkinson III has great size for a running back, and his position coach Tony Alford along with head coach Brian Kelly have had high praise on the sophomore so far this spring.
With Alford coaching both the slot receivers and running backs in 2012, look for Notre Dame to use Atkinson III in a variety of ways, including possibly returning punts.
One thing that GA3 will have to learn is patience running the football, a trait that needs to be learned by all young running backs. When a player has that type of speed, it is a bit of adjustment to running the ball and not dancing in the hole. One thing for certain is when Atkinson III gets it, the Irish will surely reap the benefits.
Riddick will have a very important role in 2012 both as a running back and receiver. Last season the senior didn't have the year he had hoped for, and struggled at WR and punt returner before returning to tailback when Jonas Gray went down with an injury.
Running back is Riddick's natural position, and with the move back to the position he is most comfortable, that will bode well for Notre Dame. At times last year Riddick looked lost at receiver, and it was evident he was not in the game mentally during stretches of the season.
This year the Irish will feature another one-two punch, and Riddick will fill in the role that Jonas Gray played a year ago.
If the senior can finally put it all together and show consistency, he will show drastic improvement from 2011. Notre Dame fans hope so, because he will be depended on heavily for a successful 2012 campaign.
Wood will be one of the best running backs in the country in 2012.
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Wood is coming off of a monster season in 2011 in which he led the team in rushing with 1,102 yards. This year one huge strength for the Fighting Irish will be their offensive line, and if they do their jobs, Wood will have another outstanding year for Notre Dame.
The senior running back turned plenty of heads last year with his explosiveness and his 5 yards per carry in 2011.
With another spring with a quarterback battle, the coaching staff will depend heavily on this senior runner. Last season he put it all together and was a monster out of the backfield.
Wood has a legit shot at breaking the single season rushing record of 1,437 yards that was set by Vagas Ferguson way back in 1979.
See the theme here?
Notre Dame is loaded with players at the skill positions and Amir Carlisle is a transfer from USC who has a wealth of talent, and can play running back or slot for the Irish. Carlisle was granted a waiver from the NCAA making him eligible for 2012; however he broke his ankle and is out for the spring.
The coaching staff expects Carlisle to be good to go come fall camp, and that is great news for Notre Dame.
No surprise here. For the second consecutive year head coach Brian Kelly was able to convince a sure-fire NFL draft pick to return for his senior season. A year ago it was future first-rounder Michael Floyd, and this season it is Tyler Eifert.
At Tight End U, Eifert is the best to ever come through South Bend, Indiana. A year ago he was first-team All-American, and led all tight ends in both receptions in yards with 63 grabs and 803 yards.
This guy is amazing, and will likely be a first-round pick next season in the NFL draft. In 2012 he will be the security blanket for whoever is under center this season for Notre Dame.
With the announcement of literally the entire starting five at Kentucky leaving early for the NBA Draft, it is refreshing to see a guy come back to school and earn his degree.
Notre Dame fans couldn't be happier, and Eifert will surely reap the benefits as he will be used all over the field this fall.
This 6'6" 290-pound defensive lineman is a monster on the defensive line, and the Irish coaching staff recruited him right out of SEC country. This year the rising sophomore will have an even bigger role now that Aaron Lynch has decided to transfer.
Tuitt is extremely versatile along the defensive line, and can play nose guard and slide out to defensive end. Year one for the Georgia native was a bit up and down, with being suspended for a game and also suffering from mono.
Look for year two to be a breakout year for Tuitt along the defensive line, and he will prove why he was highly recruited out of high school. He is one-third of the fantastic defensive recruiting haul from a year ago, and he has tremendous potential and he showed flashes of what he can do in 2011.
It is difficult for any freshman to come in and play consistently, and in his sophomore campaign watch for a breakout year. He is the ideal player for any 3-4 scheme, as his versatility gives him the opportunity to lineup at several positions along the defensive line.
Williams is poised for a breakout season in 2012.
This kid has the potential to be an animal for Notre Dame this season. A year ago as a true freshman, very similar to Stephon Tuitt, he was up and down. As a sophomore, this player is poised for a breakout season.
At 6'5", and 250 pounds he has great size for a linebacker, and he will be looking to cause havoc for defensive coordinator Bob Diaco this season. Diaco has made note that Williams is learning how to practice everyday and that adjustment has paid dividends this spring.
The rising sophomore linebacker has been playing at the cat linebacker position which is a hybrid defensive end/linebacker position. In a 3-4 system, this ability to play both positions will only increase his chances of significant playing time, and he is another player that will benefit from the departure of Aaron Lynch.
Not to quote the nauseating Todd McShay of ESPN, but Williams has the most "upside" out of all the Irish underclassmen, and he will see a huge jump in production in 2012.
The importance of Bennett Jackson to the Notre Dame defense is immeasurable, and thus far this spring, Jackson has stepped up earning praise from his defensive coaches. At 6' and 185 pounds, this wide receiver turned cornerback has great size and speed for a corner, and will have plenty of opportunities to make plays in 2012.
With such a strong front seven in front of him, Bob Diaco will likely employ a bit more blitzing to make opposing quarterbacks get rid of the ball quicker; a strategy that will help a young secondary.
Jackson may not have significant experience, but his talent can't be ignored and it will only be a matter of time until he puts it all together.
Perhaps no one will benefit more from Aaron Lynch's than Kapron Lewis-Moore. He will now be the starting defensive end, and he is more than capable of stepping up.
The fifth-year senior was very productive prior to a knee injury ending his year last season, and he had 33 tackles a year ago with one-and-a-half sacks.
Lewis-Moore is another player ready to have a bounceback season in 2012, with hopes of becoming an NFL draft pick in 2012. The senior defensive lineman has the talent to make this happen, but he needs to stay healthy this year for the Irish.
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Last but certainly not least is senior do-everything linebacker Manti Te'o—another player that could have left early for the NFL draft, but opted to return for his senior season at Notre Dame. In 2011 Te'o was all over the field, and he had 128 stops with five sacks.
His 128 tackles is simply unbelievable, and watch for those numbers to climb in 2012. The Hawaii native will be a lock in the first round of the NFL draft in 2013, and his value to the Irish program is immeasurable.
With a few de-commitments in last year's recruiting cycle, head coach Brian Kelly's best recruiting effort was convincing the talented line backer to stay another year.
He has everything coaches want at middle linebacker, he has the speed to chase down the runner, instincts to stop the run and great leadership qualities on and off the field.
This guy doesn't need much ink, his talent speaks for himself and he has registered over 120 tackles in each of the last two seasons. This fall he will be the undisputed captain of the team, and will have one last season in South Bend, where Irish fans couldn't be happier.