Notre Dame Football: Who Will Be the Next Jonas Gray?

James ToljCorrespondent IIMay 1, 2012

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 20: Robby Toma #19 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is tackled by Richard King #2 and Bill Prosko #47 of the Army Black Knights at Yankee Stadium on November 20, 2010 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

If you're a Notre Dame football fan, then you are familiar with the story of Jonas Gray.

It took Gray four years to make a significant contribution to the Notre Dame football team, but in his last season, he became an invaluable member of the Fighting Irish.

In his first three seasons with the team, Gray carried the ball 75 times for a net total of 309 yards without reaching the end zone.

In 2011, Gray turned his career around. In less than 11 full games (due to a knee injury suffered against Boston College in game No. 11), Gray ran for a net 791 yards on 114 touches and scored 12 times all while sharing carries with Cierre Wood.

Is there a senior or fifth-year player on this year's team ready to make a big contribution that hasn't done much in past seasons? Well, there may be more than one.

It has been no secret that Brian Kelly and the coaching staff were high on wide receiver John Goodman this spring.

Goodman, who is one of the players that will return for a fifth year this season, has 28 receptions for 315 yards and one touchdown in three seasons (he accumulated no statistics in 2008, his first season).

So far, Goodman is known more for fielding fair catches as a punt returner than he is for being a wide receiver, but that looks like it will change this year.

Coach Kelly stated in a March 30th post-practice press conference that Goodman needs to continue to improve and become consistent, but added "...from a wide receiver position, he's been our go-to-guy (in spring practice)."

Robby Toma is another wideout is ready to step up.

During his time in South Bend, Toma has shown he has the skills necessary to be a productive player for the Fighting Irish. Toma is quick, has great hands and is a solid route runner, but he hasn't seen the field often until the end of last season.

In fact, Toma's scholarship was largely considered a thrown in with the Manti Te'o commitment because Toma was his best friend and didn't sign until after Te'o did.

The receiver from Hawaii has caught 36 passes for 415 yards with one touchdown over his career (with 19 receptions for 207 yards and a touchdown coming from the 2011 season).

This season, Toma will play at an evolving slot receiver spot. He will get a lot of open looks with attention being focused on tight end Tyler Eifert, and he will even line up in the backfield and get a carry or two when the situation calls for it.

Expect both Goodman and Toma to have solid years for the Fighting Irish. Neither player will be the focal point of the Irish offense, Eifert and the running game will be. They might not be as productive from the wide receiver spot as Jonas Gray was from the running back last season either, but they will definitely make their presence felt.

On defense, a guy who hasn't been getting much attention this spring but is poised to contribute is Tyler Stockton.

Stockton has had to deal with injury issues and has struggled to become a part of the defensive line rotation.

He has recorded only one tackle during his career in 2010 which was a sack.

Now, with the departure of Lynch, who was expected to be on the field for the majority of games, Stockton has more of an opportunity to get playing time considering he can play both defensive tackle or defensive end with his 6'0", 285-pound stocky frame (I think I just coined "Stocky Stockton").

Freshman defensive lineman Sheldon Day has impressed coaches this spring, but with Stockton being able to play anywhere on the defensive line, Day may be able to stay off the field in 2011 and preserve the option of a fifth season.

While Stockton is eligible for a fifth year if he so chooses, he will have a legitimate chance to work his way into the rotation in 2012.