Notre Dame Football: Ranking the 5 Best Offensive Weapons for Fighting Irish
Notre Dame football is surrounded with mystery heading into the 2012 season.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have major concerns at quarterback, where there is no clear starter, and no emerging threat at wide receiver.
More importantly, Notre Dame is coming off back-to-back seasons of 8-5 and coach Brian Kelly will be on the proverbial hot seat.
To make matters worse, Notre Dame will also be facing the toughest schedule in the nation that includes traveling to Dublin, Ireland and facing elite competition: Michigan State, Michigan, Stanford, BYU, Oklahoma and USC.
With questions at two major positions on the offense, what are the five best offensive weapons Notre Dame has going into such a controversial 2012 season?
5. Theo Riddick
Notre Dame has a very skilled playmaker when it comes to Theo Riddick.
Riddick, a hybrid RB/WR, thrives in the Notre Dame spread offense with his ability to create in space.
In 2010 and 2011, Riddick averaged 40 receptions for 400 yards and three touchdowns in each season for Notre Dame.
Additionally, Riddick can also play running back: at times in 2011 he came in for feature back Cierre Wood.
In 2012, Riddick will be a major contributor both in the passing game and running game for the Fighting Irish as there are major issues with the wide receiver position.
The Chicago Tribune reported, highly touted Notre Dame wide receiver DaVaris Daniels was cited for underage drinking along with quarterback Tommy Rees on May 13 and their status is up in the air.
Furthermore, Riddick is still ahead of George Atkinson III on the running back depth chart and Riddick is also the most productive returning receiver on the team ahead of John Goodman and T.J. Jones.
4. Braxston Cave
Notre Dame will be hoping center Braxston Cave, who is coming off a season-ending surgery in 2011, will be ready to go for the Fighting Irish in 2012.
Braxston who stands at 6'3'' and 304 pounds is a force at the center position and according to ESPN, played in 34 straight games for Notre Dame and started 22 in a row before suffering a season-ending left foot injury Nov. 5 at Wake Forest in 2011.
According to Irish Illustrated, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has high hopes for Braxston heading into 2012, "I'm really, really pleased with Braxston Cave and his ability to move," Kelly said. "We probably could play him, but we don't need to. He's moved so well that we could probably give him the green light. It's really encouraging."
Moreover, Braxston was on the Preseason 2011 Rimington Trophy Watch List and he will look to finish out his fifth-year senior season in 2012 at Notre Dame out on top.
3. Cierre Wood
Notre Dame has a very dynamic playmaker as their feature running back in Cierre Wood.
Wood had one of the best statistical seasons for a Notre Dame back in 2011 with over 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns.
Additionally, Wood was just as effective for the Fighting Irish catching the ball out of the backfield in 2011 with 27 receptions for 189 yards.
According to Heisman Pundit, Wood has a chance to break the Irish single-season rushing record of 1,437 yards set by Vagas Ferguson in 1979. The loss of Jonas Gray and his 114 carries means that Wood will be the bellcow for a Notre Dame offense that will probably emphasize the run more than ever. The emergence of running threats at quarterback like Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson will probably be to Woods’ benefit, too, as defenses will be unable to key on him. I see no reason why Woods wouldn’t get an extra 50 carries this season, which should put him into the 1,400-yard region.
Moreover, look for the junior Wood to clearly be the focal point of Notre Dame's running attack in 2012 as he closes in on a historic record.
2. Zack Martin
Notre Dame will have one of the best offensive lines going into the 2012 season thanks to Zack Martin.
Martin stands 6'4'' and 300 pounds and is an excellent pass-blocker at left tackle and will be protecting the blindside of the trio of quarterbacks for Notre Dame in 2012.
Athlon Sports reported Martin could challenge for All-American honors this season. He started all 13 games at left tackle last year and enters 2012 with 26 consecutive starts. The Irish allowed only 17 sacks in 2011 and could improve upon that number with Martin in 2012.
Furthermore, with Braxston Case at center and Zack Martin at left tackle, Notre Dame will have one of the premiere offensive lines in the country in 2012.
1. Tyler Eifert
Notre Dame will have the best catching tight end in the nation in 2012 with Tyler Eifert.
Eifert is giant at 6'6'' and 250 pounds and has great hands, is a great route runner and solid blocker.
He broke all kinds of Notre Dame records as a tight end in 2011 with 63 receptions for 803 yards and five touchdowns.
Eifert returned to Notre Dame for his senior year season keeping the NFL paychecks on the back burner.
As a result, Eifert will be used very similar to Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots.
Eiftert, will line up in a variety of different formations to confuse opposing defenses in 2012 and use his speed to beat linebackers and his size over the defensive secondary.
The Chicago Tribune reported Eifert is fleet enough to confound linebackers and safeties and big enough to over match cornerbacks. In theory, his flexibility gives the entire offense some elasticity. Notre Dame can run out multiple tight ends, and one of them is not limited to that spot. "Once he has detached and is out there on the corner, or as a No. 1 receiver, sure, then he becomes a 6-6 wide receiver," tight ends coach Scott Booker said. "It's a great matchup."
Eifert will become a matchup nightmare for Notre Dame in 2012 and is by far the best offensive weapon for this Fighting Irish football team going into 2012.