Notre Dame Football: 5 Biggest Question Marks of Training Camp
Regardless of what type of season is expected of Notre Dame, it is a team that everyone will keep a close eye on because, well, it is Notre Dame.
Despite struggling the last two years under Brian Kelly, the Irish return seven starters on both sides of the ball and look to put those disappointing seasons behind them. There is certainly enough talent on both sides of the ball to compete for a BCS bowl this season, but like every team in the country, questions remain.
With the college football season three weeks away, here are the main questions that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish must answer before September arrives.
Which True Freshmen Will Become Key Contributors?
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It is one of the main questions that is asked every fall camp, as many of the true freshmen begin to arrive on campus for the first time. Which of these young and talented players can step on the field right away and contribute?
Notre Dame landed 17 recruits from the 2012 class, many that play a position of need, or are confident and talented enough to see significant playing time. Brian Kelly had this to say via Tim O'Malley of Scout.com:
I think what (strength and conditioning) coach (Paul) Longo impressed upon me was that when the freshman class came here, there was a burning desire for that group to want to contribute right away, all of them. Every single one of them with the mindset and his characterization of this class was they're ready to play.
The favorite to contribute right away is wide receiver Davonte Neal. With the receiver position being such a big question mark, Neal is a speedy wideout, who has great hands and runs excellent routes. He is also somebody who could give the Irish a spark on special teams.
Other players who could make an impact this season include wide receivers Chris Brown and Justin Ferguson, defensive lineman Sheldon Day and defensive back Elijah Shumate.
Where Are the Receivers?
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Speaking of Davonte Neal and the wide receiver position, the Irish need to find a few players who can catch the football. The greatest receiver in Irish history, Michael Floyd, is no longer around to make big play after big play for this offense.
Tight end Tyler Eifert will now be the go-to guy, but he isn't nearly enough for this offense to remain productive.
John Goodman is a fifth-year senior, who has the size to become a top target in this offense, but only has 28 catches in three years. DaVaris Daniels has the size and route-running ability to be a special player, as he showed a little sneak peak during the spring game. T.J. Jones has been consistent the last couple of years, but will need to take another step forward with the lack of depth at the position, as well as senior Robby Toma.
There is potential at the skill positions, but experience is not. Players need to grow up fast in order for this offense to get clicking.
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Notre Dame returns seven starters from a defense that finished ranked 30th in the country. While that is good enough to get by, the lack of big plays on that side of the ball is not.
The Irish finished the year with only 25 sacks, and the sack leader in Aaron Lynch is no longer on the roster. This is also a team that only forced 14 turnovers a year ago, including going four games without forcing at least one.
We know what Manti Te'o is capable of, but he can't be the only guy making plays for this team. The revamped defensive line must generate more pressure, the other talented linebackers must continue to improve, and an inexperienced secondary must learn on the fly.
The more big plays this defense can create, the better off the Irish will be as a team.
What Is the Secondary Looking Like?
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While the defensive line is a serious question mark, it is the secondary that probably keeps Brian Kelly up at night the most. It is a unit that lost three key players that was ranked 38th in the country in pass defense last season.
Bennett Jackson will likely start at one of the cornerback spots after having a terrific spring. But neither is standing out between the battle of Lo Wood and Josh Atkinson on the opposite side. The safety position is much better off with talented and more experienced players in Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta leading the way.
The backups consist of mostly sophomores, who have seen the field very little in their young careers. With the lack of a consistent pass rush and an inexperienced defensive backfield, the Irish defense may end up taking a step back in 2012 if things aren't figured out quickly.
Quarterback, Quarterback, Quarterback?
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This has been the main question for the Irish ever Jimmy Clausen left the program: Who is going to be the next great quarterback of this program and help lead this team to a BCS bowl?
The quarterback battle right now is likely coming down to Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson. Tommy Rees has already had his shot and proved time and time again that he does not have what it takes to get this team to the next level. Both Hendrix and Golson are attractive options, as they are both dual-threat quarterbacks with strong arms, but it was Golson who may have the slight edge from the performance he gave in the spring game a couple months ago.
Head coach Brian Kelly says that the coaching staff is nowhere near to making a decision and the starter for week one may not be the guy that starts the entire year. He said via Tim O'Malley of Scout.com:
It's going to take some time for us to figure that out in terms of who is going to get those reps…but ultimately we want to be able to give the quarterback for Navy a lot of reps leading into the game. Where we start is we've got to be able to evaluate them based upon what they did this summer, then start to close in on what that pecking order is. So I don't know the exact date, but we'll know it when we see it.
It looks like the quarterback position for Notre Dame is still a work in progress. Kelly continued via Scout.com:
If he plays well against Navy. If we get the guy and he starts against Navy and he doesn't play very well, I don't want him to start next week, nor do you. said Kelly. But I would like, like everybody else, to prepare somebody and have a great game against Navy and then make it a difficult decision what you do in week two.