Notre Dame may have questions to answer on both sides of the ball as it heads into the season opener against Navy, but this offense has a bunch of potential. Returning seven starters from an offense that finished last season ranked 35th in the country in yards per game, this is a unit that could surprise some people this year.
The Irish continue to search for success at the quarterback position, but the coaching staff seems to be extremely high on red-shirt freshman Everett Golson, who was recently named the starter. The running back position is very deep with Cierre Wood leading the way, and many of the receivers may be no-names, but all have potential heading into the 2012 season.
With the season opener ready to take place in just a few days, let's take a look at some of the key offensive players for the Irish.
Everett Golson is not the biggest quarterback by any means at 6'0", 185 pounds. But he is a dual-threat quarterback that is capable of making something out of nothing. His big-play ability is the reason he was named the starting quarterback to begin the season, as he can kill you with his legs when given the opportunity.
But his legs are not the only weapon in his arsenal; he also has an extremely strong arm, quick release and is accurate with the football when he is given time. Golson has also shown the ability to throw an accurate football when on the move as well.
He reminds me a lot of Pat White from the West Virginia days, which would be incredible for Notre Dame fans if he ends up having similar success in his career.
Golson was a member of the scout team a season ago, but ended up beating out three other quarterbacks in fall camp to become the leader of this offense. With his versatility, he will be able to run many play-action passes and run-pass options, which will add another level of excitement to this football team.
The thing is, Golson is still a red-shirt freshman, which means growing pains are going to come with the territory. Although if he can weather the storm, the Irish may have finally found their starting quarterback in the Brian Kelly era.
Prediction: 63 percent completion percentage, 2,550 passing yards, 600 rushing yards and 26 total touchdowns.
Cierre Wood has been suspended for the first two games of the regular season, but should remain the starting running back when he is eligible to play again. He has been the leading rusher for the Irish the last two seasons, rushing for over 1,100 and scoring nine touchdowns last year.
He is a bigger running back, standing at 6'1" and weighing in at 215 pounds. But despite his big and bulky frame, Wood is extremely elusive in the open field, can make defenders miss and has enough underrated speed to break off the big run as well.
Wood is not much of a power back that his size would indicate, but arm tackles rarely bring this guy down. He is an athletic player who also has great hands, hauling in a combined 47 receptions in his last two seasons.
With the combination of Woods' athleticism and the dual-threat ability of Golson, the Irish have their one-two punch on the offensive side of the ball that could make things tricky for opposing defenses in 2012.
As for the backup running back position, according to Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune, Brian Kelly really likes Theo Riddick over George Atkinson.
#NotreDame HC Brian Kelly on Theo Riddick, George Atkinson III as RB: "(Theo) fits terrifically, right now. George is progress every day."— Brian Hamilton (@ChiTribHamilton) August 28, 2012
Team Rushing Prediction: 468 total carries, 2,600 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns.
There really weren't many surprises on the depth chart when it came to the first-unit offensive line. Zack Martin is holding down left tackle, Chris Watt is at left guard, Braxston Cave remains at center, Mike Golic, Jr. is at right guard and at right tackle is Christian Lombard.
Martin started all 13 games on the left side of the line last season and has been named one of the four captains on this club. Watt also started every game at his current position last year, quickly building a reputation as one of the more physical linemen on this team.
Cave was the starter the last two seasons, but had his season cut short last year due to a foot injury. Good news is that he is fully recovered and is still considered one of the best in the country at his position.
The right guard position was up for grabs, as Golic and Nick Martin were supposed to battle throughout camp. Of course Golic was declared the winner and Martin is now considered a backup right tackle. Golic played in 12 games last season and started the final four at center in replace of an injured Cave.
saw time last season with this unit, but was never a starter, which makes him the least experienced of the bunch. Still, he was a 4-star recruit from the 2010 class, has great size at 6'5", 309 pounds and terrific footwork.
This unit has a chance to be extremely good this year, as it is a veteran squad that has a ton of experience under its belt. (Via Rachel Terlep of etruth.com)
"We’re a really cohesive group," Golic said of his fellow linemen. "Even though we haven’t necessarily played together for three or four years, we’ve been together for three or four years. Going through spring, going through camp, we’ve been able to take that onto the field."
Prediction: 13 sacks allowed.
John Goodman has not been very productive throughout his Notre Dame career, catching just 28 passes in three years. But he has always had potential, and with this being his senior season, there is no better time for him to step up than now.
He is not the fastest receiver in the world, but he has terrific height at 6'3", 215 pounds. He is an above-average route runner and is not afraid to go across the middle to make a difficult catch in traffic. Goodman is not somebody that jumps off the screen when watching him, but is a hard worker who tries to improve himself every day on the football field.
With his physical gifts, wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock wants to really get him more involved in this offense. (Via Ben Smith of journalgazette.net)
“I’d love to see him catch 75 passes and 15 touchdowns and quiet his critics that are out there. He’s a quality young man and a good football player.” Denbrock said.
With his height advantage, Goodman should have the best season of his career.
Prediction: 30 receptions, 400 yards and four touchdowns.
T.J. Jones is now the most experienced receiver on the roster with Michael Floyd in the NFL, but he has yet to really tap into his potential.
Despite his small 5'11", 190-pound frame, Jones can be aggressive at the line of scrimmage, gets off the line quickly and does not shy away from contact. He is an above-average route runner and does a great job of finding ways to get open consistently.
With all of the positive traits that the junior receiver has, many are expecting a big year from him, and with the spotlight no longer on Floyd, there is no reason why he won't have his most productive season yet.
Prediction: 50 receptions, 600 yards and eight touchdowns
Robby Toma showed some of his big-play ability towards the end of the season, finishing the final four games with 16 receptions for 172 yards. He will now have a chance to build off of that success, as he is listed as a starting receiver on the Week 1 depth chart.
Toma is not a player that is going to excite you, as he seriously lacks height at 5'9" and isn't known for blazing speed. But he runs very crisp routes, gets off the line quickly and, as you can see in the video, has terrific hands. He is also capable of coming up with the tough catch and has above-average leaping ability.
The senior receiver may be the X-factor of this whole bunch, as he has potential, but has always seen limited playing time throughout his career.
Prediction: 27 receptions, 275 yards and three touchdowns.
What is there to say about Tyler Eifert?
He is widely considered one of the best tight ends in the country after the 63-reception season he had last year.
Eifert has outstanding size at 6'6", 251 pounds, runs solid routes and is about as sure-handed as you are going to find at the collegiate level. He is a nightmare matchup for linebackers due to his speed and a tough tackle for the secondary with his massive frame.
The tight end expects to play all four receiver positions this year, which makes him that much more valuable to this Notre Dame offense. If he can remain healthy and build on last season’s success, there is no question he will be the first tight end taken in next year’s NFL draft.
Prediction: 70 receptions, 900 yards and 11 touchdowns