Notre Dame Football: 5 Ways the Irish Offense Will Change in 2013
Just as in everyday life, change is an inevitable facet within football at the collegiate level.
Student-athletes graduate, transfer or walk away from the game following the conclusion of each season, resulting in a process of gradual transformation that the Notre Dame offense must undertake during the current offseason.
Fortunately for the Irish, head coach Brian Kelly made the decision to return for his fourth season as head coach despite overtures from the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles.
It's Kelly's job to gel and mold an offense that fits the available talent on the roster for the 2013 season.
In what ways will it be different than the 2012 version?
The answers lie ahead.
5. New Leadership at Center
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One of Notre Dame's most underappreciated players of the past three seasons has been former starting center Braxston Cave.
Beginning in 2010, the local product—Cave graduated from Penn High School, which is roughly nine miles east of the Notre Dame campus—was the proverbial anchor of the Irish offensive line.
Mistakes were minimal for Cave, which was a direct result of the tireless effort of straining to be a leader.
His role as a veteran leader of the 2012 Irish took on added significance with a redshirt freshman quarterback taking the snaps.
How the Irish replace Cave remains a murky situation, as there doesn't appear to be a clear replacement at the present moment.
Regardless of who fills Cave's shoes, the Irish offensive line may experience some growing pains, even with three returning starters.
4. A New Backup Quarterback
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Perhaps lost amidst Notre Dame's participation in the BCS National Championship Game was the undeniable and authoritative assumption that Everett Golson will be the Irish's starting quarterback for the next three seasons, barring injury.
Yet, the backup quarterback job has no such clarity.
Tommy Rees, your 2011 starter, will battle former 5-star prospect Gunner Kiel for backup duties.
The winner of the duel likely won't be announced until the week leading up to the Irish's season-opening game against Temple on Aug. 31, but don't be surprised if Brian Kelly has, in the back of his mind, the thought of Kiel being his No. 2 quarterback.
So, should Golson be injured, or simply ineffective, Irish fans will see Kiel receive the first snaps of his career.
3. Youth at Running Back
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Next season, Notre Dame faces the challenge of replacing starting running back Theo Riddick, and it may have to replace Cierre Wood, should the Oxnard, Calif., native choose to forego his fifth season of eligibility and enter the NFL draft.
Replacing both Wood and Riddick is no small task, but, luckily, the Irish possess profound depth at the running back position.
George Atkinson III, Amir Carlisle, William Mahone and Cam McDaniel will vie for the starting job during spring practices and will be joined by incoming freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston in the fall, provided that the two sign their letters of intent next month.
None boast starting experience, though Atkinson is the most experienced of the bunch.
The starting running back may even prove to lack true substance, as Brian Kelly prefers to operate a three-man rotation at the position.
2. The Absence of Tyler Eifert
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Ever since Brian Kelly accepted the Notre Dame head coaching position in December 2009, he has had the luxury of a go-to threat in the vertical passing game.
Former Irish receiver and current Arizona Cardinal Michael Floyd and former tight end Tyler Eifert were lethal downfield weapons, causing opposing defenses headaches during their respective careers in South Bend.
As strange as it feels to type this, the Irish will be without a proven playmaking commodity in the vertical passing game.
That's not to say that a receiver or tight end on the roster couldn't assume that role this season—Ben Koyack and DaVaris Daniels are likely candidates—but waiting on the emergence of one will be stressful and trying.
1. A Steady, Unquestioned Starting Quarterback
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For the first time in the Brian Kelly era at Notre Dame, the Irish will not find themselves embroiled in another quarterback "controversy."
Gone are the days of Dayne Crist vs. Tommy Rees and Everett Golson vs. Tommy Rees.
The Irish now have their answer in Golson, the young, wily scrapper from Myrtle Beach, S.C.
In his first full season as Notre Dame's starting quarterback, a job that has been compared to president of the United States, Golson pieced together an 11-1 record—he missed the BYU game with post-concussion symptoms—that no person in America could have envisioned in the preseason.
Of course, Golson still has leaps and bounds of improvement to make, both physically and mentally, but make no mistake about it—Notre Dame has its answer at quarterback for the next three seasons.