One of the biggest disappointments for the Notre Dame season was Davonte' Neal. He had one of the brightest names of the Irish 2012 recruiting class, and his skill set that he brought to the table had many in South Bend excited for the expectations.
But instead of him giving Irish fans something to hold onto, Neal finished the year with one reception and 21 punt returns. With a combined 46 yards on all of those returns, the freshman spent much of his first year on campus calling fair catches.
Probably the biggest thing he is known for at the moment is when he failed to show up to his recruiting announcement, leaving many wondering if they were being Punk'd.
Things didn't go the way Neal had planned and Irish supporters likely have lowered their expectations for the former four star recruit.
If you are one that doesn't know quite what to expect at this point, you should still be high on this kid. Heading into spring practice, he should finally provide that spark that this offense desperately needed a season ago.
Regardless of what last season showed, Neal still is one of the more talented skill position players on this Notre Dame roster. Not big at all at 5'9", he has the combination of pure speed and acceleration that this offense needs. The Irish need that guy who can help stretch the field and make things difficult for the opposing defense. Better yet, they need that guy who can make plays after the catch and make things easier on the young quarterbacks.
Neal can do both of those things.
This is a playmaker with the ball in his hands. He gets off the line quickly, does a good job of weaving in between traffic and he is able to hit another gear once he passes all of the defenders.
He is quick in and out of his cuts, can change direction in no time and it is goodnight once he gets you on an island in the open field. Notre Dame made the mistake of not drawing plays up for this kid last season; they won't do it again heading into this year.
Every offense needs playmakers and the Irish don't have many to choose from at the moment. Sure, TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels made a fair amount of chunk yardage plays, but none of those guys are keeping defensive coordinators up at night.
The players that force coaching staffs to scratch their head are the ones who can burn you the second you aren't paying attention. The minute the safety creeps up, he blows by the defense and hits you with a 70-yard bomb. Neal has the ability to be that guy this season.
Even last year, Tyler Eifert, who is going to be a high draft pick in this year’s NFL draft, wasn't as effective as he could have been a year ago. His production dipped in 2012 being the No. 1 target within the offense and having defenses focus in on him. When Michael Floyd was on the team back in 2011, Eifert had 13 more receptions, 145 more yards, and one more touchdown than last year.
This isn't to say that Neal is the same caliber as Floyd, but his speed and ability to stretch the field will make everybody around him better. Defenses will no longer be able to crowd the box and dare the Irish to throw the ball deep. With Neal playing the slot receiver position, coach’s better respect the deep pass or they could be in trouble.
Neal will likely never be a true No. 1 wide receiver. He doesn't have the frame to play the outside and he isn't going to be winning many jump balls with corners that are much bigger than he is. However, he is in the perfect position to thrive in this offense and do his part. He brings a lot of things to the table and his teammates around him should benefit because of it.
It may have taken a little longer than expected, but Neal will prove to be a big pickup for the Irish. And it will start with a breakout performance this spring.