Perhaps the first order of spring practice should be introductions.
After all, Everett Golson will need to get to know his wide receiving corps this spring. With DaVaris Daniels not returning to Notre Dame until the summer semester, Golson will be throwing to a veritable group of strangers.
So much has changed since Golson last took a snap for the Irish. With Daniels gone, nine of the top 10 pass-catchers from 2012 are off the roster, with Ben Koyack rounding out the list with a whopping three catches two seasons ago. In fact, the only wide receiver who has caught an actual pass from Golson on the roster this spring is Chris Brown, who hauled in a beauty for 50 yards against Oklahoma.
With expectations for Notre Dame's offense sky high, building a relationship between Golson and his young receiving corps is one of the most important objectives of spring practice. As Mike Denbrock coordinates the offense while still coaching the receivers, all eyes will be on this chemistry experiment taking place over 15 practice sessions.
The Irish coaching staff believe that the personnel at wide receiver is the strongest they've had since arriving in South Bend. But it's also the most unproven. As the Notre Dame offense begins its transition back to Kelly's hurry-up, spread roots, Golson and a group of youngsters will need to get on the same page quickly.
That's not to say it'll be difficult. Matching an athlete like Golson, who also possesses an arm capable of making any throw on the field, brings a very attractive element to this offense. For receivers Chris Brown and Will Fuller, the vertical passing game will only become more of a threat.
Fuller burst onto the scene with a team-leading 26.7 yards per catch last season, giving Golson a deep threat any time he's on the field. Even while Tommy Rees threw downfield more often than any other season with Kelly at the helm, Golson's arm—plus his playmaking ability—should open up the deep ball.
Seeing Golson's relationship develop with jump-ball specialist Corey Robinson should be interesting to track as well. After a promising freshman season, Robinson will work to expand the rising sophomore's route tree, adding some dimensions to a game that also shows plenty of promise.
After two consecutive subpar seasons in the red zone, utilizing Robinson's long frame and gigantic catch radius in the end zone will be key. With the Irish unable to force defenses to respect the quarterback run near the goal line, bringing back Golson, the team's leader in rushing touchdowns in 2012, should create problems for opponents.
If there's a silver lining to Troy Niklas' surprising departure to the NFL, the slot receiver position will take a step forward in the offense. The Irish just won't be able to play as many two-tight end sets without Niklas. That could open opportunities for C.J. Prosise, who got lost in the shuffle in 2013, as well as Torii Hunter Jr., who comes off of a redshirt season with many thinking he could fill the slot role immediately.
Notre Dame has searched high (6'4" Daniel Smith) and low (5'9" Robby Toma) at the Z receiver, but the Irish have yet to find success there. Even Theo Riddick struggled at the position before moving back to running back. But finally healthy after missing his freshman season due to a broken femur, Hunter has the perfect blend of athleticism, speed and quickness. If the Irish can get some production out of the duo of Hunter and Prosise, it will be an immediate boost to the offense.
Early enrollee Justin Brent joins James Onwualu as physically imposing receivers, rounding out a position that's all but been rebuilt over the past two recruiting cycles. Teamed with veteran Luke Massa, who Kelly announced was returning for a fifth year, Golson will get a chance to build new relationships with an entire depth chart before welcoming back Daniels over the summer.
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