When DaVaris Daniels rejoins the Notre Dame football program this summer, he might do a double take. Those clueless freshmen that were learning on the fly last year? They've become the heart of the wide receiving corps.
Daniels' academic sabbatical for the spring semester forced the young wide receiving corps to grow up quickly.
Sophomores Will Fuller and Corey Robinson picked up the slack this spring, emerging as key weapons in the Irish offense. Junior Chris Brown, who spent much of 2013 stuck in neutral, responded with a strong spring as well, understanding that he's now a veteran after two full seasons in the program.
With Daniels out for spring practice, the Irish receivers had caught a total of one pass from returning quarterback Everett Golson.
As such, spring was spent developing chemistry with Notre Dame's returning quarterback and laying the foundation for an offense that'll hopefully be the most explosive Irish attack of the Brian Kelly era.
To achieve that, Notre Dame will need to get production out of its rising sophomore class. While the 15 combined catches between Fuller and Robinson don't necessarily point to a breakout season, there's reason to be optimistic that the two wideouts will quickly become essential elements in the Irish passing attack.
Fuller and Robinson will catch more passes because there'll be more footballs to go around. TJ Jones served as the engine's offense last season, with his 70 catches and 1108 yards worthy of his MVP award. He's gone, as is tight end Troy Niklas.
Though Daniels will likely improve on his 49 catches, he's never been used as a high-percentage passing target, leaving some of the possession throws to the young duo.
Figuring out who is likelier to take over those touches will be interesting to track.
Fuller was used almost exclusively as a deep threat last season, and his 26.7 yards per catch give you an idea of his ability to get behind the defense. Adding some intermediate routes or quick patterns to his arsenal would get the football in the Philadelphia native's hands more frequently, allowing him to use his speed to break plays open.
If getting Fuller involved in the quick passing game makes sense, there might not be a better possession receiver on the Irish roster than Robinson.
IrishIllustrated.com's Douglas Farmer suggests that coaches raved about his catch radius last summer, and between highlight-reel catches and big plays against Michigan State and Air Force, Robinson can serve as both a matchup problem for opponents and a safety valve for Golson.
James Onwualu's departure from the receiving corps likely says something about Torii Hunter Jr.'s ability to contribute.
While his freshman season was lost as he recovered from a broken leg suffered at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Hunter impressed the staff during bowl preparation and earned some attention this spring as he stepped back into competition.
Finding snaps for Hunter might be tough, especially if he's an outside receiver, but the smooth athlete with good speed could allow the Irish offense to work four receivers downfield. A vertical passing attack was a staple in Kelly's Cincinnati offenses and emerged last season with Tommy Rees as well.
The future is bright for the Irish passing game, with all three young receivers showing the type of promise that makes Kelly and offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock very happy.
But with a young defense still finding its way, the offense needs to drive this team.
That hasn't happened yet under Kelly, who came to Notre Dame with the label of an offensive guru. If his young receiving corps can grow up quickly, an explosive Irish offense could be the thing that powers Notre Dame to a successful 2014.
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