Irish Blogger Gathering: Let's Get Offensive

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Irish Blogger Gathering: Let's Get Offensive

Another edition of the Irish Blogger Gathering is making the rounds, and now it is time for One Foot Down to put in its two cents.

Enjoy.

First, before officially shifting focus to what matters most, let’s take a moment to offer a way too early evaluation of Team Kelly’s recruiting efforts. They’ve got verbals from some highly touted prospects (Hegarty, Koyack, Prestwood) and are in the hunt for quite a few more (Aaron Lynch, George Atkinson, Justice Hayes), but it seems like this class lacks the flair and star power of Charlie Weis’s classes. We’re not even in the hunt for a Rivals five-star rated prospect and we’ve already taken as many three stars as the 2007 and 2008 classes combined. Sure, Kelly can transform two stars into seven stars, but the numbers of the last 10 years don’t lie—championships are won with teams chock full of four- and five-star talent. Are you at least a little worried at this point or still in the RKG Honeymoon period?

It’s far too early to be worried about Kelly’s recruiting, especially given what he’s accomplished in the past six months, securing the 2010 class and building for the future. I mean, are we really going to complain that the 2011 class is only eighth in the country instead of first or second?

I have little doubt that Kelly will be able to recruit some of the best players in the country on offense. His proven history of coaching offensive juggernauts coupled with the talent he has to work with for the next two to three years is a signal to me that plenty of playmakers in high school will want to come to South Bend.

I’m a little more apprehensive on defense, where I think Kelly will have to really beef up the secondary and defensive end positions. But again, it will take time, because there aren’t four or five elite defenders coming in the next year. I think we’ll have to be happy or content with two, or maybe three future impact players in this class on that side of the ball.  

For the most part, the defense we’ll see next year is the one we’ll see in 2011, so it won’t be until 2012 when Notre Dame will really need an infusion of new prime-time starters.

I’ve got a lot of trust in Kelly, even though he’s never coached a game and has only been on the job for a mere seven months. His coaching past and proven record as someone who is able to develop players are the most important things. But maybe just as important to recruiting, Kelly has all of those little intangibles that are bringing him a ton of comparisons to Lou Holtz and other successful college coaches.

Charlie Weis recruited really well, but he didn’t have a leg to stand on besides his NFL pedigree. And he pales in comparison to what Kelly brings to the table in just about every other category you can think of when it comes to selling recruits about Notre Dame.

I think this is why I’m not worried.

It suddenly feels like someone with complete confidence and experience is in control.

And maybe most importantly, we’ve learned that the Notre Dame brand is still a big player out there across the country.

I’m pretty certain the Charlie Weis era proved this.

Weis was full of false bravado and had little experience or anything to sell recruits other than his NFL pedigree and development of quarterbacks.

Yet, Weis still brought in a handful of tremendous classes, including defenders like Te’o, Fleming, Filer, and Stockton, all players who probably weren’t as wooed by the head coach’s NFL connections as Clausen and Floyd.

I still maintain that we’ll see Kelly recruit at or above the levels that Weis did for the past five years. I’d bet on the latter.

The Irish switch from a pro-style offense to the spread this season. We saw it unveiled in the spring game and it is (understandably) a work in progress. That being said, the Irish have a veritable bevy of talent, size, and speed at the skill positions. In general, what’s your take on the switch to the spread, and how high or low should expectations for the offense be going into the year?

I was a little skeptical about the spread offense at first, but that was only because of my lack of knowledge about the system. Now that I’ve had the chance to see the specific type of offense that Kelly will employ, I have to say I’m pretty excited.

So, it’s no surprise that I’m saying expectations should be pretty high.

Crist’s knee injury and lack of experience are worrisome, but there are just too many weapons to work with, and I can’t see a Kelly offense sputtering at Notre Dame when it was lights out from day one at Cincinnati.

There are worries that it will take the players awhile to get comfortable in the system, but I think the rest of our opponents will be scrambling to defend the Irish attack early in the season and the ability to move the ball equally on the ground and through the air is going to surprise a lot of people.

There will probably be a little bit more turnovers than last year, but there should be better balance, more points scored and a better red zone offense. Those were three areas where the 2009 Irish failed quite frequently, and even though we may not have a quarterback and wide receivers with All-American numbers (better balance!), I think that we’ll see a very effective offense.

Three-year starting quarterback Jimmy Clausen has loaded his mom, dad, and free-loading brothers into the family stretch Hummer and taken off for the greener pastures of professional football. Dayne Crist is tasked with stepping into the big, 28 TD, 7:1 TD to INT ratio shoes Jimmy leaves behind. How are you feeling about him taking the reins to Kelly’s vaunted spread offense? Do you see there being a significant drop-off with the Great Dayne at the helm or is he going to come out guns a-blazin’ a la Brady Quinn in 2005?

Continuing the theme from above, I think Dayne will have a very successful season, but not quite up to the standards set by Quinn in 2005 and Clausen last year.

Again, the knee is a concern, but I’ll take the optimist’s road and be thankful that Crist didn’t tear more ligaments than he did. With the amount of time he has had to heal, I believe he will be close to 100 percent by September. I also think he has the mental toughness and leadership to be able to fight back the concerns about another injury and just go out there and make plays.

It’s tough to look at what Mauk did in Kelly’s first year at Cincinnati, or what every quarterback has done for Kelly the past five years, and think that Crist will be struggling to throw for 200 yards a game and getting the ball to his playmakers.

Crist is way too good for that to happen. I think he’ll easily eclipse 3,000 passing yards and throw at least 20 touchdowns, if not a lot more. I am prepared for at least a dozen interceptions, though.

When a new coach takes over, there tend to be a couple of players that haven’t seen any significant playing time (or at least haven’t made an impact) that unexpectedly emerge as major contributors (see: Samardzija, Jeff in 2005). There are plenty of candidates on the offensive side of the ball, but you’re only allowed to pick one horse in this derby. Who’s it going to be?

The consensus around the Irish blogging community seems to be John Goodman as this guy, and that really isn’t too surprising. He’s a big athletic white kid from Indiana and is right at that stage in most players’ careers where they have a breakout season.

He’s the veritable “People’s Champ” when it comes to players that the majority of Irish fans really want to see breakout.

When I think about Goodman, I think about his few catches last year where he went out of bounds too easily instead of fighting for more yards up field. Then I think about his relatively impressive day against USC. Then I think about his touchdown catch against Washington State. But then I’m reminded that he was all but invisible during the spring game.

I keep hearing about Goodman’s incredible skill set, and I’m not saying he doesn’t have one, but I’ve yet to see it to the point where I’d label him a likely major contributor in 2010.

Not with the depth and other talented young men at receiver.

Which leads me to my pick…and that is Mike Ragone, if he’s still considered a candidate for major breakout status.

I know, I know, a big spring game usually means nothing when the season rolls around, but I think Kelly has plans to use Ragone quite frequently, and why not?

We should see him in a traditional tight end role, or wreaking havoc as an H-back, and we might even see Ragone split out wide from time to time like Rudolph is expected to.

In short, Ragone has all the tools to break out and have a major role in this year’s offense.

Heck, he’d be starting at 100 other schools across the country is he wasn’t at Notre Dame and behind Rudolph. I think we may see 25 or 30 receptions and a few touchdowns from Mr. Ragone.

It’s preseason which means it’s appropriate for all college football fans to bathe in Kool-Aid and allow themselves to dream of invading Glendale, Arizona this January en route to claiming a national championship. Tears of joy will be shed, flights will be missed, and days–if not weeks–of “sick” leave from work will be utilized. I want that more than that weird, fat lady in Napoleon Dynamite wanted that model ship. What needs to happen this season on the offensive side of the ball for this dream to become reality?

As long as Crist stays healthy, Notre Dame will have a national championship caliber offense. You can believe that.

Kelly’s track record is undeniable and the talent is as good as it’s been since the early 1990’s. Seriously, when was the last time Notre Dame had a five-star quarterback, four legitimate starting running backs, a receiving corps that could go eight deep and two of the best tight ends in the country?

It’s the other side of the ball that needs more work.

***BONUS*** The arrival of college football means the arrival of perhaps the greatest American pastime: Tailgating. The assumption is that you’re going to be heading to at least one game in the Bend this year which means you’ll have at least one opportunity to tailgate your face off. What home games are you planning on attending, where do you normally tailgate when you’re out for a game, what’s your typical tailgate like (we're talking a great spread and a selection of imported beverages or a pack of Bubba burgers and about 20-30 racks of Natty?), and are you inviting your loyal readers?

I made the trip to campus for a game in 2008 for the first time and followed that up with another last season. Clearly, I am no Notre Dame tailgating connoisseur.

My first trip consisted of mainly walking around all morning and afternoon until a friend of a friend took us through the main parking lots and gave us a few beers to enjoy. Being new to everything, my group had parked in a side lot on the west side of campus (illegal, I think) and we left the cooler full of booze in the trunk and never trekked back to get it.

Being used to Buffalo Bills games, watching the Irish faithful go at it was shocking in its classy demeanor and festive spirit. We had walked through the parking lot a few hours earlier and no one was there, and when we returned it look like people had brought their living rooms and backyards with them. Truly incredible.

My second visit, we had yet another Notre Dame virgin, so we did a lot of the same things, except we parked in one of the fields to the north of the stadium and drank cold beers in between two walks into the campus for some food.

The whole atmosphere was much more subdued and laid back, almost to a fault. The whole day did not have a good vibe to it. And yes, this was the loss to Navy.

I am looking forward to coming back for another game this year, but I am not sure which one it will be. Now that I’ve got a couple visits under my belt, I plan on going at it like a pro in the future. If anyone has any tips or hot spots, holler at me.

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This article was originally published at One Foot Down.

One Foot Down: All Things College Football.

http://onefootdown.fantake.com/

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