It's never easy replacing All-American production.
It's also never easy replacing the production of the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner. But in 2010, Brian Kelly will have to do both in year one on the job.
Golden Tate, the best receiver in all of college football in 2009, left school a year early in order to become the 60th overall pick in the draft by the Seattle Seahawks. While many say Tate may have benefited from one more year in South Bend, the change of scenery was too much at the end of the day, and he kept his name in the draft.
Now that Tate is gone, along with his quarterback Jimmy Clausen, some big shoes are left to be filled by the receivers who once learned under the record-setting receiver. It may not come from a single player, but the production will have to be accounted for if the Irish offense looks to repeat its performance from last year.
Luckily for Kelly, he inherits a depth chart full of young, elite talent at this position.
Michael Floyd, Junior
The obvious choice to replace his former teammate's numbers, all Floyd needs to do is stay healthy in order to surpass Tate's records. Before breaking his collarbone in '09, Floyd showed that he is one of the best receivers in the country.
Only a junior, the future holds some special things for No. 3. In the newly-installed "Kelly-Spread" offense, passes will come in plenty towards the clear No. 1 receiver for the Irish. When the time comes for the College Football Award ceremony, don't be surprised if another receiver in the Blue and Gold takes home the Biletnikoff for the second year in a row.
Kyle Rudolph, Junior
Rudolph is the best tight end in the country. He may not have the stats to show it up just yet, but playing alongside Tate and Floyd his first two seasons helped push him back into the shadow.
One of the biggest red-zone threats in all of college football, Rudolph may have only one season left in the Bend due to his talents. He is already being projected as a future first-round pick in the 2011 draft. If he can take pressure off the outside receivers, and own the middle of the field single-handily, the Irish offense will be golden once again.
Theo Riddick, Sophomore
After displaying his freak athleticism and cut-back skills as a running back his freshman year, Kelly knew he needed to get Riddick more touches in year two. Because of the crowded backfield situation, he moved the sophomore to the receiver group, where he will play in the slot as a speedy, game-changing weapon for quarterback Dayne Crist.
His elite speed and quickness allow him to make defenders miss without a problem. The question on Riddick is how well he will adapt to his new position this fall. In the mold of Tate, will he become the next great athlete for the Irish? Your guess is as good as mine, but reports thus far are raving about Riddick.
Duval Kumara, Senior
A highly-recruited receiver out of New Jersey, Kumara's career started high and has dwindled down ever since. A tall, physical specimen, he never seemed to put all the pieces together in order to reach the upper-tier of the nation's receivers.
After being a disappointment the past two seasons, look for Kumara to play a bigger role now that Tate is gone.
If Floyd and Kyle Rudolph get double-teamed, he will be the go-to guy in the red zone, due to his height and ball skills. It may not be what fans had expected of him for his senior season, but Kumara will be a valuable piece to the offense if he can move the chains and get the job done in the red zone.
Tai-ler Jones, Freshman
Depending on his frame, Jones will push for a starting job right away in year one of his Notre Dame career. Listed around 6'0", he has all of the speed and route-running skills you could ask of an 18-year-old. If he can add on a few pounds before Week One, expect him to see the field early and often.
Kelly has been quoted praising Jones pretty highly. He won't be afraid to put Jones on the field as a freshman if he thinks he is ready. The former 4-star recruit could play a vital role in filling Tate's shoes in 2010.
Shaquelle Evans, Sophomore
The sophomore receiver of out California had offers from almost every school in the country during his recruitment. After seeing the field early and often during his freshman campaign, many believe that Evans found the Weis doghouse, seeing little playing time for the better half of the season.
However, Kelly will offer Evans a fresh start. He is a very talented, and quick, receiver. If given the chance, he will produce. Learning under Floyd and the other upperclassmen should help Evans mature quickly and effectively, lining him up for a role-player setting in 2010 and a game-changer in 2011.