The 2010 football season for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is going to be a very interesting one. Coming into the season, there are a lot of questions and storylines that fans can not wait to have answered.
How will Brian Kelly turn this program around? How successful will his spread offense be? What about the new defense? How well can Dayne Crist perform after his ACL tear?
There are obviously a lot of things going on right now in South Bend, but the one thing that is for sure is the talent on this year's team. Charlie Weis did have two straight top recruiting classes, and now those players are becoming juniors and seniors. It's time for the highly recruited players to finally make a name for themselves at Notre Dame.
That said, here is a complete low-down on Notre Dame's roster.
The starter this season will be a new face in Dayne Crist. Highly recruited out of high school, Crist was a long time friend of former quarterback Jimmy Clausen. And, after two years of studying under him, it's time for Crist to shine as the new "Golden Boy" of Notre Dame.
However, after his ACL tear last season, there are questions if his health will allow him to play up to his full potential. He has the size to play the quarterback position, being 6'4'' and 235 pounds. His mobility, though, is a key asset in the new spread offense that Brian Kelly brings to Notre Dame.
If Crist cannot perform well, this season will be a disaster. He has talent around him, which we will get to in a few seconds, but a lot of the weight is put on him. He has to perform well if the Fighting Irish are going to be a competitive team this season.
Armando Allen led the team last season with 697 yards, and will be the top runner for the Irish this season as well. Allen is a talented running back who has the speed to run inside and outside, and can catch the ball out of the backfield as well.
After him on the depth chart is bruiser Robert Hughes. You can always tell when he carries the ball, as the fans all over the stadium are yelling his name. Last season, he was also able to catch 19 passes out of the backfield, and will be a great talent to have as the number two running back behind Armando Allen.
Also watch out for sophomore Cierre Wood. After he was heavily recruited out of high school, Wood has the talent to be a number one running back in years to come. And, while he wasn't in at all last season, he will get a number of looks in his second year at Notre Dame.
Yes, Golden Tate is gone, but Michael Floyd, who was the most talented receiver on the roster last year in my opinion, returns after having a good sophomore year despite missing five games to an injury.
This off-season there is a lot of hype about what Floyd will do now that he is the number one receiver on the team. In the new spread offense, there's no doubt in my mind that he will be a target on a lot of plays and end up with well over 1,000 yards receiving at the end of the season.
Behind him, Duval Kamara will have to again step up to replace a star receiver. Kamara performed pretty well last season after Floyd went down by grabbing 23 passes for over 200 yards, but his performance will have to be even better this year after the loss of Golden Tate.
Also, another guy to watch out for is freshman Tai-ler Jones. Jones has amazing athletic ability to go with his quickness. In his first year, he will definitely be given a lot of looks as a receiver.
Finally, Kyle Rudolph at the tight end position will also be a key contributor. As the team's top NFL prospect, Rudolph has the size, speed, and hands to be a receiver in the spread offense. His 33 receptions landed him third on the team last year, but he will have an even bigger impact this season.
The offensive line this season could have a new look with this new coaching staff, but they will be a key part of this team. If there's not good protection, then Crist will have a rough first season like Clausen did. So, it's obviously very important to have a good line to protect him.
First off, the line returns two starters from last season in Trevor Robinson and Chris Stewart. Those two guys are going to be the leaders after Sam Young's departure and for good reason. Both of them obviously have starting experience and are the most talented blockers on the roster.
Braxston Cave will be the starting center this year after an impressive spring. Zach Martin will start at left tackle despite not being very big. While he is young and inexperienced, he was a highly sought after recruit and is very talented. Finally, Taylor Dever will have to try to fill Sam Young's shoes which will be a difficult task. He is a senior, so he has experience at Notre Dame and can be a veteran leader on this line.
Ian Williams will be the star of the line this season and will have a much bigger role because of the new 3-4 defense. While he has the NFL talent needed to be a great lineman, he has to start bringing more consistency to the field if this year's line is going be a good one.
Ethan Johnson will be on the outside of the three man line and will have to step up his game from last season. He showed some of his talent last year by grabbing four sacks, but he will have to be more involved in the running game this year as well.
Rounding out the line, junior Kapron Lewis-Moore has the potential to be a star player on defense and this is his time to shine. Last year, he managed to get 2.5 sacks as a 4-3 end but will take his new role this season with the 3-4. His performance in the running game needs to improve this year as well.
Manti Te'o will be the leader of the defense this season and perhaps the most talented player as well. After a decent freshman season, Te'o will only improve on that with a year of experience. He obviously has great potential and NFL talent that he will hopefully continue to show off as the season progresses.
Darius Fleming, the speedy linebacker, will start on the outside of the defense this season. Last season he had three sacks and that number will definitely improve this season with the new defensive scheme.
Brian Smith returns from a good 2009 campaign with 79 tackles and two interceptions. Smith comes back with a lot of expectations to be the veteran and experienced player of the linebackers. Expect a very good statistical season this year from him.
And, with four spots at linebacker this year, Anthony McDonald should be the one stepping into the new role. He is just another example of a highly recruited player who will have a chance to show that off this season.
Senior Gary Gray has the experience and talent to be the leader of this secondary if he can finally break through. As one of the most sought after corners in his class, he really hasn't done enough to back up that hype. This will be his final chance if he plans to do something big in South Bend.
Like the rest of the defense, Darrin Walls has the talent and potential to be a star. I almost feel like a broken record right now because a lot of this is the same stuff. Walls was again a very talented player coming to Notre Dame, but just hasn't really shown it yet. As a senior, this will also be his last chance to do something big.
At strong safety will be Jamoris Slaughter who will try to replace a very good safety in Kyle McCarthy. Slaughter has the speed to be a player like McCarthy and cover a lot of ground to defend passes through the air and on the ground.
Harrison Smith, like Gray and like Walls is another talented high school prospect with a lot to prove. He will be the starting free safety this season and his physicality should make him a good one. He finished third on the team last year with 69 tackles, but expect that number to improve this season. He has great athletic ability and should have a good season this year.