Notre Dame Football: Five Players Who Will Flourish Under Brian Kelly

Pierce O'LearyContributor IAugust 23, 2010

SOUTH BEND, IN - DECEMBER 11: Brian Kelly speaks to the media at a news conference after being named new football head coach at Notre Dame University on December 11, 2009 in South Bend, Indiana.  Kelly most recently led the University of Cincinnati to two consecutive Bowl Championship Series appearances including a perfect 12-0 record this past season. (Photo by Frank Polich/Getty Images)
Frank Polich/Getty Images

Charlie Weis’ tenure as Head Coach of the Irish was an interesting one filled with ups and downs, but mostly downs. Downs such as devastating loses to Navy and not once beating USC during his time as Head Coach, but now it’s a new era. New Head Coach Brian Kelly was hired after rebuilding programs such as Central Michigan and most recently Cincinnati which he led to back to back Big East Championships. Kelly preaches strength and conditioning which should help the Irish late in games and late in the season, two areas in which they struggled during Weis’ tenure. This list will focus on five offensive players who for whatever reason found Coach Weis’ doghouse or weren’t given any playing time that will be key players for the Irish this season.

Jonas Gray: Gray is a talented Running-back that Coach Weis recruited out of the state of Michigan. Gray is entering his junior season for the Irish and has seen decent playing time in his two prior seasons. Gray saw his playing time reduced by Weis’ because of his issues when it comes to holding on to the football. All indications are that Gray has solved that problem and is displaying freakish speed during camp. Gray ran for 119 yards last season on 34 carries, look for him to drastically improve those totals and battle for many carries in a crowded Irish backfield.

Shaq Evans: Evans is a sophomore Wide Receiver that Weis’ recruited out of California known for his ability to make big plays. Evans saw action in each of the first five games of the season as well as versus Washington State. For unknown reasons Evans didn’t see the field in the last 4 games of the season, it’s rumored Evans was unhappy with the amount of touches he was getting and he had words with Weis’ leading to his cut in playing time. Evans had 7 receptions for 61 yards last season. Look for him to have a very productive year as likely the number two wide receiver behind Michael Floyd.

Mike Ragone: Ragone is a Senior Tight End from the state of New Jersey that was a very highly ranked recruit. Ragone played in all 12 of Notre Dame’s games but got limited touches and was used more heavily on Special Teams. Ragone missed all of his sophomore season due to injury which will likely lead to him receiving a medical exemption for another year. Ragone caught 6 passes for 60 yards last season. It doesn’t help Ragone’s numbers to be behind arguably the best Tight End in the nation in Kyle Rudolph but under Coach Kelly’s system Ragone should at least double his reception output from last season as Kelly likes to spread the ball around.

Theo Riddick: Riddick is a sophomore who played high school in New Jersey. Riddick is known for his quickness and elusiveness that allows him to make big plays. Riddick has completed the move from Running Back to Wide Receiver and should start in the slot position of Kelly’s offence. Riddick played in all 12 games last season but that was due to the fact he returned kicks, a duty that has now been given to Cierre Wood. Riddick ran for 160 yards on 29 carries and caught 6 passes for 43 yards. Look for Riddick to catch in the neighborhood of 50 passes and make many big plays for the Irish this year.

John Goodman: Goodman is a redshirt sophomore from Indiana who can use his speed to make big plays. Goodman played in 9 games last season catching 6 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown. Goodman also returned 5 punts for 56 yards, good for a stellar 11.2 average. Goodman has very good chemistry with Quarterback Dayne Crist and the two could combine for many big plays this season. Although Goodman likely won’t start at Wide Receiver he should be one of Coach Kelly’s first options off the bench and he should also see time in 5 wide sets. Look for Goodman to catch around 20 balls this season for a good amount of yards as well as factoring in to the return game a bit.

Just missed the Cut:

Cierre Wood: Wood is a redshirt freshman from California who thanks to his big play speed will be returning kickoffs this season. Wood is a super talented back who will push for carries but the backfield may be too crowded for Wood to be one of the top options, though he has the potential to do so this year.

Deion Walker: Walker is a junior from Virginia who didn’t see any action in his freshman season but played in 5 games in his sophomore year catching 1 pass for 15 yards. Walker will have to battle for playing time with other talented Wide Receivers. Although Walker should factor in to the Irish offence this season he might be a year away from being a big time player in it.

Duval Kumara: Given every opportunity by Coach Weis the senior from New Jersey just can’t seem to step up to be the a top Wide Out like everyone had hoped. Kumara played in all 12 games last season catching 23 passes for 218 yards and a TD. Kumara has already been in some trouble with Coach Kelly over his work ethic and every indication is he has been passed on the depth chart by Shaq Evans as well as freshman standout TJ Jones.