While the Notre Dame Fighting Irish faithful have been awaiting the anticipated return of star receiver Michael Floyd to the Notre Dame roster for the 2011 football season after his run-in with law enforcement, Brian Kelly recently made it apparent that nothing is guaranteed.
The second-year head coach said Floyd would return for a full season or not play at all. Such an ultimatum by a primetime coach is comforting in terms of disciplinary courage, especially in a dark age of college football characterized by humiliating scandals that have plagued several major programs around the country.
But the mere thought of a Floyd-less season can make any Notre Dame fan seem a bit anxious. Fortunately, there are several playmakers on the offensive side of the ball prepared to fill the large gap left by the senior receiver if the worst case scenario becomes reality.
Here are five of those players.
After seeing very limited play in the first half of the season while playing behind Kyle Rudolph, Eifert burst onto the scene in convincing fashion when Rudolph went down with a hamstring injury in early October.
Eifert was instrumental in a victory over Army, hauling in four catches for 78 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tommy Rees. With the departure of Rudolph to the NFL, Eifert will be able to comprehend more of Brian Kelly’s complex spread offense in the offseason. The junior should only become more dominant as the season progresses, and Eifert will continue the recent trend of outstanding Irish tight ends.
Although Riddick was moved to wide receiver in his sophomore season after returning kicks and seeing limited time as a tailback in 2009, the junior receiver is one of the fastest players on the Irish offense. His speed and quickness should make him a threat in the slot.
Riddick’s performance in the Michigan State game last season gave Irish fans a glimpse of his true capabilities. On the road in East Lansing, Riddick was able to amass 128 yards receiving on 10 catches and a touchdown, despite the heartbreaking loss to Sparty in overtime.
In the absence of Floyd, Riddick could see many more balls thrown his way.
As a senior at Gainesville High School, Jones caught 76 passes for 1,399 yards and 18 touchdowns. A highly sought-after recruit, he chose to claim South Bend as his residency beginning with the 2010 season.
In his first collegiate game, Jones caught a touchdown pass en route to an Irish victory over Purdue in Week 1. As a freshman, Jones was not dominant, but productive enough to give Irish fans hope for the future, averaging 13.3 yards per catch, as he accumulated 303 yards receiving with three touchdowns.
Over the course of the next few seasons, Jones will certainly become more comfortable with the BK offense and will be much more involved, especially if key players such as Floyd are not able to play.
And an additional bonus: Jones’ father Andre Jones played on the 1988 Notre Dame National Championship squad. Like father, like son?
Up to this point, Jonas Gray’s career has been a relative disappointment, especially considering the hype surrounding him when he arrived in South Bend as a freshman.
As a high school senior at Detroit Country Day, Gray averaged more than seven yards per carry and scored 32 times on the ground. In three seasons in uniform for the Irish, Gray has yet to cross the goal line.
Hopefully that will change this season for the senior running back, as Notre Dame lacks considerable depth at his position for the first time in his collegiate career. Although junior Cierre Wood will more than likely be placed ahead of him on the depth chart, Gray should see a substantial boost in playing time in 2011.
If so, he will be instrumental in establishing an effective ground game as a complementary addition to his younger counterpart.
Those who braved the inclement weather during the Blue-Gold Spring Game in mid-April (such as myself) were given a small dose of the future of Notre Dame football.
And I think I can speak for everyone when I say I’m already addicted.
Described as a dual-threat quarterback, Golson showed he is able to make plays even as an early enrollee who has yet to fully absorb the intricacies of the Irish offense.
In the Blue-Gold Game, Golson ran for 62 yards, including an exciting 23-yard scamper where he evaded oncoming rushers and dodged defenders in the open field, which showcased his agility and quickness. Although he connected on only 50 percent of his passes, Golson was the only Irish quarterback to throw a touchdown during the game; a perfectly placed ball on a fade route to John Goodman in the corner of the end zone.
It is difficult to see where Golson will fit into the offense during his first season given the return of both Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees, but Kelly will undoubtedly fit him into the offense in one form or another, which can only be beneficial for the Irish.