The Maple Street Press Irish Kickoff Series: Part One (Offense)

Today the Maple Street Press Irish Kickoff 2011 preseason magazine lands in stores.

If you're serious about your Notre Dame football, then this magazine is for you. If you want an inside look at the Irish team, coaches, recruiting, and history that you won't find in any other preseason publication, you've found your go to publication.

It's the Maple Street Press Irish Kickoff 2011.

If you want to buy the MSP Irish Kickoff 2011, click here.

However, if you would like a free copy, the fine folks at Maple Street Press are willing to make that happen.

Here's the deal, if you leave a legitimate comment in response to this post or any subsequent posts from this series we will enter your name into a good old fashioned drawing for a free copy.

Sound good?

If that's not good enough, we have the first of a five part series speaking with the Maple Street Press Irish Kickoff 2011 editor Pat Mitsch.

Mitsch is a 1999 graduate of Notre Dame, was one of the writers for the Irish blog The Blue Gray Sky, and we're excited to have him be a part of this series.

Up first is a look at the Notre Dame offense for 2011:

OFD: Assuming Brian Kelly coaches at Notre Dame for another 5 years, will he own the majority of the school’s offensive records?

Mitsch: He definitely will make his mark on passing and receiving records, but I think we can all agree his teams likely won't be breaking too many of the long-standing rushing records. Come to think of it, some of the Weis-era passing records might be hard to beat if Kelly's teams are winning big and dial back the passing attack late in the game, like we saw in the last four games of 2010. Getting to bowl games consistently will help Kelly as those 13 games per season will give his players even more chances to pile up the season and career stats.

OFD: Generally speaking, how big of a leap forward do you think the Notre Dame offense will take in year two under Brian Kelly?

Mitsch: Well, it will all come down to the play of the eventual starting QB. As Clausen developed from shaky freshman to NFL-ready junior, the ND offense went from 119th to 65th to 8th. Last year with a rookie Crist and Rees, ND had the 61st best offense in the country (based on total yardage). I think a similar jump into the top 10 might be pushing it, but getting into Top 25 territory certainly sounds reasonable, depending of course on the season-long presence of one Mr. Floyd.

OFD: The Irish offensive line returns 4 starters, a fifth new starter who played significant minutes last season, and has plenty of depth behind the veterans. Is this the best offensive line in South Bend since 2005, or maybe even longer?

Mitsch: I have pretty high expectations for the 2011 offensive line. The complete lack of game experience for the backup tackles is a bit worrisome, but I agree the starting five are the best since the 2005 season. In many ways the '05 and '11 lines are built similarly. Athletic, budding star at left tackle (Ryan Harris, Zach Martin). Physical, 5th year senior at right tackle (Mark LeVoir, Taylor Dever). New starter at left guard (Dan Santucci, Chris Watt). Most veteran starter at right guard (Dan Stevenson, Trevor Robinson). Second-year starter at center (John Sullivan, Braxston Cave). Hopefully the ace up the sleeve for the 2011 line is the benefit from another off-season with Coach Longo.

OFD: There's been some chatter this offseason about using Theo Riddick in a manner similar to how Florida used Percy Harvin. How do you see Kelly utilizing Riddick this season and do you think he would be effective in a Harvin-type role?

Mitsch: My guess is that Kelly is going to try and move Riddick all over the field in order to exploit mismatches, including giving him the ball on end-arounds and reverses, but primarily he will be a slot receiver. The difference to me with what Harvin did for Florida was that Percy was their feature player and they moved him around to make it harder for opposing defenses to gameplan to stop him. I can see Kelly moving Riddick around to exploit weak points on defenses that will probably be keying on Michael Floyd and (hopefully) Cierre Wood, but probably not as much as Harvin moved around. I definitely think Riddick has the ability to excel as a multi-purpose threat as long as he can stay healthy though.

OFD: Is Notre Dame’s receiving corps good, very good, or elite with Michael Floyd in the lineup?

Mitsch: I'll say "very good". Floyd clearly is a 1st round talent, but right now his supporting cast isn't quite up to par with the Stovall/McKnight/Samardzija lineups of a few years ago (or even the Floyd/Tate lineup of '09). Riddick is a quality all-around threat and the incoming freshmen have plenty of promise, but guys like TJ Jones, John Goodman, and Robby Toma are effective role players and not the types that can still take over a game if needed, which I think is something that elite receiving corps have. If we throw in Tyler Eifert, that definitely makes the corps more dangerous though as he is in line for a great season in my opinion.

OFD: Many people feel that the Irish lack a quality second outside receiver with a big body to counter Michael Floyd on the other side of the field. Does incoming freshman Davaris Daniels ultimately become that guy or will his playing time remain somewhat conservative as the team uses a collection of TJ Jones, John Goodman, and Daniel Smith?

Mitsch: Daniels is exciting and I suspect he'll see time this year, but I think guys like Jones and Goodman will see much more time, at least for the first half of the season. Dan Smith is sort of the wildcard. He definitely has the size and his aggressive special teams play was encouraging, but missing most of the spring certainly slowed his development. I wouldn't be surprised to see Matthias Farley play a lot as the "freshman Golden Tate 2.0" who runs fly and go routes to try and stretch defenses and open things underneath for guys like Jones, Eifert, and Toma.

OFD: Many are worried about the depth chart at running back. Give us your thoughts on starting tailback Cierre Wood and whether you think the secondary carries will go primarily to Jonas Gray or more spread around to Cam McDaniel, George Atkinson, and Theo Riddick out of the wildcat.

Mitsch: My "throw it back in my face later" prediction for 2011 is that Wood will rush for 1,000 yards. His 82 yards/game average the last four games comes out to 987 total yards over a 12 game season and I suspect he's going to be even more effective coming into the season as the Day One starter. (Let's just hope he holds on to the ball all season long). As for his backup, it's tough to say. I think the lack of pass blocking experience might keep the freshmen on the bench for awhile, so hopefully Gray is ready to roll in his senior season. I'm not sure how much wildcat we might see, but another option, pun intended, is using someone like Everett Golson to try and generate a few series here and there with a lot more zone option read plays and shotgun draws.

OFD: Will there be any problems employing a multi-QB system, or is it a shrewd move by the coaching staff?

Mitsch: I'm not a big fan of the multi-QB system personally and think how Kelly works guys like Golson and Hendrix into a game is one of the biggest question marks of the season. As fun as it was to watch them run around in the Blue-Gold Game, it's another thing when it's MSU or USC's defense instead of our own backups and walk-ons. A few change of pace series here or there are fine, but much more than that and I might wonder why we can't trust our starting QB to get the job done.

OFD: Does anyone else besides Crist start a game in 2011 if Crist remains fully healthy all season?

Mitsch: My hope for the season is that Crist starts every game, but given the past two years it might not be a bad idea to wrap him in bubble wrap and foam for the Halloween weekend and let someone else play that weekend's game. Seriously though, I don't see any of the other guys overtaking him during the course of the season assuming he wins the starting job outright in fall camp.


OFD: Name an impact player who will enter the national spotlight and name the biggest impact freshman on offense in 2011.

Mitsch: Riddick is a dark-horse as national spotlight impact player, but I think Zach Martin will build on his great debut season and contend for some post-season honors after keeping the starting QB's jersey clean all season long. For the freshmen, I go back and forth between Farley and Atkinson. Both have the opportunity to see early playing time and plenty of talent. I'll cheat a bit and say Atkinson because of his impact on special teams as well.

Coming up in Part Two we'll talk about the defense...

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