Cierre Wood leads a strong skill position group. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Just over two weeks to go until the season starts Irish fans. So far we've looked at the depth chart on the offensive line so click below if you missed the first installment.
Today we look at the rest of the offense outside of the quarterbacks who will be profiled later this month once we have a better idea who the starter will be, or once we in fact know who the starter will be.
Like in many years, there is a lot of potential among the skill positions on the Notre Dame roster.
Can some of the young players step up and make up for the loss of Michael Floyd? Well, the coaching staff sure is hoping so and I'm sure you are too. Let's take a look at the players at each position.
Tyler Eifert, Senior*, 6'6" 251
Ben Koyack, Sophomore, 6'5" 253
Troy Niklas, Sophomore, 6'7" 260
Jake Golic, Senior*, 6'4" 245
Alex Welch, Junior*, 6'4" 250 (injured)
This unit lost Welch to a torn ACL last week but the depth is still solid and Coach Kelly said as much during his press conference this past Saturday.
A safe projection may be to have Eifert getting half of his snaps at the W receiver position (see below) so that will open up the playing time for Koyack and Niklas in more traditional tight end roles.
Koyack has been firmly entrenched as the backup, but after a slow start to camp Troy Niklas is really coming on strong. If both can raise their level of blocking this unit could be outstanding because you know a lot of balls are going to be caught.
Running Back/Slot Receiver
Cierre Wood, Senior*, 6'0" 215
Theo Riddick, Senior, 5'11" 200
George Atkinson, Sophomore, 6'1" 210
Robby Toma, Senior, 5'9" 185
Davonte Neal, Freshman, 5'9" 171
Amir Carlisle, Sophomore, 5'10" 185
Will Mahone, Freshman, 5'10" 211
This "new" hybrid position is going to draw a lot of attention early in the season, as there a lot of question marks surrounding just how versatile athletes like Riddick and Atkinson are going to be. There's no doubt we'll see Riddick and GA3 in the slot and motioning out as receivers, but are we talking 50% of their snaps or a more conservative 15%?
It's a tricky proposition and a challenge for the coaches: If you move Riddick to the slot on one play, you might have to take Toma or Neal off the field.
We should see Cierre Wood as the most traditional running back of the bunch, with Riddick as his primary backup. If the team goes to 4-wide sets, Riddick is likely to go to receiver. Ditto for Atkinson, who should get ample opportunities to see the field in a hybrid role.
Toma and Neal give the team a great 1-2 punch at the slot, and although they are practicing with the running backs I don't expect them to motion into the backfield. These two should be exclusively route runners with the occasional jet sweep or reverse for Neal.
Unless Carlisle really turns it on over the next couple of weeks, it appears he won't be 100% healthy both physically and mentally from ankle surgery. He's still missing practice time with swelling and flare ups, and the redshirt meter is pointing towards "likely" as we inch closer to game one. Yet, the staff may want to get his feet wet by October and have him fully ready to play a lot in 2013 if Wood leaves for the NFL---tough decisions are afoot.
Mahone has been impressing during camp with his size and quickness, but there's no reason for him to play this year. Hopefully he stays healthy and does a lot of learning this year.
TJ Jones, Junior, 5'11" 190
DaVaris Daniels, Sophomore*, 6'2" 190
Chris Brown, Freshman, 6'2" 172
I'm so conflicted with the leaders at the top of the depth chart on the two outside positions. But on the bright side, look at the size with these two groups---it's not quite a bunch of Samardzija and Stovall's, but there's some good height to work with.
Unfortunately, TJ Jones is the smallest and he's almost a lock to start the season---and he's probably going to play more than any other receiver too. Not that this is a bad thing per se, but I've never been comfortable believing Jones could be a good outside receiver when he seems so well suited for the slot. Hopefully he improves his toughness, has great chemistry with a new quarterback and morphs into a great possession receiver, because that's the ceiling I see for him---almost exclusively quick outs, shallow crosses, and comeback routes.
Behind Jones, these two youngsters have to play. I might even say they have to play a lot.
Both Daniels and Brown offer NFL skill-sets and sorely need down field playmaking ability. I'd bet they start out slowly but we'll be seeing a lot of both by the end of the year.
John Goodman, Senior, 6'3" 215
Daniel Smith, Junior, 6'4" 215
Justin Ferguson, Freshman, 6'2" 196
Luke Massa, Junior*, 6'4" 225 (injured)
There are believers that Goodman is going to have a great final season in South Bend, and there are non-believers. I'm still in the latter category---I'm not holding my breath. He's going to have Eifert cutting into his playing time as it is, we'll see if he can step up and be a true starter on the outside.
Daniel Smith is still a mystery and I'm not sure how realistic it is that he'll be stepping on the field a whole lot in 2012. If I had to guess, he's probably going to be running no better than 5th among the outside receivers in playing time behind Jones, Goodman, Daniels, and Brown---does that get him meaningful snaps?
Also, if you're going under the assumption (as I am) that Jones is the most trusted outside receiver, then won't Daniels and Brown see some time at the W position on the boundary side? If it were up to me, I'd keep Jones out there much more than Goodman, and feed more playing time to the youngsters at the W position. This also may allow Eifert to stay on the line, and allow yet another playmaker on the field.
Ferguson will be an interesting player to keep an eye on through fall and the first few games. There's only 8 healthy receivers on the team, and by all accounts he's been doing well in practice, but it could be a while before Ferguson sees the field. I bet the decision to play him versus redshirt is going to be an awfully hard one for the coaches.
Kelly has been very reluctant to play a lot of receivers but he continues to stress that he wants 8 guys in the rotation. Is this the year we finally see a bunch of new and talented blood making its mark catching the ball?