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2011 Blue-Gold Game Primer

We’re only a few days away from the 82nd edition of the annual Blue-Gold spring football game at Notre Dame. Before we take a look at the scrimmage here are some news and notes from practice:

-Tyler Stockton and Daniel Smith were not in pads for practice today but did participate in warmups.

-Anthony McDonald was seen in a shoulder brace protecting his surgically repaired pectoral muscle.

-Chris Watt still had his soft cast on, but it is scheduled to be removed later today.

-Brian Kelly has said Watt, Daniel Smith, and Te'o are unlikely to play in the Blue-Gold Game.

-TJ Jones is nicked up but will play on Saturday.

-The offensive linemen will be wearing green jerseys for the scrimmage, while everyone else will be broken up by blue and gold.*

*Why doesn't the whole team just wear simple practice jerseys for the spring game? I always thought it looked silly to have some players in full regular season uniforms and others in practice gear.

-No word on what this year's version of "The Shirt" will look like, but Kelly said we should love it. I'm still thinking they might unveil the Michigan game throwbacks on Friday too, but that's just me.

-And lastly, Brian Kelly will be miked up for the B-G game on Versus.

Now for the spring game primer:

*Normally I wouldn't consider staying home if I had the chance to watch football inside Notre Dame Stadium, it's just something you don't turn down.

But with the weather likely uncooperative and the game being televised nationally for the first time ever, I think this might be one of those times to stay home.

It will be interesting to see how Versus handles the broadcast and it should be nice to see some other "voices" working inside the House that Rock built other than the usual NBC drones.

I wouldn't expect a seamless broadcast (spring games naturally don't allow this) but it should give us a slightly different perspective or take on Notre Dame football than we are used to.

I have been trying to figure out who the announcers will be, but can't find any information. Has anyone figured this out? It won't be Tom Hammond, right? Please God no...

*Of course everyone will be watching the quarterbacks like hawks and I will be no different. Coach Kelly said today that Crist and Rees won't get that many reps and the scrimmage will all be about Hendrix and Golson, so get ready for some mobility!

We'll have much more debate about the signal callers after the game, but here is what I'm looking for from each of the quarterbacks:

Crist- Since he's healthy and will be wearing a red jersey I won't say mobility although his movement in the pocket will be important. For me, I want to see improved accuracy on the short-to-medium throws.

Long range accuracy is less important right now because that is something most quarterbacks struggle with. I want to be able to come away from this game knowing that Crist is more comfortable in the system and can make all of the throws that someone with his age and experience should make.

That means being on the money on screen passes, slants, and any route under 15 yards. These are the types of throws that Rees excels at and the type that Crist somewhat struggled with last year, so he needs to make a statement here.

Completing the passes isn't good enough. He shouldn't make the receivers reach back, or jump...put the ball right on the money!

Rees- I'm honestly not sure what I expect from Rees because everyone is in such an agreement over his physical limitations. He's completely healthy but will wear a red jersey and won't run the ball, so that's out of the picture and likely always will be.

I guess I'd like to see some sort of ability to drive the ball down the field with authority. It should be intriguing to see how he gels with his receivers and without Michael Floyd to throw the ball to every other play.

I suspect we're going to see a really good statistical game from Rees, but still that same old feeling that he didn't do anything spectacular to get people to believe he'll be starting in the fall.

Hendrix- I think there's the most pressure on Hendrix right now out of the four quarterbacks, and I am one of those who are expecting some flashes of brilliance.

Since he's still a relative unknown, it is difficult to say what we should expect. But judging by some coaches comments, protecting the ball could be an issue, so no turnovers could be a good start.

We know his athleticism and throwing on the run are major strengths, so we should expect to see him get outside the pocket. The question we must ask is whether Hendrix is fast and elusive enough to really be a game-changer on the ground who can break 30-yard runs or if he will be limited to the more pedestrian 8-yard runs.

Overall, we want to see consistency and his potential. What we don't want to see is someone still uncomfortable in the system and making poor decisions. He's going to automatically impress people with his legs and throwing power, but hopefully those skills are a little bit more polished now.

Golson- I don't think there's a lot of pressure on Golson to be a superman-type stud recruit in this game, at least not from my perspective. I have no doubt that he'll make some plays on Saturday, but there are a bunch of questions we'd like to know some of the answers to afterward.

Will his lack of size be a factor? Not a big issue for me but I'm curious to see how big (or small) he looks in live situations inside the stadium. As long as balls aren't getting batted down left and right, he should be fine.

How much understanding does he have? I would think Golson is a lot more further along than your average true freshman in the spring so I'm anxious to see how much he has absorbed. I believe he'll surprise people here.

How strong is his arm? Watching his tapes from high school his arm looks pretty strong but this will be the first opportunity to see what it's like at the next level. He got really good reviews in all-star camps and through spring practice so we should expect some pop on his throws.

What kind of athleticism are we dealing with? Similar to Hendrix, will Golson be a game-breaker or will his wheels be somewhat thwarted at this level? This is probably the one thing I'm most excited to see...can he be a force on the ground or will he merely be a nice little weapon?

*Sadly, the running back situation will make this game about 36.7% less entertaining because of the injuries and really two players with not much to prove.

Hopefully Jonas Gray can get in there and take some reps but I'm more concerned about his health right now, how he'll play in the fall, and not whether he impresses in this scrimmage.

I know we have something special with Cierre Wood and I'm excited to see how he's grown since the Sun Bowl, but I desperately don't want to see him get hurt.

It's probably going to be somewhat boring (possibly off-set by the mobility from the quarterbacks) but Kelly said Wood and Gray will not get a lot of carries.

*Someone has to make noise at receiver, right? I mean with only two running backs on scholarship the odds are the pigskin is going to be tossed around quite a bit in the game and the wideouts are going to get their opportunity to make plays.

I imagine Theo Riddick is going to do his thing and make two or three spine-tingling athletic moves with the ball in his hands.

It'd be really nice to see TJ Jones step up and make a statement that he can be a legitimate threat in the absence of Floyd. His freshman season was up and down, can he take the next step now?

It doesn't look like Daniel Smith is close to coming back for the game, which is a shame. Hopefully John Goodman does some nice things and we see a pulse out of Deion Walker...we need both of these older players to step up, no matter how little.

Keep an eye on Robby Toma in the slot, he'll continue to be an assassin with sneaky quick moves and acceleration.

*There really isn't a whole lot of excitement or attraction in these scrimmages for the offensive line, and it's all the more true with four starters returning.

Chris Watt is going to miss the game with his ankle injury, so we should get a good look at fifth year senior Andrew Nuss at left guard.

Other than that we'll be scouting the depth to see how guys have progressed, with the focus on Clelland, Golic, Lombard, and Nichols. Will any of those players jump out at us as legitimate starter caliber players?

Don't forget big freshman Brad Carrico who made the switch to offense during spring camp. He's a large body who should get a lot of exposure on Saturday.

*The spring games are considerably less fun for the defense because the contest is tailored for the offense and they have to play vanilla packages. It also hurts the entertainment factor that Mr. Te'o will not be available and roaming the field with his usual passion.

Here are some questions I'm mulling over before the game:

How will we look on the perimeter, especially with our outside linebackers in space? Will there be a discernible difference in athleticism/speed/playmaking at the outside linebacker position?

How will the defense handle the mobility of Hendrix and Golson and will they be stout enough in shutting down the option read?

The defensive line is fairly experienced and will be going up against an experienced offensive line...who wins that battle? When starters go against starters, will the defense perform better?

*At the defensive line there will be plenty to watch for, including the the depth of Hafis Williams and Brandon Newman at nose tackle. Both have impressed me in practices, so they should play well.

What kind of performance will we see from Louis Nix? Does he make a bold statement in this game and show the world that he's ready to be a starter after redshirting last year? I have no doubt that many eyes will be upon big Lou and his No. 9 jersey.

We probably know what we'll get from Johnson and KLM on the edges, but will Schwenke take a step forward? Does Heggie throw his name in the conversation for playing time in the fall with a good spring game?

Like many, I am excited to see what Aaron Lynch can do in this type of environment. I would guess he will be playing a lot in preparation for a role in the fall and hope he shows off his immense talent.

*In a way we are lucky we don't need Te'o to play because we know what he's bringing to the table when he straps up his helmet. Without his presence in the middle we will get to see what the depth is like at inside linebacker.

Will Carlo Calabrese show he's improved in pass protection?

Will Fox and Posluszny make a statement and prove they are ready for solid minutes in 2011?

Most of all, we'll be watching sophomore Kendall Moore who has been getting pretty good reviews from the coaching staff. I think everyone is excited to see what kind of talent and potential he has.

*The outside linebackers should be fun to watch and that might be an understatement. We know how developed Darius Fleming is, but is this the year he really dominates for a full season? There are a lot of signs pointing to this being the case.

Steve Filer had a breakout game last season during the spring and it translated into a disappointing 2011 campaign...will the coaches keep him at Cat and simply cut him loose on quarterbacks? Even though his success in the Blue Gold game didn't translate well to the fall last year, I think we still want to see a great game from Filer.

The four youngsters in Shembo, Spond, Utupo, and Williams should all make some plays to varying degrees. If these players can prove they are as talented as we think they are and prove that they are being developed, this defense is going to take a big step forward. I'll be watching these guys the most on defense.

*The secondary should be tested all day long, so some of the younger and more inexperienced players should be prepared. I'm not really concerned about how Smith, Blanton, and Gray play because I know they are veteran leaders on this team.

I would like to see Motta step up and show us he's locking down the other safety spot, because we'll need him to play well the next two years.

Jamoris Slaughter is another guy who should take his game to the next level with full health and another year of offseason workouts. He might not start but the team needs him as an effective backup and possible nickel corner.

It would be tremendous if we saw something out of Dan McCarthy, but we still don't know what kind of talent we're working with here.

Most importantly, youngsters Lo Wood, Bennett Jackson, and Austin Collinsworth all should be watched intently. This team needs added depth in the secondary and all three have a chance to shine this weekend.

*There won't be much to the special teams game besides kicking field goals and seeing how far the punters can blast the ball with little or no pressure.

This aspect of the game will likely come down to examining just how powerful of a leg Kyle Brindza has in both kicking and punting. He might overtake Ben Turk for punting duties so pay attention to that competition.

There's going to be a football game this weekend!

Go Irish!