On to the offensive skill positions! I am diving right into this one.
Listed below are the individual players at tight end and wide receiver. Players with an * next to their class will be eligible to apply for a 5th year after graduation. Of note only Michael Floyd and Mike Ragone will exhaust their eligibility this fall.
This group of tight ends is highly talented but still very young overall. Having 5th year senior Mike Ragone in the mix for one more year will allow these younger guys to polish up on their blocking skills while continuing to pressure opposing defenses. Overall I expect a great year from this unit.
83 Mike Ragone 6'4" 250 (5th Year) Ragone has had some noted struggles with injuries and off field incidents throughout his career but he put together a solid season last fall, primarily as a blocker in two tight sets. I expect to see more of the same from Ragone as he rounds out his Notre Dame career this fall.
80 Tyler Eifert 6'6" 249 (Junior*) Eifert is an extremely athletic young tight end that really came on last fall after Kyle Rudolph was lost to an injury. Eifert is a legitimate threat as a pass catcher and must be accounted for at all times by opposing defenses. I think that Eifert could really have a breakout season this fall.
88 Jake Golic 6'4" 245 (Junior*) Like his older brother Mike, Jake has been quietly plugging along in the program under the radar for the last couple of years. With the highly touted duo of Alex Welch and Ben Koyak hot on his trail he is going to have to make a significant improvement this fall to keep from getting buried on the depth chart.
82 Alex Welch 6'4" 245 (Sophomore*) Welch retained a year of eligibility last fall while learning the ropes. Welch has good size and will eventually develop into a solid TE that can block and pick up first downs in the passing game. I expect to see Welch in the rotation this fall.
18 Ben Koyak 6'5" 253 (Freshman) The newest addition to what has become Tight End U over the last few years. This kid is an amazing athlete that could easily play this season. With four other guys in front of him the staff will likely try to preserve a year of eligibility for Koyak unless he comes on so strong that they can't justify not getting him on the field. Koyak will emerge as a key fixture in the offense over the next couple of seasons.
Brian Kelly loves to move his receivers around throughout the course of a game to pressure and confuse opposing defenses. This group has an interesting mix of players with slightly different skill sets that will allow Coach Kelly maximum flexibility in doing just that. Floyd and Goodman are currently the reported starters at W and X, respectively, with Riddick in the slot.
3 Michael Floyd 6'3" 224 (Senior) Floyd is a special talent that has the ability to play on Sundays for a long time. He made a lot of headlines in the off season, first for deciding to return for his senior season, then for getting himself into a scrape with the law. Floyd has been fully reinstated and has been off the radar ever since. I suspect that Michael's recent reality check will ultimately result in him pushing himself harder than he ever has before. Stand by for a monster year from Floyd that will ultimately result in him breaking every major receiving record at Notre Dame.
81 John Goodman 6'3" 207 (Senior*) Goodman has been steady though unspectacular throughout his career. He is probably most well known for fair catching just about every punt that the Irish received last fall. The coaching staff has been impressed enough with him in camp thus far to give him the starting nod in front of T.J. Jones at X so it will be interesting to see what Goodman does with it. While I don't expect that he will exactly stretch defenses Goodman is a sure handed receiver that could ultimately prove to be a solid contributor in the offense this fall.
6 Theo Riddick 5'11" 198 (Junior) Riddick moved to the slot from running back last fall and had a pretty solid season despite battling some injuries. Coach Kelly created a bit of a stir during camp by mentioning that Riddick could also see some time as a running back this fall.
"He is always going to be a receiver first," noted the coach. "But if we need to and we got in a tough situation, let's make sure we cross-train him so we can have a comfort level lining up as a running back.
"We'll have the ability within our system to put him in the backfield if we see that as a need. We've worked on it. Whether we need to, or we feel like it needs to happen is another thing. We will always be prepared if we ever get short-handed that Theo can line up at the running back position and get reps for us."
In my opinion this really comes down to Coach Kelly just looking for multiple ways to get the football into Riddick's hands. I suspect we will primarily see him in the backfield in a Wildcat type role but the degree to which the staff gets creative with him is really to be determined. Keep an eye on #6 this fall. It will be exciting.
7 T.J. Jones 5'11" 187 (Sophomore) T.J. was a little bit hot and cold last fall but showed some real flashes of greatness in there along the way. While Goodman recently pulled away as the starter at the X position I suspect we will still see plenty of #7 this fall.
19 Robby Toma 5'9" 185 (Junior) I'll admit it right up front. I'm a big Toma fan and I think he might be the most under the radar guy in this unit. Coach Kelly has singled Toma out as a leader on offense during camp, and he did also happen to be the leading receiver in the spring game. While currently listed as #2 in the slot behind Riddick I think that Toma will come on this fall and prove to be invaluable. Coach Kelly looking to move Riddick around could be related to his trying to find ways to get Toma on the field more as well.
87 Daniel Smith 6'4" 215 (Sophomore) Smith is a big strong receiver that is currently sitting behind Floyd in the two deep. While he obviously won't press Floyd for time Smith needs to emerge a little bit as a dependable contributor to the receiving corps. I will keeping an eye on him when #87 enters the huddle this fall.
1 Deion Walker 6'3" 206 (Senior*) Walker has been MIA for the last three years and it doesn't appear that he will press for time as a senior either. I had high hopes for Deion when he signed but it appears that he is going to be one of those guys that just never quite emerges as a player.
14 Luke Massa 6'3" 198 (Sophomore*) Massa is a converted QB that saved a year of eligibility last fall. I was pleasantly surprised that he didn't transfer but I honestly have no idea what to expect of him as a receiver. I don't think we will find out this year as I really don't expect him to see the field.
16 DaVaris Daniels 6'1" 185 (Freshman) Daniels is a very highly touted recruit that the staff has mentioned as a special talent. Like any freshman he has been behind the power curve in trying to learn the system but his athleticism and natural abilities are noteworthy. I expect Daniels to develop rapidly and see more and more reps as the season wears on. Daniels is the most likely candidate to fill the void left by Floyd in 2012.
41 Matthias Farley 5'10" 194 (Freshman) I expect that the freshman Farley will retain a year of eligibility while developing this fall.
This is a solid but still young group of Tight Ends and Receivers. There is true quality depth at tight end and I expect a lot of good things from that unit this fall. With Floyd in the mix it is difficult to think of the receiving corps as less than outstanding but as a group they are still pretty young and need a few young receivers to step up in the two deep. I expect that we will ultimately see guys like Toma, Smith and Daniels do just that but until I see it on the field I will remain slightly concerned about it.
In the next and final installment I will discuss the offensive backfield. If you missed the first four installments of this series you can find them at the links below.