The 83rd annual Notre Dame Blue-Gold Spring Football Game is set for 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 21, at Notre Dame Stadium.
Before we take a look at what you can expect when the squad hits the field next Saturday, lets get the current drama out of the way. Yes, 5-Star defensive end Aaron Lynch is transferring from Notre Dame.
Yes, there are lots of rumors flying around about why he is leaving, but does it really matter? If he is not happy at Notre Dame, we wish him well and send him on his way. That is that.
Okay, on to the current business at hand. Let’s take a look at what you should watch for during next week’s Blue-Gold game!
Quarterback: Starting with a bang is the highest profile position, as it also holds the most intrigue. Notre Dame currently has four, yes four, Quarterbacks competing for the starting position. Tommy Rees, last year’s starter, I would imagine will get the nod again this fall. I worry though, that with all of the beatings he took last year that he is a bit gun shy, but you have to give the veteran the nod unless he proves himself unworthy. Next in line would be Andrew Hendrix. I like the fact that not only can Hendrix throw, but he also has definite running abilities, which is a plus in my book. I think he is a bit less scarred than Rees, and expect him to get even more playing time next season. Everett Golson, though he has not seen as much playing time as Hendrix, is no fragile flower, and is someone to keep your eye on next Saturday. He needs to come out and showcase his skills, to let the others know that he is not just going to sit down and wait for his turn. And finally, the new Freshman, Gunner Kiel. Is Kiel ready to jump into the spotlight? Has his mobility improved and is he ready to take his turn on center stage? This competition should be the biggest one to watch in next Saturday’s game.
[2011 Notre Dame Football Highlights…]
Running Back: The running back position is a little more stable than the Quarterback situation. Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick return to show that they are at peak condition and are ready to tear it up again this year. Future stars Amir Carlisle and George Atkinson should be watched as they prove that they are ready to enter the limelight as well.
Tight End: Tight End Tyler Eifert, local Indiana boy, will most likely be the starter going into the 2012 season. He broke two 34-year old records last year, and Notre Dame nation gave a sigh of relief when he decided not to leave early for the NFL. His biggest competition right now is Troy Niklas, the 6’7” 250-plus pound former linebacker who is making the move back to tight end.
Wide Receiver: Not much controversy exists in the Wide Receiver position. Although Michael Floyd will be surely be missed, the Irish have plenty of depth at Wide Receiver. Robby Toma and John Goodman return as key players in the Irish offensive, and up-and-coming stars DaVaris Daniels and Freshman Keivarae Russell try to prove that they too are ready to get a start. Ah yes, and then there is T.J. Jones. While T.J. Jones is an extremely talented young man, he and our fearless leader Coach Brian Kelly seem to have some communication issues. In order for Jones to truly reach his potential, the two of them are going to have to realize that they are on the same team, and learn to work together. Just my two cents worth!
[Brian Kelly and T.J. Jones have communcation issues / ND-USF Game 2011 …]
Offensive Line and Defensive Line: Our Offensive Line is blessed to have three veterans anchoring the line this year: Zach Martin, Chris Watt, and Braxton Cave. The other talent to watch next Saturday include Junior guard/tackle Christian Lombard; junior right tackle Tate Nichols, and a two redshirt-freshmen: guard Conor Hanratty and guard/tackle Nick Martin.
Our Defensive Line has some holes to fill with the loss of Aaron Lynch this past week. Sophmore Stephon Tuitt and returning 5th year Senior Kapron Lewis-Moore will bring some much needed leadership to the line. Some emerging stars to watch are Kona Schwenke and Louis Nix. Schwenke may very well be Lynch’s replacement. [Side note: In case you saw the drama with Louis Nix earlier this week, no worries, Mr. Irish Chocolate is not going anywhere!]
Inside Linebackers: This year’s Inside Linebacker unit has the most depth on the defensive side of the ball. Bob Diaco has put together a defensive linebacking rotation that includes Manti Te’o, Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox, Jarrett Grace, Kendall Moore, Anthony Rabasa, Justin Utupo, and walk on Joe Schmidt. Only Manti Te’o finishes up his last year of eligibility this year. Redshirt Freshman Jarret Grace and walk on Joe Schmidt are definitely two players to watch on Saturday!
[The beast, Manti Te’o …]
Outside Linebackers: With Sophomore Troy Niklas moving from outside linebacker to tight end this spring, and four-year starter Darius Fleming moving on to the NFL, Jamoris Slaughter will have to step up and provide the leadership for this Outside Linebacking unit. Incoming Freshman Romeo Okwara will likely join the unit in the summer, but I’m not sure if we will see him in this role on Saturday during the spring game. Danny Spond is one to watch in this position. He will try to prove that his coverage skills are far superior than his predecessors at the position, and that he is ready to start.
Safeties: The safety position is filled with competition this spring. Jamoris Slaughter is the unit’s leader, and is one of the best of the best. However, he will be given a run for his money this year. Former Walk-On Chris Salvi is now on scholarship. 2010 January enrollee Chris Badger has completed his religious mission in Ecuador and has returned to show that he is ready to start. Junior Austin Collinsworth and a two redshirt-freshmen, Eilar Hardy and Matthias Farley, want to show that they are starting material as well. This is a battle not to be missed on Saturday!
Cornerbacks: Notre Dame currently has no returning starters at the Cornerback position. Ouch. I, however, am not phased by that, seeing as one of the guys in the wings is one of my favorite rising stars, Lo Wood. However, Lo Wood, like T.J. Jones, is another one that seems to have communication issues with Coach Kelly. Kelly somehow needs to get over these communcations road bumps, and not miss out on some productive members of his team. Another emerging star is Bennett Jackson. Jackson made quite an impression on Brian Kelly when he was a true freshman, winning Special Teams Player of the Year honors. Another player to watch is Josh Atkinson He has been praised for his determination, work ethic, and overall athletic ability. Lets now see if this can translate onto the field.
As spring practice winds down this week and the team looks forward to the Blue-Gold game, Kelly seems to be happy with the teams progress. A few notable things that he said in his April 14th press conference are as follows:
In regards to the removing of the standard protective red jerseys from the QBs this spring: “Every time we’ve scrimmaged they’ve been live. We ran Tommy today because we feel like he can run the ball. He picked up eight yards on a designed run. He has to be able to run the ball and have some effectiveness for us. We showed him he can do that. He didn’t have any confidence in his ability to run the ball. We’re going to keep live jerseys on those guys in the (Blue Gold game).” [This is very interesting to me, because at the end of last year’s season Tommy looked very much like a “deer in headlights.” If they have been able to restore his confidence, that will be a great accomplishment for spring ball.]
Kelly speaks in regards to his role as mentor/coach/psychologist: “I think you’re doing it every day. I think in some fashion coaching is, you have to be able to talk to kids and find out what those buttons are that are going to get them to open up and talk about what their issues are. I try to find myself doing a lot of that on a day-to-day basis. It’s just some days you need it a little bit more. But they’re 18 to 21-year olds. They’re going to have good days and bad days. I think I’m constantly trying to be in touch with it. I know our coaches try really hard. But that social worker, that psychologist, I think that all goes into being a good coach and a good teacher.”
And finally, addressing reports that he (Kelly) told a Chicago radio station 8 wins is the goal for 2012: “No, that’s not accurate. What I said was Notre Dame had not strung together three years in a row of eight wins or more, so if we win eight games next year or more it will be the first time in 16 years. Thank you for getting that accurate.
“You shoot for eight wins around here you won’t be around very long. Trust me, my boss is up there. He already told me that. Now, we can build towards that. That’s part of what we’re doing. There are building blocks in putting together our football program. You want consistency. The point of that whole statement was you need consistency, you need stability. Consistency is you can’t have a 10-win season then a three-win season. You’ve got to build consistency and that’s what we’re all shooting for.”
Okay … Here Come the Irish!