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Stepping up… The wide receivers

Feb 19, 2010, 7:30 AM EDT

If there was a undisputed area of strength for the Irish last season, it was the wide receivers. Yet if you looked at this position going into the season, you might not have been so sure. While many (me at the front of the line) were high on the potential of Michael Floyd, he was still a true sophomore that missed three games due to injury his freshman season. And while Golden Tate put together a 2009 season for the ages under the Golden Dome, he was coming off a sophomore year where he could both dazzle and disappear at a moment’s notice.

After that, the Irish had a solid, if unspectacular, group of receivers headlined by the cagey veteran Robby Paris and former number-one receiver Duval Kamara, with John Goodman also in the mix of guys that looked to get into the rotation. When was the last time the Irish could run out five receivers with experience that could make defenses worried? Pair that with sophomore tight end Kyle Rudolph and a promising freshman recruit like Shaq Evans it’s no wonder that the Irish were expected to be dangerous through the air.

Entering the 2010 season, not even the biggest skeptic would’ve guessed that Golden Tate, Jimmy Clausen, and Charlie Weis — the three biggest factors in Notre Dame’s offensive output — would be gone this season. Who would’ve guessed that Tate would win the Biletnikoff Award, Clausen would be a candidate to be the first quarterback chosen in the NFL draft, and Weis would still managed to get fired?

The Irish need to replace half the minutes played at wide receiver this year, and transition to a completely new passing system. Let’s take a look at the key losses, who’s coming back, and the receivers that need to step up.

KEY LOSSES:

There is no bigger loss than Golden Tate. Alone, he accounted for more than 35 percent of the playing time amongst wide receivers and did so at an incredibly elite level, producing his best in games that were the closest. The Irish also need to replace the veteran presence of Robby Parris, a clutch performer who became a viable option to move the chains. George West also departs from the Irish, exiting quietly after being one of the Irish’s first early enrollees. There’s no one on the roster that will be able to fill Tate’s dynamic shoes, but the transition to Kelly’s spread attack will lessen the offensive reliance on one playmaker.

RETURNING STARTERS:

There’s no better returning wide receiver in the country than Michael Floyd. The only thing Floyd needs to prove is that he can stay healthy for an entire season, after missing significant chunks of both his freshman and sophomore campaigns. Floyd also has to deal with his first off-the-field setback, an embarrassing drinking ticket that drew negative attention to the rising junior. Duval Kamara will once again find himself in the starting lineup, hopeful to fulfill some of the promise he showed as a true freshman in 2007.

STEPPING UP:

It’s a clean slate for the Irish receivers, though their position coach is the only holdover from last season in Tony Alford, who will be working with receivers for the very first time. Expect Spring Practice to be heavy on installation, fundamentals, and a large amount of “motivational challenges” from the booming position coach, never short of a verbal barb.

There’s no reason to think that the Irish won’t be talented enough to produce an effective aerial assault next season, but they’ll be hindered by the fact that Dayne Crist won’t be able to fully participate in practice as he recovers from a torn ACL. For the Irish offense to stay consistent as they transition in a first year quarterback and replace an All-American wide receiver, here are a few guys that’ll need to make the leap:

Shaquelle Evans: Maybe Irish fans expected too much out of Evans, billed by recruitniks to be a Michael Floyd-level talent. Evans only made seven catches for 61 yards his freshman season, and sadly is best remember for the play he didn’t make, the third down incompletion in Ann Arbor that gave the ball back to Michigan with time to spare. From there his confidence dwindled, and while Weis adamantly denied it, Evans never seemed to regain the coaching staff’s favor. Evans will have a clean slate with Kelly, a new offense to immerse himself in, and the ability to use his sizable talents to help fill the void created by Tate’s departure.

John Goodman: The news that Goodman might get some time at quarterback this Spring should’ve lit a fire under the rising junior, as Goodman has the potential to be a top-notch receiver. Goodman only had six catches last season, but the 64-yard touchdown pass between him and Crist had to give everyone a glimpse of what he can do. Weis using Goodman as a read-option quarterback shows the respect that the previous staff had for his athleticism, now it’s up to the junior receiver to take the leap that another small-town Indiana receiver made with a coaching change.

Barry Gallup: I was one of the many people who raised an eyebrow when it was announced that Gallup was returning for a fifth year, but I think he may be one of the guys that benefits most from a coaching change. Gallup’s skillset as a running back, kick returner and wide receiver profile perfectly for some of the unique wrinkles in Kelly’s spread attack. While Gallup was mostly used as a blocker in front of returner Theo Riddick, I was also pleasantly surprised by the burst he showed as a kick returner, and I expect the offensive staff to find interesting ways to get the ball into Gallup’s hands.

Dark Horses: I’m interested to see what the graduation of Tate does to someone like Deion Walker, who found himself behind both Tate and Floyd as outside receivers. Expect the Irish offense to improve dramatically inside the red zone, where Kelly’s spread formation will add some flexibility, and allow Kamara to dominate with his size advantage. Also looking forward to seeing Tai-ler Jones contribute early and often. Prediction: I expect the Irish to have back-to-back Biletnikoff winners when Michael Floyd accepts the award.  

  1. ugetwutuask4 - Feb 19, 2010 at 12:23 PM

    Thanks for the great insight Keith. I agree, Floyd will be the favorite to win the Biletnikoff and after that everyone should be able to contribute somewhere, somehow, in some shape or form in Coach K’s offense where it spreads the ball around to the open receiver. Dayne should be fine as long as he can regain that little bit of chemistry and co-hesion he built with the receivers while taking snaps when Jimmy was resting his turf toe. Which I have to beleive has to account for something going into spring practice.

  2. TLNDMA - Feb 19, 2010 at 3:16 PM

    Keith, don’t count out Robby Toma.

  3. sharkey - Feb 19, 2010 at 8:49 PM

    A lot of this is going to be dependent on Crist. While Dayne is certainly talented and capable enough, he hasn’t much real playing time. I expect 3-4 games for him to get comfortable with the new and settle in. If he is not 100%, or is injured, then it all falls on incoming freshmen which means an even longer learning curve

  4. Paul - Feb 22, 2010 at 5:08 AM

    Great daily updates Keith – I’m sure Dayne Crist will be able to step up and fill the boots left by Jimmy – he came in as a highly rated QB

  5. jimbasil - Feb 24, 2010 at 3:54 PM

    Thank you for saying that. It appears, because Toma is not 6 feet tall and 220, he’s just an add on. He is a tremendous receiver with really good hands. WHen ND is backed up deep or just not in the red zone, Toma should be a receiver who can bring some good yards with his good hands and quickness in changing direction. In space this kid should be able to light it up. And he’s a competitor.
    Don’t count out Toma.

  6. OURLADY#1 - Feb 25, 2010 at 8:33 AM

    Totally agree Keith, but one thing for sure, with this new coaching staff, your going to probably see a very well rounded group of receivers, everybody is going to have to give 100% all of the time. We will probably see some excell under this kind of tutalege. One thing for sure, as much as Mike Floyd is a factor, nobody is irreplaceable when it comes to the entire team and it’s goal.

  7. fresh1619 - Feb 25, 2010 at 5:45 PM

    Great post. I think one thing that everyone is over looking is how important blocking one on one in space is for the spread…I think the new staff has a nice mix with Duval being a big body that got better at blocking towards the end of last year…pushing Floyd to reach his potential as a blocker…Gallup having experience blocking in space on return teams…and TE’s like Rudolph and Ragone that are very athletic almost jumbo Wideouts. I think this offense will be able to turn short passes into big YAC plays and the running game will be much more effective than people think. Could be like Kelly’s last year at Grand Valley when Mike Tennessee ran for 1600 yards. I think ND will run the ball much better than people expect….

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