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Spring Solutions: Wide receivers

Jun 1, 2010, 7:30 AM EDT

(After a bit of a layoff, we’re back with some more Spring Solutions. If you want to get caught up, check out our write-ups on the linebackers and running backs.)

There are plenty of variables to consider when predicting what the Irish wide receiving corp will bring to Brian Kelly’s table next year. Gone is Biletnikoff Award-winning wide receiver Golden Tate, who had the most electrifying year of any player in college football last season. Also gone is the glue guy, possession receiver Robby Paris. Most importantly, the guy who was in charge of getting the ball to the wide receivers, quarterback Jimmy Clausen, is now fighting for a starting quarterback job for the Carolina Panthers.

Adding to the complexity of the equation are the wholesale changes taking place with the Irish offense. Charlie Weis’ pro-style offense was replaced by Brian Kelly’s collegiate spread attack. Both offenses have been prolific the past few seasons, but have achieved their success through very different philosophies.

Still, if its possible, the Irish find themselves with the chance to replicate or exceed last season’s performance. While there are certainly more question marks in the wide receiving depth chart, the key replacements could in many instances trump the record-setting performers that just walked out the door. While they may not match the statistical brilliance of Clausen and Tate, their successors, Michael Floyd and Dayne Crist, will have more than will likely see their names called earlier in the NFL Draft whenever they chose to leave the Irish.

(Though Floyd and Crist should take note of the recent Irish track record for sliding down draft boards when making their decisions.)

It may be foolish to think that Floyd and a group of largely unproductive wideouts can match the production of Floyd, Tate, Paris and Clausen. Yet this spring gave us the scratch work for Kelly’s formula to achieve.

           2010: Duval Kamara, Barry Gallup
           2011: Michael Floyd,
           2012: John Goodman, Deion Walker, Shaq Evans, Robby Toma, Theo Riddick
           2013: Daniel Smith, Austin Collinsworth, Bennett Jackson, Tai-ler Jones

Once upon a time, Duval Kamara was a highly-touted freshman recruit that had the potential to become an elite college wide receiver. As Kamara prepares for his final season at Notre Dame, it’s up to him to finally put together a season that captures a sliver of the potential that recruitniks thought he possessed. It appears that Kelly and his staff are giving Duval every opportunity to see the field, with his name firmly entrenched at the top of every depth chart that’s come out this spring, and he’ll see plenty of one-on-one coverage playing across from Floyd. Another senior who I thought would see a bump in productivity under Kelly was Barry Gallup, Jr. Gallup finally found a niche last season on kick off returns, mostly as a chauffeur for returner Theo Riddick, but looked good with the ball in his hand. If you were looking for Gallup to make noise in Spring Practice, you would’ve been disappointed, because you rarely heard his name among those mentioned by the staff. That said, with the speed and formations Kelly will run out there, there’s a chance for Gallup to find his niche in his final season.

If there’s a front-runner for next year’s Biletnikoff award, you’d have to put Michael Floyd with the lead dogs. It’d be the first time in the award’s history that teammates won in back-to-back years, but Floyd certainly has the skills to pull it off, though a key will be staying healthy, no easy task for Floyd thus far in his career. Also interesting will be Kelly’s usage of Floyd. There was rarely a fade route thrown this fall, a staple of the Weis era with big #3 isolated in the red zone. Floyd will likely be running different patterns in a different system, but he’ll face the same decision Tate made after last season: Stay for a senior season or chase the dream of the NFL.

 The sophomore class is crowded but undistinguished. For the Irish offense to set sail, this group will need to be ready to make the leap. John Goodman is a candidate to succeed, if only because he and Crist gave Irish fans a sneak preview of what the two could do on a long touchdown pass against Washington State. Goodman also displayed his advanced athleticism, taking snaps at quarterback in certain formations against USC. The Fort Wayne native redshirted his freshman season and even toyed with a move to quarterback with an uncertain depth chart, but will be given every chance to thrive at receiver. Deion Walker is another guy that was highly touted, but has yet to make a mark for the Irish, making only a single catch against Nevada after redshirting his freshman season. Walker had an elite list of scholarship offers, but has been stuck behind Floyd and Tate as edge receivers. Theo Riddick joins the receiving corps after averaging 5.5 yards a carry at tailback, but a crowded depth chart, solid hands, and great skill in open space made him one of Kelly’s first position changes. Riddick was knicked up most of the spring after shoulder surgery, but still looked good in the Blue-Gold Game. If you asked 100 Irish fans what freshman receiver would contribute more last season, everybody but Robby Toma’s parents would’ve picked Shaq Evans. But it was Toma who had the coaching staff’s trust down the stretch while Evans failed to see the field as the season collapsed. Still, Evans has the upside to eventually replace Floyd if he puts his mind to it, while Toma profiles as a waterbug-type slot player.

With all the receivers fighting for time this spring, it was the 17-year-old Tai-ler Jones that found his way onto the first string by the middle of spring practice. Jones impressed everybody with his speed, hands, and savvy in 15 short practices, giving Kelly a weapon many thought was a season or two away from contributing. He’ll be in the starting lineup from day one, no small feat at this position.  Austin Collinsworth is a versatile athlete who could play on either side of the ball, but committed quickly to the Irish after he was being heavily recruited by Kelly’s Bearcats staff. If you’re looking for a wildcard, look no further than Bennett Jackson. He’ll need to gain some weight under Paul Longo, but Jackson has track speed and could become a vertical threat. Hometown product Daniel Smith has the physical tools to be a D-I wide receiver, and we’ll find out if he has the speed to contribute this fall. Smith’s offers won’t wow you, but his game tape shows a playmaker that dominated the competition.  

  1. Shazamrock - Jun 2, 2010 at 7:20 AM

    They say that depth builds competition, and competition breeds excellance. If that is true we should have one of the top receiver corps in all of college football.
    (Having a QB that toutered under Charlie Weis for 2 years doesn’t hurt either)
    If Kelly can find some resemblance of a running game we will out score every team on our schedule this year.

  2. Doug - Jun 2, 2010 at 7:46 AM

    A running game and defense…even if both are mearly average. Those are two things that the CW lead Irish were lacking. We could score on anyone, but could stop no one. Fix those two things and this team will be fine under BK.

  3. Pat - Jun 2, 2010 at 9:41 AM

    There is obviously a lot of debate in regards to the receiving corps depth chart this year, but I think most people are over-looking some key points with certain players.
    We can all agree that Floyd will be the standout of this squad, as he very well should, as long as he stays healthy. The next best receiver on the entire team is Rudolph and I would be willing to put money on the fact that he will be a “within 10 yds” threat to score every time. Watch for him to do a quick hitch route or to line up on the outside and use his height for a 2 step drop high ball in the corner.
    After Floyd, just about everyone has Kamara listed as the starter on the other side. I think this wold be the biggest mistake. Throughout his career, he has been one big disappointment after another. Just because you have a good freshman year, doesn’t mean you’ll be a phenom for the rest of your days. He’s unreliable with the ball and is not the kind of receiver for Kelly’s fast-paced offense.
    Who I do think should be opposite of Floyd is either Shaq Evans or TJ Jones. From the small amount of playing time by Evans and the tape of Jones, they both have great raw talent and could be another deep ball threat if they take some personal time to develop (reference Clausen, Rudolph, Tate during the off-season). As far as the slot receiver is concerned, I think it should be a throw up between Goodman and Riddick, with Goodman taking the edge. Riddick has great athletic ability, but so does Goodman, and he also has the experience in the position, which I think gives him the edge.
    After those receivers, I feel Roby Toma and Deion Walker will make a good showing on the second team and eventually be playmakers.

  4. E-Man - Jun 2, 2010 at 3:45 PM

    No one blocks like Kamara though, and WR blocking on run plays has been a huge problem since Smarizja (sic) and Stovall have been here.
    Maybe this year Kamara gets his Stovall moment. Maybe not. Still, I wouldn’t want to toss an experienced WR in favor of a rookie or a guy who apparently couldn’t run routes last year. If he’s not faring well, go to plan B.

  5. DocHR - Jun 3, 2010 at 1:10 AM

    Good posts, Keith. I’m looking forward to reports on the “O” and “D” lines. I’m with Doug: we need a running game and a defense. Weis’ years were exciting, but too frustrating when we couldn’t hold a lead in the big games. Thanks to all posters for your additional insights into the receiving corps.

  6. ourlady$ - Jun 3, 2010 at 8:02 AM

    Thanks for the post Keith, I’m dying for more Notre Dame information, like what do the players do in the off season? what kind of training do they do on their own? Maybe even have some players write their own blogs for NBC so we get to know the players more. We need a 24hr 7 days a week channel on TV like the big Ten has, only about everything Notre Dame ,( am I going to far?)It should have all the classic games, not just football but all sports, History of Notre dame and all the good Notre Dame does for it’s communities. It’s too long a break between spring practice and August practice. Talk to Mr Swarbrick, I am sure he would be game! Looking for Coach Kelly on Regis, I am desperate.

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