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Counting down the Irish: 10-6

Jul 30, 2012, 6:05 PM EST

Getty Images - Jonathan Daniel Getty Images

We’re heading down the stretch in our annual countdown of the Irish roster. If numbers 15 to 11 were all about bottled promise, 10-6 has a tried and true feel to it. After a youth movement was largely responsible for the upper echelon of this list, this group has a veteran feel to it. How veteran? Consider: Not one of these players was truly a Brian Kelly recruit. (Lewis-Moore, Riddick, Slaughter and Cave were all Weis recruits. Nix committed to Notre Dame when it didn’t have a head coach, a nice piece of recruiting by Tony Alford.)

If the Irish are going to put together a big season, they’ll need to get production out of this group. For guys like Lewis-Moore and Cave, it’ll mean rebounding from seasons decimated by injury. For Riddick, it’ll mean exorcising special teams demons and nicks and dings that kept him from being the electric football player Brian Kelly thought he had. There’s no member of the secondary with more on his shoulders than Slaughter, who will likely be a do-everything type of player in a secondary in desperate need. And Louis Nix will have to prove he’s the player some members of this panel think he is — His No. 3 ranking is the highest of any player we’ve seen so far, but his No. 18 grade shows his inconsistency.

Once again, here’s our voting panel:

Eric Hansen, South Bend Tribune @HansenSouthBend
John Walters, The Daily @jdubs88
John Vannie, NDNation.com
Eric Murtaugh, representing OneFootDown.com  @OneFootDown
Ryan Ritter, representing HerLoyalSons.com @HLS_NDtex
Keith Arnold, NBCSports.com’s Inside the Irish @KeithArnoldNBC

Here’s the list as it stands:

IRISH 2012 Top 25
25. Zeke Motta (S, Sr.)
24. Tommy Rees (QB, Jr.)
23. Andrew Hendrix (QB, Jr.)
22. Davonte Neal (WR, Fr.)
21. TJ Jones (WR, Jr.)
20. Robby Toma (WR, Sr.)
19. Christian Lombard (OL, Jr.)
18. Davaris Daniels (WR, So.)
17. Troy Niklas (TE, So.)
16. Bennett Jackson (CB, Jr.)
15. Ishaq Williams (OLB, So.)
14. Everett Golson (QB, So.)
13. Chris Watt (LG, Sr.)
12. Prince Shembo (OLB, Jr.)
11. George Atkinson (RB, So.)

RANKINGS

10. Kapron Lewis-Moore (DE, 5th year) A knee injury ended Lewis-Moore’s season in late October, forcing the Irish to play without both starting defensive ends, crippling losses a year after Ethan Johnson and KLM anchored a position grouping short on depth. After rehabbing the injury, Lewis-Moore found himself in an unfamiliar spot this spring: A three-year returning starter who no longer had a starting job. That dilemma was solved when Aaron Lynch departed for South Florida, but Lewis-Moore had almost gotten lost in the shuffle, no easy task for a 6-foot-4, 306-pound defensive end. At his best, KLM can be a run-stuffing 3-4 defensive end that has plenty of athleticism. While the sack numbers have yet to come, Lewis-Moore will be counted on to anchor a position group looking to rebound after injuries decimated the group.

(Highest ranking: 8th. Lowest ranking: 19th)

9. Theo Riddick (RB, Sr.) Riddick enters his final season in South Bend at the position he started, joining Cierre Wood, George Atkinson (and Amir Carlisle) at running back, one of the deepest spots on the roster. After two uneven seasons at slot receiver, it’s hard to tell whether the move was a product of Riddick disappointing as a wideout, or his running skills too good to ignore. The answer is probably somewhere in the middle, and with Tony Alford taking over coaching running backs and slot receivers, Riddick finds himself in the rare position of being a perfect fit regardless of where he lines up.

Nobody in the panel was tougher on Riddick than I was, ranking him 13th and the third best running back on the roster. (I still haven’t forgotten the muffed punts and getting caught by a Navy DB.) Yet all reports coming out of South Bend have Riddick looking at home and solid in the backfield, pushing Cierre Wood for carries and being every bit the dynamic presence “Good Theo” can be when he’s playing with confidence. With the Irish in dire need of a dynamic returner in the punt game and an offensive threat capable of making big chunk plays, Riddick putting together a senior season to remember would be perfect timing for the Irish.

(Highest ranking: 8th. Lowest ranking: 13th)

8. Jamoris Slaughter (DB, 5th year) With the graduation of Harrison Smith, fifth-year senior Slaughter will likely take over the reins of the secondary. After struggling to stay healthy in 2010, Slaughter took over a key role in the Irish defense, giving coordinator Bob Diaco the flexibility to slide Slaughter down into the box, where the safety started replacing Prince Shembo in certain defensive sets. At 6-foot, 200-pounds, Slaughter lacks the ideal size for a safety, but his ability to play a multitude of positions, and his penchant to make big hits, has Slaughter looking comfortable down in the box. Early in spring, Slaughter displayed his versatility by taking some snaps at cornerback, a position thin on numbers after Robert Blanton and Gary Gray graduated. Yet Austin Collinsworth’s torn labrum likely ends that experiment, though the Irish have a half-dozen new safeties on the roster, and new coach Bob Elliott’s ability to get a youngster ready to play with help keep Slaughter versatile, part of what makes him so valuable to the defense.

(Highest ranking: 6th. Lowest ranking: 14th)

7. Braxston Cave (C, 5th year) Cave was another key veteran that suffered a season ending injury, when the senior center tore ligaments in his foot early in the Wake Forest game. While Mike Golic filled in admirably, there was a noticeable difference along the offensive line without Cave in the lineup and an offense that looked so promising throughout the early parts of the season sputtered to a disappointing close of the season. At 6-foot-3, 303-pounds, Cave is one of the strongest players on the Irish roster. He started 22 straight games before the injury and after taking precautions during spring football, Cave is completely healthy as the Irish prepare to enter fall camp. At his best, Cave is a powerful run blocker that’s deserving of the preseason watch list kudos being bestowed on him. With new head coach Harry Hiestand bringing in former All-Pro center Olin Kreutz to work with the interior of the line, expect a nice uptick along the offensive front.

(Highest ranking: 4th. Lowest ranking: 14th)

6. Louis Nix III (DT, Jr.) Nix is one of the most colorful personalities on the Irish roster, but the stout run-stuffing defensive tackle is also one of the team’s most enigmatic.  In his first season on the field after a redshirt year was needed to get Nix into shape, production wasn’t a problem — Nix was the most active defensive lineman on the team, making tackles on almost 11-percent of his snaps. Yet Nix’s ability to be consistent in both games and practices has worried the coaching staff, and Nix split reps with Kona Schwenke this spring at tackle, a product of a fitness regime that seemed to take its own offseason. If he’s in shape and on the field, Nix has all the talented needed to be the Irish’s best defensive tackle in recent memory. Yet Nix needs to put in the work to make himself that player. Entering his third season in the program, now is the time.

(Highest ranking: 3rd. Lowest ranking: 18th)

  1. cam2ham - Jul 30, 2012 at 6:37 PM

    I really hope Theo can get it mentally figured out this year, showed such promise early in his Sophomore year but since has been a huge letdown. I really believe for this team to have any chance of a BCS bowl victory Theo is going to have to play lights out all season. I hope to see a lot of plays against Navy & Purdue where they throw it to him in space and let him make people miss, boost his confidence and whoever is at QB for when we will need them the most.

    • chisports14 - Jul 31, 2012 at 2:45 PM

      First ND post. Nothing special, but hopefully will get better over time. http://yetthir.wordpress.com/

  2. bernhtp - Jul 30, 2012 at 6:41 PM

    Theo’s strength is his versatility. I bet he contributes more in the slot than at RB despite his official position change.

    I hope the other four in this list stay healthy because there is a significant dropoff in the depth chart without them.

  3. mtflsmitty - Jul 30, 2012 at 7:07 PM

    The fact three of the five in this group make their living in the trenches offers the first sign that Keith & his posse can actually provide some insight through this fun, though somewhat silly exercise. Like many football lovers, I’m a shameless ball watcher for the first viewing of any game. But the second take, after the kids are off the bed and my wife quits wanting to discuss the x’s and o’s of Housewives of OC, gives a chance to see where the game was won or lost.

    Although the spread on these picks still averaged nearly 10 spots from the highest rank to the lowest rank per player, I’m glad we are showing well here. Unlike EG or AH, these guys have earned their rankings.

    Love having Kona pushing Nix. A nice “stick” amongst “carrots”.

  4. jimbasil - Jul 30, 2012 at 7:27 PM

    Theo should never have been moved to WR. I said it when it happened and I still say it. I thought this was a big mistake. The Irish had receivers they had not utilized and throwing another into the group only gave Theo and the rest less touches. I was sure Cierre and Theo would make a very dynamic duo in the back field and think it is still true. However with the emergence of GAIII Theo will now see less touches once again. ND has failed Theo in his time and I feel lousy for him. Sure, he might have turned out to be a terrific receiver but what were the chances of that?

    Theo was just not as versatile as most think he is. Those who say he’s, so versatile, just haven’t been paying attention. He’s a Running Back who can do some other things, but is a RB first.

    • bernhtp - Jul 30, 2012 at 8:52 PM

      He was moved to slot because they wanted him on the field but he wasn’t going to see it behind Cierre and (then) Jonas. While Jonas is now gone, the depth is even better and his need at the RB position probably even less. While he is not the perfect slot, this still seems to be his area of greatest contribution.

      • jimbasil - Jul 30, 2012 at 9:49 PM

        “seems”, but isn’t. Yes, on another team where there aren’t as many good athletes, Riddick at Slot might be a good idea.

        I was not for this move when it happened, and sadly, I was right. You and others think so highly of his talent you forgot what his talent is. He’s a Running Back with abilities to other things, not a WR with some ability to be in the back field too.

        The WR position/slot was already set with other receivers, not with the athletic talent of Riddick but on the team non the less.

        Sure, there were grand ideas to get Riddick the ball more often and put Jonas in the backfield with Cierre but Jonas had already proved he had no talent for blocking or holding onto the ball. To say Jonas would show up on game day all of the sudden would be dishonest. MF as the go to wide out and Jones all but stealing the thunder from the rest of the receiving corp. and Toma with great hands waiting around doing nothing, it made very little sense to shove Riddick into an experimental role at slot. You can wish for horses all day long but the truth is, Riddick, though decent at slot, did not fit the role well at all. And now he’s being plugged back into a RB position with a very crowded group and he will likely see less of the ball than before.

      • c4evr - Jul 30, 2012 at 11:44 PM

        Bern,
        TR went to slot well before Jonas Gray broke out. If you recall, JG was in the doghouse for putting the ball on the ground too much. Riddick was moved to slot when Robert Hughes was second on the depth chart. Jimbasil makes good points, but I still believe TR’s greatest contribution could be in returns. ND has got to do better than the 2 or 3 yard average of returning punts or they’re going to be backed up all year long.

      • bernhtp - Jul 31, 2012 at 12:06 AM

        C4: Yes, I know when Theo was moved. The point was that he was never better than third on the RB depth chart, but coaches wanted to find a way to get him on the field. The move to slot and punt return were those attempts. It is irrelevant if he was better at RB since he would not have played there (much).

        Jonas was an elite recruit with enormous untapped capability. Apparently he started to show that ability last summer in practice and it continued throughout the year until his injury.

        The punt returner competition will also be interesting. Theo obviously didn’t do well last year. Newbies like Neal will certainly enter the fray. We do need someone to step up.

    • c4evr - Jul 30, 2012 at 11:32 PM

      Totally concur. He should never have been moved. An otherwise promising career laid waste by BK’s shortsightedness. The time he has spent learning plays and adjusting to a new system only served to throw him off track. So much has been made of Rees getting preferential treatment, but to me, TR’s mishandling has contributed just as much to an underachieving offense.

  5. mtflsmitty - Jul 30, 2012 at 7:27 PM

    Rat77,

    Re CS, I defer to your knowledge of the situation. I may have easily misunderstood CS’s father (who’s nothing but an absolute gentleman, btw) who seemed to be imparting an anecdote.

    Klein guy, indeed. I’ll keep an eye out for the rare ND cap (besides mine) in the stands this fall at Kat games. Will tip the cap to The Rat.

  6. bearcatirishfan - Jul 30, 2012 at 10:10 PM

    Bern don’t forget about a gig named Armando Allen was the #1 back the year theo got moved.

  7. bearcatirishfan - Jul 30, 2012 at 10:36 PM

    Guy not gig

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - Jul 30, 2012 at 10:52 PM

      Final 5 predictions:

      5. Goodman?

      4. Tuitt

      3. C. Wood

      2. Eifert

      1. Teo (Thanks for coming back Manti).

      • bernhtp - Jul 30, 2012 at 11:39 PM

        You’d be much closer if you replaced Goodman with Zach Martin.

      • jerseyshorendfan1 - Jul 31, 2012 at 12:33 PM

        I put Goody in there with a question mark because I figured we need somebody to fair catch, but you’re right bern, I’ll go with Martin….I just forgot about him.

  8. irishaggie - Jul 30, 2012 at 11:40 PM

    Lets not feel sympathy for Theo Riddick okay. He played running back for Charlie Weis his freshmen season and never saw the field, and when he did he picked up 1 yard. I honestly always thought he was overhyped, and has no elite speed. The kid cant handle the pressure plain and simple. He was put at kick receiver only to lose the job. He was put at the slot and failed. He was asked to catch punts and failed. I think Theo Riddick will be the #4 RB at best. Have you guys seen Amir Carlisle, the guy is special.

    • bernhtp - Jul 30, 2012 at 11:51 PM

      I totally agree. Coaches have gone out of their way to give Riddick a chance at a variety of positions when he didn’t win playing time at RB. I don’t understand how that was somehow unfair to him.

      I hope Theo does great this year. He seems to be working really hard at it. When I was at the BG game, I got a very close and long look at him. He’s obviously been spending huge time in the weight room because I’ve never seen anyone short of a bodybuilder that ripped. He also played well that game. With that said, he has more competition at RB than slot and more experience at slot than RB. You do the math.

      Carlisle is the unknown here. Between it being his first year at ND and his injuries (both at USC and ND), it is unclear whether he will contribute to his enormous potential (Rivals #4 RB). The writers obviously haven’t factored him into the top 25. I hope it’s a mistake.

      • irishaggie - Jul 31, 2012 at 12:03 AM

        Kelly has gotten on him to bring the best out of Theo, but he just cant find any consistent productivity out of him. Lets not forget this guy was a “supposive” Heisman Candidate for the Irish in 2011. That just makes me sigh.

      • irishmurphy25 - Jul 31, 2012 at 10:16 AM

        Has everyone given up on Riddick? He definitely has not produced like we expected him to, but TR was also his QB much of the time. He was not the only WR to not produce, none of our WRs have produced with Rees as QB except Floyd and Eifert. Not saying that its all the QB’s fault. Obviously Riddick’s muffed punts, dropped passes, etc are due to a lack of composure or something, but he is still a quick and shifty runner. I remember when he was a Fr. that Charlie Weis said he was the fastest player on the team. We haven’t seen that yet (Navy) but I’m still holding out hope that Riddick will have a breakout year instead of ending his career without having ever lived up to expectations.

      • bernhtp - Jul 31, 2012 at 10:44 AM

        I certainly haven’t given up on Theo. I believe he has worked hard and will have a big year, but it may be mostly from the slot position. I also dispute the notion that he was treated unfairly.

      • irishmurphy25 - Jul 31, 2012 at 12:59 PM

        I agree, he was not treated unfairly and I don’t feel sympathy for him (except that he had Rees as QB). He has had a few chances to make plays and has blown it (Navy, punt returns, dropped passes, etc), hope he redeems himself this year.

      • jimbasil - Jul 31, 2012 at 5:33 PM

        Riddich was moved to WR almost immediately. He hadn’t the chance to win or lose the RB position. He had AA, Cierre, Jonas and Huges in the backfield with him. Yes, the RB position that year was full and so was the WR group. Putting an already proved RB into the slot position was a coaching mistake and not a Theo’s mistake. Yes, he’s a tremendous athlete, but not the wholly versatile athlete he was expected to be. He, in a sense, was a fish out of water.

        You can dispute the fact all you wish, but the fact remains, he never got comfortable in the WR spot and did not meet expectations – albeit, very high expectations of perhaps a Golden Tate. It was completely unfair of the coaching staff to do this to him when he was emerging as a good RB. Coaches didn’t go out of their way to “give” Riddick a chance – they told him he was in practice to be a WR.

        Also, “a variety of positions”? Which positions would those in that variety be?

      • bernhtp - Jul 31, 2012 at 7:58 PM

        Theo was not moved from the RB position; he was moved from the (deep) bench position. He apparently liked the opportunity because he would have stayed on the bench if he didn’t agree.

        I think the coaches thought that getting the ball to Theo out in space would give him the ability to use his speed and agility to make a big contribution. So far this hasn’t worked as well as hoped, but hasn’t been a complete bust either. In any event, it is still an improvement over the alternative.

  9. soundsofsuccess7 - Jul 31, 2012 at 3:08 AM

    ND fans are in for yet another long season, it appears..

    At least it means laughs for everyone at the expense of this guy.. http://l.yimg.com/a/p/sp/editorial_image/d6/d6a38007da467d8de2e925b3ac0163e2/is_brian_kelly_too_angry_to_be_notre_dames_head_coach.jpg

  10. irishmurphy25 - Jul 31, 2012 at 10:24 AM

    Is anyone else excited about watching Slaughter this season? I love the way he plays and the way he hits. I hope he starts to get a sense of the ball while its in flight and gets a few INT’s. He is intense and a big hitter and a needed veteran in the defensive backfield. I hope he makes some big plays this year.

  11. bearcatirishfan - Jul 31, 2012 at 12:24 PM

    Harrison smith was treated unfairly under chunky weis, it’s hard to moved to a new position every week.

    • jimbasil - Jul 31, 2012 at 5:34 PM

      Yep! and so it goes.

  12. italianirish - Jul 31, 2012 at 1:05 PM

    One of my favorite lines on this blog came from Keith last year around this time, when everyone was expecting Riddick to be a big part of the offense. Something along the lines of:

    “Expect to see more Theo on NBC this year since the days of the Cosby Show.”

  13. fnc111 - Jul 31, 2012 at 4:09 PM

    The more I think about it I think If the competition is pretty close at QB, the smart thing to do is start Kiel immediately like USC did with Barkley. Rees is a turnover machine, Golson struggles to hang onto the ball and Hendrix is an awesome kid but has no field vision. This is a rebuilding year, so why not get the five star in there now IF he is ready? Let Hendrix be the goal to go QB and run some Tebow offense for him.

  14. fnc111 - Jul 31, 2012 at 6:16 PM

    I’d put Theo and GA3 as the kick returners and Davonte at PR.

  15. seannyz89 - Jul 31, 2012 at 7:49 PM

    The Irish are flat out garbage. I don’t know how they get any run at all. Wow, you beat Army and Navy. Laughable at best!!

  16. rrussellndfan - Aug 1, 2012 at 5:16 AM

    I would never play Hendrix. If kiel redshirts Hendrix is 3rd on my list. I cringe watching him play. Golson or Kiel as the starter. I like Rees way more than Hendrix. I lost what little I liked in Hendrix after the Florida State game.

  17. fnc111 - Aug 1, 2012 at 12:03 PM

    Rus, I would certainly use Hendrix as a wildcat QB with his athleticism and size. It would be crazy not to. I just wouldnt let him throw the ball ever!

  18. smurphdoggy29 - Aug 3, 2012 at 12:42 PM

    Hooah

    I love these guys. They will be the structure upon which the season will be built.

    I love Riddick, and am like many, waiting for him to produce. He will, sad it took so long though.

    Of course I am a HUGE fan of Slaughter, as I have noted in the past and he will have a banner season.

    Happy to see another Murphy posting on here too !

    Cave is immense in so many ways and how under the radar was his importance, since so may of us missed it until Golic had to replace him ? Though doing a yoeman’s type service it was obvious Golic couldn’t produce like Cave.

    Excellent !

    GO Irish !

    See you in Dublin ! (Brazen Head)

  19. mattmc20 - Aug 12, 2012 at 1:09 PM

    Is there anyway to get this ND crap off my app? ND sucks, Go Blue and I will keep posting this until I can figure out how to delete ND feeds

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