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Counting down the Irish: The top five

Aug 1, 2012, 3:43 PM EST

manti-teo getty images

You could do a lot worse than the two players that topped every judges ballot. Both Manti Te’o and Tyler Eifert are consensus preseason All-Americans, and both will be the anchor of their respective units this season for the Irish.

In Eifert, new offensive coordinator Chuck Martin has a weapon as versatile as any in the country. At 6-foot-6, 251-pounds, Eifert has the size to attach to the formation, block in the running game or break free down the seam. He’s also got the athleticism to split wide, acting as a super-sized wide receiver that’ll wreak havoc on opposing secondaries.

In Te’o, the Irish have their ultimate tackling machine, especially with a healthy Te’o looked more fit and fast than ever. The heart and soul of a unit that needs to elevate its play even while replacing three key pieces in the secondary, Te’o will be asked to do a lot during his final season in South Bend.

There was a clear-cut divide between Te’o and Eifert and everybody else. Te’o received four first-place votes while Eifert received two. From there, Cierre Wood emerged as the third-best player on the roster. Behind him, three-year starting left tackle Zack Martin. And perhaps the most surprising vote-receiver of all, sophomore Stephon Tuitt, who absolutely looks the part of an All-American defensive end, but still needs to prove it on the football field.

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.)
10. Kapron Lewis-Moore (DE, Grad.)
9. Theo Riddick (RB, Sr.)
8. Jamoris Slaughter (DB, Grad.)
7. Braxston Cave (C, Grad.)
6. Louis Nix III (DT, Jr.)

RANKINGS

5. Stephon Tuitt (DE, Soph.) That Tuitt finds himself at No. 5 is largely a product of what’s expected of the hulking sophomore, not necessarily anything that happened during his freshman season. While the 6-foot-6, 295-pound second-year player put up solid numbers during his freshman season (30 tackles, 3 TFL, and 2 sacks), it was a season that was hampered by a bout with mono, and a disciplinary blip that cost Tuitt the chance to play at Purdue.

While Aaron Lynch was the headline grabber last season, many inside the program view Tuitt as the future star, and his imposing frame and impressive athleticism make this sophomore a star in the making. Anchoring the spot across from Kapron-Lewis-Moore, and able to slide inside on pass-rushing downs, Tuitt is the type of athlete Notre Dame hasn’t often had on the defensive line. Expect a big jump in production from Tuitt, who will line up everywhere across the defensive front.

(Highest ranking: 3rd. Lowest ranking: 11th)

4. Zack Martin (LT, Sr.) After winning Notre Dame’s lineman of the year award in his first two seasons playing, Martin has the left tackle position locked down for the Irish. At 6-foot-4, 304 pounds, Martin may lack the dominant size you’d expect from a bookend left tackle, but after sitting out his freshman season, all Martin’s done is produce, anchoring the offensive line in both of Brian Kelly’s first two seasons.

Martin has received the proper national notice this offseason, finding himself on a variety of watch lists. Whether Martin propels himself into one of the elite linemen in the country will largely depend on how well Harry Hiestand’s troops perform during a daunting 2012 schedule. With a fifth-year of eligibility still available, Martin could be a rare four-year starter at left tackle.

(Highest ranking: 3rd. Lowest ranking: 9th)

3. Cierre Wood (RB, Sr.) Jonas Gray’s breakthrough senior season may have diminished the year that Wood put together last year. Averaging over five yards a carry, Wood ran for 1,102 yards and 9 touchdowns, only the 16th 1,000 yard season in Irish history. At 6-foot, 215-pounds, Wood has shown impressive durability running inside while also showing plenty of speed and breakaway skill, providing a surprising amount of big-yardage runs throughout the year.

There’s no doubting the struggles Wood and the Irish running game had against USC last year, with Wood’s five carries for five yards putting a large statistical hole in his season. But over the two years he’s been featured in the Irish offense, big plays have come rather easily for the Oxnard, California native. In games that he’s received 10 carries or more, only once (2011′s 16-14 win over Boston College) has Wood failed to break a 10-yard run.

Wood has a fifth year of eligibility available to him, but it’s unclear whether he plans to use it. In an offensive backfield now filled with weapons, it’s also unclear how many touches the Irish plan to give Wood. But with surprisingly good hands and versatility, it’d be wise to get the ball early and often to the offense’s most reliable runner.

(Highest ranking: 3rd. Lowest ranking: 9th)

2. Tyler Eifert (TE, Sr.) In the golden era of Irish tight ends, Eifert has shown himself the best of the group, putting together a first-team All-American junior season as Eifert lead the country in catches among tight ends. At 6-foot-6, 251-pounds, Eifert is a walking match-up problem, and without Michael Floyd split wide, expect the football to go to the big Fort Wayne product even more often this season.

Eifert’s ascent is a pretty impressive one, with the senior not all that long ago being a forgotten name. Injured early in his freshman season, there was little expected of Eifert during his sophomore season until tight end Kyle Rudolph went down with a hamstring injury. From there, Eifert put together an impressive run, making all but one of his 27 catches down the stretch for the Irish as they rallied and ended 2010 with four straight victories.

Eifert was the only tight end on the Maxwell Award’s watch list and has been a preseason first-team All-American on multiple lists. He’ll likely be the first tight end taken in next year’s NFL Draft, even though he has a final season of eligibility remaining.

(Highest ranking: 1st. Lowest ranking: 2nd)

1. Manti Te’o (LB, Sr.) Rarely does a highly touted recruit come in and do exactly what is hoped for, but Manti Te’o has absolutely delivered the goods during his three seasons in South Bend. After an All-American campaign with 128 tackles during his junior season, Te’o shocked the college football world when he announced he was returning for his senior season.

At 6-foot-2, 255-pounds, Te’o is a prototype inside linebacker, with terrific instincts and speed that takes him sideline to sideline. He also showed himself to be a threat in the pass rush, contributing five sacks last season after logging onto two combined in his first two seasons. After an ankle injury plagued him throughout his junior season, Te’o cut weight during spring workouts, looking leaner and quicker (and finally healthy) through spring drills. Entering camp, Te’o is the unquestionable leader of the Irish, was a first-team preseason All-American, and will be one of the first middle linebackers selected in the NFL Draft.

(Highest ranking: 1st. Lowest ranking 2nd)

  1. fnc111 - Aug 1, 2012 at 4:19 PM

    I love Te’o and so glad he came here and he is my favorite student-athlete on the team but there are two things lacking on his resume right now. He doesn’t really force any turnovers and hasn’t beaten the bum QB from Michigan. Te’o hasn’t done everything asked of him- yet. This year he has a shot at completing his ND resume.

    • irishbornraised - Aug 1, 2012 at 5:46 PM

      I keep hearing that te’o hasn’t forced any turnovers. Am i the only one who remembers his forced fumble against FSU that accounted for half our points?

    • oldestguard - Aug 1, 2012 at 6:00 PM

      Whats the deal with the forced fumble as any kind of “determining stat” for a linebacker….
      check Luke Kuechly’ stats in this area ( zip last year and a grand total of 2 in his college career )- and no one was close to his level of linebacker play last year.

      I’ll give you that Teo himself will want to hang losses on Mich and USC among others before hanging it up, but to make any comment that lack of FF taints his record in any way…..I dont buy it.

      Keith…great job entertaining us with these rankings. appreciate the time that goes into this.

      • chisports14 - Aug 2, 2012 at 11:45 AM

        Te’o has been fantastic for the team… but he hasn’t shown he is a game changer. Before the haters kill me for this post, you have to ask yourself when he has come up with game changing tackles or turnovers late in games. I feel like too many times he has shown up for three quarters only to hear his name called less when we need it most. With that being said…

        I think the area where Te’o really needs to show some improvement is coverage. Over the past three seasons I have seen Manti as more of a blitzing linebacker and run stuffer. He puts up great numbers on those plays because he can cover a lot of ground really fast, but he still has plenty of room to improve.

        Kuechly really showed his skill by not only making great pre-snap reads, but also having a knack for the ball in coverage. It was really impressive to see him drop into coverage when he showed blitz… If Manti can do this it will really help our pass coverage because too many times we have seen opposing TEs and RBs grab a pass right where he and and the other linebackers should be covering. These problems obviously can’t all be solved by one man, but he needs to prove that ability because I think his stats are fluffed by his blitzing role.

        My dream this season is watching Manti bring a Denard throw to the house….

      • chisports14 - Aug 2, 2012 at 11:45 AM

        Te’o has been fantastic for the team… but he hasn’t shown he is a game changer. Before the haters kill me for this post, you have to ask yourself when he has come up with game changing tackles or turnovers late in games. I feel like too many times he has shown up for three quarters only to hear his name called less when we need it most. With that being said…

        I think the area where Te’o really needs to show some improvement is coverage. Over the past three seasons I have seen Manti as more of a blitzing linebacker and run stuffer. He puts up great numbers on those plays because he can cover a lot of ground really fast, but he still has plenty of room to improve.

        Kuechly really showed his skill by not only making great pre-snap reads, but also having a knack for the ball in coverage. It was really impressive to see him drop into coverage when he showed blitz… If Manti can do this it will really help our pass coverage because too many times we have seen opposing TEs and RBs grab a pass right where he and and the other linebackers should be covering. These problems obviously can’t all be solved by one man, but he needs to prove that ability because I think his stats are fluffed by his blitzing role.

        My dream this season for him is watching Manti bring a Denard throw to the house….

  2. cam2ham - Aug 1, 2012 at 4:23 PM

    Cierre Wood. Feed the beast. Win games.

  3. kiopta1 - Aug 1, 2012 at 5:01 PM

    Outside of the Qb nobody has been asked to carry as much a Teo…I really want to see him have a healthy monster season and then carry that into the nfl.

  4. fnc111 - Aug 1, 2012 at 6:40 PM

    bornraised,

    Let’s win some games then maybe we don’t have to have this argument.

  5. fnc111 - Aug 1, 2012 at 6:46 PM

    My point is some of these ND guys get all this pub but can’t beat the likes of Michigan or USC. It gets frustrating. I don’t care about anything but winning. All our opponents force turnovers but to be honest the ND defense really doesn’t do it. Trust me this defense will have to start forcing TOs to have this be a successful season of 8-4. Just a prediction but the quarterbacks will all be turnover machines this year. I agree with feed the beasts like Cierre and co. This season is all about the run game and front seven, ND’s biggest strengths.

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Aug 1, 2012 at 8:32 PM

      “These ND guys” get all the pub because they, individually, play at a very high level. The fact that they can’t beat Michigan and USC is a reflection of the entire team. So, while i agree that the TEAM needs to produce wins, I don’t think we should take away from individual accomplishments because of the lack of wins vs. big time opponents.

      You wouldn’t take the accomplishments of Bruce Smith away because the Bills couldn’t win the big game, would you?

      As my 8-year-old would say…

      “Just saying”

    • italianirish - Aug 2, 2012 at 11:35 AM

      You immediately lose all credibility when you say “trust me”

    • jimbasil - Aug 2, 2012 at 3:06 PM

      I’d agree the lack of TO’s created by the D was disappointing but to say the D doesn’t get it done is a little beyond. Even without the TO’s ND’s D was darn good.

      Now if you said ND gives the ball away (see Rees and Turn overs) and creates bad timing penalties I’d be with you.

      ND could very well of gotten away with many of it’s TO’s however, too many of them went for big scores for the other team (see USC/Crist – USF/Jonas G.) or the complete momentum changing TO (see FSU/Rees giving holiday gifts) that were insurmountable.

      • jimbasil - Aug 2, 2012 at 3:42 PM

        In correction: “ND could very well of gotten away…” should be “…very well have gotten away…” my sincerest apologies to everyone on this board. That is a gramma’ blunder for dummies.

  6. gtizzo - Aug 1, 2012 at 7:10 PM

    So Predictable.

  7. yaketyyacc - Aug 2, 2012 at 5:25 AM

    Well, we have the top 25 players, however, caution reminds us that a chain is only as strong as it’s WEAKEST link, which can be translated into coaching indecision, as well as player capability. continual player mistakes on the field, reflect the coaching off the field. games are not won on saturday, but during the week in practice. indecision as to who your starting quarterback should be, when you have had two years of observation, has to unsettle the entire team.
    on paper, we have great talent, and the schedule, while tough, presents the opportunity for high ranking.
    Good Luck.

  8. brendanunderscoreg - Aug 2, 2012 at 9:11 AM

    Does this site not load properly for anyone else? It hasn’t for a few months now on Chrome. I’m assuming the browser is the problem.

    • a68domer - Aug 2, 2012 at 11:19 AM

      I use the link on NDNation.com and haven’t had a problem. Firefox is my browser.

    • jimbasil - Aug 2, 2012 at 3:11 PM

      Get rid of Chrome, it sucks and messes up your machine. Seriously, it’s the Chrome that’s yer problem, unlike the guy who goes through ndnation, he has a different problem.

    • bernhtp - Aug 2, 2012 at 4:44 PM

      I use Chrome (Windows 7 64) most of the time and without problem here. The site does tend to load slowly, but that’s not the fault of the browser.

    • brendanunderscoreg - Aug 6, 2012 at 11:54 AM

      Figured it out. It was an extension called “HTTPS Everywhere”. Disabled it and site works great now. Chrome wasn’t the problem.

      I know you all were anxiously awaiting this news.

  9. clashmorered - Aug 3, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    At the end of the season, it is going to be Te’o 1, Eifert 2 and Atkinson 3.

  10. smurphdoggy29 - Aug 3, 2012 at 2:38 PM

    Top 3 solid though anyone could have pegged that. It is good though.

    I would like someone to list the 22 players on the roster that will become directly responsible for the team succeeding up to and beyond their expectations.

    How often does it resonate throughout that “Notre Dame hasn’t gotten back, yet”

    Well ?

    Let’s have some of these scholarship athlete’s and others blaze that trail !

    GO Irish !

    Dublin/Brazen Head there see you (Keith buying = word on street)

    • dickasman - Aug 3, 2012 at 4:10 PM

      How much is he buying 8 ball or teener?

      • smurphdoggy29 - Aug 4, 2012 at 12:50 PM

        Black n Tans, Black n Tans

  11. dickasman - Aug 3, 2012 at 4:08 PM

    Teo is good but not great. Maybe in the bed or off the field but not on it, yet. I hope he lost a few pounds so he is quicker and more explosive. He makes tackles. We need him to step it up a bit and make a few int’s here, few fumble recoveries there. I would like to see him makes some big plays during the critical times. Hoping for MVP season from him and no jerseyshorendfan, I’m not talking about mvp as in Mike, Vinny, Paulie MVP.

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