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‘Z’ no more: Plans for slot receiver evolve

Apr 3, 2013, 6:59 PM EDT


As our frame-by-frame analysis of practice videos attest to, there’s an appetite for everything football in the spring. Practice footage of one-on-one blocking, seven on seven passing drills or running against a no-touch defense still gives us ammo for our annual rite of spring. Playing the guessing game of how Brian Kelly plans to feature running back X or tight end Y.

Perhaps no position draws fans attention like wide receiver Z. Better known as the slot receiver, Kelly came into South Bend promising big things about the position. Whether that was a lack of depth or personnel, that breakout has yet to happen.

With Theo Riddick and Robby Toma graduated, Amir Carlisle injured and Davonte Neal gone, Irish fans everywhere are looking to find the early answers toward filling the slot. At a position that’s had a spotlight on it since day one, one that’s also its share of coaching changes and personnel twists, it’s rather understandable that most of us diving deep into spring tape continually try and read the tea leaves each at the slot every opportunity we get.

With freshman James Onwualu making a name for himself in his first practices and converted safety CJ Prosise also doing big things, media members took their opportunity with receivers coach and passing game coordinator Mike Denbrock, hopeful to get a assessment of the depth chart at slot receiver.

Instead, we got reboot of the offensive system.

Denbrock shrugged off any questions pinning a receiver to the inside spot, a distinction this offense feels far less concerned about making.

“That’s because you guys are still stuck in, ‘You’re a Z, you’re an X, you’re a W,” Denbrock said with a smile Wednesday afternoon. “We really don’t run our program offensively that way any more. Guys can be a running back on one play and a Z on the next play. Or they could line up as one of the outside receivers.

“That’s the way we’re really going to try and do things. Try and get guys that do things. Get guys that do the job the best, at the right position to do those jobs, and then let them go.”

While the news that the search for a position specific Z receiver is over is interesting, maybe more interesting is the acknowledged philosophical change the Irish have made on offense. Last year, we saw Kelly adapt to his personnel, playing a different brand of football after two seasons of trying to play his own signature style. It looks like those changes are going to stick.

With Denbrock explaining the shift away from one of the spread offenses’ core beliefs, we start to understand the coach Kelly is becoming. That’s how guys like Danny Smith can play inside receiver, and why lanky outside profile guys like Onwualu will get their shot where water-bug type receivers usually play. It’s a really fascinating peak behind the curtain courtesy of Denbrock.

And just one more think we can keep track of this spring…

  1. 25kgold - Apr 3, 2013 at 7:25 PM

    Just heard that Davonte Neal is considering USC! WOW, isn’t his “daughter and girlfriend” in Arizona???? Didn’t he leave ND because he wanted to be close to them???? How many miles is L.A. to AZ?? Oh, I get it now… You leave the gray cold days of South Bend and a coach that knows how to build championship teams, who won’t just let you have your way on the field. For a coach (Lane Kiffin) who will give you the ball on every other play, all the women (baby mamas) and sunshine in the world! Neal is a big joke!!!

    • dickasman - Apr 3, 2013 at 8:17 PM

      When you’re young, you go where water is blue, sun is hot, minor drinking is rampant and legs spread easily. That’s just the way it is. Somethings will never change, that’s just the way it is, oh yeah.

    • nudeman - Apr 3, 2013 at 11:56 PM

      As I said, the newborn was a smokescreen

      • dickasman - Apr 4, 2013 at 1:11 AM

        Lolololol. How did you know nude? Did you read the smoke signal? Here’s a shocker guys, no not the two in the….but the news. Auburn paid players and changed grades, can you believe that? Who woulda thunk it? Now one of the guys that was paying is head coach at Florida. Espn, I got news for ya. Also check LSU, Alabama, Florida and this year Mississippi state, please. Thank me later.

      • bernhtp - Apr 4, 2013 at 7:41 AM

        The fact that Neal and Ferguson just left and didn’t finish the academic semester (unlike Kiel) speaks volumes. Notre Dame is very difficult, doesn’t have the short cuts afforded for athletes at most other schools, requires full commitment, and isn’t for everyone.

  2. dickasman - Apr 3, 2013 at 8:13 PM

    Too bad, Davonte Neal would’ve been our perfect slut receiver this year.

  3. tampabayirish - Apr 3, 2013 at 8:40 PM

    Guys, have a little class. Things didn’t work out for Davonte Neal in South Bend. Wish him well and let it go.

    • dickasman - Apr 3, 2013 at 10:52 PM

      Wait a minute….did you just say TRAMPA and class in a same sentence? Which strip club do you work at?

      • mtflsmitty - Apr 3, 2013 at 10:55 PM

        Probably one where you get bounced for ending sentences with a preposition.

      • ndbcs2013 - Apr 3, 2013 at 11:23 PM

        Oh man, that made me laugh. Of all the wonderful reasons to potentially take issue with the dickster, you go after him for a loose preposition!?

      • dickasman - Apr 4, 2013 at 1:13 AM

        Actually, Preposition would be a great classy Tampa upscale strip club name!

      • dickasman - Apr 4, 2013 at 1:35 AM

        Smitty, personally I think the diversity is great on this board. Also, reflects the nd fan base. We have snookijerseyshorendfan from east coast to joe Montana’s wife Jennifer, from the west coast.

      • jerseyshorendfan1 - Apr 4, 2013 at 12:53 PM

        dick, you’re on fire today baby! Hilarious.

      • dickasman - Apr 4, 2013 at 6:15 PM

        Jersey, how did you know I have gonorrhea? It’s burnin babe it’s burnin!

  4. ndnphx - Apr 3, 2013 at 9:33 PM

    To get back to the topic of Keith’s blog:

    This “X”, “Y”, and “Z” thing is all very interesting, but tell me this: do we have receivers on this roster who can get separation from the guy that’s covering them? Because if we do, then line them up where ever you want, and we’ll take our chances with the other team’s defense…

    • dickasman - Apr 3, 2013 at 10:54 PM

      We’ve got some guys that can get separation. By separation, I mean transferring out.

  5. cpfirish - Apr 3, 2013 at 10:35 PM

    The slot belongs to Amir! No question!

    • dickasman - Apr 3, 2013 at 11:05 PM

      Maybe for one game til he gets hurt again. I like to see this onuwalu kid get a shot there, I’m sure he will. No matter where he plays I don’t think Amir will be able to finish the game/season. It’s probably better for him that he doesn’t start anywhere, at least this year. He’s been hurt too much. I don’t want to see him end up like that South Carolina running back

  6. bernhtp - Apr 3, 2013 at 10:55 PM

    It looks like Kelly is adapting the spread to the type of larger receivers he is able to get and to allow more formations and personnel uses that make it difficult for defenses to adjust, especially when pace is used. We saw glimmers of it with Eifert split wide and multi-TE sets, but it seems we will see yet more morphing.

  7. mediocrebob - Apr 3, 2013 at 11:18 PM

    You people freak out a little too much about minor things. Get over Neal leaving. Didn’t work out. Hope he goes to $C and he meets our D in a couple years.

    Kelly and his staff have a little bit better idea of what they’re doing than anyone writing or commenting on this website. (No offense Keith. I enjoy your writing). Some of you people need to chill out.

    Go Irish.

    • mtflsmitty - Apr 4, 2013 at 4:26 PM

      Nothing mediocre about that post, Bob. I couldn’t agree more.

      That said, I have come to terms with the fact that if everyone simply “left it to the pros”, the chat board would get boring real fast. Some folks here seem to make an effort to be as informed as possible and share valuable insights (bern comes to mind). Some combine historical knowledge, over-blown sense of omniscience, a dash of humility, and cleverness (Nude) Others just want to hear themselves.

      All told, I do enjoy my daily visit. Hope you do as we’ll.

      • dickasman - Apr 4, 2013 at 6:17 PM

        Oh sure, let’s not talk about the black guy in the room. Tanks for leaving me out smitty!

  8. fnc111 - Apr 4, 2013 at 1:02 AM

    In major college football there has been no offense more boring than CBK’s since he got here. I’ve been to nine games over the past two seasons and the games are just boring when the offense is on the field. I still don’t believe this is what Kelly wants but rather what Swarbrick the idiot has dictated to him since the Tulsa game. Jack has instructed Kelly and co. to “just win” even if it was 6-3. That’s fine but you better lower the ticket prices then. Pathetic that coaches get paid the kind of money they do and the offense is brutal. people want to be entertained and see great athletes. We aren’t getting out money’s worth and it pisses me off.

    • dickasman - Apr 4, 2013 at 1:26 AM

      FNC, the uber ultimate negative irish fan….I think you maybe one person that can match me in misery and I love you for it. Did you by chance do a lot of cocaine and escorts when you were younger? I’d love to catch a game with you and snort couple lines n talk sht about the game. I actually understand where you’re coming from and I think I’m in love! Lets move to San Francisco and get married and watch all nd football games together for rest of our lives.


    • mayo1010 - Apr 5, 2013 at 12:29 PM

      Nobody gives a shit that it pisses you off.

  9. fnc111 - Apr 4, 2013 at 1:23 AM


    Kelly definitely proved he knows what he is doing. No one should question him at all. See Tulsa game. See Michigan game. See Bama game. He knows way more than us. I especially liked his strategy at halftime of the national title game. It probably would’ve worked to just have Bama not show up for the second half like he said. Genius stuff. He is the smartest guy in football.

    • dickasman - Apr 4, 2013 at 1:27 AM


    • dickasman - Apr 4, 2013 at 1:31 AM

      Fnc, lets give credit where credit is due. He has yet to pay any of the players or asked swarbrick to change the grades that I am aware of.

    • mayo1010 - Apr 5, 2013 at 12:31 PM

      fnc111 = IDIOT ALERT!

  10. fnc111 - Apr 4, 2013 at 1:38 AM

    Per Eric Hansen there was more to JFerg and Davonte leaving. His gf would rather live in L.A. over South Bend. Neal never wanted to play at ND. His father wanted him here. That’s why he knocked his girl up just before he had to be at ND last June. DN knew he’d be one and done then use the gf/family/newborn excuse to get him back out west. No way he goes to ASU and the bridge is burned at U of A with his father not liking Davonte’s former coach anymore that is now at Arizona on dickrods staff. Only two places for him to go- UCLA or USC. No real shock.

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Apr 5, 2013 at 12:49 AM

      Right, he knocked up his GF for the sole purpose of transferring from ND. Brilliant insight once again FNC

    • mayo1010 - Apr 5, 2013 at 12:35 PM

      fnc111 we don’t need you to recap Eric Hansen. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want you recapping him either! Go back to pickle park and puff with your friend some more.

  11. fnc111 - Apr 4, 2013 at 1:45 AM

    Dick , hahaha u are too funny. Never done drugs just hate when ND steals my money and gives me a crap product offensively.

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Apr 5, 2013 at 12:52 AM

      ND stole your money? If you attended ND and you still have narrowminded perspective that you display on these boards every day, i’d say they did steal your money. You should ask for a refund and promptly return every single thing that has ever connected you to ND…your diploma, your t-shirts, the leperchaun tramp stamp that you use to pick up turd burglars.

    • mayo1010 - Apr 5, 2013 at 12:37 PM

      fnc111 i’m pretty sure ND will recover if you don’t attend any more games. I know it would be a huge loss but they’ll be ok!

  12. Keith Arnold - Apr 4, 2013 at 3:29 AM

    Guys, I’d be shocked if Neal gets cleared to transfer to USC. That doesn’t fit ND’s stance on transfers.

    Also — @DickAsman, let’s keep things a little bit cleaner. There’s a nuke button around the corner as we’re all trying to clean up the comments a bit.

    • yogihilt - Apr 4, 2013 at 7:29 AM

      About time

      • dickasman - Apr 4, 2013 at 11:51 AM

        Yogi, right now I totally feel like that last time i sat on the club chair at the sofitel w couple escorts running around and I snorted couple of giant fat lines, knowing that the end was near, knowing that it had to end,that there was more to life than this…I totally have that same feeling. Like being the only republican in chicago, its a cruel world but I have nobody but myself to blame, once again, nobody. Nobody’s fault but mine, nobody’s fault but mine…..just know this guys, if the sun refuses to shine, I’d still be loving you!!!

    • dickasman - Apr 4, 2013 at 11:26 AM

      Nooooooooooooooonononononono!!!! Just as well I guess. Nice knowing you all. Keith, ill be back when we lose the Hawaii bowl n it’s all crickets n stuff after 5-6 season.

      I will get by
      I will get by
      I will get byyyyyyyy we will surviveeeee

      • mayo1010 - Apr 5, 2013 at 12:42 PM

        You said good bye in the last article when Keith reprimanded you. Why don’t you stick to it. We all know you’re sole reason for being here is a cry for attention but at least honor what you say. Good bye means good bye. So good bye!

  13. bernhtp - Apr 4, 2013 at 7:26 AM

    B&G has a good article on the same topic:

  14. yogihilt - Apr 4, 2013 at 7:31 AM

    This is off topic… but just read where KC McDermott just committed verbally to Miami, the big tackle ND was hard after. 6’6″ 290, one of the top T’s out there for 2014.

    • mayo1010 - Apr 5, 2013 at 12:43 PM

      yogi he committed 2 days ago.

      • mayo1010 - Apr 5, 2013 at 12:54 PM

        actually it was 3 days ago 4/2/13.

  15. yaketyyacc - Apr 4, 2013 at 8:18 AM

    even with the short video bites of spring practice, the fruit of recruitment is ripening with the sun of Notre Dame coaching providing the nutrients. those looking for a more explosive nd “attention” provokiing offense will be more than satisfied. and this just from a few glimpses. Ah, Keith to have your vantage point!
    the where and whyfores of transfers is fodder only for the inept. who cares. jut wish them good future, and on to those who are NOTRE DAME MEN. THE IRISH ARE COMING

  16. midwestirishfan - Apr 4, 2013 at 9:20 AM

    “With Denbrock explaining the shift away from one of the spread offenses’ core beliefs . . . .” I didn’t read Denbrock’s comments to mean the Irish have shifted from any core belieft of the spread, but rather that they will use guys in different positions and not restrict guys to only one. Keith, what core belief do you think Kelly & Co. are shifting away from.

    • midwestirishfan - Apr 5, 2013 at 10:36 AM

      Also Keith, the title to your piece, “‘Z’ no more.” Denbrock’s comments don’t indicate they are doing away with the Z position, nor does he indicate they’re doing away with the Z nomanclature (as he uses the term in the interview). So what do you mean by “‘Z’ no more”? Keith?

      • Keith Arnold - Apr 5, 2013 at 11:14 AM

        Good questions. A few thoughts:

        It wasn’t hard to see that last season, the Irish ran a drastically different offense. More power run game. More traditional one back sets. Two tight ends. Rarely three receivers or traditional spread systems. That’s the offense Kelly tried to install early.

        When I say Z no more, I mean that there’s not going to be a true Z profile. The slot receiver isn’t what it used to be. Sure, they’ll use the term — they need it for their methodology. But the traditional position is gone.

        Is it out of necessity or evolution? Probably a little of both.

        But if you didn’t see the core belief in the spread change last season, you weren’t looking all that hard.

  17. 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 4, 2013 at 10:54 AM

    apparently we have just entered the twilight zone, where a player who wants to transfer but who can’t stand up to his father goes and gets his girlfriend pregnant so he can convince his father to bless the transfer the player wanted to make all along.

    this conspiracy theory ranks up there with NASA faking the moon landing and GWB 43 ordering 9/11.

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - Apr 4, 2013 at 1:02 PM

      Maybe the kid is not even his, or should I say maybe there was a second shooter on the grassy knoll?

      • dickasman - Apr 4, 2013 at 6:23 PM

        Wasn’t me, I swear(throws both his hands in the air n acts like he just don’t care)

      • idratherbeinsouthbend - Apr 5, 2013 at 12:54 AM

        it was keith hernandez

    • bb90grad - Apr 5, 2013 at 2:07 PM

  18. gtizzo - Apr 4, 2013 at 4:47 PM


    A few guys transfer and everyone decides it is time to pack it up and throw in the towel on the season…already. Keep in mind ND didn’t exactly light up the score board a whole bunch last season. They finished 12-0. Want to fuss over the BCS title game go ahead…your wasting your time. Alabama would have destroyed any team on that field. Heck even gave ND credit for turning title game gloom into roses on NSD. A few guys leaving, question marks on offense, questions about the defense…none of this is new. Just part of the being an ND fan. We will see some answers when ND plays Temple. Being an ND fan has become one of the toughest jobs in sports…your just never know what is around the corner.

  19. wisner74 - Apr 4, 2013 at 6:13 PM

    Oh crap! Dickasman is a Deadhead!

    • dickasman - Apr 4, 2013 at 6:26 PM

      Lets just say I’ve driven a few train high on cocaine. Look where it took me…not proud of it.

  20. 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 4, 2013 at 9:00 PM

    Dick, nice zeppelin quote. Odd, but nice.

  21. 1historian - Apr 5, 2013 at 9:43 PM

    What did one Grateful Dead fan say to the other Grateful Dead fan after the dope wore off at the Grateful Dead concert?

    “This band really sucks.”

    I saw them about 5 times when I was in S.F. for 6 weeks or so in early 1970 (yes I’m that old) but surely one’s musical horizons don’t stop there.

    Do they?

    It WAS fun at their shows, especially when Miles Davis opened for them at the Fillmore West that time in 1970, but we all move on.

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