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Predicting the twists and turns of spring

Mar 13, 2014, 9:26 PM EDT

DaVaris Daniels, Ricardo Allen AP

Around this time of year, most Irish fans thought the worst was behind them. The sting of a lopsided defeat in the national title game had almost worn off. The shock of the Manti Te’o catfishing story had faded, and the Irish had just inked one of the top recruiting classes in the country. While Gunner Kiel had decided to transfer, it was because he saw a roadblock in front of him, with Everett Golson on track to be a four year starter.

You wouldn’t have been crazy to think that things were going to be relatively boring. Coming off a 12 win season, Brian Kelly and the Irish had as solid of a foundation that this program had seen since Lou Holtz.

Of course, plenty of things happened between now and then. But as we take this week off from spring practice as Notre Dame completes spring break, it’s worth pointing out that crazy things happen. Especially if you’re following this football team.

Nobody could predict a starting quarterback will be expelled for a semester. Or that a plug-and-play defensive lineman would sign his letter-of-intent and only then decide to stay closer to home.

But while the big bombs are as unpredictable now as ever, there were a few on field surprises that also qualified. As we get ready to restart spring, let’s take a trip down memory lane and find another few that would qualify:

  • Cam McDaniel would end up leading the team in rushing.
  • Greg Bryant wouldn’t be the impact freshman running back. Tarean Folston would.
  • The offensive line would be ravaged by injury… and no one would really notice.
  • Neither Stephon Tuitt nor Louis Nix would be All-American.
  • Even returning 8 starters, Bob Diaco‘s defense would take a huge step backwards.
  • After being given a starting job during spring, Matthias Farley would be out of one by bowl season.
  • Tommy Rees would be Top 30 in TD passes and yards per pass, but 96th in completion percentage.
  • Troy Niklas and George Atkinson would leave for the NFL early.

With new coordinators on both sides of the football, a different system on defense and a return to the spread on offense, there are so many variables still up for grabs. So while we’ve only seen a few brief snippets of spring work, there’s no better time for surprises than now.

Let’s walk through four surprises that wouldn’t shock me.

Greg Bryant ends up leading the team in touchdowns. 

It’s too early to tell if Bryant is as good as Irish fans hope, but he certainly has a unique skillset that might be very valuable in this offense. Passing to running backs hasn’t been a priority for Kelly’s offense in his first four seasons in South Bend. But Bryant’s got the hands to make plays out of the backfield, and a spread attack could give him some favorable match-ups.

He’s also got the necessary heft to take over the goal line carries, something that Cam McDaniel didn’t quite capitalize on last season. Add in Bryant likely taking over in the punt return game for TJ Jones and his chance to take as many carries as he can earn, and Bryant’s slow start to his career could be forgotten quickly.

DaVaris Daniels will go over 1,000 yards receiving. Somebody else will, too. 

It’s been almost a decade since Notre Dame had two 1,000 yard receivers. But in 2014, don’t be shocked if Brian Kelly’s offense finally produces two of them. After getting close with Michael Floyd and Tyler Eifert (who came up short with 802 yards in 2011), you need to go back to the duo of Jeff Samardzija and Maurice Stovall in 2005, Charlie Weis’ first season in South Bend.

While we won’t see him this spring, expect DaVaris Daniels to come back a new man, a semester away putting his priorities in order. Daniels has the talent to play in the NFL and if things go according to his plan, next season will be his last in South Bend.

Behind Daniels, it’ll be an interesting race to see who can get the touches to push for 1,000 yards. My early hunch? Rising sophomore Will Fuller, who has the downfield speed and diversity in his game to become a weapon in this offense. You don’t put up 26.7 yards per catch as a freshman if you don’t have some explosive ability, and more targets will mean yards in a hurry for Fuller.

Even without Stephon Tuitt and Prince Shembo, Notre Dame will match their 2012 sack total. 

If there was a disappointment last season, it’s that the Irish pass rush disappeared, dropping from 33 sacks in 2012 to a woeful 21 in 2013. Whether it was a lack of creativity, struggles from key personnel or offenses preparing for the Irish after a big 2012, expect things to be different.

Our first look at the Irish defense featured Ishaq Williams and Romeo Okwara playing on the edges while Jarron Jones and Sheldon Day lined up on the inside. Also expect Jaylon Smith to get a chance to come after the quarterback, the Irish’s best athlete given a chance to wreak havoc.

Kelly has talked about some exotic sub-packages that are being installed this spring. He’s also talked about not worrying about where the pass rush is coming from. This might be the ultimate compliment to VanGorder, who spent last season with Rex Ryan, one of the greats at disguising blitzes.

On defense, an unheralded veteran and a unproven newcomer will burst onto the scene. 

Okay, this one might be a little lame. But expect one of the veterans on this team to take the coaching change and run with it. The early candidates:

Chase Hounshell: It’s only a matter of time before Hounshell gets a good break. He’s a big, strong, athletic defensive lineman who just needs to stay healthy after shoulder injuries have ruined his past two seasons.

Tony Springmann: On the verge of breaking out, a major knee injury put Springmann’s career in jeopardy, though it looks like he’ll come back this fall. Big enough to play either inside or outside, Springmann could wreak havoc as a one-gap player.

Anthony Rabasa: The most likely candidate for the Junior Jabbie spring superstar award, Rabasa has a chance to be a contributor next season. He’s a good football player that now actually has a position in this defense.

Justin Utupo: Another undersized player who took advantage of his opportunities last year. Utupo has a chance to do big things, mostly because a depth chart that had a ton of depth in front of him has thinned out. Add that to a scheme change and Utupo is a fun wildcard to follow.

James Onwualu: The staff didn’t move Onwualu because they wanted to bury him on the depth chart. With everyone starting with a blank slate, expect the max effort, high speed Onwualu to make fans quickly this spring, giving the Irish a safety who can run with receivers and bang in the box.

Andrew Trumbetti: The door is open for Trumbetti to bring some pass rush skills to South Bend. He’ll have spring to prove he belongs, the summer to physically prepare, and fall camp to make his move into the lineup.

  1. bernhtp - Mar 13, 2014 at 9:43 PM

    I expected Ishaq to be mentioned after “an unheralded veteran,” but he didn’t even make this list. Sucking up to Nude?

    • dickasman - Mar 13, 2014 at 10:38 PM

      Y he certainly did not live up to the hype but at least he converted from democrat to republican.

  2. goirishgo - Mar 13, 2014 at 9:58 PM

    My prediction for unheralded vet coming of age is Elijah Shumate. Big at 220, fast, athletic and a serious hitter.

    • dickasman - Mar 13, 2014 at 10:09 PM

      I like him but he’s not tall enough and not fast enough. He should be line of scrimmage SS/LB hybrid but at the moment, I have no idea what he is. Paging bob sanders, where are you? I hope he steps it up this year.

      • goirishgo - Mar 14, 2014 at 9:53 AM

        Good thought, Dick. He may have grown into a tweener without a traditional position to play.

  3. davidosborne89 - Mar 13, 2014 at 11:45 PM

    I like the second 1,000 yd reciever to be Corey Robinson. The guy is a big target & is a big match up problem. He doesn’t have blazing speed but he does run great routes! If his freshman year showed anything it was if he can touch it he’ll catch it! The big break out season on the def. side of the ball I feel will be Romeo Okwara. Lots of speed & athletic ability! The time that he played last season he played with a chip on his shoulder & he was always around the ball. I think he’s going to have a break out season! GO IRISH!!

    • onward2victory - Mar 14, 2014 at 4:00 AM

      We all love CR (Catch Radius), but I think he’ll be used more situationally and probably won’t be on the field enough to become a 1000 yard receiver. I agree with Keith that Will Fuller will be the clear #2 WR this year, he’s just a more complete receiver and man he’s got wheels. But the depth is exciting with guys like CR, Chris Brown, Hunter, and Carlisle, all

    • onward2victory - Mar 14, 2014 at 4:03 AM

      … all of whom I think will step up big at different times throughout the season.

      I like you’re pick of Okwara on Def tho. Hope you’re right there.

    • rayguy14 - Mar 14, 2014 at 5:19 PM

      Corey Robinson as a great route runner? Did I miss something? I was just talking to a colleague today about that being a big weakness of his. I’m excited about and think the following will emerge…Daniels, Fuller, Hunter, Carlisle, Robinson, Brent, Brown, and Prosise, in that order. Pretty loaded at that position which appears at first glance to be one of the more questionable positions (at least in proven experience) on the roster.

  4. mediocrebob - Mar 14, 2014 at 12:29 AM

    Always love a Junior Jabbie mention.

    I like the thought of two 1,000 yd receivers , I’ll believe DD to be one of those when I see it. The guy is a freak but not sure he knows how to bring it consistently. I know he had injury problems but I have my doubts. Hope he proves me wrong. Hope to see Durham(?) Smythe to be the next TE. Nothing against Koyack but I’d like to see a younger guy step in there.

    Not sure what to think with the defensive guys. Hope BV lives up to the hype and that these guys buy in quickly. There’s no doubt that there’s talent in the Bend. Time will tell what becomes of it.

    Go Irish. Beat everyone.

  5. jerseyshorendfan1 - Mar 14, 2014 at 12:57 AM

    Predicting the twists and turns of Spring……here are some surprises as to the regulars on this board that wouldn’t shock me:

    dickasman – suddenly starts to advocate monogamy and a drug free lifestyle.

    bernhtp – sensing some imbalance on the board, begins to advocate for coke and hookers.

    nudeman – in a weird twist of fate, finds that Tommy Rees has moved in next door. He invites nude over to watch all the ND games and constantly interjects how he would have audibled in that situation.

    mediocrebob – finds that he has no comment about anything.

    fnc11 – turns away from the board, opting instead to watch Fox News full time.

    large bush – realizes that he is just the new version of that dude that used to taunt mediocrebob and that he is about as relevant as a Foghat concert.

    HarveyUpdike – moves out of his Mom’s basement.

    1historian – becomes bored with being the voice of reason and goes on a tri-state crime spree.

    Keith Arnold – runs out to Peet’s for a chai latte and toys momentarily with the thought of hiring a proofreader for his ND blog.

    Slow night here guys, just having some fun. Please remember that I kid because I love.

    Your pal,
    Art Vandelay

    • onward2victory - Mar 14, 2014 at 4:07 AM

      Awesome, post of the year.

      • 4horsemenrideagain - Mar 14, 2014 at 9:22 AM

        agreed. this is classic. even the jab at KA for some of the warts that go undetected. whoa, no one is safe!

        well done and keep it coming.

    • 1historian - Mar 14, 2014 at 12:38 PM

      My new pal!!

      I didn’t even dare hope (actually I did but a modicum of false modesty won’t hurt here) to see my name mentioned among the cognoscenti and the intelligentsia and the flora and fauna who regularly grace us with their presence. For that I thank you, especially the kind words.

      As for the prediction – we shall see what we shall see. Having passed the 3 score and 10 phase my usual response to boredom is a glass of wine and taking a walk with the dog – living on a dirt road off a dirt road in the wilds of Maine has many advantages, not the least of which is proving the old adage ‘don’t eat yellow snow’. If I DO go on the jaunt you predicted I will take one of my canes and I will leave it behind and someone will use it and track me down!!

      Another thing is to read something by P.G. Wodehouse. My dad started me reading him when I was 14. 56 years later I still read his stuff, some of it for the 8th or 9th time, and it is STILL funny.

      I live in a town where the owner of the local market greets me with – “how ya doin’ you old coot!!?” every time I walk in, as per strict instructions.

      You have made my day and for that I thank you.

      • 1historian - Mar 14, 2014 at 12:39 PM

        One more thing – I was born in Jersey.

      • jerseyshorendfan1 - Mar 14, 2014 at 12:56 PM

        histy….funny thing, I almost moved out of Jersey about 10 years ago in search of the life you’re living. My destination? The great state of Maine. I owned some acreage there and was planning to build cabin but as I got older I guess my blood got thinner and I didn’t want to put up with that much winter. Sounds like you have a pretty nice thing going there. It was the dirt road off of a dirt road that got me.

        I seem to have overlooked papadec, 4horse and onward….all admirable posters in their own right. All I can say is I will get you guys next time I’m up at 12:30 with nothing to do.

      • papadec - Mar 14, 2014 at 4:58 PM

        hist – I knew you lived in Maine & understood your response regarding snow still on the ground, when I commented about a Spring thaw. I cannot express strongly enough how much I hate that white sh**. I’ll take the year round dreary, misty, rainy days we get in the Seattle area over all the snow my east coast family gets in NY & Boston.

    • dickasman - Mar 15, 2014 at 12:54 PM

      Hahahahahahhshahahhahahahah….great post snooki! I have been advocating for drug free lifestyle though. I tell my stories so the next moron won’t end up like me.

      But this was hilarious…..I almost missed it

  6. fnc111 - Mar 14, 2014 at 6:50 AM

    The sting of that national title game will never wear off. Just like the ’11 Michigan game won’t be erased from the memory bank. Thank you Brian Kelly. Thanks a lot.

    • 1historian - Mar 15, 2014 at 9:26 AM

      That is YOUR problem and you are welcome to it.

  7. mediocrebob - Mar 14, 2014 at 6:51 AM

    Yikes. Guess this isn’t the forum to post thoughts on Irish football/articles about Irish football. I’ll keep my thoughts to myself from now on.

    No I won’t.

  8. fnc111 - Mar 14, 2014 at 6:55 AM

    Just heard an expert say it’s time for investigators to look into Iran and Pakistan as places that 777 landed. All those thumbs down I got five days ago when I predicted all of this better start going in the other direction.

    • dillonbigred - Mar 14, 2014 at 9:44 AM

      You think the the hijacking theory is why you received thumbs down?

    • dbldmr - Mar 14, 2014 at 10:32 AM

      Wow, an “expert” said it. It must be true. So far experts have said just about everything. One of the experts is bound to be right sometime. Even a blind squirrel finds the occasional acorn.

  9. yaketyyacc - Mar 14, 2014 at 8:00 AM

    so Golson has returned, the magic wand that will bring astonishing results. as Lee Corso would say, Not So fast. Golson has been away for awhile, and even though studying under the guru’s guru, has not had the advantage of playing with his team. he has missed the learning of the routes of receivers, the speed or lack of it of running back, the smooth rhythm and flow of the offense.
    talent alone cannot make up for this.
    But, coach Kelly will go with him, and this will be a mistake. He went with rees and that was not a mistake, it was a catastrophe. Golson will look great in the first game, and then stumble out of the gate against Michigan. and from there it will be all down hill.
    Start Malik Zaire!

    • papadec - Mar 14, 2014 at 5:06 PM

      yak – just what the hell do you think they’ll be working on when they get back for the remainder of Spring practice & this Summer?

  10. 4horsemenrideagain - Mar 14, 2014 at 9:33 AM

    don’t sleep on deeb and the frosh MLB(s). a marked improvement in MLB play from last year could be the biggest twist of all, other than the welcome return to having a QB that is a threat to pull it on the read option, and to tuck it and run out of the pocket on passing downs.

    nicky baratti is going to be another pleasant surprise that will have everyone saying “oh, yeah! we forgot about that scrappy Texan.” lastly, mcglinchey, all 300 lbs of him, reporting in as a tight end and catching a TD is going to be a fun moment. word is, this kid can move. imagine him running that route where the TE boxes out the DE/OLB covering him. no one is getting out from behind a guy that is 6’8″ 3 hundy.

  11. irishdog80 - Mar 14, 2014 at 1:02 PM

    My hopes for next year on Defense are that Ishaq and Romeo have found their true calling and will wreak havoc as Defensive Ends. That Nyles Morgan will emerge as a plug and play MLB and start by the Michigan game. That Cody Riggs is as billed and Redfield is the answer at Safety resulting in a lockdown defensive backfield. And that Jaylon becomes ND’s Lawrence Taylor without the bad habits.

    On offense, it would be great to see Durham Smythe become the new Tyler Eifert, Bryant live up to his 5 star ratings and the offensive line not miss a beat in pass protection and become true road graders in the running game. Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt to see Golson realize his potential both through the air and on the ground.

    Go Irish! Beat Owls!…my way of saying let’s hurry up and get the 2014 season going.

    • danirish - Mar 14, 2014 at 1:43 PM

      Nothing wrong this this post! I’m with you! Can’t wait for IRISH FOOOOOOOTBALL!

  12. 4horsemenrideagain - Mar 14, 2014 at 1:42 PM

    on a [very] random note, I read that brady Quinn married former Olympic gymnast, Alicia sacramone, setting the stage for producing some of the most athletic children since gabriel reese married laird Hamilton.

  13. fnc111 - Mar 14, 2014 at 4:47 PM


    I hope I got all the thumbs down because I was right. Clearly the 777 disappeared deliberately. Hater!

    Go Irish

    • dillonbigred - Mar 14, 2014 at 6:35 PM

      Ouch! You really don’t get it, do you? It is your obnoxious, repetitive posts that get you the thumbs down.

  14. getsome99 - Mar 14, 2014 at 5:08 PM

    I think there’s a better chance we’ll have 6 players get over 500 receiving yards ea than we will even just 1 WR get over 1,000 yards. If we’re as balanced and deep as we think we are, we should see 4 WR, 1 RB, and 1 TE go over 500 receiving yards.

    • dillonbigred - Mar 14, 2014 at 6:38 PM

      getsome: If we have that and the running game that most expect, that will be a fun offense to watch.

  15. 1historian - Mar 15, 2014 at 9:22 AM


    You love it where you are, I love it where I am and that’s good. We got another 18″ a few days ago. Lovely. I am officially sick of it as are most of the folks around here. My house has a metal roof and that’s great – the snow just falls off eventually and the rain sounds great falling on it.

    Not a bad FB team you have out there. They scored enough points in the 1st half minute of the 1 half and the 1st half minute of the 2nd half to win the Super Bowl. I have to admit that I’m kind of glad the Patriots lost to Denver.

    I’m psyched about this upcoming season.

    • papadec - Mar 16, 2014 at 5:34 PM

      hist – as am I – psyched about the upcoming season & four team playoff system. My son heads to Vegas next weekend. I’ll have him put $50 or $100 on the Irish to win it all. BTW, I have been to Maine – a beautiful state. In some respects, a lot like Washington State. I don’t remember what road we were driving on, 2 lanes headed to Caribou, in Aroostook County, the Balsam aroma was incredible. That was back in ’75.

  16. nchdomer - Mar 16, 2014 at 7:44 AM

    The post by jerseyshorendfan1 was the best I have seen. I actually laughed out loud. Nice start to my day. Go Irish Fans!

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