Lost in the shuffle of Signing Day (we’ll get back to it, I promise), it appears Brian Kelly had finalized his coaching staff’s assignments. Tony Alford, after shifting to wide receivers to accommodate Tim Hinton, will head back to running backs coach. Scott Booker, named a full-time coach after Hinton and offensive line coach Ed Warinner left for Ohio State but not given a positional duty, will coach wide receivers. One major wrinkle, according to the South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen, is that Alford will also coach slot receivers.
The move is an evolutionary change to Kelly’s offense that’s always been a part of the structure, but is likely now being implemented because of Chuck Martin’s familiarity to the system and the roster’s flexibility for change.
“It’s always something that we’ve had in the offensive structure,” Kelly told Hansen. “But my last couple of stops have been short ones, and it really hasn’t allowed me to develop that.
“At Grand Valley State, the running backs coach coached the slot (receivers) as well, and we’re moving toward that with Coach Alford. So both of those will fall under one coaching position, because they are so mirrored in terms of what we want to do.”
If that’s the change, it’s one that’ll actually be smoother thanks to Alford’s experience coaching wide receivers the past two seasons. Long a running backs coach, the hybrid nature of this should be a nice addition to the workload of one of the Irish’s most valuable coaches and recruiters.
More to that point, the Irish have a depth chart — specifically at running back and inside receiver — that has a lot of versatility. Keeping Cierre Wood out of this because he’s the clear No. 1 running back, heading into spring the Irish will have a nice collection of talent that can run and catch the ball, highlighted by players like Theo Riddick and George Atkinson, two guys that have been tagged both backs and receivers in their careers. Extending that, guys like KeiVarae Russell and Amir Carlisle, two players coming into Notre Dame as running backs (not to mention rising sophomore Cam McDaniel), can just as easily work out of the slot.
Heading into spring, the only player that seems a sure thing at the slot receiver is Robby Toma, who has never scared teams with his raw skills but has certainly been productive when given the chance. After sitting out last season, guys like Matthias Farley and Davaris Daniels might work inside at receiver or on the edge, where the Irish will need to replace Michael Floyd, most likely with the lightbulb finally going on for TJ Jones, as Deontay Greenberry left the Irish at the altar.
The wildcard in all of this is Martin. It’s been two seasons since he’s run an offense (which he did at Grand Valley, a D-II powerhouse), and while we’ve tried to hypothesize what his impact on the offense in terms of schematics will be, until we see it on the field, who knows. That said, with cross-training going on between running backs and receivers, you’ve got to think there’s a higher likelihood for jet-sweeps and other running plays that put the ball in wideouts’ hands. Building off that theory, who better to distribute the ball than a mobile quarterback?
Extrapolating a starting quarterback based on Tony Alford’s position switch is a mighty conclusion jump. But with an roster filled with diverse offensive talent, a new coordinator that’s shown a penchant for running the football, and personnel that doesn’t have a proven outside receiving weapon, there’s a very real chance that changes are coming to an offense that clearly broke down at the end of last season.
Just another item to track as the Irish enter into a tenure-defining offseason.