Look Ahead: Wide Receivers

O'Malley's second of 10 looks at Notre Dame's position groups heading into spring ball – verbal pledges included.

Our second in a series of looks at Notre Dame's position groups with a handful of recruiting and 5th-year options still pending.

Wide Receivers

The unit loses the most productive player in program history: two-time team MVP Michael Floyd. Slot receiver Theo Riddick is likely to finish his Irish career where he started – in the offensive backfield.

"It's a matter of what was the best place for him to help our football team win," said head coach Brian Kelly of Riddick's 2010 off-season move to the slot. "We were running the spread offense and were really short on (wide receiver) numbers and still are. He was a great teammate and did what we asked him to do. But I don't think there's any mistaking that he is a talented running back and he has the skills necessary to help us win.

"I look at it, and he does too, that we did the right thing," Kelly continued of the initial move. "Now he's been called upon because of an injury to come and play running back. If we can continue to recruit depth and recruit wide receivers, hopefully we can settle on him long term at the position."

Departing Players: Floyd is the only receiver to exhaust his eligibility with the Champs Sports Bowl. Classmate and career back-up Deion Walker is unlikely to return for a 5th-season while fellow senior John Goodman is presumed to be on the cusp of a fifth and final season pending the number of incoming freshmen added to the current 16-pledge lot.

Veterans Returning: Including Goodman, and excluding Riddick, three returning players have recorded a collegiate catch:

  • Sophomore T.J. Jones – Three touchdowns in both of his first two seasons and stronger starts than finishes to both as well. Jones was a more aggressive player after the catch and a better blocker as a freshman than he was this fall…
  • Junior Robby Toma – A fan favorite and potential chain-mover vs. zones, Toma has had three highly productive games since his first extended appearance last November. A modicum of consistency is the next step…
  • Sophomore Daniel Smith – Has yet to play meaningful minutes from scrimmage entering his junior season. The South Bend product was slowed by a leg injury in the spring and summer, hindering his development. At 6'4" 215 pounds, Smith has the frame to aid what is, at present, a smallish receiving corps entering 2012. Smith burned a potential redshirt season with a Game Eight kick coverage start vs. Navy…
  • Junior Luke Massa – The converted quarterback will provide depth at the position in 2012. At 6'4" 220 with athleticism, Massa became a special teams regular at mid-season this past fall…

Potentially Returning: John Goodman finished with just seven receptions for 65 yards in 2011. He caught 15 balls in 2010 (146 yards) and 6 for 104 and a score as a sophomore under former head coach Charlie Weis in 2009.

Incoming: Current freshman DaVaris Daniels was withheld from action this season. At 6'1 ½" 185 pounds, Daniels will have the opportunity to earn a starting role at the position left vacant by Michael Floyd.

Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year Matthias Farley will challenge at multiple positions this spring with slot the likely first destination. Farley had surgery to clean up bone spurs in December.

Verbal pledges Deontay Greenberry (4-star, Fresno, Calif.), Chris Brown (3-star, Hanahan, S.C.), and Justin Ferguson (3-stars, Pembroke Pines, Fla. ) will hit campus with a golden opportunity in late June: no Irish pass-catcher has cemented a starting role and just two could be considered front-runners (Jones and Toma). Greenberry and Daniels will push immediately for a starting role next August.

Potential Position Switches: Sophomores Bennett Jackson (CB) and Austin Collinsworth (S) both moved from wide receiver to the defensive backfield last winter. Jackson will compete for a starting role at CB in the spring. Its conceivable, though at present not likely, that Collinsworth could move back to challenge the slot receiver position, especially with the likely permanent move of 2011 starting slot Theo Riddick back to the running back unit.

Farley, a natural defensive back prospect, could fill in if the need exists at safety though the offense needs his speed and quickness at present.

Should Greenberry and Daniels excel in August camp (and Daniels during the spring), a slot receiver tandem of Jones and Toma could be of benefit to the Irish over a 13-game slate.

Hunches: Look for Jones, Toma, Greenberry and Daniels to lead the Irish in snaps next fall, though the rotation should expand from four game day regulars (2010 and 2011) to five or six in 2012.Goodman will join former head Charlie Weis and recent transfer quarterback Dayne Crist at Kansas for his 5th season of eligibility.

Projected Spring Depth Chart

Below is my best guess for the receiver rotation entering spring ball:

First Unit: Slot: Toma; X: Jones; W: Daniels
Second Unit: Slot: Collinsworth/Farley; X: Massa/Farley; W: Smith
Should Goodman return for a 5th season, the second unit would be as follows: Slot: Jones, X: Goodman; W: Smith, with Farley and Massa in reserve.
Spring Reserves: None, as the incoming freshmen Greenberry, Brown, and Ferguson aren't expected to join the squad until next summer.

Note: Next in our position previews – the Irish running backs

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