Forward Thinking

Michael Floyd's suspension and roster absence dominated the media session, but it also opened the door for the Next Man In.

The best player in the Notre Dame Football program has been summarily scrubbed from its media information kit. No mention of #3; no denotation of a player from Minnesota in the team's requisite state breakdown chart; and if there were such thing as a spring depth chart for head coach Brian Kelly's team, senior-to-be and program legend-in-the-making Michael Floyd wouldn't appear there, either.

The Irish will move on without Floyd, whose 2011 playing status remains in limbo. His co-captaincy designation, stripped, at least for now. His position, the "W" wide receiver role, now open to a trio of competitors, notably John Goodman, Daniel Smith, and former quarterback recruit Luke Massa.

"Our focus is strictly on the guys that are here. We're preparing our football team through the skill development and unit consistency around the guys that are here," offered head coach Brian Kelly. "But that hasn't changed much relative to how I go to work every day, whether it's a suspension or not. We're going to go to work and develop our players, and we can only develop the players that are here."

Floyd could conceivably rejoin the Irish after the legal system and university's Office of Residence Life has collected facts and adjudicated. That's not Kelly's concern in the coming weeks.

"I don't want to speculate, I want to put the 11 best players on the field that give us the best chance of beating South Florida. I want to be able to look at that on the practice field. You don't get much time in the spring. If you're waiting around, dreaming and hoping, you're going to miss great opportunities to develop your players.

"We need to see all of our players on the offensive side of the ball, so we'll get to work on that immediately," he added.

Outside of the player-coach relationship was a personal connection between Floyd and Kelly, one that likely grew stronger in the post-season decision making process that brought Floyd back to South Bend, rather than jettisoning him an early entry in the NFL Draft.

"There's a range of emotions that you have, I think it's a lot like a parent would have," Kelly said of his initial reaction to Floyd's arrest for suspicion of DUI over the weekend. "From anger to disappointment, to making sure that something like that in his life never happens again. I think you go through the gamut of all those things.

"We want to support Mike but understand that this was a serious, serious offense."

That serious offense will no doubt hinder an offense that grew to rely on the record-breaking receiver last fall. Floyd's replacement will inevitably pair in comparison, at least in terms of accomplishments to date.

"I think you'll see Goody playing a lot of the W position for us," Kelly said of Floyd's classmate from Fort Wayne, John Goodman. "Danny Smith will get a lot of work. Luke (Massa) will also get some work at the W position.

"I feel pretty good from Goody's standpoint, that's a guy that's made plays, we know what he can do. Danny is that unknown: a big, physical strong kid, but he needs a lot of work this spring. Then Luke, we're breaking in. Give him an opportunity to pick up reps at the W but he also has to look at the field position, too, the X (receiver). He's going to be a guy we bounce around a bit."

Goodman enters the 2011 season with two years of eligibility remaining and 21 receptions for 260 yards plus a 64-yard touchdown catch to his credit. Smith saw field time last year as a true freshman on the kick coverage units (he forced a fumble that led to a score vs. Utah) while the 6'4" 220-pound Massa was a Scout Team quarterback as a frosh last fall.

"In the slot, we have Theo (Riddick) and Robby (Toma)," Kelly continued in a run-down of the team's seven spring receiver competitors. "They're going to get a ton of work in there. T.J. (Jones) is going to be out at the X position and (Deion) Walker needs to step up this spring. He's had a great off-season, I love the way he's competed. He's a changed young man in the way he goes to work every day. I questioned, last year, his love for the game and his commitment. He's shown a totally different side of him in our workouts up to this point.

"Quite frankly, Deion's a guy that I want to see," Kelly continued of the senior who has heretofore secured a single career reception, but nonetheless captured the affections of Irish message board members nationwide. "He's going to get some reps and get some work and we're going to have a clear evaluation as to where he is in this program after the spring."

Walker, a senior with two seasons of eligibility remaining, caught his only pass in 2009, a 15-yard comeback from Dayne Crist vs. Nevada in the season opener. He received heavy rotation time for former coach Charlie Weis in mid-season games that fall vs. Washington and USC, but rarely played thereafter. He did not appear from scrimmage for the new staff last season.

Former freshmen wide receivers Bennett Jackson and Austin Collinsworth have been moved to a woefully thin defensive backfield. Jackson will serve as the fourth scholarship cornerback this spring while Collinsworth steps in as the unit's fifth safety. Four freshmen defensive back prospects will join the fold in August.

Neither of the unit's newcomers will be forced to tussle with the best receiver the campus, and possibly the nation, has to offer, this spring.


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