180 in 365: Part II

The conclusion of our look at the changes in the Irish roster since last April.

Click here for Part I

Reclamation projects, then

The presence of a new staff, successful or not, nearly guarantees one former underachiever or snake-bitten competitor will shine with a fresh start. Last year's obvious choice, at least following a six-reception spring game, was senior-to-be Mike Ragone.

"My confidence has always been high," Ragone admitted following the Blue Gold Game last spring, "But catching the ball today really helped me improve. If they throw the ball, I'm going to catch it. I'm just going to keep working hard and doing what Coach Kelly asks."

Kelly later added, "Ragone is a tough kid. He's going to help us, he's going to move the chains for us and do some things that allow us to get into two tight ends, as well. He's very important in terms of what we're going to be doing in the fall."

Reclamation project, now

Candidates abound for Year 2 of the Kelly regime, with senior runner Jonas Gray and classmate Steve Filer near the top of the list, but the obvious choice is soon-to-be 5th-year senior, Mike Ragone.

"Whatever coach Kelly wants us to do or wants me to do, I'm willing to do whatever he wants," said Ragone late last week. "Whatever gives us the best chance to win. If he lines me up on the sideline; I don't care what he does. I'll do it."

Ragone has a final chance to make a lasting impression

Dumb sportswriter moment, then

Irish Eyes in mid-April 2010:

"He might not win a starting role heading into the fall (Shaquelle Evans does not strike me as a top-notch practice player), but he could emerge as the team's second best wide receiver by season's end. He'll be a player, but the proverbial light is still flickering.

Though this follow-up offers minor redemption of my idiocy:

"Shaq Evans remains a mystery, I think he's a bit more of a "gamer" than practice receiver; I've rarely observed a receivers' drill in which he doesn't suffer a drop or mental error; Evans' ability to broach his potential this season is key to the all-important "YAC" (yards-after-catch) performance of Kelly's spread attack; as stated previously: Evans is committed to getting better and producing this season; he's also a pretty big kid for a true soph..."

Sure-to-be-proven dumb sportswriter moment, now

Tyler Eifert earned the team's Most Improved Player award for 2010. He wasn't on our radar for that honor at this time last fall. My 2011 recipient, however, is – and has been for four seasons.

Look for senior right guard Trevor Robinson to fulfill his potential next fall while taking home the honor normally reserved for younger contributors.

Prescient sportswriter moment, then

Irish Eyes on the team's perceived strength exiting last spring:

"The men up front and the aforementioned trio of ‘backs might need to carry the load a bit more than expected, at least in the early stages of the season. After all, there's one element of the game Kelly enjoys much more than the passing game – winning."

Well, the "beginning of the season" aspect might not have materialized as planned, but at least it came to fruition in time to save what appeared to be a lost season.

Prescient sportswriter moment, now?

Quick predictions:

Notre Dame's four-man WR rotation for Games 1-2: Theo Riddick, T.J. Jones, Robby Toma, and John Goodman.

Notre Dame's six-man rotation for Games 3-13: Michael Floyd, Daniel Smith, plus the quartet above.

Spring surprise, then

If only every spring surprise would yield such impressive fall return:

Left Tackle Zack Martin: "He's coming along. He's shown us a whole lot. Romine is doing a good job too, he's been consistent, but right now we think Zack's a little bit ahead of him," said offensive line coach Ed Warinner of Martin last April.

Martin started 13 games, including two at right tackle in place of injured senior Taylor Dever, en route to the team's coveted Guardian of the Year Award as its best offensive lineman.

Irish Eyes regarding the then-unknown Martin in April, 2010: (Matt) Romine was lauded for his pass protection skills by teammates and coaches last season (2009) and earlier this spring. With six years of eligibility remaining between the tandem (four for Martin), the battle for the starting spot at left tackle is far from decided.

Romine never returned for his 5th and final season and Martin never looked back – he's likely to be one of the team's two best offensive linemen through the 2013 season.

Spring surprise, now

Kelly's second season yielded fewer personnel surprises, though I'm not sure many would have forecasted sophomores Prince Shembo and Danny Spond in a No. 1 and 1A battle for the team's DOG/Drop outside linebacker spot.

Shembo ranked as one of our Top 10 overall defensive players entering the spring…we just had no idea where he'd end up (other than on the field). Spond was spoken of highly by Kelly last August, but his special teams-focused season was cut short last fall by a lingering virus and time in the University's infirmary.

One will win the job; both will play. The smart money's on Shembo for more meaningful reps, but that's based on his ability to bring a pass-rushing element to the Drop position, one notably missing from the equation last fall.

Talk of the town, then

Aside from the requisite theme of change, there was but one focused storyline in April 2010: new head coach Brian Kelly's high tempo spread offense.

It's oversimplifying to say Kelly and Co. reached an unacceptable 4-5 mark when the spread/read-option was the offense's sole focus…then again, they did finish 4-0 when coupling the attack with a power running game in November and through bowl season.

The Irish will be much more well-versed in the fast-paced spread offense in Year 2 of the Kelly regime…it's just not an overplayed point of emphasis heading into the 2011 summer months.

Talk of the town, now

The triggermen.

Few believed Kelly and offensive coordinator Charley Molnar would name a starting quarterback following the spring's 15-practice session. But every Irish fan has an opinion on the matter and each of the four combatants has a case to be made for his ascension to the starting role.

At this point, I'd be stunned if neither Dayne Crist nor Tommy Rees is named the starter for September 3rd's season opener vs. South Florida.

I'd be equally surprised if any quarterback starts 13 games for Notre Dame in 2011.


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