Riddick's four-game run of production last season (from Week 3 at MSU through Week 6 vs. Pittsburgh) was impressive, especially for a player converting from the backfield to slot receiver: 33 receptions, 413 yards, 3 TD – production that matches Floyd's best four-game set from 2010 – but I still much prefer the versatile weapon as a No. 2 wide receiver, as his services elsewhere (punt return, occasional Wildcat QB or RB) are mandatory for the Irish offense/special teams to reach their potential…Though Riddick is the obvious choice as the team's best after the catch, his classmate Toma and the sophomore Jones, aren't far behind – the best play of Jones' season was 16-yard post TD vs. Navy in which he bulled for the final five yards while Toma gained significant ground after the catch in his career-best four-reception, 64-yard effort vs. Tulsa.
My notes on Toma following the contest:
Caught his first of a career-high four passes late in the first half, a career-best 26-yard catch-and-run over the middle from Rees. A quick cut at the end and run through arm tackles afforded 10 yards after the catch… 2nd half: Adjusted well to a bubble screen thrown behind him, then burst up-field for a 14-yard gain; benefited from a great downfield block from Tyler Eifert and a solid effort from T.J. Jones… Five snaps later, caught another bubble, again behind him, for 16 yards and a first down at the Tulsa 22-yard line. Ran directly through the first arm tackle…Ran through another tackle on another bubble screen, this time for 11 yards. Toma's curiously difficult to tackle.
I agree with NBC color analyst Mike Mayock that Toma is a legit BCS starter.
Jones was the story of last spring, started strong, and was then notably the only Irish receiver to show up (5-53-TD) in the humbling loss to Navy last season – the lone contest Floyd missed …He's also one Irish weapon that apparently has no idea that there are sidelines to which he can escape after the catch – an approach welcomed by any head coach…The slightly-built sophomore is an underrated and developing downfield blocker in-the-making: his desire for the task far outweighs his effectiveness (that's fine), like a young Duval Kamara – minus seven inches and about 60 pounds…
Separate from John Goodman's sixth career reception (the memorable 64-yard post pattern TD from Dayne Crist in 2009) and his most recent (a 30-yarder down the left sideline vs. Miami), is a major current, but rectifiable weakness in his game: his remaining 19 collegiate grabs have covered less than 200 yards – Goodman enters his senior season and a "hook" receiver, catching the vast majority of his passes with his back to the defense – its akin to a singles hitter in baseball, or spot-up (mid-range) jump shooter in basketball: Yes there's a place for that skill set, but the 2011 Irish need more, and Goodman needs to add a vertical threat to his repertoire, because he's not a natural or (yet) reliable possession receiver.
Offensive Coordinator Charley Molnar on Goodman earlier this spring: "Goodman is bigger than TJ (Jones) and probably faster, but he didn't give us the reps TJ did last year."
Despite a late spring hamstring injury, the senior believes he's better prepared to stress the defense, due largely to better understanding of the offense: "Other than what the O-Line does, I pretty much know the offense. And that feels good."
Back end of the rotationFew players suffered more from opportunity lost this spring than did South Bend-product, Daniel Smith. With the No. 4 (and possibly No. 3) WR spot there for the taking, Smith spent the majority of the spring shelved due to what head coach Brian Kelly referred to as a pre-existing hamstring injury…Smith enters fall camp well behind senior John Goodman and junior Robby Toma (though Toma will play the slot, a spot where Smith won't likely venture) – it'll take a strong summer and August camp for the former Clay H.S., star to crack the Game One (five receiver) rotation…
I was intrigued by Smith last year in limited viewings (looks like a tight end, runs like a receiver and is a natural pass-catcher), but he's a tough player to project at present as the last time I saw him catch a pass was late September before ND closed their practices to the media…
Molnar on Smith: "His size/speed ratio really could be off the charts. He could be a surprisingly good football player as we go through his career here."
At 6'4" 215 pounds, Smith would lend much-needed size to the slightly-built group that comprises the current Floyd-free receiving corps.
Luke Massa's move to wide receiver, while months (maybe a couple dozen) from having on on-field impact, appears successful nonetheless…Only once did Massa resemble a quarterback playing wide receiver in my practice viewings, though he did drop a catch college pass-catchers must secure in the Blue Gold Game…Give the redshirt-freshman another 12 months before your first informed opinion on the switch's potential impact…Molnar referred to the sophomore as a completely different player (from beginning of winter conditioning to the end of spring)…
To my knowledge, Deion Walker remains the No. 6 receiver entering the off-season; he'll need to hold off Daniel Smith and make a push vs. classmate John Goodman to see meaningful playing time when Floyd returns next fall (a tall order considering Goodman's standing among the unit and given that Walker has appeared in just over 10 game minutes over a three-year career)…Legitimate 2011 playing time is essential for Walker to receive mild consideration as a 5th-year player for 2012, as only Floyd is certain to move on from the WR group at season's end…
Walker's lack of awareness of game conditions (failing to consider stepping out of bounds after a downfield catch with the first half clock winding down in the Blue Gold Game) gave the staff a final spring cause for pause… Brian Kelly noted late in the spring that a plan was in place for seven receivers to take part in (non-Scout team) reps next fall – Walker will need to improve over the off-season, as he did in the winter months according to both Kelly and Molnar, to solidify his spot…
Freshman DaVaris Daniels can become the team's No. 6 receiver by early September if he hits the ground running – or simply learns his assignment – in August camp…I'm assuming Daniels' fellow WR prospect, George Atkinson, receives his initial evaluation at RB do to the dearth of bodies, not to mention burst, at the position …At present, and assuming the return of Floyd, the Irish WR unit is roughly constructed as such:
- W Receiver: Michael Floyd, Deion Walker/Daniel Smith (inj)
- X Receiver: Theo Riddick, John Goodman, Luke Massa
- Slot Receiver: T.J. Jones, Robby Toma
(Riddick is expected to remain outside (with Jones in the slot) according to our sources.)
Kelly will find a way to score points, but the Irish won't scare many on the perimeter with Floyd absent from the attack.