Summer Word Association

Our second edition of off-season word association examines both coach-speak, and Irish Eyes' favorites phrases to prepare you for the coming months.

A column best-saved as a precursor to August camp? Probably, but we'll have, you know, "news" by that point.

Below is a look at the key words and phrases to know and learn – favorites of the head coach, the staff, and from your self-indulgent writer, heading into 2011.

Work Volume – Head coach Brian Kelly's phrase for the amount of snaps – game or practice – a player can handle and still perform at a high level. The phrase applied to nearly all during the spring of 2010 and many through the coach's first season.

This year's chief candidates, especially in August/September: redshirt-freshman nose guard Louis Nix (teenage bulk), senior NG Sean Cwynar (back and foot injuries), sophomore wide receiver Daniel Smith (lingering hamstring), senior running back Jonas Gray (calf/three seasons of spot duty), and any freshman challenging for playing time, especially the 18 incoming who did not participate with the team during the spring.

Three-headed monster – The nose guard triumvirate and key to the Irish defense: Sean Cwynar, Louis Nix, and Hafis Williams – the latter just as important as the more ballyhooed tandem. Quick prediction: Williams will earn more September snaps than does Nix.

Activate – Kelly's word for a blitzing outside ‘backer, in this case: drop linebacker competitor Prince Shembo. Whether Shembo earns 50, 60, or 80 percent of the team's early season snaps at DOG (drop) is inconsequential – he's one of the team's three best pass rushers and he'll be called upon to put heat on opponents off the edge during a trying opening month.

Wally Pipp – Kelly's (joking) August 2010 reference to then-unknown commodity Tyler Eifert, who earned valuable practice time while All-America Kyle Rudolph sat due to a hamstring injury. Eifert starred last season when Rudolph succumbed to the injury at mid-season – the Irish junior will be a national name by season's end, and if Rudolph would have returned, the two tight end set would have been a staple of the 2011 offense.

Late Bloomers – The casual Irish fan didn't previously think much of former senior stars such as Reggie Brooks (1992), Gerome Sapp (2002), or Mike Richardson (2006) entering their final seasons. 2011 veteran breakout candidates to include seniors/redshirt-juniors Jamoris Slaughter and Braxston Cave…and at the top of the list: Dayne Crist.

Alligator Blood – To borrow a phrase from Rounders star John Malkovich, aka, Teddy KGB: "Hanging around, hanging around. Kid's got alligator blood. Can't get rid of him…"

Ladies and Gentlemen: 5th-year senior Mike Ragone, whose suffered two torn ACLs, a subsequent redshirt, an off-field, off-season arrest, and a camp concussion that set him back weeks last August…yet he returns for a final season as the team's second tight end, one likely to earn ample snaps when the Irish turn to their power rushing attack.

Throw in a few downfield, in-stride grabs for the straight-line burner over the 12-game slate and the Irish will be unstoppable at the position.

Camp Battles Prepare for myriad newpaper and website articles covering each from every angle at the outset of fall camp.
Obvious August position battles include:

And oh yeah, quarterback…

Party Crashers – Our phrase for September's surprise starters: players few have forecast due to solid returning players perceived to be ahead of them at their particular positions.

Last year's example: record-setting kicker David Ruffer, who beat out former record-setting kicker Nick Tausch with a better August performance, then never looked back. This season's out-of-left-field candidates include Christian Lombard at right tackle, Danny Spond at drop linebacker, and Robby Toma as the third (slot) receiver. (The latter assumes Theo Riddick's move outside, sticks).

Attrition – One negative consequence of a BCS-quality season following Year 2 under a new regime: assistant coaches become hot commodities.

Look for at least four Irish coaches to field inquiries ("inquiries" not interviews, mind you, that's a no-no unless they plan to move on, per the head man) following the season, with special teams coordinator and defensive line coach Mike Elston as the top candidate for a head coaching position.

Hardship – An early 80s phrase in college basketball for stars that decided to forgo their remaining eligibility to enter the NBA Draft. It applies to Irish linebacker Manti Te'o following his junior season – the All-America candidate will likely have a tough choice to make next January, one that will greatly impact Season 3 of the Kelly era.

Overlooked – Off the top of my head, the contributions of: tight ends coach Mike Denbrock; walk-on holder Ryan Kavanagh; walk-on DB and special teams competitor Chris Salvi; sophomore ST coverage maven Austin Collinsworth; right tackle Taylor Dever; nose guard Hafis Williams; sophomore defensive end Kona Schwenke (he won't easily cede his rotation spot to a true freshman); the 2010 season-saving efforts of Tyler Eifert, Sean Cwynar, and Jamoris Slaughter, each of which augmented the well-publicized play of QB Tommy Rees and graduated seniors Robert Hughes and Brian Smith.

Top Tandem – Look for new slot competitor T.J. Jones and undersized cohort Robby Toma to combine for 50 receptions in 2011 – the perfect compliment to an offense with Floyd, Riddick, Wood, and Eifert as its primary options.

Last Call – 2012 5th-year invitations are likely pending the level of 2011 production for the following trio of true seniors: John Goodman, Danny McCarthy, and Mike Golic, Jr. – and to a lesser extent, Hafis Williams, an invaluable interior defender last November and key rotation member entering this fall.

(Barring unforeseen circumstances, seniors Kapron Lewis-Moore, Dayne Crist, Braxston Cave, Sean Cwynar, and Jamoris Slaughter are nearly assured 5th-year invitations from Brian Kelly for the 2012 season.)

"They've Got Next" – It's no longer simply the worst slogan in sports advertising history; at least not since Irish Eyes offers the grammatically sloppy phrase new life in reference to future 2012 stalwarts Christian Lombard, Chris Watt, Alex Welch, and Lo Wood. (No freshmen included.)

Redemption Song – Last year's examples: Brian Smith and Duval Kamara – a pair of talented seniors that blossomed late in their final collegiate seasons. A similar effort from linebacker Steve Filer would greatly enhance the defense's depth and overall athleticism...not to mention augment an already impressive pass-rush, next fall.

Note: Part II will be published Tuesday afternoon… Top Stories