Gone Camping: Offense

Our first of three camp previews takes an in-depth look at the Irish offense entering August.

Projected Starters

The 11 players listed below started a combined 98 games last fall.

  • Quarterback: Senior Dayne Crist – Fired multiple touchdown passes in four of eight full games played last fall, but more than one interception in a single contest (Navy)…Established career bests in touchdown passes (4) and passing yards (369) in a loss at Michigan State.
  • Running Back: Junior Cierre Wood – Became first former redshirt to lead a Notre Dame team in rushing (603 yards on 119 carries) in program history…Started five games and averaged 88 yards from scrimmage over the last seven contests.
  • Wide Receiver: Senior Michael Floyd – On pace to shatter program records for receptions, receiving yards, 100-yard receiving contests, and receiving. g touchdowns – the latter of which he set in last year's Sun Bowl victory.
  • Wide Receiver: Junior Theo Riddick – Joined program legends Tom Gatewood and Golden Tate as the only receivers to record at least 33 receptions over a four-game stretch (Michigan State, Stanford, Boston College, Pittsburgh)…Scored first three touchdowns of his Irish career in that same span.
  • Slot Receiver: Sophomore Tai-ler Jones – Scored a touchdown on his first two career receptions (Purdue and Michigan). Was moved to slot receiver at the conclusion of spring 2011 – a position at which he filled-in and subsequently snared 10 passes over a two-game span in late-October 2010.
  • Tight End: Junior Tyler Eifert – Started final seven games and notched at least four receptions in five of them, finishing third on the squad in receiving yards (352).
  • Left Tackle: Junior Zack Martin – Sat out the 2009 season as a true freshman then earned the team's Guardian of the Year Award in his first action last fall…Started 13 games, 11 at left tackle and twice at right in place of injured Taylor Dever.
  • Left Guard: 5th-year senior Andrew Nuss – Has played both guard and tackle and appeared in 25 games in his Irish career though has yet to earn a starting nod. Held a slight edge over junior Chris Watt at the conclusion of spring ball.
  • Center: Senior Braxston Cave – Took part in 836 of the team's 895 offensive plays to lead the team.
  • Right Guard: Senior Trevor Robinson – Has started more games (27) than any offensive player and ranks second behind classmate Ethan Johnson (28) for the team lead.
  • Right Tackle: 5th-year senior Taylor Dever – Ranked as IrishEyes.com's No. 2 offensive linemen prior to suffering a hamstring injury vs. Boston College last October. Participated in 593 snaps, sixth among all offensive players, despite missing two games due to injury.

Projected Rotation Players

More than five competitors will receive regular playing time, but the quintet listed below should be considered regulars/part-time starters at their respective positions entering August camp.

  • Tight End: Mike Ragone – Has appeared in 35 games with 9 starts since 2007…Sat out 2008 with a torn ACL and has since played in 24 of 25 Irish games.
  • Wide Receiver: John Goodman – Played in all 13 games last season, started three, and finished with 15 receptions. Served as the team's chief punt returner in 10 games last fall.
  • Running Back: Jonas Gray – Played in seven games last fall and finished fourth on the team in rushing with 100 yards on 20 carries. Has yet to score a touchdown in his three-year career.
  • Left Guard: Chris Watt – Finished seventh among fellow offensive linemen with 117 snaps last season; fell behind in race for starting left guard spot after a foot injury midway through the spring session 2011 but will challenge for the role in August camp.
  • Slot Receiver: Robby Toma – Played in eight games, started twice, and caught 14 passes last fall, eight of which occurred in standout efforts vs. Tulsa (4-67 yards) and Army (4-63 yards).

Five that could surprise:

  1. Tommy Rees: Most have counted him out of the starting role far too fast…Finished his rookie season with 12 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, and the Irish did not lose in his four starts last fall.
  2. Alex Welch: Described as the "best of both worlds" by offensive coordinator Charley Molnar: a natural receiver who has reportedly improved greatly as a blocker entering his second season in the program.
  3. Christian Lombard: Could push 5th-year senior Taylor Dever for a starting spot with an outstanding August camp.
  4. George Atkinson: Either Atkinson or fellow freshman Cam McDaniel will see September scrimmage snaps as the team's No. 3 running back.
  5. Daniel Smith: Lost a golden opportunity last spring when he missed the bulk of practice with a lingering hamstring injury. The No. 6 wide receiver role – one that equates to a spot in the game day rotation at the position– is wide open…and the No. 5 spot isn't out of reach for the athletic sophomore from South Bend.

Developmental Depth: Each could/should see scrimmage snaps and could progress into a (much) larger role this fall:

One Year Away? Look for redshirt seasons or limited playing time from these still-developing underclassmen:

Top 5 Returning Players from 2010

Based strictly on last year's results:
  1. Michael Floyd: One of the nation's best offensive players
  2. Zack Martin: Finished fifth among all roster members on IrishEyes.com's post-season player rankings last winter
  3. Cierre Wood: I predicted 10 or more TD for the shifty, dual-threat runner this fall
  4. Theo Riddick: Head coach Brian Kelly needs Riddick to emerge as a receiver/returner/rusher/Wildcat QB weapon as a true junior
  5. Tommy Rees: Won as a true freshman QB vs. a ranked team (Utah), long-time rival USC, and former hated rival Miami. The former two victories snapped ugly losing streaks at the program. He gets my vote…

Top 6 Projected Players for 2011

Notre Dame needs each of these six (among others) to rank as the offense's top performers if it wants to ascend to BCS-bowl status.
  1. Michael Floyd: Again, it's not close. The Irish won't win 9 without him…
  2. Cierre Wood: Well-known in South Bend and recruiting circles entering the season but will be a national household name if he remains upright for 13 games this fall
  3. Theo Riddick: Notre Dame's best player in space will thrive with defenses focused on Floyd
  4. Tyler Eifert: Next in the legacy of outstanding Irish tight ends: Eifert has three seasons of eligibility and could become the best, or at least most productive, of the last decade-plus at the program
  5. Zack Martin: Keys the team's rushing attack with his ability to block on the move and at the point of attack
  6. Braxston Cave: Look for Cave to rank among the roster's three most-improved players this season
  7. Dayne Crist: A vote of confidence for a quarterback thrown to the wolves in a disjointed offense over the 2010 season's first two months. A true team leader without the captain designation…yet.

Offensive Coaching Staff

Notre Dame's offensive staff returns intact for the first time since the 2007-08

  • Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach: Charley Molnar – Coaxed 27 touchdown passes from first-time starters Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees, good for the fourth-highest single-season number in program history
  • Offensive Line Coach: Ed Warinner – Line tied a 10-year low at the program, allowing just 20 sacks, including a mere five in the final seven contests, despite 481 pass attempts. Team rushing average of 4.0 per carry was a program-best since 2003.
  • Wide Receivers Coach: Tony Alford – Lone link to the previous regime (served as Charlie Weis' running backs coach) helped develop freshman T.J. Jones into a legitimate starter in one spring/summer, as well as converted running back Theo Riddick. With Floyd in tow, the sky's the limit for Alford in his second season coaching the wideouts.
  • Tight Ends Coach: Mike Denbrock – Deserves credit for incredible production at the position in the wake of serious, repeated injuries beginning last July through mid-season
  • Running Backs Coach: Tim Hinton – Exited spring with the two-man crew of Cierre Wood and unproven senior Jonas Gray, but the veteran backfield tutor welcomes a pair of talented freshmen to the fray this fall. Hinton's quartet of 'backs produced a yards-per-carry average of 5.14 last season.

Most hotly contested starting positions: Click here for Parts I and II of our camp battles.

Note: Tomorrow – IrishEyes.com's camp preview for Bob Diaco's Notre Dame defense.

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