The 2011 Irish suffered myriad season-ending or altering injuries to both scrimmage and special teams starters: Jonas Gray, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Mike Ragone, Steve Filer, and Ethan Johnson – who played late – the notables. Youngsters Eilar Hardy, Tate Nichols, and Anthony Rabasa were August and September casualties.
Head coach Brian Kelly offered Tuesday that the team's backups made it through the last two months relatively unscathed.
"We had Matthias Farley; he had bone spurs," said Kelly of schedule post-season surgery to the freshman wide receiver. "We had those cleaned up. As you know, Jonas had his surgery. That hopefully is going to work out well for him. I know we're optimistic that he may be able to do something on Pro Day. That's the goal. It might be a lofty one, but I think it's realistic."
As for those on the mend, Johnson will likely benefit the most from some time away from the daily grind.
"I think Ethan gave us all he had based on the kind of severe injury that he had," Kelly said of Johnson's Week Five ankle sprain that kept him out through Game Nine and left him well below par over the final three weeks. "Stephon Tuitt worked out with us today, so he's back on the mend. (Austin) Collinsworth had a little bit of an ankle (vs. Boston College), but nothing that should hold any of those guys back," Kelly said of the bowl matchup.
Wide Open 2012Junior slot receiver Theo Riddick will play running back in the bowl game. Should he remain at running back through the spring and into the 2012 season, a game day spot – in addition to one vacated by senior Michael Floyd and potentially by Floyd's classmate John Goodman, will be available.
"I think it's pretty clear if you look at the numbers that we're going to play some young kids," Kelly said of the 2012 wideout rotation. "We really like (DaVaris) Daniels in coming along and developing. Obviously there's some other young guys out there that didn't get a chance as much (Farley is another). Then we're going to be recruiting that (position). So you'll see some young guys on the field next year, there's no question."
Notre Dame's current verbal commitments include high school seniors Deontay Greenberry, Chris Brown, and Justin Ferguson. Pending a 5th-year decision on John Goodman, Notre Dame's returning upperclassmen receivers will be T.J. Jones, Robby Toma, and former quarterback recruit Luke Massa. The unit would be just eight-deep without Goodman – a point in his favor as he applies for a 5th-season of eligibility.
5th Year FocusKelly offered Tuesday that the staff and prospective 5th-year players – 13 in all – would finalize plans sooner rather than later.
"We'll get to that pretty soon. We'd like to have a pretty good, clear idea where we stand with our players going into the bowl game," he offered.
Locks for a 5th-season appear to be DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, S Jamoris Slaughter, NG Sean Cwynar, and C Braxston Cave. If there's a bubble, center Mike Golic, Jr., and the aforementioned Goodman would be planted firmly inside it. Deion Walker, Brandon Newman, Lane Clelland, Anthony McDonald, Hafis Williams, David Posluszny, and Dan McCarthy could also apply for a 5th season. So too could have Dayne Crist but the senior quarterback elected to pursue transfer opportunities.
Notre Dame has a current recruiting class of 15 high school seniors. The Golic/Goodman bubble would not be affected until the Irish look to sign a 21st class member for 2012.
Golson's a No-GoTrue freshman quarterback Everett Golson was withheld from action during the regular season. Kelly maintained early this season and last that a player that could help the team win a game – especially a game with BCS Bowl implications – he could be pressed into action thereby unfortunately burning a season of eligibility.
But Game #13 in the Champs Sports Bowl is more about pride than positioning in college football's pecking order. As a result, Golson will not see the field under any circumstances.
In other words, walk-on Matt Mulvey would be called upon. Or current wide receiver and former quarterback Luke Massa. Or maybe a former high school triggerman such as John Goodman…or Bennett Jackson…or in reality, anyone but Golson.
Such extreme hypotheses were made necessary by senior Dayne Crist's decision to transfer for the 2012 season. Crist will graduate later this month and can therefore join any program in the spring and theoretically start for that team next fall.
As expected, Crist did not participate in Notre Dame's first bowl practice.
"We've pretty much let Dayne operate on whatever he needs to do to get himself situated for next semester," Kelly offered. "I don't see Dayne being part of what we're doing for this bowl game. His focus has got to be on putting together the best situation for him.
"We got a chance to talk again (Tuesday) and I think we're pretty much in lockstep on he's going to have a lot of things moving here over the next couple weeks. He's got people that want to interview him and re-recruit him and take visits and all that kind of stuff. And he's a quarterback with one year, so you can understand how those coaches that are going to make a decision to pull the trigger on a one-year quarterback; they want to spend a little time with him. I wouldn't expect him to have really any impact in terms of what we're doing."