Wide ReceiversI've included slot receiver Robby Toma for the sake of clarity. Theo Riddick was featured in the section detailing the offensive backfield.
Given Strength: None. Toma has caught one pass prior to mid-season in his three-year career, T.J. Jones has caught one touchdown after Week Five in his two seasons as a starter, and John Goodman caught nearly as many passes for Charlie Weis as a sophomore (6) than he did for Brian Kelly (7) last season – and he totaled 40 more yards that year and his only touchdown for the prior regime.
Toma and Jones are expected to produce; Goodman could. But nothing should be taken for granted in this evolving unit.
Emerging Competitor: Redshirt-freshman DaVaris Daniels. Received the annual Spring Session ideal size/speed/measurables kiss of death from his head coach, though Brian Kelly promptly added that Daniels has never played a college down and has plenty of work to do. A leg injury set him back briefly, now consistent practice performance stands between him and a starting/key spot in the 3-4 man receivers rotation.
With two tight ends expected to play often next year, the playing time dip between the 4th and 5th wide receiver could be significant.
Unanswered Questions: Can Daniels stress a collegiate defense deep? Can anyone else? Is Jones as reliable as we believe Toma will be as a chain-mover? Can Toma be a chain-mover when a guy named Michael Floyd isn't drawing double coverage? Is there anyone that can take week-to-week heat and attention away from All-America tight end Tyler Eifert? Can one of both incoming freshmen perimeter receivers make an impact during 2012? Can incoming slot competitor Keivarae Russell? Are there any definitive answers regarding the entire unit?
Look Out For: T.J. Jones – he's the forgotten man, largely because he's yet to end a season well. Jones has six touchdowns entering his junior season, none of which were in garbage time. He has to take the next step as a blocker and regain his 2010 form as a north-south runner after the catch.
Unsolicited Advice: Four, sometimes three receivers have dominated the unit's playing time during both seasons of the Kelly era. None of the group appears worthy of such distinction in 2012 – open up the rotation to every competitor that earns trust and see if a diamond-in-the-rough, young star, or grizzled vet can emerge.
Tight EndsFor the fourth straight year and arguably seventh of the last eight, Notre Dame enters the season with one of the best tight ends in the nation (in this case, the top dog).
Given Strength: Tyler Eifert. Broke two 34-year-old records for a Notre Dame tight end last season with 63 receptions and 805 yards while adding five touchdowns (second all-time at the school). Received 1st team All-America honors for his efforts and to round out his efforts, was the recipient of highway robbery, finishing second in the voting for the John Mackey Award presented to the nation's best tight end.
Emerging Competitors: Troy Niklas – The 6'7" 250-plus pound former linebacker is making the transition back to tight end, a position he last played as a high school junior. Niklas' move seems in congress with Kelly's proclamation that the No. 2 tight end (whoever it is) will earn field time due to his physical style and blocking ability, rather than pass-catching acumen. Niklas, it would appear, can seek and destroy as well as most true sophomores, but he'll need to learn the concepts of the offense as well.
Unanswered Questions: Can a tight end-focused offense finish with more big plays than did the 2011 crew led by one of the best players in program history in Michael Floyd? (The Irish were limited in their downfield attack last season, and it wasn't only because of their quarterback.) Can Eifert cut up middle zones without Floyd taking the lion's share of attention on the outside? Can any of Eifert's understudies make a dent in the passing game? (Irish backup tight ends accounted for three receptions and 23 total yards last season.)
Look Out For: Alex Welch. Said new tight ends coach Scott Booker of the redshirt-sophomore last week: "Being a third-year guy he understands the expectations and what it competes to this level. Through nine practices he's really done a good job in terms of what we've asked him to do."
Unsolicited Advice: Free Ben Koyack – Offensive coordinator Chuck Martin noted the team's "12 personnel" (a second tight end on the field with Eifert) can cause matchup nightmares for opponents, due largely to Eifert's ability to split wide as a receiver, or for the Irish to employ he and TE #2 in the power game, with substitutions. The personnel ploy well for offensive juggernaut Stanford over the last two seasons for two reasons: 1.) Andrew Luck was at quarterback, and 2.) The Cardinal tight ends – as in, multiple – were legitimate receiving threats. Occasionally unleashing a second tight end option such as Koyack in the passing game is essential for Irish to consistently move the chains next fall.
It's not a matchup nightmare if one of your five skill position players remains in-line…that's called a blocking fullback.