Proving Ground Awaits

Kona Schwenke and John Goodman were named the team's most improved players during spring ball 2012. Both play positions that will define the Irish season when it counts next fall.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly's policy of naming weekly game captains per the individual's approach and performance during the previous week of practice continued in Saturday's 83rd annual Blue Gold game. The spring game's nominations of 5th-year senior John Goodman and junior Kona Schwenke were as significant as any to date, with the pair named by the coaching staff as the team's most improved players during spring ball.

Goodman ended on a down note, suffering an ankle injury in the team's 11th practice (Friday, April 13), though he appeared fine in Saturday's contest. His greatest strides occurred from the New Year through spring ball, both as a leader of the depleted, youth-filled, and still troublesome wide receiver unit, and more important, as a potential threat between the lines.

"Consistency is such a determining factor in whether you play or not," said Goodman just prior to his ankle injury. "I realize that. I've grown to know that. Coach Kelly and Coach (Chuck) Martin try to instill that within each one of our minds, the guys that are consistent will play.

"I was persistent through that process" this past spring and off-season, and the end of our last season and things are working out now. I'm getting in the groove and I won't go back to that inconsistent practice style."

He can't, because while he's the accepted starter at Floyd's vacated W receiver spot today, junior T.J. Jones has proven more productive on Saturdays over the past two seasons, and the offense simply can't afford to keep redshirt-freshman DaVaris Daniels off the field next fall. (Senior Robby Toma is set in the slot).

In this instance, "three to make two" with Goodman, Daniels, and Jones, might benefit the offense over a 12-game stretch, especially if each can compete full bore from August 1 through season's end.

Powerful Punch

Irish fans probably won't lend credence to the staff honor bestowed upon Goodman until the 5th-year senior proves he can perform next fall. It's the unfortunate nature of being a known quantity among modern fan bases: Goodman is presently viewed as a guy that fair catches punts and once ran really fast against Washington State for a touchdown in a Charlie Weis-guided blowout at the Alamo Dome.

Fair or not, he'll live with those labels until he makes plays vs. Purdue, Michigan, and Michigan State next September and continues to produce through Thanksgiving Saturday in Los Angeles.

Junior defensive lineman Kona Schwenke, by comparison, remains a diamond-in-the-rough, and there's nothing more exciting to a fan base than an up-and-coming player with more than a season of eligibility remaining.

"After last season we had a meeting with our coaches and they told every player what we needed to work on and focus on coming into spring. I tried to focus on all the little things – a lot of it was hand placement and getting stronger in the weight room," Schwenke said following the Blue Gold game Saturday.

A 227-pound DE/OLB prospect when he hit campus in 2010, the now 285-pound Schwenke was singled out by position coach Mike Elston at the outset of spring, and carried his performance through its conclusion.

"Kona is having a great spring," said Elston in late-March. "He's probably the most improved player on the defensive line. The ability to use the techniques, to use his hands; he's using his hands a lot more. As you know, a defensive lineman being able to combat with his hands and getting off blocks (is key) which makes him much more production player, both in the run game and the pass game."

Most, including Kelly, expect incumbent Louis Nix to perform with more urgency in August and into the fall, a development that would benefit both the Irish defense and the new nose guard tandem.

"I think it's positive, it keeps everybody fresh. You try to go 100 percent every play but you're not made that way. If you were, everybody would be playing football. When Kona needs a breather I'll go in and vice versa."

Nix was among the most improved players from the beginning of the 2011 off-season through last year's August camp. Schwenke is on pace for the same in 2012.

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