The players and position groups listed below, conversely, are not.
Ready to Roll: Sources of ComfortWith due respect to a handful of other returning starters and veterans, the six players/positions below are known, proven strengths entering the 2012 campaign.
- Notre Dame has the best tight end in the nation in senior Tyler Eifert. Split-wide, attached, detached to the slot, motioning from the backfield – where there's a will, there's a way, and Brian Kelly will put the ball in Eifert's hands this fall. Expect a record-setting seasons in receptions, yardage, and touchdowns for a tight end, which would in turn set program records for at least the first two categories, if not the latter by season's end.
- Manti Te'o is likely the team's best defender in several seasons, among its best linebacker of the last 15 seasons at the program, and among the best linebackers in the nation for 2012. The only question that remains for the senior leader: can he make all of the above indisputable by season's end?
- The left side of Notre Dame's offensive line could be dominant, and is easily the best at the program since 2005, if not the late 90s. LT Zack Martin and LG Chris Watt, coupled with a fully-recovered Braxston Cave (the 5th-year senior had foot surgery last November but was reportedly close to full strength this spring), are as good as it gets in terms of tenacity, experience, and talent.
- Cierre Wood will be the focal point of the offense. Eifert is the best player Theo Riddick the most versatile, and DaVaris Daniels the most intriguing, but Wood is a proven commodity entering his senior season. He erupts for 20 yards, 50 yards, but has learned to duck his head and hit the hole for four as well. Another 1,000 yards with double digit touchdowns is again on the horizon.
- The first unit D-Line will be stout. I have my doubts regarding the group's purported depth (The Domino Effect of Aaron Lynch's departure will affect both the first men off the bench and a potential redshirt season among the unit), but 5th-year senior Kapron Lewis-Moore and sophomore Stephon Tuitt are enviable bookends on the outside while the apparent 1-2 punch of 2011 starter Louis Nix and the Most Improved player of the 2012 spring session, Kona Schwenke, should keep each other fresh for four quarters and 12 games in 13 weeks. Now the Irish need a fifth to emerge from the Sheldon Day/Chase Hounshell/Tony Springmann trio.
- Jamoris Slaughter's versatility will be evident early and often. The back line's best player (and it's not close), Slaughter will line up at safety, nickel, outside ‘backer, roam in the dime, and potentially fill in at cornerback in case of injury. The Slaughter era officially arrived in South Bend midway through 2011 – it might be a national splash in 2012.
Note: Part II will look at players and position groups that seemed to emerge over the off-season and spring ball, but still have much to prove.