Spring Musings: Wide Receivers

Irisheyes.com continues its review of Spring Football 2012 with O'Malley's position looks, thoughts, questions, answers and observations. Next in the series: the Irish wide receivers

Click here for a review of the offensive line.

Click here for a review of the team's tight ends.

Click here for a review of the team's running backs.

Fantastic Floyd vs. the Four

None of the players listed below will approach Michael Floyd's numbers (perhaps in any of his four seasons at the program) this fall, but its relevant for Irish fans to remember that for all of Floyd's production, the Irish generally lost when he A.) scored multiple touchdowns B.) caught 10+ passes, and C.) gained more than 100 yards.

Production will likely be dispersed among four receivers in 2012: John Goodman, T.J. Jones, Robby Toma, and newcomer DaVaris Daniels – the latter of whom brings top tier athleticism to an otherwise pedestrian group.

Goodman possesses the best straight line speed, Toma is the quickest out of his breaks (and has the best pair of hands) and Jones is the most seasoned and productive among the veteran trio, but none of the above has put together a full season to date – at least two of the three must to augment the efforts of tight end Tyler Eifert and RB/Slot Theo Riddick in the passing game.

Analysis: Consistent production at the position has less to do with individual numbers such as 50 receptions, 7 touchdowns, and 600 yards, than simply having multiple competitors show up and win matchups for 13 games. Jones has proved capable in the past as has Toma, but both must enjoy career years for the offense to move forward.

A bonus would be if Goodman's purported spring excellence carried over through late October (and beyond). The team needs him to catch the occasional vertical pass (his 4.45 40-yard dash time has yet to translate) but more so to come up with tough catches in traffic to gain the confidence of his quarterbacks during a season that will likely include 8 to 10 nip-and-tuck contests.

Daniels is the potential difference-maker from the group. His first true test will be under the lights in East Lansing in Week Three, but early production vs. Navy and Purdue to open the season is crucial as Daniels exited the spring playing his best ball with his confidence peaking.

Notre Dame has rarely featured more than four regular rotation members under Kelly on fall Saturdays. At present, there are only four players who've earned the staff's trust heading into summer voluntary workouts. (Though the hybrid Riddick would serve as a fifth.)

Support and Incoming

Kelly noted at spring's conclusion that 6'4" 215-pound receiver Daniel Smith did not miss a practice. That's good news, but it's a bad sign when that's noteworthy for a junior-to-be. Smith has yet to catch a college pass and played in just one game last season after battling leg injuries over the last 18 months. The South Bend product has used up two seasons of eligibility on the kick coverage unit – August camp 2012 and his performance in the first half of the season will likely determine his future at the program.

Due the dearth of scholarship bodies and frankly, proven commodities, the team's entire trio of freshmen will get a chance to compete for game day jobs through August and September. Slot receiver prospect Davonte Neal is the most likely to earn an initial spot on the varsity, due to both his punt return skills, quickness, and the fact that Robby Toma has no true backup in the slot. If Neal's big play ability translates to the collegiate level as a freshman, Notre Dame's offense will have the extra weapon it needs to see more quick-strike production.

Incoming perimeter targets Chris Brown and Justin Ferguson will both hit the ground running in August, though picking up the concepts and site/route adjustments necessary in Brian Kelly's offense could prove challenging, even in the purportedly simplified attack. (Kelly is especially high on Brown's potential; I believe Ferguson's aggressive run-after-catch approach could benefit the 2012 offense by mid-season.)

Note: Junior Luke Massa is likely lost for the season due to an ACL injury suffered in mid-April.

Roster Rundown

Top Dog: None
Indispensable: In theory, DaVaris Daniels

Proven BCS-Bowl Level Performers: None; Robby Toma would be the closest as player likely to produce as a full-time slot receiver and one that should fare well vs. tough defenses, assuming his quarterback cooperates.

Most Important that he Improve from 2011: All of the above, but we'll settle on T.J. Jones, who has fizzled to end both his freshman (injury) and sophomore (nondescript) seasons.

Spring Star: John Goodman was voted the most improved offensive player by the coaching staff.

September Sleeper: Toma. Look for the diminutive, confident, sure-handed senior to trail only All America tight end Tyler Eifert in total receptions through the season's first four contests (heading into the Week Five Bye).

Quote to Note: "I think it's important we don't pigeon-hole T.J. (Jones) as just an X or just a W or whatever. Very smart, intelligent and skilled with physical tools. We have to use that and move him around. He can be a big play guy for us."
– WR coach Mike Denbrock near the beginning of spring ball.

5th-year: John Goodman
Senior (Eligible through 2012): Robby Toma
Junior (Eligible through 2013-14): T.J. Jones, Daniel Smith, Luke Massa (2014)
Sophomore (Eligible through 2015): DaVaris Daniels
Incoming Freshmen (Eligible through 2015-16): Chris Brown, Justin Ferguson, and Davonte Neal
2013 Pledges: James Onwualu and Corey Robinson

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