"I keep hearing about ‘Job Shares' at certain positions. Is that coach-speak for ‘I don't have anyone that can start' or do these things ever work out?"
Mike P – Bethlehem, PA
There have been a few notable instances of Job Shares at the program being the direct result of a talent glut at a position. Lou Holtz had three inside linebackers for two spots in the 1988 title season:
Team captain and reigning National Defensive Player of the Year Ned Bolcar (as chosen by CBS), up-and-coming sophomore Michael Stonebreaker, and 5th-year senior Wes Pritchett.
Bolcar "lost" his job to Stonebreaker, but each of the three played and the defense was far better for it. That's admittedly an extreme case, and not on tap for the foreseeable future.
As for a true Job Share, consider the Drop linebacker spot in the aforementioned 1988 season, when 5th-year senior Darrell "Flash" Gordon shared the role with true freshman Arnold Ale. (Its necessary to point out that position was likely the weakest, relatively speaking, on a great defense.)
One year later two future NFL picks, Devon McDonald and Scott Kowalkowski, both saw ample time as pass-rushing hybrid OLB/DE for another great defensive unit.
And finally, senior Derek Brown and junior Irv Smith were near equals at tight end by 1991. Both earned first round selections the ensuing two seasons.
But my answer for the present-day Irish leans toward the coach-speak theory, because guys like Manti Te'o, Tyler Eifert, and Jamoris Slaughter won't see their playing time impacted by depth. Guys like Mike Golic, Andrew Hendrix, and Danny Spond, will.
Let's break down each spot with a potential job share and decide whether the situation is a sign of true depth, or just a bunch of questions in need of autumn answers.
Job Share #1 – Field CornerbackCombatants include junior Lo Wood (no starts) and sophomore Josh Atkinson (no starts). We have Wood as the clear leader exiting spring ball but head coach Brian Kelly has repeatedly offered the situation as "a battle" throughout spring ball. One will start but both will play…a true Job Share can work at cornerback as it did for the aforementioned Walls/Gray/Blanton trio in 2011, but each member of that group had ample starting experience entering the season.
Past Production from the Combatants: None. Wood has played sparingly and Atkinson barely ever from scrimmage. Wood has seen two years of kickoff coverage duty; Atkinson about a half-season.
Verdict: Question marks abound.
Job Share #2 – Will LinebackerSenior classmates Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese shared the job last year with Fox starting all 13 games and Calabrese playing plenty. Kelly rarely offers any hint that either competitor has seized a sizeable lead in the competition and has never indicated their dual-role is in jeopardy.
Past Production from the Combatants: Calabrese was a very good first-year linebacker for about six of the first eight games in 2011 (pre hamstring injury); Fox was the better player last year. The pair has combined for 168 tackles including 8.5 for loss during the Kelly era.
Verdict: Depth exists, just nowhere near the game-altering, All-America kind. The position involves two veterans who've shown flashes but must, and should, improve as seniors.
Job Share #3 – Dog LinebackerCombatants include junior Danny Spond and redshirt-freshman Ben Councell. I'm not yet convinced both or either will play more than 1/3 of any game considering the defense proved far more effective when it featured S Jamoris Slaughter in a hybrid role last fall.
Past Production from the Combatants: Spond's best work has come on the kickoff coverage unit; Councell will make his field debut this fall.
Verdict: All Questions, no answers.
Job Share #4 – Perimeter Wide ReceiversT.J. Jones, John Goodman, and DaVaris Daniels are the lead trio fighting for two starting spots next fall. Daniel Smith and a pair of incoming freshmen will also get a look in August. All three will play because a modern passing attack needs more than three pass-catchers, especially Kelly's spread scheme. (Senior slot receiver Robby Toma appears to have the starting role there on lockdown.)
Past Production from the Combatants: Jones has six touchdowns in two seasons, Goodman was better in 2010 than 2011…in fact, he was better in 2009 than he was last year. Daniels will make his field debut.
Verdict: Do you have to ask? One caveat to what seems like a trouble spot for the 2012 offense: we have no idea how good DaVaris Daniels will be and what impact that could have on the veterans.
Job Share #5 – Cat LinebackerCombatants include sophomore Ishaq Williams and junior Prince Shembo. Both are ideally suited to rush the passer from edge roles; both can press the boundary side vs. opposing running games; both will be better in November than they are in September.
Past Production from the Combatants: Shembo was impressive as a true freshman pass rusher in 2010 but struggled last year at the more coverage-oriented Dog linebacker role. He's at home in the Cat position. Williams played sparingly as a true freshman last year.
Verdict: I'll take an educated leap of faith and call this true depth. Or at least "probable depth." The only question is consistency has yet to define either young player.
Job Share #6 – Right Guard5th-year senior Mike Golic, Jr., and redshirt-freshman Nick Martin exited spring ball 1A and 1B for the role.
Past Production from the Combatants: Golic started four games at center last season; Martin will make his field debut
Verdict: The nature of a 5th-year senior battling a red-shirt freshman is questionable...
Job Share #7 – Nose Guard10-game starter Louis Nix and 2012 spring star Kona Schwenke will both see ample time.
Past Production from the Combatants: Nix showed well, especially early last season; Schwenke spent most of last year adjusting to an extra 25 pounds (and 70 since arriving on campus in 2010).
Verdict: True depth. The Irish have a nice 1-2 punch on the nose.
Job Share #8 – QuarterbackTommy Rees vs. Andrew Hendrix vs. Everett Golson vs. Gunner Kiel (somewhat). None of the above distinguished himself in the spring, nor did the 2011 participants (Rees and Hendrix) last fall.
Past Production from the Combatants: Rees is already sixth in program history in career touchdown passes. He's also committed 28 turnovers in roughly 34 halves of college football. Hendrix turned over twice in 37 passes but also helped account for two touchdowns, one rushing, and one passing. Golson was withheld from action and Kiel is a true freshman.
Verdict: Four potential starting QBs is three too many, but you already knew that.
That's the long answer. The short answer to this oft-asked, and likely relevant off-season question is: the whole must be greater than the sum of the parts for the Irish to thrive next fall.