Tell-tale talents

This week's Monday Morning Briefing examines a veteran Irish player and relative newcomer, at every position, whose play and development will help define the upcoming season.

I had a revelation while reading an article on my phone the other day I don't write enough short columns for the modern person. In other words, the person with no attention span that reads sports stories at stoplights.

This pseudo-column is for you…

The exploits of these players, veteran and (relative) newcomer alike, will have the greatest impact on the 2012 -- and 2013 -- Notre Dame season(s):

Quarterback -- Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson: Hendrix because its likely time to put up or be passed up as a junior. If he emerges by season's end as a starter, Hendrix is a potential starter with two seasons of eligibility remaining. If he's behind any of his competitors, he becomes a senior likely entering his final season in 2013. Regarding Golson -- I don't think Kiel will play, so Golson wins the rookie vote by default (plus he remains my choice to open the season as the team's starter behind center).

Running Back -- Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III: Cierre Wood will be good. Transfer Amir Carlisle is an unknown coming off foot surgery, and the enigmatic Riddick has one chance to prove he's more than just a theory. But Atkinson enters August with a chance to emerge as a true difference-maker on an offense that could use another...or he could fumble his way to a second straight season of kick return duties and ample rest on the sidelines watching his teammates from scrimmage.

Wide Receiver -- T.J. Jones and DaVaris Daniels: They're technically in head-to-head competition at the X, but that's irrelevant if the pair proves better than supposed W starter John Goodman. Is Jones destined to be just another guy? Is Daniels a modern-day Lake Dawson or merely another spring conversation?

Tight Ends -- Tyler Eifert and Troy Niklas: The former is obvious: he's the best player on the offense and at his position nationwide. The latter? Another player who could have relatively no offensive impact in 2012 (and therefore bounce back to the defense in 2013?) or could Niklas be the hammer the Irish running game needs to finally take down the likes of Stanford, Oklahoma, and USC?

Offensive Line -- Mike Golic, Jr., and Christian Lombard: Can Golic play guard? Can he beat out redshirt-freshman Nick Martin due to more than seniority and familiarity? (And by "play guard" I mean against teams with a pulse.) Is Lombard, a highly touted prospect in 2010, an upgrade from the underrated Taylor Dever who performed well in relative obscurity for two years at right tackle?

Defensive Line -- Chase Hounshell and Sheldon Day: I know Kapron Lewis-Moore, Stephon Tuitt, and Louis Nix will be solid at worst, outstanding at best. I assume Kona Schwenke must be at least solid to emerge from spring ball as a starter. Is Hounshell a true rotation competitor or is he one rung too high in the pecking order after Aaron Lynch's departure? Can Day find a niche? Because he has to play a key role as the No. 6 DL (See: Lynch, Transfer).

Linebackers -- Manti Te'o and Ishaq Williams: Both have to be better and be difference makers -- Te'o at a national, program-historic level; Williams as a rising sophomore who arrives ahead of schedule after a lost freshman season.

Defensive Back -- Zeke Motta and Lo Wood: Jamoris Slaughter will be good, if not great. Bennett Jackson should be fine, if not good. Wood has to be consistent and Motta has to be a bit more as a three-year starter for the same defensive staff.

Special Teams (With the ball) -- Nick Tausch and Davonte Neal/C.J. Prosise: David Ruffer was the best the program ever had in 2010. In 2011 he contributed greatly to defeats at both the beginning and end of the season. The senior Tausch (15 of 18 on field goals in his career) has to be reliable, and likely at some point, clutch. The incoming freshman Neal is just what the Irish punt return team needs. Which reminds me: can Neal catch a punt? Can Prosise? Can anyone? Because apparently its the most difficult skill in the history of organized football, at least in South Bend…

Special Teams (Without the ball) -- Josh Atkinson and Eilar Hardy: 2010 kick coverage standout Bennett Jackson regressed in 2011 and as a 2012 starter on the corner, Jackson might see his ST time cut drastically. After getting his feet wet last fall, sophomore Josh Atkinson needs to join Austin Collinsworth, Troy Niklas, and Chris Salvi as dynamic coverage men. Hardy was well on his way to a coverage role before tearing his ACL as a true freshman last August. Its his pathway to playing time in 2012.

Coaching Staff -- Brian Kelly and Harry Hiestand: From an outsider's perspective, the former would likely do well to win 8 games next fall. But that's one, two, or three too few for most Irish fans. The latter has purportedly brought a more physical approach to the OL unit. It's about time…

In summation: That'd be tough to read at a stoplight, but if you need an automatic car wash, have to eat a hurried lunch at your desk, or can deftly read under the table during staff meetings, I've got you covered…


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories