Preview 2012: Daniel Smith

With a nagging hamstring injury finally behind him, junior Daniel Smith hopes to carve out a spot in the weekly game day rotation.

Two receptions.

That was the two-season haul in 1988 and '89 for the Northern Indiana high school product that found his way to Notre Dame. At 6'2" 191 pounds, size, speed, and athleticism were his calling cards but production eluded him during the formative stages of his college career.

But a breakthrough junior season included 11 starts, 15 grabs, and a pair of touchdowns, and fnally as a senior in 1991, Gary, IN wide receiver Tony Smith led Notre Dame in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown catches. A sixth-round NFL Draft selection followed.

21 football seasons later, another Northern Indiana high school product with an enviable size speed blend enters his junior season after a nondescript pair at the program. Daniel Smith has played in eight college games, his greatest achievement to date a diving fumble recovery in kick coverage during a home upset vs. Utah as a true freshman in 2010.

But Smith has yet to record his first catch as a collegian, and played in just two games last season (USF and Navy), and never in a meaningful scrimmage situation.

That's far cry from competing in the weekly game day rotation at receiver, much less the leap to the standout status of his predecessor and namesake noted above.

But like Tony Smith before him, Daniel Smith's final collegiate seasons need not match his first two in an Irish uniform.

Two year timeline: ST and Injury

Smith made his Notre Dame field debut as a starter on the kickoff coverage team vs. Western Michigan midway through 2010, and stayed in that role for the duration of his freshman season (117 special teams snaps over the final seven games).

With star receiver Michael Floyd suspended and just five other receivers in tow, spring 2011 offered opportunity.

But Smith failed to seize it with leg injuries, or the inability to bounce back from them, the main culprit.

"Danny is that unknown: a big, physical strong kid, but he needs a lot of work this spring," said head coach Brian Kelly at the 2011 session's outset.

Kelly's tone changed as the 15 practices passed with no sign of a competitive Smith.

"He's got a slight hamstring and he is really close to going full speed," said Kelly. "We need him for a good two weeks. I do not want a lingering hamstring on him. I wouldn't even call it a Grade 1. (Trainer) Rob Hunt looked at and he feels like if he has this weekend off that we'll have him full go on Monday."

That Monday in April 2011 turned into August, with little in the way of progress for the 6'4" 215-pound prospect. Another undisclosed leg injury near the season opener kept him from making an impact early in 2011, and his one-game stint vs. Navy suggests its resurfaced near season's end.

(According to Kelly, Smith's nagging hamstring likely existed before he stepped on campus. )

Fast forward to Spring Ball 2012, and a healthy, more prepared Daniel Smith.

"Daniel is important to us," Kelly said three days prior to the Blue Gold Gam.e "We need him to come up and be a consistent player for us. It's been about injuries for him. He has the injury bug, but it looks like he's kicked it, because he's made every spring practice and he hadn't been able to do that in his previous time here. A really positive step for Daniel Smith this spring."

It's a step forecasted by his former offensive coordinator, Charley Molnar, more than a year ago. "His size/speed ratio really could be off the charts. He could be a surprisingly good football player as we go through his career here."

With two seasons of eligibility remaining as a true junior, and just two competitors on the perimeter who've hauled in a single collegiate catch, that career in South Bend effectively begins with 2012's August Camp.

Quote to Note: "There are open jobs, reps, responsibilities that someone needs to seize. It's a challenge they're up to and they've taken it to heart that they need to be a major part of everything going on. There's no more looking behind them to see who might step in and take a rep or make a play. It's on them to do that now and take that responsibility."
--Irish wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock on the 2012 receivers' rotation. Top Stories