Since freshman first became eligible in 1972, Notre Dame has enjoyed the efforts of top tier rookie phenoms at every position. A closer look at the 2012 Irish, however, shows patience is still a virtue.
Few program observers could argue against the following statement: Eight of Notre Dame's 11 best players entering 2012 redshirted as freshmen.
That eight-man group is comprised of Tyler Eifert, Zack Martin, Cierre Wood, Chris Watt, Jamoris Slaughter, Braxston Cave, Kapron Lewis-Moore, and Louis Nix, with Manti Te'o, Stephon Tuitt, and Theo Riddick notable exceptions, each among the latter trio playing in their true freshmen seasons (Te'o and Riddick in '09; Tuitt last fall).
Likewise, two of the team's three main quarterbacks redshirted as freshmen, starter Everett Golson and technical backup Andrew Hendrix, with Tommy Rees the exception. The fourth and most highly touted, Gunner Kiel, has a better than 50 percent chance of staying on the sidelines over the next four months as well.
Furthermore, Notre Dame has projected starters that redshirted as freshmen at WR (John Goodman), TE (Eifert), LT, LG, and C (Martin, Watt, Cave), RG (Mike Golic), RT (Christian Lombard), QB (Golson), RB (Wood), DE (Lewis-Moore), NG (Nix), Will LB (Dan Fox and/or Carlo Calabrese), OLB (Ben Councell), and S (Slaughter). Nine other positions have RS-frosh firmly entrenched among the team's two-deep: (CB, S, Mike LB, WR, LG, C, RG/RT)
Apparently sideline seasoning has its privileges.
"I honestly think the scout team was a great learning experience, because I went against the first team defenses and how they prepare," said redshirt-freshman safety Matthias Farley. "I lined up against great players; I wasn't' necessarily working on offensive plays, but the mental aspect of it helped a lot going against great players."
Farley's recent ascent up the depth chart caught many program observers by surprise. Chief among the reasons? A clearer understanding of his duties.
"I'm sure you've all experienced it at some point in your life: someone will tell you something, and tell you something, and tell you something, and you don't quite get it, and one day it just clicks," he offered. "I would say around day three or four (in camp) everything started to make sense and slow down a lot more. It made the transition a lot smoother.
"A lot of it has to do with understanding what's going on in general with the defense, not just my one position. And then getting reps and seeing it live and fast and you kind of get acclimated to it after a few days."
Perimeter ProwessAlso getting acclimated is classmate and fellow redshirt DaVaris Daniels, a gifted physical specimen who sat out varsity action last season while learning the intricacies of a collegiate passing game.
"Having a year under my belt really helped," said Daniels. "Last year was crazy for me, coming out of high school and running the Wing-T.
"My consistency, going to work every day and knowing what I'm good at and utilizing that," he continued of his greatest improvement since last fall. "Not trying to be anything I'm not and playing my game."
Daniels noted his speed and quickness of the line of scrimmage as potential strengths. He's remains aware of aspects of the craft that need work. "My footwork could get a little better. Routes have gotten a lot better since my freshman year," Daniels said. "I keep approaching every day with those things in mind: depth with speed on every route."
Daniels' scout team service could manifest in a unique manner during Saturday's this fall -- he spent the bulk of last season catching passes from the team's new starting quarterback.
"Its definitely carrying over," said Daniels of a connection referenced by Golson during the sprain. "We have a unique bond on the field. We kind of feed off each other. So I guess the scout team work helped."
It might not have been glamourous at the time, but similar scout team work helped transform the bulk of Notre Dame's starting lineup, and the vast majority of its top talents into future starters and second season contributors, too.