#9 RB/Slot Amir CarlisleHow can a player who'll be 22 months removed from his last snap -- for a different team, no less -- be considered indispensable to Brian Kelly's title-contending Irish? Because for the offense to evolve, and for the Irish to actually contend for said title, the ugly step-child side of scrimmage, aka, the offense, needs a versatile playmaker.
And for 2013, Carlisle is it. And he might be the only realistic option.
Incoming freshman running back Tarean Folston could evolve into a collegiate dual-threat. His classmate Greg Bryant as well as current juniors George Atkinson (rushing) and Cam McDaniel (rushing and reliable hands) will contribute to the overall effort too. But it's Carlisle, a quick-twitch direction-changer in space that will stress defenses the most among the 2013 Irish.
If he's healthy.
Carlisle missed 2012 due to March ankle surgery and complications thereafter. He missed the bulk of the padded portion of spring 2013 due to shoulder surgery, this after starring at the outset.
Kelly offered in late March of the of former USC transfer: "He's going to be an exciting player. He's what we thought he was…He was limited by the ankle and then the nerve that would not stop firing up on him," said Kelly of Carlisle's long road back last fall. "We had a lot of the veterans (at practice) today and Manti (Te'o) was out there, Robby (Toma) was out there, (Kyle) Rudolph, everybody noticed No. 3. He's gonna be a guy that definitely impacts the program."
He needs a healthy August through Thanksgiving weekend to do so. If Carlisle is up to speed, so too will be the slot position in the Irish spread offense. Most important, such a presence inside can open the perimeter and running game -- finally stretching defenses both vertically and horizontally -- for the first time in the Kelly era.
In short, Carlisle at full speed and in Kelly's varied attack, makes everybody else better.
If however he's unable to regain his pre-injury form, or continues to miss time due to various injuries, the Irish offense will likely be without a difference-maker in the open field.
#8 S Matthias Farley"I would say we're pleased with Elijah. He's a very talented player, but he's a long ways away. He's a long way away from functioning and driving our defense. Light years away."
-- Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco when asked about sophomore Elijah Shumate's progress.
Admittedly, the addition of the phrase "light years" appears to paint a grim picture for Shumate, a starting safety hopeful. But its one that likely applies to his classmate Nicky Baratti, and to rusty senior Austin Collinsworth -- and to any potential competitor among a group of seven untested safeties that includes talented incoming freshman Max Redfield.
It applies to seven of the Irish safeties -- but not the eighth. Not Farley.
"We know we have a safety that's played 13 games for us and we have a safety that hasn't played any games for us. So our focus right now is who's going to be that next guy (in addition to Farley)," said cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks at the spring's outset. "Who's going to be the guy that's going to be opposite Matthias? And maybe who will be 'the guys.' It could be multiple guys. So we're just trying to secure that spot and get them comfortable."
That comfort level will be reached in part because Farley can drive the machine on the back line while his cohort(s) experience trial-by-fire … just as Farley did last season, thrust into the starting role when 5th-year senior Jamoris Slaughter was lost for the season in Week Three.
"I think Matthias has demonstrated he can play at a high level and he can win for us. We won 12 games with him back there last year. He's kind of the leader getting them lined up. He's doing what Zeke (Motta) did for him last year. And what Harrison (Smith) did for Zeke. Its passing the torch."
And its an essential element on the back end, because when the safety makes a mistake, its recognized by every fan in the stadium -- and on the scoreboard as well.
"The safety is called that for a reason," said Diaco last August. "The safeties are responsible for the hopes and dreams of the team. Of South Bend, of greater Michiana…"
Said Farley of the position's chief responsibility: "It's a huge (difference). Its no longer someone telling you the check. You're making the check. And if someone (on the opposing offense) moves or motions, you're the guy that has to make it as opposed to echoing the call. Its a huge adjustment for anybody."
Farley's the team's only experienced safety, one of the defense's most promising players, and at this point, easily the squad's most valuable and indispensable defensive back heading into 2013.
#7 WR DaVaris DanielsAt this point, its still an assumption.
At this point, Irish fans, the team's daily media, and sometimes even the coaching staff assumes Daniels, a player entering his second season of varsity action, is ready to take not only the next step, but a major leap from contributor to game day constant.
"He's a difference-maker. He has that (different) level, that's what I've been telling him," said offensive coordinator Chuck Martin after Daniels showed well in last year's BCS Championship loss to Alabama. "Now he's only a freshman, I got it, but whenever he wants to flip that switch (snaps finger)…its just consistency.
"Because he does it in practice, he's had other big moments in games this year: he had a catch against Michigan that's hanging in the wall, the ball's four feet behind him, he's 20-feet off the ground…but it doesn't look like that every down."
It didn't look like that every down or in every rep this spring, either. Because when Martin listed his most reliable skill position players, it was first T.J. Jones, then fellow senior Daniel Smith -- not Daniels -- as the initial names offered.
But its Daniels whose ceiling isn't apparent. Daniels who can beat any team's cornerbacks one-on-one. Daniels who can help Jones, quarterback Everett Golson, and his head coach and coordinator turn the fourth-edition Kelly offense into a true perimeter-driven, quarterback-based unit.
Daniels is the team's best skill position pro prospect. He'll doubtless be the difference-maker in two or more games this fall.
But the potential for "more" is the operative word, and the chief reason Daniels ranks among our "Indispensables" for 2013.
Next in the series: The squad's most polished skill position player, its most unheralded lineman, and its top NFL prospect.