More Musings: The Returnees

O'Malley's Stream of Consciousness notes on all 83 scholarship Irish finds a common theme in today's edition…

Click the links below for previous installments:

Sunday's Stream of Consciousness

Saturday's Stream of Consciousness: Five Freshmen

Six on the Spot

10 in the Trenches

Four of the five missed last season entirely due to injury; the fifth saw action in just one contest; one hasn't played since mid-season 2010…

#1 -- Tight End Alex Welch

I found position coach Scott Booker's offering of Welch's status last year as the No. 2 tight end (behind Tyler Eifert) prior to injury telling -- Booker noted Welch was the most physical of a group that includes 6'7" 260-pounder Troy Niklas…Let's hope Niklas narrowed that gap, as both will make their wares this fall as blockers more than in the passing game…Welch's career serves as a reminder that in the recruiting world, nothing is guaranteed: four-star prospect, well-rounded, attends the ideal program in terms of developing his position, luxury of a redshirt, opportunity exists thereafter -- and suddenly he's a player with one career catch entering his senior season…I've pegged Welch for the second most snaps among tight ends, but third behind Niklas and Ben Koyack for total receptions…And I've pegged him for a fifth season in 2014, one in which he'll raise his level of production, a full two years removed from surgery to repair his ACL...

#2 -- Cornerback Lo Wood

Speaking of a player a year away -- Wood will play plenty (and maybe start) in 2013, but in good health, his best season at the program will be his fifth when he, like Welch, has put two calendar years between him and season-ending injury…Wood's return from a ruptured Achilles in under eight months is football miracle…Look for a three-man rotation from Wood and returning starters Bennett Jackson and Keivarae Russell, with Jackson receiving the most playing time of the three…I don't think any member of the trio will be the technical "nickel" defender this fall, unless its Jackson, because I like both Wood and Russell more on the perimeter than inside…Wood's strengths (physical tackling, man-off coverage) are ideal in a heavy zone scheme -- he still needs to improve playing the deep ball, however…Its relevant to note that Wood was among the top defensive backs of August camp 2012 and spring ball 2013, though his Achilles (rupture, then soreness) didn't allow him to finish either session...Wood, Jackson, Russell plus Farley, Shumate, Baratti, Redfield, and Collinsworth -- the Irish secondary is in a much less precarious situation than it was as part of a 12-0 defense last fall…

#3 -- Safety/ST Austin Collinsworth

Love him covering kicks and punts…like him returning either or both…like him as a Dime package linebacker/safety…like him as a backup, rotation safety…interested in seeing him as a goal-to-go defender...not interested in seeing him take over as the Nickel, unless I've vastly underestimated his ability to turn and cover quicker foes…Notre Dame missed Collinsworth's aggressiveness on its coverage units last fall…Like Wood and Welch, he's a lock for Year 5 in 2014 assuming good health…Might never start a game and still make a major impact over the next 26…

#4 -- Injured Defensive Lineman Chase Hounshell

Out for 2013, it will be the feel-good story of 2014 if Hounshell contributes rather than takes a medical scholarship hardship as a senior student-athlete…Three surgeries on the same shoulder and the BCS-level trenches don't make for an enviable mix…Pre-injury, I felt the 275-pounder could evolve into Notre Dame's No. 6 defensive lineman (quality reps are the result) by mid-season 2013, now I wonder if that's possible for 2014? Should Hounshell fail to make it back after two years away, he'll be the second of four 2011 D-Line signees to play his final game in Blue and Gold in 2011 (Aaron Lynch) and the fourth of the team's eight combined (OL/DL) Power Profile recruits from that cycle (offensive linemen Brad Carrico/medical and Jordan Prestwood/transfer, never played a down)…Here's to Hounshell beating the odds and making his presence felt on the 2015 defensive line as a fifth-year competitor…

#5 -- Kicker Nick Tausch

I challenge you to find a stranger collegiate career for a place-kicker:

Sets a program-record for consecutive field goals made as a true freshman (14), then misses two straight, and doesn't attempt another for 13 months -- despite being healthy for 13 of the 16 games played in that span…Is subsequently beaten out by a senior walk-on (David Ruffer) as a sophomore; said walk-on breaks Tausch's recently-set program record for field goals made (by a healthy margin)…Sits out a full season as a backup to the former walk-on kicker who earns a fifth season (and inexplicably struggles)…Earns starting job to begin true senior year, suffers second undisclosed leg injury of his career (though occurring three seasons apart) and doesn't kick again, losing job to Kyle Brindza…Returns for 5th season as a projected backup to Brindza…

Regardless, Tausch is likely the best backup place-kicker in America, hitting 16 of 19 field goals in his career, though just two in the Kelly era (21 months apart), and missing more PAT (four) than field goals (three) over his meandering, intermittent participation cycle at Notre Dame…


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