To win at an acceptable level next fall, Notre Dame needs contributions from more of its roster than at any point in the five-season Brian Kelly era, but precious few of the program's top players seem irreplaceable.
In fact, in summers past I've identified at least nine and as many as 12 "indispensable" players for the pending football season. The (very) short list for 2014 shows just four: Sheldon Day, Jaylon Smith, Jarron Jones, and Kyle Brindza.
-- The loss of Golson would result in the beginning of the Malik Zaire era, I could live with that.
-- Ditto the loss of Stanley, but it'd be mitigated with the combination of Steve Elmer and Mike McGlinchey.
-- The loss of Martin could be overcome by classmate Matt Hegarty…
-- The loss of Koyack by the use of more four receiver sets, plus appearances by up-and-coming freshman tight end Durham Smythe…
-- Impressive depth, albeit it youth-filled, at wide receiver and running back is self-explanatory.
-- And finally, any theory that Notre Dame can't (at this point) replace one of its safeties is preposterous. A proving ground awaits for Max Redfield, Austin Collinsworth, and the rest...
Smith's ascent since last September has been astounding
As for the foursome noted above that the the Irish can't afford to lose:
1.) Smith has no backup near his stratosphere as a player and this Irish defense needs him to perform close to an All-American level to function.
2.) Day is the team's best player up front, and the Irish defensive line would have little playmaking potential without him -- not to mention a gaping hole for opponents' to attack.
3.) Jones' size is essential to the team's rush defense -- the success of which is then essential to the use of sub packages on second and third down, as no sub package works on 2nd and 4 or 3rd and 1.
4.) Brindza has yet to miss a clutch kick -- literally, he's perfect in the fourth quarter and overtime save for a miss last year against Temple when the Irish held a 28-6 lead. Notre Dame will be involved in at least a handful (two handfuls?) of games decided in the fourth quarter this fall. It's field goal kicker (and punter) cannot waver.
Is it a positive or a negative that but a quartet of Irish players are deemed indispensable for 2014? I suppose we'll find out...