The Cupboard: Juniors

IrishEyes continues its review of the players who'll help ease the transition for new head coach Brian Kelly and his coaching staff in 2010.

Below is our look at the team's crucial class and team backbone – the juniors-to-be. The bulk of the unit has three seasons of eligibility remaining and at least 18 of the 22 (current sophomores) should challenge for a regular spot in their unit's rotation next fall.

For a review of both the seniors-to-be and potential 5th-year returnees for 2010, begin here.

Returning Starters and Key Contributors

  • WR Michael Floyd: One of the top returning players in the nation and able to assimilate into any modern and/or antiquated offense…the type of developed player who possesses the exact experience level a new coach dreams about when he signs a five-year contract.
  • WR John Goodman: Returns as one of Coach Kelly's most versatile athletes, capable of playing outside, in the slot, as a spread-option QB on occasion, and filling the punt returner's role…Goodman could enjoy a breakout season in 2010 and will challenge for the No. 2/3 WR role in the spring…three years of eligibility remaining.
  • RG Trevor Robinson: Enters 2010 with a chance to develop into the best interior offensive linemen in his class…ankle injury suffered in Game Nine and aggravated twice in mid-November should be fully healed by the spring…could play multiple positions in order to put the best five OL on the field next season but Robinson certainly seems comfortable at guard.
  • TE Kyle Rudolph: Like Floyd, Rudolph will be a true junior that enters next season ranked among the best at his position…should at least approach former three-time All American Ken McAfee's records at program for the tight end position…blocking improved last season and will need to continue to improve that skill on the move in Kelly's expected offensive attack…a guaranteed team captain by the time he's a senior in 2011.
  • CB Robert Blanton: Slumped as a sophomore last season after a breakout freshman season...was victimized by poor ball skills (which I had viewed as a strength entering the season and seemed to lose his trademark confidence, along with his starting spot, along the way…a return to form would give the Irish a trio of talented cornerbacks (along with Gary Gray and probable 5th-year Darrin Walls) entering 2010.
  • LB/DE Darius Fleming: The front seven's MVP in 2010, Fleming also regressed in November (a team-wide epidemic outside of Golden Tate, Chris Stewart, and David Ruffer)…presents coach Kelly with an outstanding athlete as an edge rusher and has already cross-trained at linebacker…will start and likely shine as a true junior regardless of the defense's chosen alignment, assuming he's routinely unleashed as a pass rusher.
  • DT Ethan Johnson: True junior ranks as one of the most promising third-year players entering 2010…like Fleming, a sure starter regardless of the defensive package/alignment and a player who could play defensive end as the Irish look to improve a run defense that was gashed to the tune of 1,050 rushing yards over a four-game November slump…was the only Irish defensive lineman to show up vs. UConn in the disappointing home finale…Kelly can build around Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore's skills over the next two seasons up front.
  • DE/DT Kapron Lewis-Moore:One of the most improved players on the team after a shaky first two games, Lewis-Moore hit the rookie wall in the season's final three contests…presents Kelly with a versatile down lineman, one capable of shifting inside in pass rushing situation…led the team's defensive linemen in total tackles and ranked second (behind Fleming) in tackles-for-loss…three seasons of eligibility remaining.
  • S/CB Jamoris Slaughter: Shifted to safety in late October as a result of the defensive backfield's well-publicized struggles…will either challenge for a starting free safety role of fight it out with three cornerbacks for a spot in the new regime's starting unit…seems to be a natural hitter who could grow into an exceptionally well-rounded college free safety…three seasons of eligibility remaining.
  • DT Sean Cwynar: Ranks as the key in terms of defensive line development between now and September 4…can play both interior DL spots and Cwynar's improvement would allow the new defensive staff to rotate the unit's five returning starters (three listed above plus Ian Williams and Kerry Neal) to remain fresh as the months turn cold…the only backup interior lineman to receive consistent playing time in 2009…three seasons of eligibility remaining.
  • DE/LB Steve Filer: Played just 28 minutes but led the Irish with 213 special teams appearances…showed a burst off the edge as a pass rusher…probably wouldn't mind a switch to a 3-4 defense though Filer might be at his best with 10 more pounds (and no loss of quickness) as a pass rusher off the edge…enters the spring with a chance to battle Kerry Neal for the starting RDE role if the Irish remaining in the 4-3 base defense…has cross-trained at LB over the last two seasons and due to special teams playing time as a true freshman, Filer has two remaining seasons of eligibility.

Waiting in the Wings

  • QB Dayne Crist: Continues to recover from early November ACL surgery…Crist's announced recovery time (before he could start running) was 4-6 months…as of Friday, the talented athlete was optimistic but obviously had no real grasp of the early stages of his recovery…ranks as the unchallenged No. 1 QB option as Kelly takes over the reigns in December…three seasons of eligibility remaining.
  • G/C Braxston Cave: Should challenge for a starting role next season, though competition will be stiff among the Irish interior OL…ranked as the strongest (noted) player on the team entering September 2009…will be allowed to apply for a 5th-season in 2012 due to medical redshirt after Game One as a freshman in 2008.
  • C Mike Golic, Jr.: Will challenge potential 5th-year senior Dan Wenger and possibly classmate Braxston Cave for the starting center role in the spring…has three seasons of eligibility remaining.
  • T Lane Clelland: Probably a notch below the other returning starters (seniors Matt Romine and Taylor Dever) in terms of college strength and game readiness; then again, Clelland and the rest of the squad will have a new set of eyes monitoring their development over the next few years…lined up as an emergency tight end due to injuries to both Bobby Burger and Kyle Rudolph in the season's second half…three seasons of eligibility remaining.
  • S Dan McCarthy: Not far behind schedule after suffering a neck injury late in his senior season of high school…made 15 special teams appearances but played just 1:08 from scrimmage as a sophomore last year…will have a chance to challenge for a starting safety role in the spring…three seasons of eligibility remaining.
  • LB Anthony McDonald: Was praised for his development (along with Posluszny, below) by defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Jon Tenuta in August…suffered a concussion vs. Washington State as he was targeted for a shot away from the ball on the game's opening kickoff…posted 180 special teams appearances…currently in a logjam as an inside/middle linebacker, McDonald is reportedly a tremendous athlete with three seasons of eligibility remaining.
  • LB David Posluszny: 80 special teams appearances but played just over six minutes as a linebacker…was freshman Manti Te'o's understudy at the WILL LB position for the final 2/3 of the season…could greatly benefit from a switch to a 3-4 defense, though Poz is likely to get a true shot at a starting role in the spring of 2011…three seasons of eligibility remaining.

Second chance to make a first impression

  • RB Jonas Gray: Found himself in the doghouse by October after a costly fumble at Michigan and even more damaging failure to pick up a blitz vs. Michigan State (Clausen's turf toe injury)…showed good speed and forward lean vs. Nevada and played well in the screen game in a start at Purdue…totaled just over 35 minutes of playing time and made 36 additional special teams appearances…will enter the spring with at least a chance to challenge for the backup role to Armando Allen (if not a complete fresh start against a quartet of potential runners)…two seasons of eligibility remaining.
  • WR Deion Walker: Made the spectacular look routine in Tuesday one-on-one drills (I know this because I made note of it leaving every practice), then rarely appeared in the wide receiver rotation on Saturday's…after catching a comeback route in the season-opener, Walker was withheld from action in seven of the 11 remaining contests including five of the last six…earned 1st Half reps vs. both Washington and USC …three seasons of eligibility remaining.
  • NT/DT Hafis Williams: Talk of the town last spring and in August but rarely cracked the rotation over the 2009 season…played a shade under 9:30 in six games and did not record a tackle…did not play in November…Williams was part of goal line stand No. 1 (late in the 3rd Quarter) vs. Washington in 37-30 OT victory over the Huskies…one of three young DTs to watch in the spring…three seasons of eligibility remaining.
  • NT Brandon Newman: Has yet to make an appearance in two seasons (obviously has three years of eligibility remaining…new strength and conditioning program, as well as a fresh set of eyes could buoy his spring and chances for meaningful rotation time next fall.

Note: The Cupboard: Sophomores, will be published later this morning. Top Stories