Everything is Earned

IrishEyes sat down with offensive coordinator Charley Molnar at Friday's media luncheon.

He was asked a direct question, thus the following statement by Notre Dame offensive coordinator Charley Molnar was not intended to capture a specific athlete's attention.

Still, his response was refreshing and will likely serve as a rallying point for Irish fans who've felt decidedly empty following the last few football seasons.

"There are prima donnas on this football team," Molnar stated with a bemused smirk. "Coach Kelly, if he even sensed that a guy had that attitude at any position, any man, it would be squashed immediately.

"Our job is to make every player as good as he can possibly be. And until they get to that point, they'll be driven, they'll be pushed and they'll be coached hard from the first day of summer camp tomorrow through the bowl game. Those guys will be driven, pushed and coached hard."

Molnar's response was not unexpected from this reporter – the same that asked Molnar in an aside in late March if he'd solicit feedback from established players such as Michael Floyd or Kyle Rudolph (the answer, if you're wondering, was a brief: "I don't care what they think.")

The man charged with preparing Brian Kelly's offense on a day-to-day basis and one of Dayne Crist's two trusted tutors is ready to hit the ground running when fall camp begins Saturday. After three months away from his pupils, Molnar is excited to see the changes that wait.

"When we pass the baton to coach Longo (for summer conditioning), he's never let us down," Molnar said of the team's Strength & Conditioning coach Paul Longo who held the same role under Brian Kelly at Cincinnati and Central Michigan. "He always brings those guys back to us in better shape when they were when they left.

Per NCAA rules, neither Molnar nor the rest of the official Irish coaching staff was allowed to witness the players' summer progress or 7-on-7 practice sessions. Consequently, a theme of anxious expectance dotted most of his player evaluations heading into camp.

No Summer Slackers

The well-publicized shortcomings of the Irish receivers last April were not embraced by the national media. Respected annual Lindy'smagazine rated the group the nation's best unit (albeit with top tight end Kyle Rudolph included. The popular and thorough Phil Steele heaped similar praise on Notre Dame's perimeter players, ranking them 7th nationally with Rudolph, Michael Floyd and Duval Kamara all receiving individual acclaim. (IrishEyes ranked the group second on the squad behind the team's tight ends.)

Molnar measured his praise Friday, but acknowledged the unit had potential.

"I believe it can be (a position of depth)," Molnar said of the wide receivers. "I didn't necessarily think it was at the end of spring because none of the guys had enough endurance that they could play football the way we wanted to. I'm really confident now that some of the guys that didn't show as well as we would have liked will be better football players.

"I trust that the quarterback and the receivers took every opportunity to throw the football over the off-season and improved their skills enough that we can see a tangible difference when they show up tomorrow."

One player who should show much better in August than he did in April is converted running back Theo Riddick. The slippery sophomore participated in a restricted manner during the spring due to off-season shoulder surgery, though he did catch a post-route touchdown in the annual Blue Gold Game.

"That will be a question mark to me because Theo was non-contact for most of spring practice so there were so many things that we weren't able to see Theo do; and he was very conscious of his shoulder," Molnar said of the young player's transition to slot receiver.

"He couldn't attack the football in a way that a championship receiver would go after the ball (in the spring). If his shoulder is at 100 percent I'm really hoping to see a new and improved Theo Riddick. He did show signs that he could be a real ballplayer for us in 2010 and hopefully he made that improvement."

Dynamic Duo

Last season, junior Golden Tate and Michael Floyd formed one of the five most productive pass catching duos in team history. Six wins and an early NFL defection later, Floyd is joined by a new weapon – Robo Tight End Kyle Rudolph.

"I think we have the best tight end in the country and in Michael Floyd I think we probably have one of the best receivers in the country," Molnar offered when asked about the possibilities of the two in the spread offense, before adding of Rudolph, "He's unique. I've coached a couple of other tight ends that have played in the NFL but he's the most complete of every one of them, by far."

As for Floyd, the player that, according to Coach Kelly last March "needed to lose weight" (he did), there's more work to be done.

"He can get better in so many ways. No. 1 is when you're that big – somewhere around 225 pounds, give or take what he had for lunch – in order to play at the speed and intensity that we want our receivers to play at (he needs to improve his stamina)…he was not there at the end of spring ball," Molnar stated.

"Again, I'm trusting that coach Longo brought him further along and now it's up to Michael to push himself through summer camp, so when we get into games in clutch situations that he's at 100 percent and can go and make a play."

The devil's in the details – where can Floyd technically improve his game?

"I'd still like to see him catch the ball more with his hands," Molnar said. "I'd still like to see him maybe throw a move on a guy rather than just run over a guy. Have a little shake."

Coaching points aside, the prospects of Floyd and Rudolph bearing down on a secondary has Molnar excited about the months that lie ahead.

"I think that's the double-edged sword for a defense because if you double-team Kyle Rudolph, what kind of coverage are you playing on Michael Floyd? And with the other guys out there, I think we have a chance to have some really skilled players at the other positions, also."

The Supporting Cast

If healthy, production by both Floyd and Rudolph is given. But the success of the Irish passing attack, at least in September, could be determined by the continued development of two polar opposite pass targets.

"He looks bigger; his numbers increased in the weight room," said Molnar of January 2010 enrollee Tai-ler Jones. "His body weight has gone up and I think those were all issues we were looking for that were tangible (his physical prowess).

"As far as me looking at TJ (from a technical standpoint), he needs to improve on everything: his blocking, his route running, his consistency catching the football. But also by the end of spring, he made such progress because he was so diligent that I think nothing but great things are going to happen for TJ in 2010."

The graybeard of the wide receiver unit is Duval Kamara. The senior from Hoboken displayed a noticeable comfort level last April. Molnar would like him to build on that…and add the heretofore missing element of consistency to his repertoire.

"Duval has played a lot of football. He was relaxed out on the field (in the spring). He didn't get too uptight, didn't get nervous and had a good understanding of the offense. He caught the ball well."

(If you've watched Kamara over the last three seasons, you know the proverbial "but" follows.) "He can be a great blocker," Molnar continued, emphasizing the qualifier. "And with Duval, a little bit like Michael (Floyd), it's just being more consistent and a great blocker every single play. It's about catching every ball that you can get your hands on and raising your expectations of what a championship receiver is.

"That to me is the biggest challenge for Duval and that's the biggest challenge for Michael Floyd."

QB Quotient

Though Brian Kelly deemed quarterback Dayne Crist healthy and ready to roll, questions regarding the junior's repaired right ACL nonetheless ruled the day for the head coach's right hand man.

What will Molnar and Kelly look for in a backup quarterback now and in the future?

"What we're looking for in our backup, optimistically, going into Day One of summer camp, is for a guy that can compete and maybe take the job away from Dayne," Molnar said, echoing Kelly's edict of daily competition. "That would be the ideal situation: a guy that can come in and maybe win the job.

With three freshmen and a walk-on in tow, its unlikely Crist will be seriously challenged this season. So what's Plan B?

"If the backup is not quite ready to win the job, we want a guy that really espouses Coach Kelly's philosophy of ‘Next Man In'" Molnar offered.

"So when Dayne comes out of a game because his shoelace broke, and the next guy goes in, that we don't have to take a sharpie and start crossing lines out of the game plan. That we can take our offense and start running things as if Dayne Crist was in there."

The 2010 football team, from Kelly through his coordinators, down through the staff, believe their time is now. And Molnar won't treat the program's new signal-caller with kid gloves entering the season's embryonic stage.

"Our plan is to be successful right out of the gate," Molnar began. "As far as our quarterback, we're not going to ask him to do anything he isn't ready to do. That's the first thing that you'll see with Dayne: as the season progresses and as his confidence and as his mastery of the offense improve, you'll see Dayne do more and more things.

"It may be nuances that maybe you won't catch right away but if you go back and watch the first game of the year and watch the fifth game of the year, you'll say, ‘You know what, I really see this guy doing things I didn't see in the first game.'"

Coming Saturday morning: Observations from both Brian Kelly and Charley Molnar regarding the running game and offensive line.

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