A position tweak or too, the competitive nature of a quartet of veterans and – I assume – the open field brilliance of sophomore slot receiver Theo Riddick, has brought camp competition to a head within one of the team's deepest units.
"Its a little different now because we've moved Duval – who's got a lot of experience – and Shaq (who's) a pretty good athlete," Kelly said Saturday when asked specifically about Jones' status. "Its just more competition out there at that position than he had in the spring when we were trying to find out if Shaq was a Z (slot) and we had Duval at W and now we have three guys."
Floyd is set as, apparently, is Riddick in the slot. With tight end Kyle Rudolph a focal point of the offense, and with four talented running backs thus expressed by Kelly as the strength of the offense, just one field spot remains for an additional pass catcher.
Below is a breakdown of the potential targets.
Role CallWide receivers coach Tony Alford most sort through a host of options to round out the team's starting receiver unit and game day depth.
Duval Kamara: At 6'4" 225 pounds, the senior stands as the most imposing physical target, but a long gain of 28 yards over the last two seasons and production far below expectations (43 receptions, 2 touchdowns in his last 25 games) indicate a dose of new blood could infuse a more explosive element. Kamara was the team's best down field blocker last fall; in the words of his former head coach "it isn't even close."
John Goodman: Showed speed and competitiveness in a short stint as a regular last October. Goodman wasn't mentioned by Kelly as a contender for the remaining first-string role but that could have easily been an oversight. If Goodman has been deemed Michael Floyd's backup, the junior from Fort Wayne will still earn playing time as the Irish intend to have six wide receivers prepared for each contest in the fall.
Goodman noted he's comfortable at more than one position: "Everybody needs to know all the positions because there's a lot of movement. There's so many guys that rotate and as we keep getting in shape, people will be in a position for longer time period, but right now there's a lot of optimism where people are going to be."
Deion Walker: Highly touted as a freshman four-star, Walker has yet to make an impact. With three seasons of eligibility remaining, Walker will need to work his way into the 6-7 man rotation over the course of the season to avoid falling farther behind as the Irish are guaranteed to lose but one wide receiver at season's end (with the NFL possibly calling for junior Michael Floyd if he can remain upright through 12 contests).
Opinion: while he definitely needs to become a more consistent player, Walker could use a dose of aggressiveness – the kind that generally comes with confidence and repetition – in order to compete for a larger role in Kelly's offense.
Shaquelle Evans: Good size/speed blend but never emerged from the mid-season doghouse as a freshman last fall. Evans' best football won't be played this season as consistency appears to be an issue, but his purported open field skills appear to be a perfect fit for the offense.
"Just stay focused. Stay into it because its going to be tough. You don't get everything you want when you're a freshman. Sometimes you have to push through it. I had a tough year last year but all I can say is just push through it. It might get tough for you, but basically just fight." – Evans' advice to the team's quartet of freshmen competitors.
Robby Toma: Evans' sophomore classmate appears to be working at the slot position, presumably behind Riddick. Toma would provide a change of pace to Riddick in this role – a true chain moving target who would provide a tough cover for any slot (nickel) cornerback, and a player who's apparently reliable hands would make the Irish offense difficult to contain in 3rd and medium-yardage situations.
TJ Jones: Ahead of the pack in the spring as a January freshman, Jones offers quickness, reliable hands, football intelligence and a combination of power and aggressiveness that belies his smaller frame (5'11" 187). Over the next two weeks, Jones must compete with veteran players; against the mental and physical strain of Kelly's practices, while maintaining the consistency that helped him earn the first-string role exiting the spring.
Should he retain/regain the job, Jones would be the first true freshman to start the opener since Milt Jackson in 1982.
Freshmen Trio: Austin Collinsworth, Bennett Jackson and Daniel Smith have all received camp mention from their head coach. The year one fate of each is somewhat tied to the development of Deion Walker (and maybe Robby Toma), players currently at the back end of the receiving unit. If both Walker/Toma prove reliable, there will be little need for the backup efforts of the freshmen trio.
The first of the three to play would likely appear on special teams – a move that would open the door for a mid or late-season debut from scrimmage.