(At Least) Two Happy Returns

IrishEyes examines the Notre Dame return game for Prediction No. 15 in its summer series.

In his camp-opening press conference this month, Brian Kelly offered that the Irish – a program that has intermittently struggled with its special teams over the last decade – would be "dynamic" in the return game.

I agree, and would like to go on record as such for the next installment in our summer prediction series.

Prediction #15: The Irish will return both a kick and punt for a score

It hasn't happened at the program since 2002, when cornerback Vontez Duff performed the double-dip with a punt return score in the season-opener vs. Maryland and a kick-off return TD in a narrow escape vs. Navy in Baltimore. The '02 Irish returned a blocked punt for a score as well in the season finale at USC.

My projection for 2010 calls for separate players to contribute to the prediction's fruition, but I'd be surprised if slot receiver Theo Riddick isn't involved.

Note: Blocked punts returned for scores will not count for the prediction.

The Candidates:

Theo Riddick: Career kick returns (37); long return – 38 yards vs. Michigan State.
John Goodman: Career punt returns (5); long return – 24 yards vs. Nevada.
Armando Allen: Career kick returns (54): long return – 96-yard TD vs. Hawaii in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. Career punt returns (7); long return – 22 yards vs.
Cierre Wood: Expected to make his collegiate debut vs. Purdue.
Harrison Smith: No career returns
Dan McCarthy: No career returns
Bennett Jackson: Quick-footed freshman could replace sophomore cornerback E.J. Banks in the heated competition for a return role.

Brian Kelly and Mike Elston

The pair has worked together in a head coach/special teams coordinator capacity since 2006 at Central Michigan.

  • 2009 (Cincinnati): 3 KR TD; 1 PR TD – 2 players
  • 2008 (UC): 2 KR TD – 1 player
  • 2007 (UC): 0 KR TD; 2 PR TD – 2 players
  • 2006 (Central Michigan): 1 KR TD

Elston's 2009 Bearcats ranked second nationally in average kick return yardage with 28.52 per return; a number just 0.72 yards per return behind national leader TCU. The Bearcats production is more impressive as Kelly's UC squad returned 54 kickoffs compared to the 34 needed by TCU (thanks to the Horned Frogs stingy defense).

(And yes, that brings up an issue regarding the staff's defensive performance in Cincinnati last fall, but that's a prediction for another time.)

In the end, look for two punt returns by two different Irish players and a top 10 national ranking by the punt return squad. The return unit will be augmented by a top 40 national ranking on kick returns with one opposing kickoff brought back to the house at Notre Dame Stadium this fall.

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