Mid-Week Musings

Frosh 'backer turned sophomore TE, Troy Niklas

The 2013 BCS championship game is just 27 weeks away. Irisheyes.com thus presents its first of 27 mid-week musings regarding the 2012 Irish.

A few thoughts on the prospects of the Irish offense, defense, and everything in between…

  • One aspect to consider in the battle for the vacant right guard position between 5th-year Mike Golic and red-shirt freshman Nick Martin: if its close through August, Martin should be the choice. Anytime a second-year talent can be on par with a 5th-year veteran who's been unable to cement a starting spot to date, its nonsensical to point toward Week One rather than the next four seasons.

    Only a discernible difference between the two should give the advantage to Golic who can backup both guard and center as a veteran presence. A similar August battle pitted Andrew Nuss vs. eventual starter Chris Watt in 2011, though Watt was one year further in his development than is Martin.

  • The loss of four-year standout Michael Floyd might be felt first by All-America tight end Tyler Eifert, who thrived when split to the same side of the formation as Floyd last fall. Unless an outside target emerges as a downfield threat in Floyd's stead, Eifert is likely to find a safety over the top of his seam routes that often provided one-on-one mismatches in 2011.

  • I've made little secret that, considering the team's quarterback prospects during the two-season Brian Kelly era, the Irish offense should be more committed to the running game. At minimum; running with limited success and occasionally punting is far better than forcing third down passes into covered areas.

    This season offers at least three, if not four 'backs in a stable that could take immense pressure off the QB du jour, especially running behind a veteran, talented left side of the offensive line. The distribution of touches (not just rushes, but scrimmage touches) among Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, George Atkinson, and Amir Carlisle will be a season-long story, as its sure to display great variance between September 1 in Dublin and Thanksgiving Saturday in Los Angeles.

  • Speaking of the running game, can the power attack of late 2010 return with sophomore hammer Troy Niklas, aka, "Hercules" an option at tight end? Niklas' ability to move laterally and block both in-line and on the move could provide Kelly's attack a lead-blocking option its been missing since Mike Ragone suffered his final knee injury in the first half of Week Two's loss at Michigan last year.

    Additionally, is the apparent major concussion suffered by Niklas near the end of spring ball have any bearing on his performance entering August Camp or the 2012 season?

  • Massive right tackle Tate Nichols either found his way into the doghouse, endured a dramatic drop-off in performance, or his classmate, former Scout.com No. 2 ranked offensive tackle Christian Lombard, finished Spring 2012 with a fantastic flourish. The pair went from battling for the spot (with Lombard also working at right guard) to seeing Lombard as the clear-cut favorite exiting April.

    A Lombard/Martin pairing on the right side would be together for three seasons as Lombard, a junior in class, has a fifth season of eligibility for 2014.

  • Including Nichols and junior classmate Cameron Roberson, 32 of 82 Notre Dame players have never played a down of college football entering the season. Nichols and Roberson red-shirted as freshman and missed their sophomore seasons due to injury. The latter's career remains in question with August camp likely a defining moment in his efforts to receive varsity action following April 2011 knee surgery.

Five Quick Concerns

1.) To date, nearly every positive Prince Shembo moment has included rushing the passer. I worry about him operating in space as a Cat linebacker…the boundary coverage responsibility might be less troubling than the field spot he played last season at Dog, but there are still quite a few pass drops and plays on the ball that must be made. Ask Darius Fleming, who struggled mightily there early in the Kelly era before learning the ropes.

Regarding Shembo's tag-team partner at Cat, Ishaq Williams: same concern, though in Williams' case, its simply lack of game tape/opportunity to date.

2.) Bennett Jackson's recurring shoulder problem isn't likely to make it through the 2012 season without re-injury. With coverage concerns paramount at the position, Irish corners can't afford missed tackles on the perimeter. They can't lose a cornerback from their green quintet, either.

3.) What if Jamoris Slaughter is merely good, and not a defensive standout for the 2012 Irish? Where does that leave a defense in desperate need of back seven playmakers?

4.) Is Dan Fox's sprained PCL ready for action? Fox clearly moved ahead of Calabrese in the pecking order despite the coach-speak "Job Share" at Will 'backer. The staff is high on the former because of his toughness and superior coverage skills (Fox is likely better in coverage than both Calabrese and Te'o). If Fox isn't 100 percent, I have a hard time believing redshirt freshman Mike linebacker Jarrett Grace isn't the team's best Will 'backer option.

5.) Notre Dame has plenty of potential offensive playmakers, but if its quarterback can't either A.) stretch the defense vertically with accurate downfield passes, or B.) stretch the defense horizontally with his feet, fans won't see Kelly's offense come close to its potential in 2012.

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