Fall camp starts next week. Damn it felt good to type that. After an off season filled with fans arguing over the tradition of grass, complaining about the size of an Under Armour logo on team travel bags, and the always pleasant and completely idiotic comments on the Notre Dame Football Facebook page, it is time for some actual football. I have always likened the start of fall camp every year to Opening Day in baseball. Each year on Opening Day, every teams fan base starts the long baseball season filled with excitement, hope, and optimism that this was their year to make the playoffs and win the World Series. Well except for the Cubs, who are eliminated from playoff contention as soon as the season starts. Sorry Cubs fans I had to.
The same feelings felt on Opening day by baseball fans are felt by Irish fans everywhere as Fall Camp of the 2014 season gets ready to begin at Culver Academy next week. There is an abundance of story lines headed into camp this year and how these story lines play out will most likely determine whether the 2014 campaign will be full of promise and success or disappointment and defeat. Will Everett Golson return better than when he left? How will Brian Van Gorder’s defensive scheme work at Notre Dame? Who will step up on defense now that Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt have left for the NFL? Ill do my best to answer those questions along with many many more. First up. The Offense
As we enter year five with Brian Kelly as the head coach I think it is safe to say that the offensive output over the last few years hasn’t been what everyone expected when Kelly came over from Cincinnati. Now there are a couple factors that have not helped matters. Having your starting quarterback from a team that made it to the National Championship game get suspended for a season due to “academic dishonesty” is definitely not going to help the offense improve. And having a quarterback that seemingly had cement in his shoes that also had the ability to fumble the football without even being touched REALLY doesnt help (Yes I still have not and probably will never forget or get over the game against Michigan in 2011). Previous years offenses have been different than the offense we will probably see this season and to be honest its a very good thing. Most of the previous seasons the offense had one “go to guy” such as Michael Floyd or Tyler Eiffert and the rest were role player types like Robby Toma. Last year TJ Jones was the main go to guy but we finally started seeing the ball being distributed to more and more receivers who while may not be as experienced as previous seasons receivers, are equally or even more talented than previous years. This goes for the running back corps as well. Lots and lots of talent.
Quarterback- Im going to come right out and say this. Regardless what Brian Kelly says about Malik Zaire being able to compete for the starting job, Everett Golson will be the starting quarterback for the entire 2014 football season. While Malik Zaire is a very good quarterback, Everett Golson is just the flat out better quarterback. After spending the his time away from Notre Dame with George Witfield, Golson should be better than ever and I expect a big season out of him.
Wide Receiver- Its time to see if Davaris Daniels can finally have a season of consistent production. He has all the physical tools to be a star receiver however consistency has always been his major issue. The remainder of the receiving corps is very young but very talented. Daniels, Brown, Robinson, Fuller, and incoming freshman Justin Brent have loads of potential and talent.
Running Back- The duo of Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston has me more excited than just about any other position group on the team this season. Bryant and Folston are the clear 1A and 1B and they will carry the majority of the load. Cam McDaniel will still get his carries however if Bryant and Folston play to the level that I believe they will, his carries will drop off significantly from last season. With all of the Irish running backs running behind a strong and steady offensive line, the potential for a big season for the Irish running attack is there
Tight End- Ben Koyack will be the number one tight end. He showed flashes of brilliance last season playing behind Troy Niklas and there are already many NFL Draft analysts that believe Koyack could be one of the first tight ends taken in the 2015 draft. While Koyack will be the starting tight end, keep an eye out for Durham Smythe. He will contribute early and often this season as Brian Kelly loves to use a two Tight end set.
Offensive Line- Losing a starter like Zach Martin is never easy to replace but if any team can do it its Notre Dame. The recruiting of offensive lineman has been outstanding the last few years and Ronnie Stanley, Steve Elmer, John Montelus, and Hunter Bivin will all get playing time this season along with Connor Hanratty and Matt Hegarty.
Its a whole new year for the Irish defense and its going to look a whole lot different than it has the past few years. Its time to see life after the Nix and Tuitt combo on the defensive line. The last few seasons the front seven of the Irish defense has been the anchor of the defense while the back end has been a weak point (Gary Gray, Bennett Jackson). However it seems like that will all be changing this year. The front seven has transformed from the rock of the defense to a bunch of question marks. Sheldon Day will be the marque player on the defensive line while Jarron Jones and incoming Freshman Jay Hayes. The linebacking corps is very suspect except for superstar Jaylon Smith, who was moved to inside linebacker this off season. Meanwhile the defensive backfield looks to be very solid. Kavairee Russell is a bona fide stud who will be in the running for the Thorpe award this season. Cole Luke, and 5th year transfer from Florida Cody Riggs will all be difference makers on the edges while Max Redfield, Austin Collinsworth and Elijah Shumate look to be solid in the back end. All of this with a new defensive coordinator who brings a completely new defensive scheme to South Bend that calls for alot of aggression and placing corners on an Island.
Defensive Line- The bottom line here is that almost every scholarship player on the defensive line will play due to very thin depth. Recruiting along the defensive line has hit a few bumps in the road over the last few years and the depth on the roster shows it. Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones are the marquee players within the group however with Ishaq Williams being moved into a defensive end position within Van Gorders new 4-3 scheme he also has the potential to FINALLY play to his potential.
Linebackers- The only non question mark here is Jaylon Smith who everyone by now knows is a superstar. Beyond that are a lot of questions. It is still unclear if Jarrett Grace will be ready to go week one due to injury and the depth on the roster is thin. Michael Deeb should get a few looks this season and by all accounts he is a hard hitter. Of the entire team, the linebacker position is my biggest concern this season. Jaylon Smith cant cover the entire field himself.
Secondary- Russell has his spot at corner locked up as his is by far the best corner on the team as well as one of the best corners in the nation. Beyond that Mathias Farley, Cody Riggs, and Cole Luke will be fighting for the other corner position however depending on the package on the field they may all be on the field at the same time. Austin Collinsworth and Max Redfield seem to be the favorites at the two safety positions while Elijah Shumate still is fighting to stay on the field.
Fall camp starts next week. Down the Tunnel will have all the Fall camp coverage so stay tuned for updates as the the 2014 season gets underway. Get excited everyone. Football is back.