2012 OUTLOOK: The Fighting Irish did some good things in 2011, but not enough good things to make it to a major bowl or even win the Champs, where mistakes cost them in the game against Michigan State. Now, as they look ahead toward taking the next step, some key figures are gone and four players were battling it out for the starting quarterback job. That in itself makes it hard to predict what is going to happen, but this team is loaded with talent.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE
Notre Dame was combining the wide receiver and running back positions in its offense, getting more use out of players like Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III. But not having a true starting quarterback can only hurt the process. If having two No. 1s means you have ONE, what does it mean to have FOUR players battling for the position. Wide receiver Michael Floyd will be sorely missed, but tight end Tyler Eifert's decision to stay another year can only help, regardless of who wins the QB battle.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE
The good news was linebacker Manti Te'o saying he was NOT going to the NFL. But the bad news is the Irish suffered some serious losses in the secondary, where younger players will have to step in. The defense made great strides after the fourth quarter of that Michigan game last year and has to keep building off what it did at the end of the season. Losing defensive end Aaron Lynch as he was about to enter his sophomore season won't help.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS
Atkinson III was only a freshman last year, but his two kick returns for touchdowns made him a reason to watch every return. The punt return game was non-existent. Kicker David Ruffer is gone and Nick Tausch will be a senior in the fall.
QB Gunner Kiel -- The Irish needed a quarterback and some thought Kiel was the best high schooler in the country. He is already enrolled and the spring jump could help him.
"When you talk about Gunner, first of all, I think you have to appreciate the fact that he comes from a family of quarterbacks," said coach Brian Kelly. "They grew up playin' the game of football."
DL Sheldon Day -- ND has some prime young talent on the front line and this should be nice addition. Also in early, which helps.
"The thing we love about him is not only his personality and who he is, but incredible motor, a great work ethic," said Kelly. "He is already here and we have gotten comments back from our strength and conditioning staff and Coach Longo about his work volume and his work ethic and enthusiasm for what he is doing. He's a dynamic player, one of the best defensive linemen in the country, and he will immediately, like all of our freshmen, be expected to come in and complete right away."
RB Amir Carlisle -- The transfer from USC was granted the right to compete immediately for the Fighting Irish, adding depth to the position. He suffered a broken ankle before the start of spring ball but should be ready for for the fall.
--QB Tommy Rees was 7-for-14 for 84 yards and an interception in the spring game. The others battling for the spot? Everett Golson was 11-for-15 for 120 yards and two touchdowns, Andrew Henrix 4-for-9 for 51 yards and a score and Gunner Kiel 5-for-10 for 57 yards and an interception.
Rees has started more games as a freshman and sophomore than any quarterback in Notre Dame history other than Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen.
--C Braxston Cave has recovered from foot surgery but was held out of the spring game. Also missing were linebacker Prince Shembo (foot surgery), wide receiver Luke Messa (torn ACL) and transfer running back Amir Carlisle (broken ankle).
--Offensive lineman John Montelus, a four-star recruit from Everett, Ma., became the 13th member of the 2013 recruiting class when he chose ND, reportedly over Florida, Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio State.
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