Burning Questions for Notre Dame's Spring Game
For the first time in almost two decades, an Irish head coach is entering his fifth season not on the hot seat. Kudos to Brian Kelly for that.
There are new names at the top two assistant positions, with defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder coming to the program and offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock being promoted. Lastly, quarterback Everett Golson is back after spending 2013 away from the team.
As spring practice concludes, here are three questions that the game will hopefully answer.
1. Who is the New Everett Golson?
Let’s be honest, Notre Dame missed Golson last season. I have all the respect and admiration in the world for Tommy Rees, but his game was limited, one-dimensional, and prone to inopportune turnovers. Golson’s pure athletic abilities alone could possibly have been the difference in a couple more wins last year, in an ideal world.
As an Irish fan and alum, I’m relieved that the Rees era is over and am anxious to see where Golson’s game is after a year hiatus. Has he become sharper with his decision making? Has he begun to take on a leadership role and really command the offense? How will his physical development translate on the field? This Saturday should provide a bit of insight into these questions.
2. How Will the New Defense Look?
The fundamentals are the same but the scheme and the philosophy appear to have changed. Former DC Bob Diaco’s defenses were the epitome of "bend but don’t break,” with his defenses often giving up a ton of yards but not a ton of points. This worked well and the Irish always had very solid defenses under him, with the 2012 unit being a great defense.
Throughout spring, VanGorder has emphasized establishing a dominant pass rush. He is also switching the base to a 4-3 scheme, at least for 2014. This hints at a philosophy of attack more so than prevent. Keep an eye on the front seven during the game to see how this shapes out. The Irish offensive line is a group that has flourished under coach Harry Hiestand and should be one of the better units in the country, providing a stiff test for the new-look defense and the pass rush we have been hearing about.
3. Will the Real Wide Receivers Please Stand Up?
To put it bluntly, none of the wide receivers playing in the Blue-Gold game have any consistent or significant experience. Sure, last year we all saw Corey Robinson, Will Fuller, Chris Brown, Ben Koyak (etc.) make some impressive plays and show signs of great things to come but all the big numbers went to TJ Jones, DaVaris Daniels, and Troy Niklas.
Niklas and Jones are gone for good and Daniels missed out on spring due to academic issues. Presumably Daniels will be back for the season and should immediately provide a consistent playmaker. But for the rest of the wide receivers, this Saturday is a golden opportunity for a few of them to emerge as stars and prove they can be reliable weapons.