It's never too early, right?
We're going to look ahead and see what the Irish offense could look like in the upcoming season.
There are plenty of position battles heading into Spring ball, with some being more wide open than others.
True freshmen will push for playing time, redshirt freshmen will be ready to take the next step and a trio of full-timers are heading to the NFL.
Let's start at quarterback.
QB - Everett Golson, Gunner Kiel, Others
Obviously, most are in favor of Golson starting again next season. Golson, though he was pulled from a few games and missed one due to a concussion, led the Irish to a 12-1 season and looked unbelievable at times.
I criticized Golson early for his horrible, and it was horrible, pocket presence. He was too quick to escape a fine pocket, had happy feet constantly and would often stay put when the opportunity to take off presented itself.
He improved dramatically as the season wore on and his arm was never a question. The next step is being able to made the correct pre-snap reads and using his legs to make plays more often, designed or not.
Behind him, 5-Star RS freshman Gunner Kiel will be eagerly awaiting his chance to shine. Kiel has all the physical tools to compete, it's just a matter of how comfortable he is running the offense. I said it during the Spring game last year, no one made me say "wow" as often as Kiel did. Drives the ball, especially to the sidelines and physically is a freak of nature. This is an underrated race to watch moving forward. I'll put Golson as 1A and Kiel as 1B heading into Spring ball.
As for the others, Tommy Rees will fill the role of reliable backup that knows the offense. The other name people love to throw around, Malik Zaire, will redshirt and take a year to learn, simliar to Kiel this past season. But he will be a force in the coming years.
RB - George Atkinson III, Amir Carlisle, Greg Bryant, Others
Probably the most talked about position on the offensive side heading into the Spring. George Atkinson will get the first crack at it. The thing with GAIII is, he's obviously one of the biggest home run threats in all of CFB with his speed, but he'll have to prove he can handle 15+ carries a game. Behind him, Amir Carlisle is another home run threat and also similar to GAIII, will need to prove he can handle an expanded workload. Carlisle may also see time at the slot.
The sleeper here is true freshman Greg Bryant (commit). Bryant has the size to handle a big workload, the only thing that will work against him, obviously, is being a true frosh. We'll have to see how quickly Bryant can pick up blocking scheme and how he handles being a receiver out of the backfield. If he can learn quickly, he has a real shot at seeing carries early and often.
Overall, the running game has the potential to be frightening next season. The read option is a dangerous tool when used correctly, and Golson will have two huge threats to keep defenses honest next season. GAIII has speed to match anyone in the country and Carlisle is another big-time athlete that can be gone before you know it.
Cam McDaniel is another name that people like to throw around, William Mahone as well. Don't get me wrong, they will both get the chance to shine and McDaniel impressed in his limited role the past season. I just look for the other three to get most of the touches. Overall, the running game will be just fine after losing Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood.
WR - Davaris Daniels, TJ Jones, Davonte Neal, Chris Brown, Others
First thing: I expect Davaris Daniels to have a monster season. If(!) he can stay healthy, a final line of 70 catches, 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns is not out of the question. Big, physical receiver, strong hands and cuts off his routes pretty well. On the other side, TJ Jones will be back and a reliable, every-down No. 1 receiver, although he's more of a possession receiver. Sure hands, sound blocker.
In the slot, we'll see Davonte Neal get the first crack. He obviously has elite speed, elite athletic ability and plus ability to separate. It will come down to minimizing drops and not getting lazy on his routes. Neal, along with the guy I'm about to discuss, should help stretch the field a bit more than the Irish were able to last season.
Finally, the last receiver I expect to have a chance to break into a significant role as we head into the Spring is Chris Brown. Like Neal, he has amazing speed and crazy athletic ability, and he showed he can make a big play when needed. Running more complex routes will be a challenge to begin with and he'll have to focus on being a better run blocker to see the field more often but he should make huge strides in Year 2.
TE - Troy Niklas, Others
Your guess is as good as mine. One thing I am sure of is that Troy Niklas will get the opportunity to win the job straight away, and I assume he will. Niklas has elite size, plus athleticism and decent enough hands; however, he blew too many blocking assignments last year and still needs a lot of fine tuning at the position.
Behind him are Ben Koyack, the former 5-Star prospect, and Alex Welch, coming off of an injury. Koyack is probably the prime suspect to explode onto the scene but Welch had been looking pretty consistent before his injury. They'll both be given plenty of opportunities but I'd gamble on Koyack breaking out.
The Irish will also welcome two talented freshmen to the mix in Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe (commit). Heuerman fits the tight end mold while Smythe can be a bit more of a wildcard. It wouldn't surprise me if they get a look as well.
OL - Zack Martin, Others
Zack Martin opted to return to school, he'll be anchoring the left side of the line again. Other than that, Kelly has preached that it will be an open competition for much of the offensive front.
To be real though, let's look at it this way; Christian Lombard will be back at right tackle and Chris Watt, with a year remaining, will probably return at guard. As for who will take over for Braxston Cave at center, Kelly has said that Matt Hegarty, Nick Martin and Mark Harrell will all get opportunities to win the job. If one of the other two outside of Martin do win the job, look for Martin to slide to the other guard.
Personally, I hope Ronnie Stanley finds time at tackle. He's a plus athlete, has solid footwork, active hands; he could be a problem for opposing defenses. He'll have to look good in the Spring.
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