Mid-season Thoughts: WR and TE

Floyd (left) and Eifert: ND's killer 1-2 punch

Our first of seven mid-season reports examines the efforts of Notre Dame's wide receivers and tight ends through six games.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

I have to admit, I now watch fewer football games because of my job than prior to earning it. In fact, I can count on two hands how many teams I've seen play significant snaps outside of Notre Dame and their 12 foes for the fall – but if there's a more complete wide receiver than Michael Floyd, I'd be shocked…With apologies to 2005 breakout senior Maurice Stovall, Floyd's the best blocking receiver at Notre Dame since the Lou Holtz era. He's a top level possession receiver and red zone threat, and when teamed with tight end Tyler Eifert on the same side, it's an automatic 3rd Down conversion…If the Irish can add Theo Riddick as a consistent check down weapon… Eifert and Floyd on the same side allows for interesting lead blocking possibilities on ND's oft-used bubble screens, as well…

Tyler Eifert = Jeremy Shockey in his ‘Canes days (on the field). The junior (redshirt-sophomore) ranks among the nation's most improved offensive weapons, though Irish fans that stuck it out last fall when the team began its downward spiral were well-aware there'd be no drop-off from Kyle Rudolph to Eifert this season…The Fort Wayne product has secured five 3rd-and-short (3 yards or less) conversions over the last three contests – one for a touchdown….

The Riddick we saw vs. Air Force should offer a blueprint for the rest of his season: of his 8 receptions, four were on short crosses that resulted in 9, 11, 8, and 24 yards – the latter a touchdown, two of the three previous first downs gained after he made the first defender miss…His ability to be a down field threat remains in question, but the junior is the team's most elusive receiver in space and, like Floyd, can run through arm tackles…As good as Riddick is underneath, the Irish offense should continue to use the mid-zone receiving skills of his classmate, Robby Toma – the guy simply finds holes in zones…

Apparently Deion Walker's spring ascent was relegated to that (always) vexing time of mis-information…With six games down, and barring injury to one of five players ahead of him in the pecking order, its time to redshirt promising freshman target DaVaris Daniels. For those against the notion, consider this: how much more would a 5th-year in 2013 help Theo Riddick's career and development?

Speaking of which, there's no reason to play still-injured sophomore Daniel Smith either; Smith burned a season of eligibility covering kicks for half of the 2010 season. His size/speed ratio could allow him to become a key mid-field target with three developmental seasons remaining…Anyone else notice Luke Massa is now a "starter"? For the past two weeks the QB turned WR has turned punt return blocker, lining up inside to take on downfield coverage men following the snap; Toma is in that role as well – I'd be interested to see if any other BCS squad uses two slightly-built offensive players as its punt return blockers – in the middle of the field, no less…

T.J. Jones' quickness and aggression after the catch is underrated; he's a true north-south yardage seeker, too…Jones showed great hands on a full-speed slant late vs. Air Force, plucking the ball in mid-air without breaking stride…Is it me, or does Tommy Rees "miss" Jones with throws more than the other targets? Jones had the first poor blocking game I can remember for the sophomore in his last outing (Air Force)…I never felt senior John Goodman would be the team's fourth receiver (have always preferred Toma) this fall, but I thought he might earn more time than he has to date. I guess backing up Floyd doesn't allow for much field time…

Will Riddick return to his punt return role this season? One terrible game probably shouldn't offset a six-month search the staff conducted for their lead return man…I'm interested to see Floyd in the return role he began last week. Though he doesn't possess a prototypical return man's frame, Kelly is right about one thing: that first guy is going to have trouble tackling the massive senior…I heard last week from a trusted colleague (another publication) that one of Lou Holtz's laments at the end of his tenure is not using Derrick Mayes as a punt returner – apparently the plus-sized target had a knack for the catch and ease of making sprinting defenders miss in a short space. Maybe Floyd will, too…

Can Alex Welch or Ben Koyack join the mid-zone fray in the passing game? To date they appear to be check down options in the team's two tight end sets…Both Koyack and Welch have greatly aided the short-yardage offense, one I thought would suffer when 5th-year senior Mike Ragone was lost to injury (more on this in a story this week)…

What would this offense look like without Floyd? The Holtz-ian phrase: "Grab Bag" comes to mind…It's time to go back and find out how many touchdown paths Floyd has provided for his running back cohorts (I can think of three off the top of my head)…

His group was uncharacteristically awful in Week One, but since, Tony Alford's grade as a position coach is a solid A...and you can't rationally argue otherwise.

Five snaps that define the position to date

Including returns and rushes, Notre Dame's receivers have touched the ball 156 times in six games. The five highlighted below have helped shape the season at the midway point:

  1. Riddick's fumbled/lost punt – The Week One snafu put the receiver in a full-game funk and changed the return team's dynamic for the next six weeks+…
  2. Riddick's go-ahead in Ann Arbor – the junior's redemption song hit the cutting room floor when the Irish defense gave away a thrilling win to the inferior Wolverines. Regardless, a the junior had a modicum of confidence restored...
  3. Eifert's TD grab between two defenders vs. Pittsburgh – The catch completed a tough-minded comeback effort in the Steel City. Possibly the only game Notre Dame "should have" lost this season…
  4. Floyd to Purdue's Post – The senior's 34-yard sprint down the heart of the Boilermakers defense on the game's third snap got the ball rolling in West Lafayette and the Irish offense hasn't looked back, scoring 97 points in the last four halves of football…
  5. Toma notches his first – No, not his first career touchdown, he did that last week vs. Air Force. His first catch of 2011, a 16-yard crossing route that began Notre Dame's 85-yard game-winning march in Heinz Field in Week Four.

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