Notre Dame begins its 2012 training camp in 10 days and I was ready to begin my annual rankings of the team's position groups. Linebackers vs. running backs vs. special teams vs. quarterbacks, etc. A clean, detailed outline of each, replete with rankings of the respective groups, upsides, the list goes on.
But that's pointless. Because "Linebackers" have vastly different responsibilities for Bob Diaco's defense. And on the other side of scrimmage, hybrid runner/receiver Theo Riddick and diminutive slot receiver Robby Toma and freshman running back Will Mahone will be in the same position group.
Forget what you know about traditional position groups and evaluating their respective performances, both pre-camp over the next 10 days and post-games this fall. After all, Manti Te'o and Dan Fox, two inside linebackers, are more closely related to Louis Nix on the field than they are fellow "linebackers" Danny Spond or Prince Shembo. Safety Jamoris Slaughter might spend half of his time in the box playing Spond (or Ben Councell's) Dog linebacker position…only then its called the "Star."
Shouldn't Slaughter be evaluated with the outside 'backers? Isn't his ability to play the outside run just as important as his coverage in standard two-deep zones? Who cares who starts at the Dog if Slaughter does the position's heavy lifting but is still listed as a safety?
Which leads us to new and hopefully improved evaluation method.
Over the next 10 days, then twice more through camp updates, and every post-game throughout the season, we'll examine the following key components of Notre Dame's football team, offering a pre-camp, mid-camp, pre-season, and weekly grade:
- Interior Rush defense: The most important aspect of every defense: stopping a foe up front, especially when it matters. Goal line and short-yardage included.
- Standard defense: The seemingly small plays that make up the rhythm of a game: screens, flats, curls, slants -- anything involving a short route vs. man or zone. Outside running plays included as well.
- Downfield Pass defense: Seams against linebackers; post and go routes vs. safeties, comebacks and corner routes vs. the team's cornerbacks, etc.
- 3rd Down defense: The ability to get off the field in any down-and-distance, but especially in medium and long-yardage situations
- The Rushing Attack: Staples of football games such as standard read-option running plays, the screen game, and quick-look passes at the line of scrimmage, a staple of head coach Brian Kelly's offense.
- Short Yardage Offense: The ability to run the ball when the defense knew it was coming salted away wins vs. Pittsburgh and Wake Forest last season. Conversely, the inability to convert on 3rd and short contributed greatly to the shocking loss at Michigan. A hidden key to the 2012 season...
- The Passing Attack: Downfield, mid-range, in-stride underneath to maximize yards after-the-catch. In both obvious and relative passing situations
- Red Zone Offense: Failure or success (a touchdown) inside the opponents' 20-yard line…Perhaps the second-most important indicator of the Kelly era to date.
- Special Teams: Specifically, the "Run Teams" which includes KR and PR plus the Coverage units
- Field Goal Unit: Self-explanatory, though not all kicks are created equal, as Irish fans learned last season following a handful of momentum-killing misses in close.
Third down success on offense is covered within each category. (If your first question is, "What about turnovers?" they'll be covered within each aspect of the game detailed above. )
Our first preview will be published this afternoon.