The junior will be the featured back following the departures of Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick. He’s bulked up to 217 pounds and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly would like to see him be able to run outside (as he always has), as well as inside.
• Who is the next Tyler Eifert?
Junior tight end Troy Niklas more than likely is. He has the size (nearly 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds) and athletic ability to be a valuable weapon in Kelly’s offense next fall. Niklas will battle fellow juniors Ben Koyack and Alex Welch. However, in this offense, there will be many opportunities for Kelly to employ a multiple tight end set.
• How good is the offensive line?
That remains to be seen. With Braxston Cave and Mike Golic Jr. graduating, Nick Martin has taken over at center and new faces such as Conor Hanratty, Matt Hegarty, sophomore Ronnie Stanley and even early enrollee Steve Elmer will get looks. Veteran Zach Martin remains a force up front, though.
• Does this offense have playmakers?
Yes. Second-year quarterback Everett Golson has improved this spring, and his favorite receiving targets T.J. Jones and DaVaris Daniels will look to build off solid performances against Alabama in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game in January. Throw in Atkinson III at running back and this offense should be able to be productive.• Who is the next Manti Te’o?
The answer is no one, but also a number of people. Will there be one player that steps up and becomes the face of this defense? Probably not. However, the Irish are deep and talented at a lot of positions, so the unit can be a pretty good one next fall. Second-year linebacker Jarrett Grace will replace Te’o at the inside spot and he is very athletic.
• Is the defensive line still going to be dominant?
Absolutely. The line is deep and talented with returning starters like Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt coming back to wreak havoc. Second-year player Sheldon Day will replace graduated Kapron Lewis-Moore and second-year player Tony Springmann is versatile enough to line up in multiple spots. Add the presence of Ishaq Williams (who is cross training between linebacker and end), as well as incoming freshman Eddie Vanderdoes next fall and this line will be scary good again in 2013.
• Who will emerge as a fan favorite?
Second-year safety Matthias Farley. He will line up with Nicky Baratti and Irish fans will hear Farley’s name a lot. He is a tough, athletic player and will be very productive next fall.
• Why will this defense be strong in 2013?
Because there is depth at every position. Depth equals competition in practice, which results in strong play. And if the starter doesn’t play well, there are now options to replace that player, unlike in the past. Particularly at safety, there are a horde of players that are battling for playing time. This program is very deep in numbers after several nice recruiting classes by Kelly.