Meet the 2013 Irish
Tommy Rees, QB, Jr.
After the sudden departure of Irish quarterback, Everett Golson, head coach Brian Kelly said that Tommy Rees will be the starting quarterback of the Irish in the fall. Rees is by far the most experienced of the three quarterback options. Even though Golson led the Irish to the BCS National Championship, Rees did play in nine games last season. If Notre Dame wants to repeat the success they had in 2012, Rees has to elevate his duel-threat ability because of the loss of the powerful running attack of Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick who were both drafted into the NFL.
George Atkinson III, RB, So.
Atkinson’s time to shine is in 2013. With the departure of featured backs, Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick into the NFL, Atkinson will look to blow by defenders with his elusive 215 pound frame as the Irish’s go-to back. A big part of being a running back in Brian Kelly’s offense is the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Atkinson struggled last year with catching the ball, even though he rushed for 361 yards with five touchdowns. But during spring practice he has shown massive improvements of his hand-eye-coordination. Combine Atkinson’s blazing speed with his ability to catch, the Irish’s rushing attack will undoubtedly run through him in the fall.
Jarrett Grace, ILB, Jr.
Grace now has the responsibility of guiding the Irish’s defense because of the absence of Heisman winner Manti Te’o. Grace’s presence on and off the field is highly valued, with some of his teammates already saying that he has assimilated into Te’o’s once iconic role. In the offseason Grace has worked on his speed as well as coverage skills with the addition about 13 pounds of pure muscle. Grace is not trying to replicate the Irish’s defense in 2012, but is trying to be the centerpiece of a new formula which involves new players and roles.
Troy Niklas, TE, Jr.
Notre Dame is notorious with producing NFL-made tight ends. Last year, Tyler Eifert left yet another great legacy as an Irish tight end and was awarded as the nation’s best tight end. But with Eifert’s departure, it is Troy Niklas’s turn to be Tommy Rees’s security blanket and start yet another Irish legacy. The first thing to notice is Niklas’s massive 6-foot-7 frame, which is noted as bigger than any of his predecessors. He will use his height and build to shade off defenders as well as use the all-important tight end role of being able to block. The tight end position last season was the number one pass option and as long as Niklas can find a way to continue the tradition as a feared Irish tight end, Notre Dame’s passing attack will rely on him.
TJ Jones, WR, Sr.
When you think of Notre Dame’s offense, wide receiver doesn’t really come to mind. Last season Jones was the main target for Irish wide outs. He had very similar stats to first-round draft pick, Zack Eifert, with 50 receptions, 649 yards, and four touchdowns. He’s the most dangerous receiver in quick outs and screens, but is looking to improve his streak routes. With a potential heavier passing game, due to the absence of two star running backs, Jones will look to lead the Irish’ receiving pack.
Prince Shembo, OLB, Sr.
On the opposite side of Jarrett Grace, Shembo will look to continue his solid junior season of 51 tackles, which include 10.5 TFL and 7.5 sacks. His versatility of being an OLB in the Irish’s 34 front and scaling up to a DE in a 43 scheme, makes him an important asset to the Irish defense. Shembo’s best trait is his snap anticipation and quickness which help him to be able to rush the quarterback or drop back in pass coverage.
Christian Lombard, OL, Sr.
As important to any offense, the Irish’s offensive line, anchored by senior Christian Lombard, will play a critical role in giving Rees time in the pocket as well as open up holes for Atkinson to shred through. The same five players on the offensive line started all 13 games, and Lombard was critical in several of the Irish’ 200+ rushing yard games.
Chris Watt, LG, Sr.
Watt found himself on Phil Steele’s all-conference preseason team. Watt is one of Notre Dame’s angriest and most explosive players who loves to run over opposing defensive linemen. Known as a light-hearted guy outside the locker room, when it comes to game time, his teammates and opposing players know Watt’s fierceness is not one to mess with.
Louis Nix III, DL, Sr.
This 6-3, 340 pound nose guard was Phil Steele’s best defensive tackle in the whole country. Known as “Irish Chocolate”, Nix has been given plenty of pre-season buzz, especially after leading the line to a national championship. To show Nix’s versatility and humor, during spring practices he lined up in the backfield as quarterback and bulldozed his way into the end-zone on a two-point conversion, as well as ran some fad routes. His team respects him and opponents fear him. Look for Nix to be the leader of the defensive line along with teammate Stephon Tuitt.
Stephon Tuitt, DL, Jr.
Because Te’o received all the buzz and rewards, Tuitt seemed to be overlooked, but this season he is ranked by many writers as a top five defensive end in the country. He’s listed at 6’6’’303 pounds, but is by far one of the most athletic and fast defensive ends in the country. He had a remarkable fumble recovery for a touchdown vs. Navy last year and outran the whole Navy offense with no problem. Jadeveon Clowney has generated all the buzz, but watch out right behind him because Tuitt is a force to be reckon with.
KeiVarae Russell, CB, So.
Even though Russell is only a sophomore, his new transformation into a corner back has been seen as one of the most impressive aspects of Notre Dame’s backfield. When star cornerback Lo Wood tore his Achilles early on last season, other teams tried to take advantage of Russell’s inexperience, but Russell didn’t budge. By the end of the season he was chosen to cover the country’s best receiver, Marquis Lee of USC, and held him to only 75 yards.
Sheldon Day, DE, So.
Day is lined up with the perennial linemen of Tuitt and Nix. With Day only a sophomore, he has shown improvements especially with adding “good” weight to his 286-pound frame. He is loved by his coaches and teammates. His shorter 6’2’’ height actually enables him to be faster and hit lower. Even though he didn’t grow taller in the offseason, he has impressed many with only being a sophomore on this stacked defense.
Bennett Jackson, CB, Sr.
Being listed as high as the #4 cornerback in the 2014 NFL Draft, Jackson can easily climb up the boards if he’s healthy. He had an immediate impact as a first time starter last season even though he only had four picks. He played most of the season hurt so if he can stay healthy, he could be the Irish’ first cornerback drafted higher that the 5th round since 2001.