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Football: Here comes the change

Sam Werner | Friday, August 20, 2010

The players will still be wearing gold helmets, the end zones will still have diagonal stripes and Tim McCarthy will still start off each fourth quarter with an awesomely bad pun.

At the same time, the team that takes the field Sept. 4 against Purdue will have a new head coach, a new quarterback, a new offensive system and even new uniforms.

New head coach Brian Kelly has brought in several changes since taking the helm in December. On offense, Kelly has been working tirelessly to install his spread offense, which is a stark change from former coach Charlie Weis’ pro-style attack.

The man charged with running this new offensive attack is junior quarterback Dayne Crist. Crist saw action in several games last year, but suffered a season-ending ACL injury against Washington State. He said the knee is healed and he’s excited to lead the new-look Irish offense.

“The spread is just something that really makes defenses, like it says, spread out,” Crist said. “And it just creates a lot of space and matchups that we like to exploit.”

Kelly has seemed especially confident with Notre Dame’s rushing attack. Senior running back Armando Allen has separated himself as the starter, but senior Robert Hughes, junior Jonas Gray and sophomore Cierre Wood will also see the field.

“I would be very surprised if we were not a solid team running the football,” Kelly said.

Sophomore Theo Riddick saw action at running back last year, but has moved to wide receiver for the upcoming season. Despite the position change, Crist said he was excited about Riddick’s potential.

“I think Theo has a chance to be an incredibly explosive player and one of the nations best,” Crist said. “He’s incredibly explosive in all facets of his game and I think if he continues to execute as he’s been executing thus far in camp he’ll be a very special player for us this year.”

Riddick will be lining up opposite junior wide receiver Michael Floyd. Floyd, a preseason All-American, finished second on the team last year in both receiving yards and receiving touchdowns despite missing five games due to injury. Kelly said that Floyd at times relied too much on his size and athleticism, but has shown a strong work ethic in fall camp.

“I thought Michael Floyd was overhyped,” Kelly said. “I thought he was at times average. But in 20 years, I have not had a player who has worked as hard as Michael Floyd has worked. And I mean that.”

Change is also coming for the Irish on the defensive side of the ball, where they are moving to a 3-4 system as opposed to last year’s 4-3. Along the defensive line, juniors Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore have emerged as the starting ends, with senior Ian Williams as the man in the middle. Defensive line coach Mike Elston said that, as a nose guard, Williams was especially critical to the Irish defense.

“The nose tackle is the middle of the defense and everything is built around him,” Elston said. “If he has the ability to smash the center and get off the block and make the tackle as well as keeping the center from climbing to the backers, that is going to be the critical part for him.”

While the starters at defensive line seem fairly settled, the linebacker position is in constant flux.

Sophomore Manti Te’o and junior Darius Fleming appear to have a solid grip on starting roles, but senior Brian Smith, senior Kerry Neal, junior Steve Filer, junior Anthony McDonald and sophomore Carlo Calabrese are battling for the other two spots.

Kelly said that Te’o has taken on a leadership role on the defense, and at media day Tuesday, the sophomore linebacker sounded more like a fifth-year senior.

“I just want to help my team in any way I can,” Te’o said. “I just want to help them win and prove to my coaches, more specifically, my teammates that you can trust me, you can count on me to be there when times get hard.”

At the end of the day, Te’o said, the ultimate goal of the 2010 Notre Dame football team will be representing Notre Dame in a positive, and winning, way.

“Coach Kelly has really demonstrated to us and taught us as players that we owe Notre Dame. Notre Dame has done so much for us, provided us with an education, provided us with friends, with great coaching, and we owe them. We have a great tradition here and the least we can do is go out there every day and give it our all.”