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Owens: Irish need leaders to emerge for success (April 3)

Andrew Owens | Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Spring represents a fresh start across college football. The days get brighter and the snow melts away. So too does the negativity of the previous season.

Even with the second annual four-way Irish quarterback derby, optimism abounds. Coaches talk about the progress the team has made, players discuss strides made in strength and conditioning and writers produce article after article that convince fans a BCS season is assuredly on the way – even without a starting quarterback or sufficient experience at receiver and cornerback.

When it comes to forming expectations for next season, spring practice doesn’t matter.

Don’t get me wrong – when it comes to the development of a football program, spring practice is invaluable. The coaching staff only gets so many practices with its squad between the end of one season and the start of another, and these 15 sessions make up a good chunk of that time.

Fans, however, should not raise expectations because of what they hear in interviews or what they see in five-minute practice recap videos produced by the football program itself.

I’m still waiting for a coach to come out and say, “Our guys don’t have the heart to play championship-caliber football. I’ve been very disappointed in the progress of our team since the end of the season.”

Why would he?

Regardless of perceived momentum heading into the season, a team is only one 99-yard fumble return for a touchdown away from wiping it away.

For the Irish to truly turn the page and have a strong 2012, players need to step up. There are enough quality coaches that the groundwork is being laid for success. If the program is to evolve into the elite contender that has been promised but not delivered for several years, the players need to take the next step.

Veterans like graduate student safety Jamoris Slaughter and junior receiver TJ Jones are critical to the program’s trajectory.

Why those two in particular?

Slaughter and Jones play at positions with little experience entering 2012. Not only does Jones need to mentor Notre Dame’s youth at receiver, he first needs to elevate his game and realize what type of player he wants to be. Michael Floyd is gone. With it is the offense’s ability to rely on one player when the unit is sputtering (though senior tight end Tyler Eifert will have something to say about that).

Slaughter has shown signs of developing into a big-play defensive back primed for a terrific final season donning the blue and gold. On opposite sides of Slaughter and fellow starting safety senior Zeke Motta are two new starters at the cornerback position who need to grow up quickly before facing the likes of Matt Barkley and Landry Jones.

This is before you even factor in Notre Dame’s lack of a proven quarterback. It’s a gargantuan – though not impossible – task to overcome the lack of a leader at the quarterback position.

Maybe one of the four signalcallers contending for the starting job will surprise everyone. Confidence is almost as contagious as a lack of confidence, and half the battle is finding a quarterback on whom to depend.

Notre Dame could be very mediocre in 2012. It could be a top-20 team. Unfortunately for the Irish and their fans, patience needs to be their second most important virtue. Not turning the football over is the first.

Contact Andrew Owens at aowens2@nd.edu

 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.