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Owens: Irish can learn from others (Sept. 7)

Andrew Owens | Thursday, September 6, 2012

2012 is a fresh start. A turned page.

After a potential Bowl Championship Series season was cast aside in 2011 because of a bumbling Irish offense that failed to consistently protect the football, this season represents a new opportunity.

A new identity.

Sure, all-everything receiver Michael Floyd has departed, but there are enough playmaking threats on the unit to turn some heads.

The only question is how to maximize the current crop of talent, and who to emulate with the 2012 personnel.

Stanford’s three tight ends

Because of Notre Dame’s talent pool at tight end – even after the loss of junior tight end Alex Welch to a season-ending ACL tear – it only makes sense to trot out a pair of tight ends in most packages.

Look at the effectiveness of that strategy with last year’s Stanford team that finished 11-2 with a Fiesta Bowl appearance. Three tight ends combined for more than 1,300 yards and 20 receiving touchdowns, led by Coby Fleener’s 10.

The personnel not only aided the Cardinal passing attack, but also enhanced the ground game. With an extra tight end on the field, Stanford essentially carried an added offensive lineman on most plays, helping Stepfan Taylor rush for 1,330 yards and 10 touchdowns.

With senior Tyler Eifert and physical specimen sophomore Troy Niklas, Kelly should take advantage of the position’s depth and center the game plan around the pair and sophomore Ben Koyack. The Irish rushing attack should even exceed the output of Stanford’s, because Notre Dame possesses four legitimate starting threats at the position.

“[Stanford] did a great job of utilizing them,” Kelly said. “We had better do a good job of utilizing them as well.”

USC’s stable of backs

Another blueprint the Irish might consider belongs to (gasp!) their archrivals from sunny Southern California.

USC has been ‘Running Back U’ during the past decade, developing talents from Reggie Bush and LenDale White to Joe McKnight and now Silas Redd. While the program’s quarterbacks haven’t been too shabby, either, it’s been the depth of the ground game that has been so impressive.

When one blue-chip player graduates or is lost to injury, you can bet there is a five-star replacement ready to take his place.

Sophomore Amir Carlisle, currently hampered by an ankle injury, transferred to Notre Dame from Running Back U last spring. Even with Redd’s transfer to the Trojans, the Irish appear to have more depth at the position than their West Coast counterpart for the first time in ages.

Although it’s the quarterbacks who are typically the centerpiece of a Brian Kelly offense, the Irish should play to their strengths and take advantage of a versatile and deep cadre of running backs.

Communication is key

Regardless of the form the offense embraces, it appears clear the unit has upgraded in some key aspects.

When former offensive coordinator Charley Molnar landed a head coaching gig at Massachusetts, Kelly chose communication and trust above all else with his selection of Chuck Martin to fill the position.

So far, so good.

“I think we’re effectively communicating in some of the areas we’ve wanted to improve on from last year – we’ve carried that over,” Kelly said. “The dynamics are really good in that we’re on the same page the whole game.”

What Kelly needed out of the coordinator role more than anything else is what he’s gotten: communication. More important than Martin’s pre-Notre Dame offensive background was the way the two coaches click. Combine that with Kelly’s newfound approach as team CEO, and the unit might coalesce nicely.

Perhaps the brightest feather in Notre Dame’s cap is a change at quarterback. Out with Tommy Rees; in with Everett Golson, a player, as you’ll read on the next page, poised enough to usher in a new-look Irish offense, whatever it resembles.

In the end, maybe the Irish don’t need to emulate Stanford. Or USC. Running the Notre Dame offense might just do the trick.

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.