Notre Dame may count on freshmen to shoulder load at WR

Notre Dame may count on freshmen to shoulder load at WR
August 13, 2012, 9:45 pm
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Michael Floyd caught 100 passes for 1,147 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011, his senior year at Notre Dame. While the Irish return a some experienced receivers, the team may wind up needing a few true freshmen to help make up for Floyd's departure to the NFL.
"There's no replacing Michael Floyd's production," admitted first-year receiver Chris Brown. "But as a unit, we just gotta come together and just fill that role."
T.J. Jones, Robby Toma and John Goodman return to the Irish offense with a few years of experience under their collective belts, while DaVaris Daniels will get a shot after not seeing the playing field his freshman year.
And Notre Dame is deep at tight end, with All-American Tyler Eifert headlining a group that also includes Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack. But Brown, Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson could see some playing time, if the first few days of practice are any indication.
Brown and Neal saw plenty of work with the first and second-team offense in last week's open practice, with Brown gouging out large chunks of yardage after making a few catches on short passes. And Neal's blue-chip talent was on display as he worked with quarterback Everett Golson, who many believe will be the starter on Sept. 1 when Notre Dame opens their season against Navy in Dublin.
"Everybody wants to get on the field, but I'm just looking to do my part as of right now," Neal said. "Coach Brian Kelly will put in that situation when it comes down to it. But right now, we're just working getting set with the plays."
The trio of freshman wide receivers all room with upperclassmen, as Brown lives with Goodman, Ferguson with Jones and Neal with Toma. That veteran presence has helped each rookie adjust to life at the college level.
"I'm feeling very comfortable," Brown said. "The older guys have made it a lot easier for me -- John Goodman, Daniel Smith, T.J. Jones, all of them just making it more comfortable for me, and I feel like I'm actually getting in it."
"I'm starting to get real comfortable with the playbook," added Neal. "Robby Toma's helping me out, learning the plays, learning the scheme, and Theo Riddick also back there coaching me up. And slot receivers coach Tony Alford is a great coach, he's done a great job putting the plays in a way that I can understand them."
Neal came to Notre Dame after a lengthy recruiting saga that extended a few weeks past signing day. He was one of the most coveted skill players in the country, with the kind of playmaking ability that had coaches from LSU to Oklahoma to USC salivating. While there were rumors about discord within Neal's family about his school choice, he repeated over and over on Monday "I love it" and emphasized how happy he is at Notre Dame.
"There's a lot of great players here, so I'm not stacking myself up with anybody," Neal said. "We're all looking out there to compete. That's what everybody's doing. You can't ask for a better to compete with than at Notre Dame."
Both Brown and Neal say they aren't aiming to be the next Floyd, Golden Tate, Jeff Samardzija, Tim Brown or Rocket Ismail, at least in their freshmen year. They're aware of Notre Dame's history, but are aiming to stay focused on the immediate task ahead.
"Those are all great receivers," Neal said. "I just came in looking at trying to play my part as a freshman right now. I'm coming in as freshman, looking to do what I can to be a good receiver for right now."