In six words or less: Need more from kick, punt returns
Projected starters: Kyle Brindza (K/P), Amir Carlisle (KR/PR)
Arrivals: Tyler Newsome
Departures: Nick Tausch, Alex Wulfeck, George Atkinson, T.J. Jones
It's not exactly going out on a limb to say Notre Dame's special teams units -- save for Kyle Brindza -- have been a disaster over the last few years (for reference, the F/+ ranks for Irish special teams in the last three years: 82, 90, 53). Notre Dame averaged 7.07 yards per punt return in 2013, and that was a dramatic improvement from 2012 (2.19 yards/return) and 2011 (3.69 yards/return). Last year's kickoff coverage was worse, too -- Notre Dame allowed an average of 25.68 yards per kick return, fourth-worst among FBS teams.
The good news is Kyle Brindza had a solid season kicking. He only missed one fourth-quarter field goal attempt in 2013, and that was in garbage time against Temple. And George Atkinson had a solid season returning kicks, helping pace Notre Dame to an average of 23 yards per return -- 22nd-best among FBS teams.
We'll see if Notre Dame turns to incoming freshman Tyler Newsome to handle punting or kickoff duties to give Brindza's leg a rest, but if the Georgia native isn't ready Brindza will have to be a special teams triple threat for another year. Finding a reliable kicker in college isn't easy, but Notre Dame has one in Brindza -- and if there's a viable way to keep him from overkicking, Notre Dame will likely take it.
Notre Dame has to do a better job generating good field position for its offense while preventing long kick returns from its opponents -- the kind that can be a death knell for an inexperienced defense. For now, Amir Carlisle looks like the top candidate to return kicks and punts, though nothing is set in stone and running back Greg Bryant could very well wind up on punt return duties.
They said it
"People will say that I'm clutch, but it's really just me doing the ordinary basic things." -- Kyle Brindza
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