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December 26, 2012

Irish fill Floyd void with depth

When Michael Floyd departed for the NFL it fell to a cast of many to replace the most prolific receiver in Notre Dame history.

Floyd took with him consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and the distinction of becoming a favorite target for whichever quarterback happened to be throwing the ball. Starting last spring an unproven stable of receivers were thrust into a position of having to replace that productivity.

“We certainly knew without Michael here that we were all gonna have to ante up a little bit more,” said receivers coach Mike Denbrock. “We were all gonna have to chip in a little bit more and we were gonna have to spread the ball around to a number of different guys. Fortunately for this football team, every time we’ve kinda pointed in someone’s direction they’ve really done a nice job.”

Statistics tell the tale of a group effort rather than one go-to receiver, save tight end Tyler Eifert, who split out wide in certain formations.

Eifert led Notre Dame with 44 catches for 624 yards and four touchdowns. TJ Jones led the true receivers with 43 receptions for 559 yards and four touchdowns. Theo Riddick made 35 catches as a running back and part-time slot receiver.

Then comes a four-man group that’s given quarterback Everett Golson go-to options at different times. DaVaris Daniels, Robby Toma, John Goodman and Daniel Smith made a combined 63 catches for 833 yards and three touchdowns.

All of them expect to be called upon against Alabama in the national championship game.

“Everybody is gonna have to be at their very best for us to have an opportunity for us to beat Alabama,” Denbrock said. “Tyler Eifert’s gonna have to contribute the way he’s contributed. And those other guys, when they get their opportunities, are gonna have to be a major part of us being successful against Alabama.”

All of them have done so at least once during the season.

Jones has become a steady option on the outside. Freshman Chris Brown caught a 50-yard bomb against Oklahoma. Daniels made a critical 45-yard reception late in the Pittsburgh game as part of the game-tying drive, which ended with a Riddick touchdown catch.

Daniels is on track to return for the bowl game after missing the last two regular season games with a broken clavicle, suffered against Boston College. During the surgical rehab process Daniels kept on point in the meeting rooms.

“That’s one of the reasons we traveled him to Southern California with us,” Denbrock said. “Because he had done such a nice job of being at all the meetings and staying engaged, taking notes. Just preparing himself as if he wasn’t injured. That alone I think really speaks to the maturity level that he’s gaining and where he’s headed.”

Where Daniels is trending could be leader of the position group at some point, a role taken on by Goodman and Toma in their last seasons of eligibility.

Goodman has come up big in terms of shepherding the younger receivers while making his own big plays. The Ft. Wayne, Ind., native has only seven receptions this season but three of them have gone for touchdowns, perhaps the most memorable coming against Michigan State.

Denbrock wouldn’t be surprised if Goodman made one more memorable play in the title game. That’s how the receivers have gone about their business all season.

“John’s gonna be a hard guy for me to let go,” he said. “I like the way he comes to work every day. I really appreciate everything he has done for this football program. I’m looking forward to him maybe getting an opportunity to make a big play in the BCS championship game.”


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