Irish fans can say there is a different feel about their team nowadays. Even though that feeling will have to wait a few months before resulting in more wins or a BCS-appearance, it's still a great feeling.
But what has become apparent already is what has surfaced as a top priority for Brian Kelly and his coaching staff--building depth up and down their roster.
Flashback to the dreadful and painful year of 2007 when Charlie Weis mans the sideline. Jimmy Clausen is spending his first year donning the Blue and Gold, and Demetrius Jones calls himself the starting quarterback of the Fighting Irish.
One of the most miserable seasons in South Bend was due to more than a few issues on hand.
A new head coach trying to clean up the mess left behind by his predecessor, Ty Willingham. An influx of freshmen incomers with not many upperclassmen left around to take the talented youngsters under their wing. And most obviously, the lack of depth throughout the program.
There were plenty of things wrong with that year's team. There were plenty of flaws to go along with the 2008, 2009 and even the 2010 team as well.
Look at the difference between an older version of the Irish and a newer, advanced version coming in 2011. The most glaring difference lies in the trenches, where games are supposedly won and loss.
In 2007, Notre Dame set the single-season record for allowing the most sacks in a season. In addition, they were outscored 345-197 in 12 games that year, winning just three.
See a connection?
On the defensive side of the ball, Trevor Laws served as a one-man wrecking ball on his way to over 100 tackles before bolting for his life towards the NFL. Take away Laws, and the Irish were looking even thinner at the position than ever.
Flash forward to the year 2011.
Depth is a plenty both on the offensive and defensive line. The offensive line returns four starters from a year ago, a unit that was one of the most serviceable on the team.
No more were they creating single-season sack records, instead fading away from the spotlight. And from an offensive linemen's point of view, no spotlight is a good spotlight.
The defensive line, a strength that Kelly and his staff have done a phenomenal job in building into an embarassment of riches, has become one including elite talent. Although we have yet to see what exactly the future for the line holds, it's easy to predict a huge improvement from last year's showing.
Add in elite talents like defensive tackle Louis Nix on top of defensive ends Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt, and you have yourself one of the most promising lines in all of college football.
If you want to build depth, you'd better include the quarterbacks in that discussion. Kelly now has his choice of four—yes four—solid quarterbacks to choose from.
Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees appear to be the front-runners as upperclassmen, but you can't overlook underclassmen talents such as Everett Golson and Andrew Hendrix just because of how talented and unique each one of them is.
Again, having too much depth can be a problem but a good one at that.
Yes, there are some issues in the defensive backfield with only two experienced corners in Robert Blanton and Gary Gray returning. However, Kelly has provided that position with some very good freshmen and sophomore talent looking to make a name for themselves.
Look for Lo Wood and Bennett Jackson to step up this season serving as the third and fourth cornerbacks.
And yes, the running back position looks very thin. If Cierre Wood goes down with an injury, Jonas Gray and Cam McDaniel will have to step up big for this team.
But even here, Kelly has fortified his depth chart with a position move by switching highly-touted George Atkinson III in to the backfield. A true burner and play-maker, Atkinson provides depth even if it is unproven.
There still are some holes that will raise some question marks. These question marks will keep arising until the next banner is brought back to South Bend in the form of a national championship.
But with question marks comes answers.
And as of now, Brian Kelly seems to have plenty of those.
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