Chicago Sun-Times
with Mark Lazerus

Notre Dame frosh TJ Jones ready for breakout game ... again

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Is it the player or the system that makes the difference in Brian Kelly's offense?

Tyler Eifert stepped in for preseason All-America tight end Kyle Rudolph and had four receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown Saturday. Against Western Michigan.

Maybe the opponent has something to do with it, too. Regardless, that's as productive as Rudolph had been as a receiver in five of the previous six games.

A better test will be this weekend against Navy. But the player to watch is freshman receiver TJ Jones, who will start in the slot position in place of Theo Riddick.
The slot is a key position in the spread offense -- closer to the middle of the field like a tight end, but giving a faster receiver a chance to take advantage of the ''conflict-of-assignment'' the spread creates and turn them into big plays.

It's important enough that Kelly made it a point-of-emphasis publicly after Riddick caught only two passes in each of Notre Dame's first two games.

Riddick responded with 10 receptions for 128 yards and a touchdown against Michigan State and productive games against Stanford (7-71, 1 TD), Boston College (9-69, 1 TD) and Pitt (7-75). Going into the Western Michigan game he led the Irish with 37 receptions.

From a statistical standpoint, Jones paid the price for Riddick's success. Jones had six receptions for 114 yards and two touchdowns in his first two games, but has only six for 89 yards in five games since Riddick emerged as a threat in the slot.

''The closer to the ball, the better opportunity you have to get the football unless you're the match-up one-on-one guy, which Mike Floyd is,'' Kelly said.

''So I think probably play calling puts him in had a different situation. Now that he moves closer to the ball, he's going to get more opportunities.''

The 5-11, 187-pound Jones does not have Riddick's speed or Floyd's size. But he is neither slow nor small. And he has an understanding of the nuances of the receiver position in general, only enhanced by playing the ''X'' position.

In other words, he's got a chance to do some real damage in the slot.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Potash published on October 20, 2010 12:43 PM.

Injuries to Theo Riddick, Michael Floyd leave Irish scrambling was the previous entry in this blog.

Notre Dame's Michael Floyd says he'll play against Navy is the next entry in this blog.

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