Bradford and Benn: What could have been

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News broke that Sam Bradford will undergo shoulder surgery by Dr. James Andrews and make himself eligible for next year’s NFL draft, ending a wonderful career at Oklahoma on a very depressing note. When Bradford turned down the chance to go in the first round of the NFL draft to return to Oklahoma, it was clear he was doing it to try and win a championship. Those plans went awry in the season’s very first game, when Bradford landed hard on his throwing shoulder after being hit hard by a blitzing BYU linebacker.

Bradford’s inclusion in the NFL draft makes him the likely first quarterback taken in the draft, but what was looking like a top heavy quarterbacking class suddenly doesn’t look as star-studded with Bradford having an injury question mark, Tim Tebow not a classic pro prospect, and Colt McCoy not playing up to his past performances.

Looking at Mel Kiper and Scouts Inc.’s big boards (imperfect, but the best thing we have), it looks like Bradford will slot in as the top quarterback, and Jake Locker will be another quarterback garnering high first round consideration. After that, it’s Colt McCoy and… Jimmy Clausen.

While Notre Dame fans don’t want to admit it, Jimmy will have a decision to make after the season. Bradford deciding to enter the draft might have done wonders for Notre Dame, as it’ll push Clausen down the draft board on the list of top quarterbacks.

Scanning teams that will be picking at the top of the draft, there really aren’t that many teams that will be looking for top-flight quarterbacks. St. Louis could be atop that list along with Washington, but all the other woeful teams look to have already made their bet on their quarterback of the future. Tampa Bay committed to Josh Freeman, Kansas City to Matt Cassel, Detroit to Matt Stafford, and Tennessee and Cleveland have to think long and hard before picking another 1st round quarterback. It might actually be a better business decision for a quarterback like Clausen to play another year in college football, and see what team picking at the top of the draft is looking to give a mega-contract to a rookie quarterback.

I don’t blame any college football player for going pro early, but I’ve got a hunch that Clausen might think about his legacy at Notre Dame a little bit more than most of the guys making the decision. And after seeing Brady Quinn tumble down the draft board, you never know what kind of flaws scouts might find in Clausen after a few months of crunching video. But if Jimmy comes back to South Bend for his senior season, Irish fans might have Sam Bradford to thank.

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Meanwhile, watching Illinois’ season sink deeper and deeper each week, you’ve got to think wide receiver Arrelious Benn is playing the what could have been game. Derek Samson at The Sporting News had this little snippet in his Week 8 wrap-up:

Illinois WR Arrelious Benn, a Sporting News preseason first-team
All-American, caught three passes for 16 yards and did not score in the
loss to Indiana. That’s 12 straight games dating to last season that
Benn has been held out of the end zone. And if Benn returns next year,
it appears he’ll be playing for coach Ron Zook again. Illini athletic
director Ron Guenther indicated Saturday that Zook will return in 2010.

Through seven games, Benn has 25 catches for 287 yards. In 2.5 games, Michael Floyd has 358 yards and 5 touchdowns. In all likelihood, Benn will leave Illinois after the season and be drafted somewhere late in the first round, but he’s got to be kicking himself that he’s stuck playing for an offense that can’t seem to do anything right, while Golden Tate and Michael Floyd are putting up monster numbers in South Bend.

The recruiting battle for Benn was hotly contested, and got former Notre Dame quarterbacks coach Peter Vaas into some hot water after Benn leaked some of the text messages he was getting to the Washington Post. After looking back at the article, it turns out Benn would’ve been smart to listen to the former ND coach.

Restocking the roster: Running Backs

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Josh Adams #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs for a 26-yard gain against the USC Trojans in the first half of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Notre Dame’s running back depth chart was tested to its max less than 10 minutes into the season opener. The projected two-deep, Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, were both lost for the year—Bryant out of school as an academic and disciplinary casualty by the start of fall camp and Folston because of a knee injury suffered on his third carry of the season.

Welcome back to Notre Dame, Autry Denson.

The school’s all-time leading rusher in his first season as a running back coach had to be feeling a little woozy. He had a converted wide receiver taking featured-back carries and a true freshman a little over a year removed from his own major knee injury serving as his primary backup.

That the Irish had their most prolific running season under Brian Kelly says quite a bit about the job that Denson did. It’s also a credit to the offensive line blocking, the adjusted scheme that also protected two new starting quarterbacks, and the talent that remained at the position.

Spring presents new challenges. Tarean Folston should be a little over seven months removed from ACL surgery, making him doubtful to do anything more than wear a red jersey. With C.J. Prosise‘s departure, Adams goes from record-setting rookie to spring starter, with Williams likely carrying a large load as well.

Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh arrive this summer, reinforcements on the way. But before we get there, let’s take a look at the pre-spring roster at running back.

 

DEPARTURES
C.J. Prosise (156 carries 1,032 yards, 11 TDs)
Greg Bryant (lost preseason 2015)

 

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Josh Adams (117 carries, 835 yards, 6 TDs)
Dexter Williams (21 carries, 81 yards, 3 TDs)
Tony Jones Jr.
Deon McIntosh 

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Tarean Folston,* Sr.
Josh Adams, Soph.
Dexter Williams, Soph.
Justin Brent,* Junior

*Additional year of eligibility remaining.

 

ANALYSIS: This might be a position battle deferred to fall camp, especially if Folston is still in recovery mode. At this point, it doesn’t make sense to rush back from an ACL tear for 15 practices, so while the rising senior may be chomping at the bit to return, it’s better to save it until August.

Folston will likely be the team’s most versatile back, but keeping Adams off the field will be a hard chore. His breakaway speed was on display multiple times in 2015, with his record-setting run against Wake Forest the team’s longest play from scrimmage. Adams also likely added some mass and physicality to his game in the offseason weigh-training program, giving the Irish someone capable of hitting the big play and also moving the sticks in short yardage situations.

The staff believes that Dexter Williams is a talented back, so with three solid contributors on the roster before Jones or McIntosh hit campus, it’ll be fun to see how snaps get sorted. (From that perspective, you can only wonder how they’d have dealt with the champagne problem of having Prosise around…) Justin Brent remains an option as well, though the attrition from the receiving corps makes you think he’ll be back at receiver.

The wildcard in all of this is Folston. He’s a unique talent with natural ability you just can’t teach. If he’s fully recovered and ready to engage in a position battle, there won’t likely be a drop off even with the early departure of Prosise.

 

Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Combine
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Notre Dame will send ten former players to the NFL Scouting Combine. The annual event in Indianapolis serves as the unofficial apex of draft season, a meat-market where the best professional prospects are poked, prodded, questioned and tested in a variety of on- and off-field drills.

Heading to the festivities from Notre Dame are:

Chris Brown, WR
Sheldon Day, DT
Will Fuller, WR
Nick Martin, C
Romeo Okwara, DE
C.J. Prosise, RB
KeiVarae Russell, CB
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, OLB
Ronnie Stanley, OT

For a prospect like Smith, it’ll be teams first opportunity to talk to the elite prospect and check his progress medically as he returns from a Fiesta Bowl knee injury. Russell will also be a non-participant in physical drills, waiting until Notre Dame’s Pro Day to go through testing.

Invites to Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Elijah Shumate are crucial in finding their way into the draft, as the three former Irish starters participated in the Shrine Bowl, where scouts had an early look at them. Likewise, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day continue their ascent, both coming off strong Senior Bowl weeks.

For Irish fans, it’ll be fun to watch early-enrollees Fuller and Prosise test. Both are expected to be some of the fastest players at their position. Brown may also have the ability to surprise teams, with his track background and leaping ability capable of earning him an extended look. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will look to impress as well, hoping to check out as one of the draft’s most impressive athletes at offensive tackle.

Ohio State led all schools with 14 invites. National Champion Alabama had nine former players invited.

 

WR Corey Robinson named Notre Dame student body president

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On Wednesday, wide receiver Corey Robinson added another impressive title to his resume as a student-athlete at Notre Dame: Student Body President.

The junior, paired with classmate Becca Blais as his vice presidential running mate, won a majority of the votes cast by his fellow students, a runaway winner with 59.4% of the votes, nearly triple the next highest vote getter.

Robinson posted the following on Twitter, thankful for the opportunity to serve his fellow students:

Robinson’s time at Notre Dame has been filled with accomplishments both on and off the field. He was named an Academic All-American as a sophomore. He’s a six-time Dean’s List member in the prestigious Program of Liberal Studies and is also pursuing a sustainability minor. He’s won the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award as well.

That’s quite a bit on the plate of Notre Dame’s lone senior wide receiver. But as you might expect, Robinson is well prepared for the next challenge ahead.

“I’ve planned ahead, gotten all of my hard work out of the way this semester, and I’m finishing up my senior thesis,” Robinson told The Observer. “I’m doing all the hard stuff now so in the fall and the spring, I just have to take two classes pretty much.”

Robinson’s other contributions as a student-athlete at Notre Dame include One Shirt one Body, an opportunity for college athletes to donate their athletic apparel to local communities. Robinson has presented the plan to the ACC as well as the NCAA, earning immediate support from both organizations.

 

Mailbag: Now Open (scheduling input requested)

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 01:  Actors Mike Myers (L) and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth from "Wayne's World" onstage during the 17th annual MTV Movie Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre on June 1, 2008 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Okay folks, we’ve had enough semi-positive encouragement to keep the video mailbag going for another week. With that said, I’ll need some reader participation to keep this thing rolling on.

As always, submit your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold. You can also ask your questions live via Facebook. You’ll need to LIKE THIS PAGE first, and then at the appropriate time, head on over to watch and participate.

To that point, let’s pick a time that works for everyone. Right now, here are the options that work at Inside the Irish HQ.  Weigh in and the best time wins. (How’s that for a democracy?)

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