Kelly puts finishing touches on football staff

Notre Dame announced today that Brian Kelly’s first coaching staff and support staff have been finalized. As expected defensive line coach Mike Elston has been named special teams coordinator.

“As I mentioned when Mike was hired, he was instrumental in our special teams success the past few years,” Kelly said in a statement. “We want to force teams to cover us on all facets of special teams and under Mike’s guidance I am looking forward to seeing our special teams in action this season.”

Kelly also named defensive backs coach Chuck Martin his recruiting coordinator. This will be Martin’s first year at the D-I level after an award-winning career as a head coach at Grand Valley State. After joining the Irish as a position coach, I expected more responsibility to be hoisted on Martin’s shoulders. Kelly confirmed that confidence in Martin.

“Chuck and I have a shared philosophy on how to recruit which stems from our similar
coaching background and I know he’ll be a dynamic representative of our
program when addressing a group of recruits,” Kelly said. “The skills he developed as a head coach will surely help his transition into this role.”

As I mentioned last month, Kelly also confirmed the addition of Jon Carpenter as a defensive graduate assistant coach. Carpenter played for Kelly at Cincinnati and is brothers with former Ohio State linebacker and current Cowboy Bobby Carpenter, as well as the son of former NFL played Rob Carpenter.

Kelly is also adding a second graduate assistant to the defense, Michael Painter. Painter was a staff associate under Kelly at both Cincinnati and Central Michigan. He played collegiately at D-III powerhouse Mount Union in Ohio.

While Kelly doubled up on graduate assistants on the defensive side of the ball, he hired two offensive interns to support the offensive coaching staff.

Scott Booker spent the past five seasons coaching defensive backs at Western Kentucky and Kent State, and was an All-Academic selection as a safety at Kent State. Bill Brechin had an all-conference career at Grand Valley State under then head coach Chuck Martin and spent the past two seasons as a graduate assistant there as well. During Brechin’s years on the roster, GVSU went 40-1 with two national championships.

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    Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 5 Nyles Morgan, linebacker

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    Listed Measurements: 6-foot-1, 238 pounds
    2017-18 year, eligibility: Senior with only one season of eligibility remaining
    Depth chart: Morgan will start as the middle linebacker in defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme. Junior Te’von Coney essentially backs up both Morgan and fellow senior linebacker Greer Martini. If another reserve is needed, the Irish will most likely turn to sophomore Jonathan Jones before looking to the freshmen duo of Drew White and David Adams.
    Recruiting: A rivals.com four-star prospect, Morgan whittled his recruitment down from a lengthy list including Alabama, Florida and Michigan. His final decision was between Notre Dame and Ole Miss. Yes, that Ole Miss. As more and more is learned about Mississippi circa 2013 and 2014, the U.S. Army All-American’s decision stands out as increasingly insightful. Rivals rated the first-team USA Today All-American as the class’s No. 5 inside linebacker, the No. 2 recruit in Illinois and the No. 72 overall player in the country.

    CAREER TO DATE
    Morgan went from minimal action to a starting role his freshman season when Joe Schmidt went down with an injury against Navy. Morgan started four of the season’s five final games, with the exception being against USC. He nonetheless made 11 tackles against the Trojans, his third consecutive game with a tackles total in the double digits.

    With Schmidt back to health in 2015, Morgan’s role returned to special teams and mop-up duties before leading the defense last year.

    2014: 12 games, four starts, 47 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks.
    2015: 13 games, 17 tackles, one forced fumble.
    2016: 12 games, 12 starts, 94 tackles, six tackles for loss, four sacks, one fumble recovery.

    Morgan’s 94 tackles and four sacks each led the Irish last year, and his six tackles for loss is second among returning defenders, trailing Martini by one takedown behind the line of scrimmage.

    QUOTE(S)
    Perhaps the most-illuminating mention of Morgan in the past eight months came on National Signing Day, an odd piece of timing for a rising senior. Irish coach Brian Kelly mentioned Morgan while describing Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah’s recruiting visit only a week earlier. Kelly meant to be praising Owusu-Koramoah’s dedication to football, but he also showed part of the reasoning in naming Morgan a captain for 2017.

    “We hosted [Owusu-Koramoah] with Nyles Morgan, “Kelly said. “When you host somebody, you want them to see Notre Dame and see the social aspects. These guys didn’t leave the film room. It was like they were joined at the hip for six hours just talking football.”

    WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
    Notre Dame’s leading tackler. And it might not even be close. Yes, he’ll need to stay healthy. And yes, he’ll [need] to cut down on some of the mental mistakes that can turn a three-yard gain into a 30-yarder. But Morgan is the perfect prototype for middle linebacker in [former Irish defensive coordinator Brian] VanGorder’s scheme — and that’s what sold him on Notre Dame in the first place.

    “It won’t be all perfect for Morgan. I wonder if there’s a role for him on third downs, especially in passing situations. But his athleticism, toughness and nose for the football make this a relatively easy forecast.”

    2017 OUTLOOK
    If a healthy Morgan does not again lead the Irish in tackles, it will be a good sign for the implementation of the rover, Elko’s preferred defensive wrinkle. More precisely, it will be a sign senior Drue Tranquill took to that position better than anyone could have expected. Otherwise, expect Morgan to lead the way. (Last year he topped Tranquill’s second-place tackle total by 15.)

    In the 99-to-2 entry for No. 45 Jonathan Jones, this space set the season’s over/under on defensive snaps missed by a healthy Morgan in competitive situations at 5.5. That may seem bold, but Notre Dame does not have many options behind him, nor would it likely use them if it did, and Morgan’s career arc shows why not.

    As a freshman, Morgan may have racked up tackles commiserate with his playing time, but he also missed tackles and struggled as much as he succeeded. The speed of the game and concepts needing grasping were too much, it seemed. If he was forced into playing time as a sophomore, it is safe to presume he would have fared better, but still not as well as he did last year.

    Continuing that progression this season should lead to 100-plus tackles, two handfuls of tackles for loss and perhaps a repeat of last year’s four sacks. Again, though, if Morgan falls short of those figures, it may actually bode well for the defense. It would mean Tranquill is flying to the ball unencumbered by coverage concerns, it would mean the defensive tackles are shedding blockers and getting to ballcarriers on their own, and it would mean sophomore defensive end Daelin Hayes is bringing down the quarterback before Morgan can get to him.

    DOWN THE ROAD
    Morgan will be drafted. His frame and leadership will entice more than a few NFL teams, but it would take a truly transcendent senior season and excellent combine results to make him an early-round pick. That is as much due to the modern NFL as it is to Morgan’s potential.

    He has yet to reach his ceiling, though, and that ceiling certainly entails an NFL career.


    2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
    Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
    No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
    No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
    No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
    No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
    No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 92)
    No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 95)
    No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
    No. 92: Jonathon MacCollister; defensive end (originally theorized as No. 46)
    No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
    No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
    No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
    No. 87: Michael Young, receiver (originally theorized as No. 84)
    No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
    No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
    No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end (originally theorized as No. 90)
    No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
    No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
    No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
    No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
    No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
    No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
    No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman (originally theorized as No. 65)
    No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 73)
    No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
    No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
    No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
    No. 71: Alex Bars, offensive lineman
    No. 70: Hunter Bivin, offensive lineman
    No. 69: Aaron Banks, offensive lineman
    No. 68: Mike McGlinchey, left tackle
    No. 67: Jimmy Byrne, offensive lineman
    No. 58: Elijah Taylor, defensive tackle
    No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman
    No. 56: Quenton Nelson, left guard
    No. 55: Jonathan Bonner, defensive lineman
    No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
    No. 53: Sam Mustipher, center
    No. 53: Khalid Kareem, defensive lineman
    No. 48: Greer Martini, inside linebacker
    No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, defensive end
    No. 45: Jonathan Jones, inside linebacker
    No. 44: Jamir Jones, linebacker/defensive lineman
    No. 42: Julian Okwara, defensive end
    No. 41: Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 94)
    No. 40: Drew White, linebacker
    No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, kicker (originally theorized as No. 52)
    No. 38: Deon McIntosh, running back/receiver
    No. 35: David Adams, linebacker
    No. 34: Tony Jones, Jr., running back
    No. 33: Josh Adams, running back
    No. 32: D.J. Morgan, safety
    No. 30: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, rover
    No. 29: Kevin Stepherson, receiver
    No. 28: Nicco Fertitta, safety
    No. 27: Julian Love, cornerback
    No. 26: Ashton White, safety
    No. 25: Jafar Armstrong, receiver (originally theorized as No. 87)
    No. 24: Nick Coleman, safety
    No. 23: Drue Tranquill, rover
    No. 22: Asmar Bilal, rover
    No. 21: Jalen Elliott, safety
    No. 20: Shaun Crawford, cornerback
    No. 19: Justin Yoon, kicker
    No. 18: Troy Pride, cornerback
    No. 17: Isaiah Robertson, safety
    No. 16: Cameron Smith, receiver
    No. 15: C.J. Holmes, running back
    No. 14: Devin Studstill, safety
    No. 13: Avery Davis, quarterback
    No. 13: Jordan Genmark Heath, safety
    No. 12: Ian Book, quarterback
    No. 12: Alohi Gilman, safety
    No. 11: Freddy Canteen, receiver
    No. 10: Chris Finke, receiver
    No. 9: Daelin Hayes, defensive end
    No. 8: Donte Vaughn, cornerback
    No. 7: Brandon Wimbush, quarterback
    No. 7: Nick Watkins, cornerback
    No. 6: Equanimeous St. Brown, receiver

    TRANSFERS
    No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
    No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman
    No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

    INJURIES
    No. 13: Tyler Luatua, tight end, career ended by medical hardship

    Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 6 Equanimeous St. Brown, receiver

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    Listed Measurements: 6-foot-5, 204 pounds
    2017-18 year, eligibility: Junior with two years of eligibility remaining including the 2017 season.
    Depth chart: St. Brown will start as the field receiver, otherwise known as the X. Even as he may move around from the field to the boundary, St. Brown will be a threat for nearly every offensive snap.
    Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit, St. Brown held offers from 10 of the Pac-12 programs with Oregon and Oregon State the outliers, as well as from LSU, Miami and Vanderbilt, among others. The Under Armour All-American waited until National Signing Day to commit to the Irish. Rivals.com listed him as the No. 15 receiver in the class of 2015, the No. 23 prospect in California and the No. 144 player in the country.

    CAREER TO DATE
    After a ho-hum, limited-action, injury-shortened freshman season, St. Brown broke out last year, to say the least. St. Brown led Notre Dame in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, establishing himself as then-quarterback DeShone Kizer’s most-dangerous as well as most-consistent target.

    2015: Seven games, one reception for eight yards before a shoulder injury ended his debut campaign. St. Brown blocked a punt against USC.
    2016: 12 games, 12 starts, 58 receptions for 961 yards and nine touchdowns. Highlighting his season, St. Brown took four catches for 182 yards and two touchdowns against Syracuse, including a 79-yard score on the first play from scrimmage. He also logged 116 receiving yards against Duke.

    QUOTES
    When a sophomore comes about two average-length catches short of a 60-reception, 1,000-yard and 10-touchdown season, not much needs to be worried about the following spring. Instead, Irish coach Brian Kelly noted the improvements in the receiver corps around its standout, though St. Brown is obviously working to stay ahead of the pack, as well.

    “I see better balance,” Kelly said in late March. “We have some guys that will come up to the level [St. Brown] was at least year to give the quarterback and the offense a little more balance than we had last year. [St. Brown] will be a better player. He’s working on some of the weaknesses that he has, which limits him in certain areas, and he’s diligently working on those.

    “You’re going to see a better supporting cast across the board, which will give us much more balance. More importantly, it’s going to give us much more consistency from an offensive standpoint.”

    WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
    The drop-off from a veteran like Chris Brown to a receiver with one career catch is sizable. But from a physical skills perspective, St. Brown can do everything needed to be a standout, he just needs to grow up in a hurry.

    “Predicting a breakout sophomore season like the ones Golden Tate or Will Fuller had isn’t fair. But with a strong running game and Torii Hunter across from him, St. Brown will have plenty of opportunities to make big plays, he just needs to seize those chances.

    “Can St. Brown put himself on course to be the next great Irish receiver? The hype has slowed, but there’s no reason the answer should be no.

    “This camp has been all about young receivers finding consistency. While [current-sophomore] Kevin Stepherson seems to have taken most of the excitement, I think St. Brown will be the best of the bunch — at least in 2016.

    “But let’s keep expectations in check. I’ll set the bar somewhere between Torii Hunter’s 2015 and Chris Brown’s junior season, with St Brown catching somewhere around 30 balls if he stays healthy and holds onto his starting job.”

    2017 OUTLOOK
    Suffice it to say, St. Brown exceeded any and all expectations in 2016, beginning with his tumbling touchdown against Texas. In a way, those successes make it likely St. Brown falls short of expectations in 2017. If he does appear to take a step back, whether that is shown in statistics or not, it could be partly due to the added depth Kelly referred to.

    Notre Dame has more options at receiver this year, losing only Hunter form last year’s top-five receivers, and only him and [Purdue transfer] Corey Holmes among those with double-digit catches. Meanwhile, junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush will have an ascending junior Miles Boykin to target at the boundary position and returning, to much hype, junior tight end Alizé Mack drawing attention, as well.

    Defenses will not be able to key on St. Brown this season, but Wimbush will not be doing so, either. Overall, that behooves the team, even if it lessens St. Brown’s chances of gaining 39 more yards than last season to reach a four-digit total.

    DOWN THE ROAD
    Do not be surprised if St. Brown declares for the NFL after this, his junior, season. This is a player with an intellect capable enough to speak three languages fluently (German, French and he dabbles in a little English). He will presumably be close to graduation by the end of 2018’s spring semester. A strong season with a few notable highlights could solidify a strong draft status.

    That said, do not be surprised if St. Brown returns to Notre Dame for another year. If he does, that may be a positive indicator for the Irish for a few years beyond 2018. St. Brown’s youngest brother, Amon-Ra St. Brown, is the No. 1 receiver and No. 4 player overall in the class of 2018, per rivals.com, and is considering a list of scholarship offers even more impressive than his oldest brother’s was. Name a prominent college football program and Amon-Ra has heard from its coaching staff, including Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State, Miami, Oklahoma and Oregon (though still no note of Oregon State).

    If the consensus five-star chooses Notre Dame over USC and Stanford, perhaps Equanimeous St. Brown will not be able to resist spending a season lining up alongside his brother. However, it should be noted, the middle St. Brown brother, Osiris, will be a freshman receiver at Stanford this season.


    2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
    Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
    No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
    No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
    No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
    No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
    No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 92)
    No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 95)
    No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
    No. 92: Jonathon MacCollister; defensive end (originally theorized as No. 46)
    No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
    No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
    No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
    No. 87: Michael Young, receiver (originally theorized as No. 84)
    No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
    No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
    No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end (originally theorized as No. 90)
    No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
    No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
    No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
    No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
    No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
    No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
    No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman (originally theorized as No. 65)
    No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 73)
    No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
    No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
    No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
    No. 71: Alex Bars, offensive lineman
    No. 70: Hunter Bivin, offensive lineman
    No. 69: Aaron Banks, offensive lineman
    No. 68: Mike McGlinchey, left tackle
    No. 67: Jimmy Byrne, offensive lineman
    No. 58: Elijah Taylor, defensive tackle
    No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman
    No. 56: Quenton Nelson, left guard
    No. 55: Jonathan Bonner, defensive lineman
    No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
    No. 53: Sam Mustipher, center
    No. 53: Khalid Kareem, defensive lineman
    No. 48: Greer Martini, inside linebacker
    No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, defensive end
    No. 45: Jonathan Jones, inside linebacker
    No. 44: Jamir Jones, linebacker/defensive lineman
    No. 42: Julian Okwara, defensive end
    No. 41: Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 94)
    No. 40: Drew White, linebacker
    No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, kicker (originally theorized as No. 52)
    No. 38: Deon McIntosh, running back/receiver
    No. 35: David Adams, linebacker
    No. 34: Tony Jones, Jr., running back
    No. 33: Josh Adams, running back
    No. 32: D.J. Morgan, safety
    No. 30: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, rover
    No. 29: Kevin Stepherson, receiver
    No. 28: Nicco Fertitta, safety
    No. 27: Julian Love, cornerback
    No. 26: Ashton White, safety
    No. 25: Jafar Armstrong, receiver (originally theorized as No. 87)
    No. 24: Nick Coleman, safety
    No. 23: Drue Tranquill, rover
    No. 22: Asmar Bilal, rover
    No. 21: Jalen Elliott, safety
    No. 20: Shaun Crawford, cornerback
    No. 19: Justin Yoon, kicker
    No. 18: Troy Pride, cornerback
    No. 17: Isaiah Robertson, safety
    No. 16: Cameron Smith, receiver
    No. 15: C.J. Holmes, running back
    No. 14: Devin Studstill, safety
    No. 13: Avery Davis, quarterback
    No. 13: Jordan Genmark Heath, safety
    No. 12: Ian Book, quarterback
    No. 12: Alohi Gilman, safety
    No. 11: Freddy Canteen, receiver
    No. 10: Chris Finke, receiver
    No. 9: Daelin Hayes, defensive end
    No. 8: Donte Vaughn, cornerback
    No. 7: Brandon Wimbush, quarterback
    No. 7: Nick Watkins, cornerback

    TRANSFERS
    No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
    No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman
    No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

    INJURIES
    No. 13: Tyler Luatua, tight end, career ended by medical hardship

    LB Shayne Simon’s commitment could solve rover questions of the future

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    With its second commitment in three days, Notre Dame moved a notable step closer to filling its class of 2018. Consensus four-star outside linebacker Shayne Simon (St. Peter’s Prep; Jersey City, N.J.) chose the Irish over Michigan in a Tuesday afternoon announcement.

    “The way they carry themselves and how they go about things at Notre Dame is something I really enjoy,” Simon told rivals.com. “Their reputation for being such a great academic institution was also very intriguing to me.”

    A U.S. Army All-American, rivals.com rates Simon the No. 9 outside linebacker in the class, the No. 4 prospect in New Jersey and the No. 138 overall recruit in the country. At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds and with developing, though already viable, coverage skills, Simon could project as Notre Dame’s next entry at rover, the preferred wrinkle to Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme.

    Currently, senior Drue Tranquill mans the position, but by the time Simon arrives on campus, Tranquill will be in his final year of eligibility, leaving only current-junior Asmar Bilal and freshman Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah ahead of Simon. Whereas Owusu-Koramoah is a safety moving up to rover, Simon could fill a role similar to Bilal, focusing on ground-dominant opponents while Owusu-Koramoah sees more action against pass-happy foes.

    Whether at rover or not, Notre Dame looks to be thin at linebacker in the coming years. Once current senior captains Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini depart, only junior Te’von Coney and sophomore Jonathan Jones would remain from last year’s depth chart, with sophomore Jamir Jones expected to slowly transition to the defensive line and freshmen David Adams and Drew White joining the program this summer.

    The class of 2018 already had two linebackers in the class — Simon joins rivals.com four-star Matthew Bauer (Cathedral Prep School; Erie, Pa.) and consensus three-star Ovie Oghoufo (Harrison High School; Farmington Hills, Mich.). Combined with Bauer, rivals.com’s No. 7 inside linebacker and No. 129 overall prospect, Simon could form a longtime mid-level partnership on Notre Dame’s defense.

    Simon’s commitment brings the Irish class to 14, after running back Jahmir Smith joined those ranks Sunday evening. Simon knows two of the earliest commitments in the class very well: He is teammates and classmates with the defensive linemen twins Jayson and Justin Ademilola.

    Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 7 Nick Watkins, cornerback

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    Listed Measurements: 6-foot-1, 203 pounds
    2017-18 year, eligibility: Senior with two years of eligibility remaining including the 2017 season.
    Depth chart: Partly due to his size, partly due to his seniority and partly due to his overall skill, Watkins is the likely starter at the boundary cornerback position this fall. Sophomore Donte Vaughn backs up Watkins, but it is more likely to be junior Shaun Crawford as the third cornerback on the field, though he is expected to focus on nickel back.
    Recruiting: A consensus four-star prospect, Watkins could have gone to about any school he wanted, receiving offers from Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State, just to name a few. His recruiting rankings may not have been as high as those offers would indicate since he did not take part in much of the camp circuit. Rivals.com rated the Under Armour All-American the No. 15 cornerback in the class of 2014, the No. 22 recruit in Texas and the No. 186 overall player in the country.

    CAREER TO DATE
    Originally, Watkins struggled to see much playing time because the Irish could rely on KeiVarae Russell and Cole Luke to man the position. When injuries decimated Notre Dame’s depth, Watkins got his first chance at genuine playing time against the dynamic Ohio State offense in the Fiesta Bowl following the 2015 season. He rose to the challenge, making three tackles and breaking up one pass against an offense filled with pro prospects.

    2014: 11 games almost entirely on special teams, no other statistics.
    2015: 12 games, one start (Ohio State), contributed both on special teams and as a defensive reserve, eight tackles.
    2016: A broken arm suffered in spring practice did not heal in time to make playing Watkins a worthwhile maneuver last season, thus preserving him a year of eligibility.

    QUOTE(S)
    A year lost to injury is never a positive thing, but Irish coach Brian Kelly pointed to some hidden perks to Watkins spending 2016 on the sidelines.

    “Nick is playing with a lot of confidence,” Kelly said in late March. “He’s long. He’s very coachable. He’s a great kid and [I] really like the way he’s competing out there. The season off obviously was in a lot of ways disappointing, but I think he benefited greatly from that year to see it, to learn. He’s had a really terrific offseason in the weight room and you can see his transition out of his break, breaking on the ball, playing physical at the line of scrimmage. Nice to have him back. He really gives us a presence out there that we’re starting to feel.”

    That presence is part of why the cornerbacks are now more often described as boundary and field positions, rather than left and right or strong side and weak side.

    “What I think [defensive coordinator] Mike [Elko] does really well … is we all have strengths and weaknesses,” Kelly said. “He has a great eye of saying let’s take Nick’s strengths and let’s put him in a position where we can really utilize his strengths. Maybe we’re not a right and left corner team — maybe we’re a short field, wide field. Let’s apply him in that fashion.

    “Nick’s long. He’s a little bit of a physical player and let’s go to those strengths. He’s shown some of those attributes early on.”

    WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
    Of all the injuries we tracked this offseason, Watkins’ broken arm seemed the least on the radar, though has a chance to be the most impactful. That Notre Dame’s medical staff is treating it aggressively says something about the player they think they have in Watkins — who Kelly said would be allowed to fight for a starting job once he’s physically able.

    “I’m no doctor — but that won’t stop me from evaluating Watkins’ progress. And for the most part, I don’t think it’s the best formula for success jumping into the mix with no training camp and limited time to get in shape at the most demanding position on Notre Dame’s roster.

    “While losing Watkins is a blow — especially with the length of these suspensions unknown — any chance to take a medical redshirt could be huge for Notre Dame’s depth, getting Watkins a chance to redo his junior season, capable of stepping in after Cole Luke departs.”

    2017 OUTLOOK
    In theory, a broken arm should not have lingering effects 18 months later. With that in mind, Watkins should have a strong hold on playing time this season. His performance against Ohio State may have been only one game, but it was such a promising showing there is a distinct temptation to forgo any sample size disclaimers.

    Watkins’ physicality can be applied on the boundary, where the sideline limits a receiver’s escape options. The question will be how long it takes Watkins to get back up to game speed, both mentally and physically. The latter half of that query may come down to instinct. As for his mental readjustment, Watkins may be the biggest beneficiary of the particular tendencies of the first few Irish opponents. Temple, Georgia and Michigan State all lean heavily on their run games, giving Watkins a few weeks to adjust to his first consistent collegiate playing time.

    DOWN THE ROAD
    Losing Watkins in 2016, along with a number of other defensive backs, undoubtedly played a role in the disappointing season. No one would say having him around in 2018 will be worth that trade, but it is a nice perk.

    Notre Dame’s cornerback depth will be a genuine asset the next two seasons. Having Watkins around for the second half of that will play a crucial part in stabilizing the position amid recent recruiting misses.


    2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
    Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
    No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
    No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
    No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
    No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
    No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 92)
    No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 95)
    No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
    No. 92: Jonathon MacCollister; defensive end (originally theorized as No. 46)
    No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
    No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
    No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
    No. 87: Michael Young, receiver (originally theorized as No. 84)
    No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
    No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
    No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end (originally theorized as No. 90)
    No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
    No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
    No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
    No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
    No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
    No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
    No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman (originally theorized as No. 65)
    No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 73)
    No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
    No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
    No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
    No. 71: Alex Bars, offensive lineman
    No. 70: Hunter Bivin, offensive lineman
    No. 69: Aaron Banks, offensive lineman
    No. 68: Mike McGlinchey, left tackle
    No. 67: Jimmy Byrne, offensive lineman
    No. 58: Elijah Taylor, defensive tackle
    No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman
    No. 56: Quenton Nelson, left guard
    No. 55: Jonathan Bonner, defensive lineman
    No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
    No. 53: Sam Mustipher, center
    No. 53: Khalid Kareem, defensive lineman
    No. 48: Greer Martini, inside linebacker
    No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, defensive end
    No. 45: Jonathan Jones, inside linebacker
    No. 44: Jamir Jones, linebacker/defensive lineman
    No. 42: Julian Okwara, defensive end
    No. 41: Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 94)
    No. 40: Drew White, linebacker
    No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, kicker (originally theorized as No. 52)
    No. 38: Deon McIntosh, running back/receiver
    No. 35: David Adams, linebacker
    No. 34: Tony Jones, Jr., running back
    No. 33: Josh Adams, running back
    No. 32: D.J. Morgan, safety
    No. 30: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, rover
    No. 29: Kevin Stepherson, receiver
    No. 28: Nicco Fertitta, safety
    No. 27: Julian Love, cornerback
    No. 26: Ashton White, safety
    No. 25: Jafar Armstrong, receiver (originally theorized as No. 87)
    No. 24: Nick Coleman, safety
    No. 23: Drue Tranquill, rover
    No. 22: Asmar Bilal, rover
    No. 21: Jalen Elliott, safety
    No. 20: Shaun Crawford, cornerback
    No. 19: Justin Yoon, kicker
    No. 18: Troy Pride, cornerback
    No. 17: Isaiah Robertson, safety
    No. 16: Cameron Smith, receiver
    No. 15: C.J. Holmes, running back
    No. 14: Devin Studstill, safety
    No. 13: Avery Davis, quarterback
    No. 13: Jordan Genmark Heath, safety
    No. 12: Ian Book, quarterback
    No. 12: Alohi Gilman, safety
    No. 11: Freddy Canteen, receiver
    No. 10: Chris Finke, receiver
    No. 9: Daelin Hayes, defensive end
    No. 8: Donte Vaughn, cornerback
    No. 7: Brandon Wimbush, quarterback

    TRANSFERS
    No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
    No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman
    No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

    INJURIES
    No. 13: Tyler Luatua, tight end, career ended by medical hardship