Upcoming Junior Day could net Kelly first 2011 commitment

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This Saturday, Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame coaching staff will have their first Junior Day on campus as a complete staff. While this will hardly go down in media guides as an important day in the Brian Kelly era, this is probably the most important day of recruiting that Kelly has had since taking the job in South Bend.

Recent reports say that Kelly will have upwards of 30 recruits on campus, nearly half with pending scholarship offers from the coaching staff. While a late January recruiting weekend already netted the staff a few late pickups that added some much needed depth to the 2010 recruiting class, this Junior Day will be even more important, as the Irish coaches will have a full allotment of offers available and their hand-picked recruits, all with open ears to the Irish’s recruiting pitch.

While there will be plenty of movement on this list in the next few days, here’s a quick look at some of the key targets arriving in South Bend this weekend that already have an offer from the Irish:

DEFENSE:

Defensive End
Brennen Beyer – Canton, MI: Wolverines among impressive list for this lanky defender.
Clay Burton – Venice, FL: Lanky defensive end with national offers.
Brad Carrico – Dublin, OH: Pipeline recruit many suspect as first official commit.
Chris Rock – Columbus, OH: Doesn’t have offer yet from OSU, but plenty of interest nationally.

Defensive Tackle
Vincent Croce – Olney, MD: Staff’s only DT offer has others from ACC and Big Ten teams.

Defensive Backs
Eilar Hardy – Pickerington, OH: Good size for a CB, and the offers to prove it.
Albert Louis-Jean – Brockton, MA:  Big DB, Irish will battle Miami and BC among others.
Blake Countess – Owings Mills, MD: Lightning quick DB has speed to impress.

Linebackers
Jarrett Grace – Cincinnati, OH: Kelly & Co. have had plenty of time to recruit this jumbo backer.
 
OFFENSE:

Offensive Tackle
Brendon Austin – Parker, CO: Athletic tackle has Irish in his top three schools.
Matthew Hegarty – Aztec, NM: Coast to coast offers for this elite tackle prospect.

Wide Receiver
DeAnthony Arnett – Saginaw, MI: National recruit that’s high on the Irish.
Davaris Daniels – Vernon Hills, IL: Son of current NFLer has national slate of offers.
Devin Smith – Massilon, OH: Pure athlete with plenty of Big Ten offers.
Evan Spencer – Vernon Hills, IL: Another elite WR from North Chicago suburbs.

Running Back
Justice Hayes – Grand Blanc, MI: Much of the Midwest going after dynamic runner.

Quarterback
Braxton Miller – Huber Heights, OH: True Blue Chip. Kelly already has relationship built.
Bubba Starling – Gardner, KS: Lanky athlete with great upside. Also MLB prospect.

A few thoughts:

* It’s easy to see the recruiting footprint that the Irish staff has set. Eleven of the offered recruits that are visiting are from Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan, three states that this staff knows extremely well. With Rich Rodriguez expanding the traditional recruiting areas for Michigan and with Kelly’s recent success in the state of Ohio, not to mention the incredibly hot seat that Illinois coach Ron Zook finds himself on, this could be a historically good time for the Irish to try to reclaim their roots.

* All those afraid that Kelly wouldn’t target top-notch talent, fear not. The Irish may have some offers out to some very big fish. Kelly proved in January that he had the belief in his evaluation methods to offer an unknown like Bruce Heggie. He proves with his pursuit of Matthew Hegarty and other elite prospects that he’s not afraid to mix it up in the rarefied air of the recruiting world, too.

* The quarterback carousel should get started soon, and once one elite quarterback declares his choice, expect others to follow. I think the Irish are in a very good place with quarterbacks right now, and Kelly’s well-established relationship to Braxton Miller will certainly help in his recruitment. That said, the Irish would be very happy with either quarterback visiting, as Starling has a unique blend of athleticism that could wreak havoc on opposing defenses in Kelly’s spread attack.

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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