Five things we learned: Notre Dame's Junior Day

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It’s been four months since I’ve had a chance to categorize my thoughts by number, so I thought I’d bust out a “Five Things,” for Brian Kelly’s first Junior Day. As mentioned previously, Saturday’s efforts netted the Irish defensive end prospect Brad Carrico as the first commitment to Kelly’s 2011 crew, but it also laid the groundwork for a class that is essential to Brian Kelly’s rebuilding of a Notre Dame football program stuck in neutral after five years of Charlie Weis.

While there’s not too much you can take out of a recruiting weekend nearly a year before Signing Day, here are five things we learned this weekend:

1) Brian Kelly is selling Notre Dame.

This is hardly revolutionary, but many worried that the Irish would be short changed after losing Charlie Weis, a head coach as pro-Notre Dame as humanly possible. While BK didn’t sit in the student section and visit Father Hesburgh as a college student, it doesn’t take a diploma from the institution to be able to promote Notre Dame.

Sampling the reactions of visitors, to a man we heard the value of a Notre Dame education and the history and tradition of Notre Dame football, letting us know clearly that the Irish staff worked the Notre Dame playbook accordingly. Kelly and his staff were happy to cite the graduation statistics and lean on the value of a Notre Dame degree after football, just as Weis, Willingham, Davie, and Holtz all did. It’s not rocket science, but it’s reassuring that the staff wasn’t afraid to start with what works and move on from there.

Combining the academic package, the prowess of Kelly and his coaching staff, with the top-notch facilities, and there’s no reason to worry about Kelly and his staff being able to properly promote a university where they’re just getting comfortable.

2) The Irish aren’t afraid of blue chips.

When Brian Kelly started talking about the “right kind of guys,” many worried that recruiting RKGs would mean the end of the Irish chasing top flight recruits. This weekend proved that was a myth, and the early returns on the weekend visits with those players was impressive for the coaching staff.

Players like Illinois wide receivers Davaris Daniels and Evan Spencer, New Mexico left tackle Matthew Hegarty, Kansas quarterback Bubba Starling, and Michigan running back Justice Hayes proved that this staff can wow a blue-chip player, and question marks now seem like trump cards when you look at the staff Kelly assembled. It’s looking more and more now that coaches like Bobby Diaco, Kerry Cooks, Ed Warinner, and Mike Elston will be closers to compliment guys like Tony Alford and head coach Brian Kelly.

Of course, a positive Junior Day is hardly proof that this staff has the chops to cut it in the open waters of high stakes recruiting, but things are certainly trending up for the Irish.

3) Expect some serious roster shuffling.

With Spring Practice opening Friday, expect some serious shuffling on the Irish roster. While the move of Theo Riddick has been confirmed, whispers of a position change for players like Cierre Wood and Lane Clelland have come from some very good sources.

One of the best parts of bringing in a new coaching staff is the objectivity they’ll have evaluating the talent on the roster. For better or worse, the connections between the players and the previous staff is gone. There are no big-name recruiting victories, only unproven football players on a roster. If Brian Kelly’s propensity to shift players to different positions holds true, expect some athletes to be moved to positions of need, especially safety and defensive end.

4) Carrico is a good start.

The signing of Brad Carrico supplies the Irish with a big body from a pipeline school at a position of need. Expect this Irish coaching staff, extremely confident in their ability to develop players, to follow that formula to fill needs and sign capable players.

Recruiting services like Rivals are getting better and better at evaluating high-end skill talent, but when it comes to offensive and defensive lineman — just like it does for coaching staffs — prognosticating who has what it takes to excel is still difficult. If Kelly and his staff can find players that fit the proper mold from geographical areas that this coaching staff has on lock-down, they won’t wait for other schools to validate their scholarship offer.

5) Expect the Spring Game to add more names.

The Irish have another big weekend on the horizon, and expect the Blue-Gold game to be another showcase weekend. With the recruiting timetable on quarterbacks already accelerated, and a few other recruits getting closer to making a commitment to the Irish, don’t be surprised if the Irish recruiting class swells to around five players by the end of Spring Practice. If the staff can have five committed athletes by April 24th’s Blue-Gold game, consider it a great start.

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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