Counting down the Irish: 20-16

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Working off of yesterday’s kick-off to the Top 25 players on the Irish roster, we’re ready to roll out the next five members of the Irish Top-25.

But first, a few observations:

* 2/3s of us put Nick Tausch in the top-fifth of the roster, which makes sense when you consider that a football team has 11 starters on offense and defense and a few key reserves. That said, I’m not just giving the job to Tausch after the season that David Ruffer had. For all the wonderful walk-on to hero stories in ND lore, Ruffer’s heroics got lost in the wash while the season went down hill.

* Mike Ragone was another popular name, with three people putting him at 22. While it looks like ResLife isn’t going to take a chunk out of Ragone’s season, I’m hesitant to rely on him as an offensive playmaker until I start hearing good news out of preseason camp on Ragone. While most of us realize that Ragone has gotten a tremendous opportunity, what he makes of it will determine his impact this season.

* Shaq Evans only made one Top-25 list (unless he’s ranked higher than 16 on somebody’s board), which puts into perspective the hype vs. impact conundrum that occurs with high-ranking wide receiver prospects. For every Michael Floyd that walks in the door and makes a difference there are guys like Shaq and Deion Walker, two highly-touted prospects that aren’t quite ready for primetime.

Without further ado…

IRISH TOP 25: 20-16

Frank of UHND.com

20. Darrin Walls, CB: Expected a lot more out of Walls last year. Hopefully Chuck Martin can help Walls fulfill some of his potential in 2010.
19. Gary Gray, CB: Gray was the most consistent Irish corner in 2009. Why he didn’t play more I have no idea.
18. Harrison Smith, DB: Toughest player on the team to rank. Talent is clearly there — production hasn’t been.
17. Zach Martin, LT: Hasn’t played much but was a fast riser in spring ball and could be the starting LT. If he is, let’s hope this ranking is too low.
16. Kapron Lewis-Moore, DE: Was a training camp star last year, but was inconsistent in the fall.

Anthony of ClashmoreMike.com

20. Robert Blanton, CB: Good one-on-one cover skills and strong in run support.
19. Theo Riddick, WR: Speed and quickness should prove valuable in the slot.
18. Ian Williams, NT: Interior defensive lineman has shown flashes of great play, needs improved consistency.
17. Cierre Wood, RB: Excellent straight-line speed, great in the open field.
16. Jamoris Slaughter, DB: Hard hitting safety brings plenty of athleticism to the position.

Matt of HerLoyalSons.com

20. Nick Tausch, K: Consistency at the kicker position at Notre Dame? Sign me up!
19. Ian Williams, NT: Former 1st team All-Freshman after 40 tackles, followed up with a 2009 with 39 tackles.
18. Chris Stewart, LG: Once the size of a planet, the man can do a split and about 20 more pull-ups than I can manage. But can he block?
17. Braxston Cave, C: Enjoys pain, suffering, and long walks on the beach — for other people.
16. Jonas Gray, RB: Quick, shifty, versatile. Perhaps ideal one-back type for a Kelly offense.

Chris and Matt of RakesofMallow.com

20. Cierre Wood, RB: What the speedster from Oxnard, CA lacks in experience he more than makes up for with confidence.
19. Theo Riddick, WR: Riddick showed flashes of dynamism last season, but also looked like a true frosh at times (Opening play fumble vs. Stanford). Look for him to show his explosiveness in the kick return game this season.
18. Darrin Walls, CB: Last chance for the speedy, but inconsistent corner.
17. Jonas Gray, RB: Fumbling issues have bugged Gray in his first two years, but his size, speed, and toughness are frequently lauded by fans.
16. Brian Smith, LB: I may catch some grief for having “Puppy” this high, but I think the switch back to the outside, and to the 3-4 defense, will keep Smith out of the doghouse.

Pat, man of the people:

20. Brian Smith, LB: It really is now or never for Smith, and while he made a lot of mistakes, he did have 71 tackles last season, 5.5 TFL, and 1.5 sacks along with 2 INTs.
19. Darrin Walls, CB: Seemed to regress last season, but he did miss a year and hopefully can duplicate his early performances.
18. Cierre Wood, RB: The first recipient of my “Really Looking Forward to Seeing Him in a Real Game” award based on his Blue-Gold Game performance.
17. Trevor Robinson, OL: While he may have underperformed to some people so far, he has been a two-year starter and should be a lineman-to-watch next season.
16. TJ Jones, WR: His performance in the spring game co-earned him my “Really Looking Forward to Seeing Him in a Real Game” award.

Keith:

20. Zack Martin, LT: From redshirt to blind side, it’s clear that the coaching staff must be pretty high on Martin. Spread offense or not, that’s high praise for the Indy native.
19. Duval Kamara, WR: While his career trajectory hasn’t been what anyone wanted, he’s still got a nice set of tools. In his senior year, it’ll be up to Duval to prove he’s also got a rock-solid tool-box to carry them in. I think the coaching change will be a big help.
18. Steve Filer, OLB: Ultimate wild-card. Hopefully Bob Diaco’s 3-4 defense will be the key to turning one of the Irish’s best athletes into a front-line defender.
17. Jamoris Slaughter, DB: I’m high on this jack-of-all-trades defensive back, who I think will bring better cover skills to safety than Kyle McCarthy, who he’ll be replacing.
16. Robert Hughes, RB: Hughes very well might be the man lost in the shuffle, but he’s a big body that can catch the ball out of the backfield, something BK will hopefully utilize.
 

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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