Offseason Cheatsheet: Quarterbacks


As we count the days until Purdue week officially begins, let’s kick off another installment: The Offseason Cheatsheet. While most of you have been loyal readers and checking back multiple times each day, some of you are cramming for the Irish football season that’s 18 days away. Consider this your Du Lac approved crib-sheet for the upcoming season.


With the departure of three-year starter Jimmy Clausen to the NFL, the Irish depth chart lacks any quarterback with significant playing time. That said, the succession plan post-Clausen is falling into form with junior Dayne Crist ready to take the helm, albeit a season early than many Irish fans hoped. While his offseason was thrown a curve ball when a torn ACL suffered in mop-up time against Washington State ended his 2009 season in San Antonio, Crist rehabbed diligently through the winter, took every snap during spring drills, and is injury free and full-speed in fall camp. The battle to back up Crist starts with walk-on Nate Montana and early enrollee freshman Tommy Rees. Fellow freshman Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa are also pushing for a spot on the depth chart, but both will likely preserve a year of eligibility this season.


Short a program? Here’s every quarterback listed on roster:

  No.       Name                   Yr.      Ht./Wt.      Hometown/High School
  10         Dayne Crist          Jr.      6-4/235     Canoga Park, CA (Notre Dame)
  12         Andrew Hendrix   Fr.      6-2/218     Cincinnati, OH (Moeller)
  13         Tommy Rees        Fr.      6-2/210     Lake Forest, IL (Lake Forest)
  14         Luke Massa         Fr.       6-4/215    Cincinnati, OH (St. Xavier)
  15         Brian Costello      Sr.       6-2/210    Pittsburgh, PA (Chartiers Valley)
  16         Nate Montana      Jr.       6-4/215    Concord, CA (De La Salle)
  17         Matthew Mulvey   Jr.       6-2/191    Del Mar, CA (La Jolla)


On Crist: “At the end of the day, this whole conversation can be in a few
words: Dayne Crist is getting better every day,” Kelly
said. “The rest of this other stuff? It’s good. But
it’s really going to focus on Dayne’s ability and the upshot is, he’s
doing a nice job.”

On Rees: “He’s really savvy. He’s a smart kid. He has those intangibles of a
quarterback relative to seeing things before they open up. He can
anticipate very well. The ball comes out of his hand.
I want to be careful in saying he’s not number two just because he was
here longer than the other two freshmen. I think I said at the outset,
he showed us early on that he can run this offense.”

On Montana: “Nate’s problem is he has a really good day and then a really bad day. I
got to get him more consistent because Tommy’s been really consistent.”

On Hendrix: “He’s got a very strong arm. I think what stands out about Andrew is
that he’s only been a starter for a year and a half. He has not played a
lot of football. His best football is clearly in front of him.”

On Massa: “Very smart, very disciplined. He’s 6’5″, 205 pounds. He’s going to be
really big. He’s going to be a strong player. He’s got great feet,
outstanding basketball player.”


In a perfect world, the only quarterback that sees the field this year for the Irish is Dayne Crist. If all goes well, expect Crist to receive some postseason kudos and begin next season in a similar position to Brady Quinn entering his senior season, in the conversation for a certain trophy that just gave Reggie Bush the stiff-arm. Other hunches: Expect Tommy Rees to supplant Nate Montana as the primary back-up to Crist by the middle of the season. With three freshman quarterbacks on the roster, don’t expect the Irish to take a quarterback in this recruiting class unless somebody really wows the staff. Even if there’s nobody in that recruiting slot this year, expect to say goodbye to one of the three freshman. Attrition and logic, along with a lack of playing time, means somebody will leave South Bend to pursue playing time at another school.


C+ With Crist on the top of the depth chart, it’s too hard to knock the Irish, but the depth chart behind him is scary, even if Kelly’s known for having a quarterback friendly system.


Restocking the roster: Offensive Line

Notre Dame offensive line

When Notre Dame takes the field this spring, there’ll be two very large holes in the offensive line that need filling. All-American left tackle Ronnie Stanley is gone. As is captain Nick Martin at center. Both three-year starters leave Harry Hiestand with some big decisions to make in the coming months as the Irish look to fill those key positions and still field a unit with the ability to dominate in the trenches.

The Irish have had incredible stability at left tackle, with Stanley sliding in seamlessly after four seasons of Zack Martin. Perhaps the best six-year run in the program’s storied history at the position, Stanley will likely join Martin as a first-rounder, back-to-back starters at a key spot that often dictates the play of one of the most important units on the field.

Replacing Nick Martin could prove equally tricky. Rising junior Sam Mustipher served as Martin’s backup in 2015, filing in capably for Martin after an ankle sprain took him off the field briefly against UMass. But Mustipher will face a challenge this spring from rising sophomore Tristen Hoge, the first true center recruited by Hiestand and Brian Kelly since they arrived in South Bend.

Kelly talked about 2017 being a big cycle on the recruiting trail for restocking the offensive line. You can see why when you look at the depth, particularly at tackle. Let’s look at the work that’s been done the previous two classes as Notre Dame continues to be one of the premier programs recruiting in the trenches.


Ronnie Stanley
, Sr. (39 starts)
Nick Martin, Grad Student (37 starts)
Mark Harrell, Sr* (No Starts, fifth-year available)

*Harrell’s departure is not confirmed, though expected.  

Tristen Hoge
, C
Trevor Ruhland
, G
Jerry Tillery
, T
Parker Boudreaux
, G
Tommy Kraemer
, T
Liam Eichenberg
, T

Hunter Bivin, T
Quenton Nelson, LG
Sam Mustipher, C
Steve Elmer, RG
Mike McGlinchey, RT

Alex Bars, T
Colin McGovern,* G/T
Tristen Hoge*, C
John Montelus*, G
Jimmy Byrne*, G
Trevor Ruhland*, G

*Has an additional year of eligibility remaining. 

It’ll be a fascinating spring up front for the offensive line. We’ll get our first look at potential replacements and see if the Irish staff values a veteran presence (as it has done in the past) or puts former blue-chip recruits in position to become multi-year starters.

For now, I’m putting last season’s backups in line to ascend to starting spots. That’s not to say I think that’s what’ll happen. Hunter Bivin may have been Stanley’s backup last season, but as long as Alex Bars is fully recovered from his broken ankle, I think he’s the best bet to step into that job. Sharing reps at guard—not a natural spot for Bars to begin with—was more about getting him some experience, with the aim to move him into the lineup in 2016. That allows Bivin to be a key swing reserve, capable of playing on either the right or left side.

At center, the decision is less clear cut—especially since we’ve yet to see Tristen Hoge play a snap of football. Size and strength is a genuine concern at the point of attack for Hoge, not necessarily the biggest guy hitting campus. But it sounds like he’s had a nice first season from a developmental standpoint, and if he’s a true technician at the position, he could be a rare four-year starter at center if he’s able to pull ahead of Mustipher this spring.

On paper, the other three starting jobs don’t seem to be in question. Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey are ready to step to the forefront. Concerns about Steve Elmer’s buy-in will certainly be answered by spring, there’s little chance he’ll be on the field in March if he’s not going to be around in August. I’m of the mind that Elmer’s too good of a character guy to leave the program, even if his life doesn’t revolve around football 24/7. Now it’s time for him to clean up some of the flaws in his game, the only starter from last season who held back the Irish from being a truly elite group.

Depth isn’t necessarily a concern, but there isn’t a ton of it at tackle. That happens when you move a guy like Jerry Tillery to defensive line and lose a player like Stanley with a year of eligibility remaining. That could force the Irish to cross-train someone like Colin McGovern, a veteran who can swing inside or out if needed. McGovern seems to be a guy who would start in a lot of other programs, but has struggled to crack a two-deep that’s now filled with former blue-chip recruits, all of them essentially handpicked by Hiestand and Kelly.

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

Notre Dame v Florida State

Some believe that the best way to look at recruiting is in two-year increments. As programs rebuild and rosters turn over, covering the needs of a football team over two recruiting cycles  allows a coaching staff to balance its roster.

That balance is critical to the health of a program. And it’s not just the work of a rebuilding coach. As we saw in Brian Kelly’s sixth season, injuries, attrition and scheme change impacted the defense, especially in the secondary.

Another position set to deal with major change is wide receiver. Gone is All-American Will Fuller, departing South Bend after three years, scoring 29 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He’ll look to run his way into the first round of the NFL Draft. Also gone are veterans Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, putting the Irish in an unenviable position, needing to replace the team’s three leading receivers.

Reinforcements aren’t just on the way, they’re already on campus. While there’s not a ton of production to see, the recruiting stockpile has created a chance to reload for Mike Denbrock’s troop. So let’s take a look at the additions and subtractions on the roster, analyzing the two-year recruiting run as we restock the receiving corps.

Will Fuller
, Jr. (62 catches, 1,258 yards, 14 TDs)
Chris Brown, Sr. (48 catches, 597 yards, 4 TDs)
Amir Carlisle, GS (32 catches, 355 yards, 1 TD)
Jalen Guyton, Fr. (transfer)


Equanimeous St. Brown

Miles Boykin*
CJ Sanders
Jalen Guyton
Chase Claypool*
Javon McKinley*
Kevin Stepherson*


Corey Robinson, Sr.
Torii Hunter, Sr.*
Justin Brent, Jr.*
Corey Holmes, Jr.*
CJ Sanders, Soph.
Miles Boykin, Soph.*
Equanimeous St. Brown, Soph.
Kevin Stepherson, Fr.*


Brian Kelly expects St. Brown to step into Will Fuller’s shoes. If the Irish are able to pluck another sophomore from obscurity to the national spotlight, it’ll say quite a bit about the depth and productivity the Irish staff has built at the position. At 6-foot-5, St. Brown has a more tantalizing skill-set than Fuller—and he was a national recruit out of a Southern California powerhouse. But until we see St. Brown burn past defenders and make big plays, assuming the Irish won’t miss Fuller is a big leap of faith.

The next objective of the spring is getting Corey Robinson back on track. The rising senior had a forgettable junior season, ruined by injuries and some bruised confidence. A player who has shown flashes of brilliance during his three seasons in South Bend, the time is now for Robinson, not just as a performer but as an on-field leader.

Torii Hunter Jr. is also poised for a big season. After finding reps at slot receiver and possessing the versatility to see the field from multiple spots, Hunter needs to prove in 2016 that he’s not just a utility man but an everyday starter. His hands, smooth athleticism and speed should have him primed for a breakout. But Hunter might not want to stay in the slot if CJ Sanders is ready to take over. After a big freshman season on special teams, Sanders looks ready to make his move into the lineup, perhaps the purest slot receiver Brian Kelly has had since he arrived in South Bend.

The rest of the spring depth chart should have modest goals, though all face rather critical offseasons. Justin Brent is three years into his college career and the biggest headlines he’s made have been off the field. Whether he sticks at receiver or continues to work as a reserve running back remains to be seen. Corey Holmes is another upperclassman who we still can’t figure out. Will he ascend into the rotation with the top three veterans gone, or will he give way to some talented youngsters?

Miles Boykin earned praise last August, but it didn’t get him time on the field. He’ll enter spring with four years of eligibility, same as early-enrollee Kevin Stepherson. The Irish staff thinks Stepherson has the type of deep speed that they covet, capable of running past cornerbacks and stretching a defense. Boykin has size and physicality that could present intriguing options for an offense that’ll be less reliant on one man now that Fuller is gone.

Live Video Mailbag: 40-year decision, more BVG, freshmen and more


We’ve done plenty of mailbags, but this is our first shot at a Live Video Mailbag. This should be a better way to answer more questions and hopefully interact with a few of you as we try to work off some of yesterday’s Super Bowl snacks.

Topics on the list: The 40-year decision, more Brian VanGorder talk, the incoming (and redshirt) freshmen and a whole lot more.