Week one depth chart released

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While Brian Kelly doesn’t address the media until tomorrow, the two-deep depth chart for Purdue has been released.

Here’s the depth-chart on offense (returning starters in CAPS):

WR 7   TJ Jones 5-11 187 Fr.
       18 DUVAL KAMARA 6-4 225 Sr.

WR 6 Theo Riddick 5-11 198 So.
       19 Robby Toma 5-9 175 So.

LT 70 Zack Martin 6-4 290 So.
     77 Matt Romine 6-5 292 Sr.

LG 59 CHRIS STEWART 6-5 351 Sr.
      66 Chris Watt 6-3 310 So.

C 52 Braxston Cave 6-3 301 Jr.
    51 Dan Wenger 6-4 298 Sr.

RG 78 Trevor Robinson 6-5 295 Jr.
       57 Mike Golic Jr. 6-3 290 Jr.

RT 75 Taylor Dever 6-5 297 Sr.
      76 Andrew Nuss 6-5 297 Sr.

TE 9 Kyle Rudolph 6-6 265 Jr.
     80 Tyler Eifert 6-6 242 So.

WR 3 Michael Floyd 6-3 227 Jr.
       81 John Goodman 6-3 207 Jr.

QB 10 Dayne Crist 6-4 235 Jr.
       13 Tommy Rees 6-2 210 Fr.

RB 5 Armando Allen Jr. 5-10 205 Sr.
      20 Cierre Wood 6-0 210 So.

Some quick observations:

* TJ Jones beat out Duval Kamara for the outside spot opposite Michael Floyd. Obviously, Kamara is still going to see the field, but this is impressive work by Jones, who obviously has done nothing but wow people since arriving on campus.

* It’s also a surprise to see Robby Toma’s name in the two-deep. Many were shocked when Toma worked his way into the rotation last season, and he’s done the same thing this season, continuing to outwork and out-perform some highly touted recruits.

* The battle for the back-up quarterback seems to have gone to Tommy Rees, who is listed behind Dayne Crist. Kelly’s been complimentary about Rees’ work, so this isn’t exactly a surprise, but I think this could be a week-to-week thing.

* Braxston Cave gets the nod at center, which Dan Wenger conceded last week when discussing his set back with a concussion. This is another job that I think still has a few twists and turns, and if Cave can’t master the mental demands of the position, expect to see Wenger on the field quickly.

* No Shaq Evans on the depth chart. There have been whispers that he’s frustrated, but he’ll have plenty of opportunities to find his way onto the field against Purdue in multi-wide packages. We’ll see what kind of football player Shaq is by how he deals with this. 

Defense Depth Chart:

DE 90 Ethan Johnson 6-4 285 Jr.
      94 Hafis Williams 6-1 285 Jr.

NG 95 IAN WILLIAMS 6-2 305 Sr.
      98 Sean Cwynar 6-4 280 Jr.

DE 89 Kapron Lewis-Moore 6-4 283 Jr.
      91 Emeka Nwankwo 6-4 290 Sr.

OLB 45 Darius Fleming 6-2 247 Jr.
         55 Prince Shembo 6-2 243 Fr.

ILB 44 Carlo Calabrese 6-1 240 So.
       54 Anthony McDonald 6-2 238 Jr.

ILB 5 Manti Te’o 6-2 245 So.
      13 Danny Spond 6-2 225 Fr.

OLB 56 Kerry Neal 6-2 245 Sr.
         58 BRIAN SMITH 6-3 243 Sr.

CB 2 Darrin Walls 6-0 190 Sr.
      23 Lo Wood 5-10 178 Fr.

S 22 HARRISON SMITH 6-2 214 Sr.
   15 Dan McCarthy 6-2 205 Jr.

S 26 Jamoris Slaughter 6-0 195 Jr.
    17 Zeke Motta 6-2 210 So.

CB 4 Gary Gray 5-11 190 Sr.
     12 Robert Blanton 6-1 192 Jr.

Some defensive observations:

* I’m not sure if it’s because of injuries, but Danny Spond’s name on the two-deep at inside linebacker is eye-popping. Here’s a 225-pound, true freshman that was a high school quarterback on the depth chart at the Mike ‘backer position. Brian Kelly called Spond a dynamic player, but this is pretty amazing.

* Another freshman finding his way into the two-deep is Prince Shembo. It’s interesting that both Shembo and Spond are backing up two of the defensive cornerstones, but it still means that both of these guys will be ready to play from day one.

* Kerry Neal has the starting spot ahead of incumbent Brian Smith, something that still surprises me, even though Kelly has been mentioning Neal’s name for the past week or two. I’ve got a feeling that Smith, Neal, and Steve Filer will be seeing plenty of the field this weekend.

* Carlo Calabrese is the starting inside ‘backer opposite Manti Te’o, and Anthony McDonald is on the depth chart as well, meaning he’s at least questionable for the game this Saturday. We’ll likely hear more about the injuries to both McDonald and Steve Paskorz, but if you’re looking for a position thin on depth, middle linebacker is one of them for sure.

* No real surprises in the secondary, but I’m interested to see how the DBs come out and play after the mediocre season they had last year. If there’s a position coach that I’m confident in, it’s Chuck Martin, and we’ll see if he earns his keep come Saturday.

 

Restocking the roster: Offensive Line

Notre Dame offensive line
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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.

 

DEPARTURES
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.  

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Tristen Hoge
, C
Trevor Ruhland
, G
Jerry Tillery
, T
Parker Boudreaux
, G
Tommy Kraemer
, T
Liam Eichenberg
, T

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
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. 

ANALYSIS:
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
Getty
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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.

DEPARTURES
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)

 

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Equanimeous St. Brown

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

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
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.*

 

ANALYSIS
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

BVG
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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.

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