Daniel Smith

Bowl game depth chart released

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With preparations complete for the Sun Bowl, Notre Dame released its bowl game depth chart, which had a few interesting surprises, namely Daniel Smith’s first inclusion on the two-deep.

Here’s the rest of the offensive depth chart:


Duval Kamara
John Goodman
TJ Jones


Theo Riddick
Robby Toma
TJ Jones


Zack Martin
Andrew Nuss


Chris Stewart
Chris Watt


Braxston Cave
Mike Golic Jr.


Trevor Robinson
Mike Golic Jr.


Taylor Dever
Matt Romine


Tyler Eifert
Mike Ragone


Michael Floyd
Daniel Smith


Tommy Rees
Nate Montana


Cierre Wood
Robert Hughes
Jonas Gray

Notes on offense:

It’s interesting to see Daniel Smith’s name behind Michael Floyd, and the 6-foot-4, 208-pound freshman clearly looks like he’s impressed the coaching staff during the bowl season practices, and his ascension into the two-deep after playing on special teams could be the reward for his efforts. If Floyd decides to head to the NFL a year early, Smith might be the guy that fills in for him at that physical outside wide receiver spot, and those will certainly be big shoes to fill.

As we mentioned yesterday, Dan Wenger returning could add another veteran name to the interior of the offensive line, where Mike Golic Jr. is the primary backup at both center and right guard. The Irish will also have youngsters like Alex Bullard ready to enter the mix, and potentially veterans like Andrew Nuss and Matt Romine battling on the outside of the offensive line.

TJ Jones looks like the odd-man out and seems to have been displaced at starter by Duval Kamara, who has come on when the Irish needed him down the stretch. Jones was nicked up for a while, and will likely see the field in some speed packages, with Theo Riddick back in the slot and Robby Toma playing too well to be kept off the field completely.

Defensive depth chart:


Ethan Johnson
Hafis Williams


Ian Williams
Sean Cwynar


Kapron Lewis-Moore
Emeka Nwankwo


Darus Fleming
Prince Shembo


Brian Smith
Carlo Calabrese


Manti Te’o
Anthony McDonald


Kerry Neal
Steve Filer


Darrin Walls
Lo Wood


Harrison Smith
Chris Salvi


Zeke Motta
Jamoris Slaughter


Gary Gray
Robert Blanton

With Danny McCarthy’s surgery, walk-on Chris Salvi reappears in the two-deep at safety, meaning that Harrison Smith, Zeke Motta and Jamoris Slaughter will get all the work they can handle, while Robert Blanton will continue to play in nickel situations. The fact that Motta is listed in front of Slaughter shows you the progress Motta has made at safety this season, playing rock solid football and improving quite a bit in pass coverage. Every safety returns next season (minus Salvi) and while the depth chart is still thin, expect them only to improve with another year of Chuck Martin’s tutelage.

At linebacker, Brian Smith continues his run at inside backer, bumping Carlo Calabrese into a backup role and allowing Steve Filer to get back into the mix at the ‘Dog’ backer position. Filer’s athleticism is still abundant and maybe next season can be that renaissance many expected this year. If you’re looking for a position to watch in spring, linebacker could be it, with guys like Prince Shembo, Danny Spond and Dan Fox impressing the staff enough to get in the mix at outside backer while Darius Fleming continues to improve at the ‘Cat’ position.

Don’t expect Sean Cwynar to just disappear now that Ian Williams is back in the middle. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco will now have the ability to use Cwynar in four-down sets as well as to give Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore a breather. The front seven of the Irish should be able to control the line of scrimmage against the Hurricanes, forcing Jacory Harris into some bad decisions.



Report: Tarean Folston won’t return for fifth year

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Tarean Folston will declare for the NFL Draft. The senior running back, who has a fifth-year of eligibility available after a medical redshirt in 2014, will instead turn his focus to preparing for the professional ranks. Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman broke the news, confirming the decision with Folston.

The departure wasn’t totally unexpected, though Folston was also a candidate for a graduate transfer. But after running for 1,712 yards over four years, the 214-pound back will hope an NFL team takes a shot on him, likely looking at tape of Folston the underclassmen to make their evaluation.

The Cocoa, Florida native burst onto the scene as a freshman against Navy when he ran for 140 yards on 18 carries in the Irish’s 38-34 win. He was Notre Dame’s leading rusher in 2014, running for 889 yards and 5.1 yards per carry  and six scores in 2014.

Expected to do big things in 2015, Folston’s season lasted just three carries, a torn ACL suffered against Texas in the season opener. After Josh Adams emerged that season, Folston fell behind him in the depth chart, getting just 77 carries in 2016.

The move clarifies a depth chart that looked to be unchanged heading into next season. But with Folston’s exit, rising sophomore Tony Jones will join Adams and Dexter Williams in the rotation. Fellow sophomore Deon Macintosh and incoming freshman C.J. Holmes will also compete for playing time.

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach


Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”




Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

ASU Sports Information

Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.