Gunner Kiel

Irish recruiting targets getting five-star treatment

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If you’re looking for a way too early listing of five-star recruits, SI.com has an interesting list that includes quite a few Notre Dame targets, namely Arik Armstead, Dorial Green-Beckham, Andrus Peat, and Gunner Kiel, names we mentioned earlier in the week.

Here’s the rationale SI.com (with a special assist from 247Sports.com) gave for awarding these recruits five-star ratings:

Arik Armstead:

The towering athlete stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 280 pounds. He is far from maxed out physically, and he has incredible athleticism and explosiveness at that size. In fact, the one problem with comparing Armstead to the dominant tackles of past classes is that he could very well end up on the defensive side of the ball because of his rare versatility and athleticism.

Dorial Green-Beckham:

Green-Beckham is undoubtedly one of the top athletes in the country in any sport in the class of 2012. He is one of the nation’s top football players, too. He has tremendous strength as a receiver because of his advanced size and frame. He has the ability to run away from defenders because of his elite speed. He even has soft hands and route-running ability. He has accumulated more than 2,300 receiving yards in the last two seasons.

Andrus Peat:

For an offensive lineman, size is only the first part of the equation. Peat has that (6-6, 280), but what makes him special is the athleticism that accompanies his size. For a big kid, Peat is extremely athletic getting downfield and on the run. He has great feet in pass protection, and is light-footed at his size. He is also explosive at the point of attack, showing the strength to issue a punch and the mindset to finish a block. Peat has plenty of pedigree to his credit, as well. Father Todd Peat Sr. is a seven-year NFL veteran and brother Todd Peat Jr. was one of the top prospects in the class of 2011 and signed with Nebraska. It’s a strong statement, but Andrus may be the best of the Peat bunch.

Gunner Kiel:

In what is shaping up to be a fantastic year for quarterbacks, Kiel gets the first nod as the best of the bunch. With good size, a strong arm, a quick release and good accuracy, Kiel has all of the tools. But he also has the intangibles.

Kiel is a competitive, physical kid who can take a hit, deliver a hit and make plays with his feet if necessary. He exhibits the same kind of play-making ability that has been Andrew Luck’s signature over the past two seasons at Stanford. With elite quarterbacks like Zeke Pike, Jameis Winston, Connor Brewer and others in the class of 2012, Kiel will need all of those competitive juices to maintain the top spot.

The fact that the top quarterback in the country happens to live in Indiana and also has family ties to the Irish is a pretty good bit of luck for the Irish. As for guys like Armstead and Peat, their obvious ties to power programs USC and Nebraska might add a little bit more work for the Irish on the recruiting front, but there’s still over 11 months until next signing day.

 

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

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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

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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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Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention

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Amidst the chaos of their live Signing Day show, UND.com ran had a far-reaching interview with head coach Brian Kelly. It was conducted by his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and his former team captain, Joe Schmidt.

So while there was a little bit of talk about the 23 recruits who signed their national letters-of-intent, there was also a very illuminating exchange on an issue that’s really plagued the Irish the past few seasons: Injuries.

Football is a dangerous game. And for as long as people play it, there’ll be impactful injuries that take players off the field. But as Notre Dame settles into what looks like their longest run of stability since the Holtz era, the focus of Kelly and Swarbrick has moved past modernizing the team’s medical services, strength program and nutrition and onto the science of injury prevention.

Here’s what Kelly said about the efforts currently taking shape:

“I think the science piece is very important, because no longer is it just about strength and conditioning,  it’s about durability. It’s the ability to continue to play at an optimal level but also with the rigors of a college schedule, and particularly here at Notre Dame, how do we maximize the time but maximizing getting the most out of our student-athletes and not lose them?

“As you know, we’ve had a couple years here in a rough stretch of injuries. And how do we have an injury prevention protocol that brings in the very best science? You’ve done a great job of reaching out in getting us those kind of resources. so I think tapping into that is probably the next piece. As well as providing the resources for our student-athletes. Continuing to look at facilities. Continuing to give our student-athletes maybe that little edge. Because everybody’s got 85 scholarships.”

It’s clear that the issue is one that’s on the radar for not just Kelly, but the athletic administration. So it’ll be interesting to see some of the steps taken as the program begins investing time and additional resources to an issue that’s really hit the Irish hard the past few seasons.

There’s plenty of other good stuff in the 13-minute interview, so give it a watch.