Utah v Notre Dame

2011 in 100 words… Robert Blanton

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Part five of twelve previews analyzing a dozen players essential to the Irish making a BCS run next season. Part one looked at Braxston Cave, part two Sean Cwynar, part three Jonas Gray, and part four Trevor Robinson.

Player Overview:

After playing in twelve games during both his freshman and sophomore seasons, Robert Blanton was the odd man out in the three-man battle for a starting cornerback spot with Darrin Walls and Gary Gray. But that didn’t stop the rangy athlete from contributing on defense, where he shifted between cornerback and safety, and played excellent instinctive football as a nickel back, where he finished second on the team in tackles for loss.

At six-foot-one and 192 pounds, Blanton has the prototype size and athleticism head coach Brian Kelly and his coaching staff look for when recruiting cornerbacks for their system. With depth in the secondary all season a problem, Blanton cross-trained at multiple positions as well as special teams, where he made one of the plays of the season when he blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown to kick-start Notre Dame’s 28-3 thrashing of Utah.

2010 Season:

Blanton never scratched his way into the starting lineup last season after starting twelve times in his first two years, but he earned a lot of playing time as a super-sub to Darrin Walls at the field cornerback spot and Gary Gray on the boundary side.

While Blanton might not be what Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco ideally want as their nickel back, his size, speed and coverage skills allowed the Irish to modify their defensive game plan as the season went on, especially when the Irish needed to come up with a different system to combat Army’s option attack.

Blanton also received kudos from his head coach for making some great plays on the football, something Blanton seemed to struggle with at times in 2009.

“He’s a guy that plays the ball well in the air,” Kelly said of Blanton after the Irish beat Boston College. “He’s played very, very well for us at the cornerback position. In particular, he’s coming in now at nickel. He’s a young man that is playing a lot more this year and has made the most of his opportunities.”

With the Irish season at the brink, it was Blanton’s punt block and return touchdown against Utah that essentially turned Notre Dame’s year around.

100 word preview for Robert Blanton in 2011:

With Darrin Walls gone from the secondary, Robert Blanton will be asked to fill the shoes of a cover corner, a job that’s more about consistency than making the occasional big play that Blanton had a knack for making last year as a super-sub. If Blanton can make that transition, the Irish defense will have two starting corners with a knack for making plays in the offense’s backfield, and two versatile athletes that fit Bob Diaco’s Cover 2 scheme perfectly. If Blanton can’t, everything’s up for grabs for a spot that’ll be filled by a guy with almost zero experience.

Importance in 2011:

Very. What do Lo Wood, Bennett Jackson, Josh Atkinson, Jalen Brown, and Eilar Hardy have in common? They’re all guys with no real experience that’ll be at the front of the line if Blanton doesn’t win the starting cornerback job outright this spring. There’s no reason to think Blanton won’t win it, but the depth behind him at corner is pretty thin.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley

Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.


Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson

Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame

Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.