Aaron Lynch Blue Gold

Handicapping playing time for the freshman

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Armed with a full 85-man roster and a depth chart that’s finally representative of a top 25 college football program, Brian Kelly and the Irish have the luxury of not needing to force freshmen into the lineup this season.

That certainly wasn’t the case for the Irish last year, where Kelly opened the season with freshman Austin Collinsworth, Bennett Jackson, Prince Shembo, Danny Spond and Lo Wood all playing from the opening kickoff, with Mike Elston‘s special team’s flooded with youthful contributors.

Stiil, when Brian Kelly inked a recruiting class that was among the strongest in the country defensively, it was easy to assume guys like Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt and Ishaq Williams would find their way onto the field sooner than later.

After two weeks of practice, Brian Kelly let the media in on his expectations for the freshman class, targeting a select group of players who might see the field this season.

“We’re going to play between a minimum of six and as many as ten freshman this year,” Kelly said.

“I think you’ll see us activate DaVaris Daniels. We’re going to activate both backs (George Atkinson and Cam McDaniel). There are a lot of freshmen that are going to play.”

Let’s take a look at the freshman roster, and handicap the odds each freshman has of being on the bus when the season starts Labor Day weekend.

George Atkinson, RB: A lock. As battle with McDaniel continues, George might be a kick returner first.
Josh Atkinson, CB: Not likely. If injuries hit thin CB depth chart, Josh might be called into action.
Kyle Brindza, K/P: A lock. I expect Brindza to put a foot into the ball to open the Irish season kicking off.
Jalen Brown, CB: Another DB that’ll likely spend the year learning before entering wide open race at CB.
Brad Carrico, OL: Redshirt. After enrolling early, Carrico started his transition to the OL. ETA: 2012.
Ben Councell, OLB: Decent shot. Still skinny, Councell might be a great special teams player.
Davaris Daniels, WR: A lock. Still learning, but athleticism has him in the mix immediately.
Matthias Farley, WR: Long shot. After getting early mention, Farley might be better served saving year.
Everett Golson, QB: If he beats Hendrix for change-up role, he’ll play. If he doesn’t, best to save year.
Jarrett Grace, ILB: Long shot. With a crowded linebacking corps, Grace can watch and learn from Te’o.
Conor Hanratty, OG: One of camp’s surprises, it still makes sense for Hanratty to redshirt.
Eilar Hardy, FS: 50/50. Hardy is undersized, but athletic. It’ll depend on Danny McCarthy.
Matthew Hegarty, OT: With depth at tackle strong, Hegarty would benefit from redshirt season.
Chase Hounshell, DE: Working to get into two-deep, but Hounshell should spend 2011 in weight room.
Ben Koyack, TE: Decent shot, as Koyack could be a great match-up problem, even at a deep position.
Aaron Lynch, DE: Lock to play. Regardless of what coaches are saying, Lynch is a big part of the plan.
Nick Martin, OL: Slim chance, those Martin has already impressed with his versatility and skill.
Cam McDaniel, RB: A lock. Might be a perfect third down back for Irish, and a return possibility.
Troy Niklas, OLB: Good chance. One of the best athletes on defense, he might force his way onto the field.
Jordan Prestwood, OT: Can’t play because of transfer rules.
Anthony Rabasa, ILB: A new position and crowded depth chart means Rabasa should save the eligibility.
Tony Springmann, DL: Decent chance, with Springmann pushing at defensive tackle already.
Stephon Tuitt, DE: Even though he’s raw, Tuitt is physically ready to compete at defensive end.
Ishaq Williams, OLB: Spring ball helped get Williams acclimated, expect him on special teams at least.

If I had to guess, here are the freshman I see hitting the field for the Irish this season:

George Atkinson, Kyle Brindza, Davaris Daniels, Everett Golson, Aaron Lynch, Cam McDaniel, Troy Niklas, Stephon Tuitt, Ishaq Williams.

That’s nine, with my tenth just missing the list being Eilar Hardy.

UPDATE — Both IrishIllustrated.com and BlueandGold.com are reporting that Eilar Hardy suffered a knee injury and is likely lost for the season.

Restocking the roster: Running Backs

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Josh Adams #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs for a 26-yard gain against the USC Trojans in the first half of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Notre Dame’s running back depth chart was tested to its max less than 10 minutes into the season opener. The projected two-deep, Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, were both lost for the year—Bryant out of school as an academic and disciplinary casualty by the start of fall camp and Folston because of a knee injury suffered on his third carry of the season.

Welcome back to Notre Dame, Autry Denson.

The school’s all-time leading rusher in his first season as a running back coach had to be feeling a little woozy. He had a converted wide receiver taking featured-back carries and a true freshman a little over a year removed from his own major knee injury serving as his primary backup.

That the Irish had their most prolific running season under Brian Kelly says quite a bit about the job that Denson did. It’s also a credit to the offensive line blocking, the adjusted scheme that also protected two new starting quarterbacks, and the talent that remained at the position.

Spring presents new challenges. Tarean Folston should be a little over seven months removed from ACL surgery, making him doubtful to do anything more than wear a red jersey. With C.J. Prosise‘s departure, Adams goes from record-setting rookie to spring starter, with Williams likely carrying a large load as well.

Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh arrive this summer, reinforcements on the way. But before we get there, let’s take a look at the pre-spring roster at running back.

 

DEPARTURES
C.J. Prosise (156 carries 1,032 yards, 11 TDs)
Greg Bryant (lost preseason 2015)

 

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Josh Adams (117 carries, 835 yards, 6 TDs)
Dexter Williams (21 carries, 81 yards, 3 TDs)
Tony Jones Jr.
Deon McIntosh 

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Tarean Folston,* Sr.
Josh Adams, Soph.
Dexter Williams, Soph.
Justin Brent,* Junior

*Additional year of eligibility remaining.

 

ANALYSIS: This might be a position battle deferred to fall camp, especially if Folston is still in recovery mode. At this point, it doesn’t make sense to rush back from an ACL tear for 15 practices, so while the rising senior may be chomping at the bit to return, it’s better to save it until August.

Folston will likely be the team’s most versatile back, but keeping Adams off the field will be a hard chore. His breakaway speed was on display multiple times in 2015, with his record-setting run against Wake Forest the team’s longest play from scrimmage. Adams also likely added some mass and physicality to his game in the offseason weigh-training program, giving the Irish someone capable of hitting the big play and also moving the sticks in short yardage situations.

The staff believes that Dexter Williams is a talented back, so with three solid contributors on the roster before Jones or McIntosh hit campus, it’ll be fun to see how snaps get sorted. (From that perspective, you can only wonder how they’d have dealt with the champagne problem of having Prosise around…) Justin Brent remains an option as well, though the attrition from the receiving corps makes you think he’ll be back at receiver.

The wildcard in all of this is Folston. He’s a unique talent with natural ability you just can’t teach. If he’s fully recovered and ready to engage in a position battle, there won’t likely be a drop off even with the early departure of Prosise.

 

Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Combine
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Notre Dame will send ten former players to the NFL Scouting Combine. The annual event in Indianapolis serves as the unofficial apex of draft season, a meat-market where the best professional prospects are poked, prodded, questioned and tested in a variety of on- and off-field drills.

Heading to the festivities from Notre Dame are:

Chris Brown, WR
Sheldon Day, DT
Will Fuller, WR
Nick Martin, C
Romeo Okwara, DE
C.J. Prosise, RB
KeiVarae Russell, CB
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, OLB
Ronnie Stanley, OT

For a prospect like Smith, it’ll be teams first opportunity to talk to the elite prospect and check his progress medically as he returns from a Fiesta Bowl knee injury. Russell will also be a non-participant in physical drills, waiting until Notre Dame’s Pro Day to go through testing.

Invites to Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Elijah Shumate are crucial in finding their way into the draft, as the three former Irish starters participated in the Shrine Bowl, where scouts had an early look at them. Likewise, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day continue their ascent, both coming off strong Senior Bowl weeks.

For Irish fans, it’ll be fun to watch early-enrollees Fuller and Prosise test. Both are expected to be some of the fastest players at their position. Brown may also have the ability to surprise teams, with his track background and leaping ability capable of earning him an extended look. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will look to impress as well, hoping to check out as one of the draft’s most impressive athletes at offensive tackle.

Ohio State led all schools with 14 invites. National Champion Alabama had nine former players invited.

 

WR Corey Robinson named Notre Dame student body president

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On Wednesday, wide receiver Corey Robinson added another impressive title to his resume as a student-athlete at Notre Dame: Student Body President.

The junior, paired with classmate Becca Blais as his vice presidential running mate, won a majority of the votes cast by his fellow students, a runaway winner with 59.4% of the votes, nearly triple the next highest vote getter.

Robinson posted the following on Twitter, thankful for the opportunity to serve his fellow students:

Robinson’s time at Notre Dame has been filled with accomplishments both on and off the field. He was named an Academic All-American as a sophomore. He’s a six-time Dean’s List member in the prestigious Program of Liberal Studies and is also pursuing a sustainability minor. He’s won the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award as well.

That’s quite a bit on the plate of Notre Dame’s lone senior wide receiver. But as you might expect, Robinson is well prepared for the next challenge ahead.

“I’ve planned ahead, gotten all of my hard work out of the way this semester, and I’m finishing up my senior thesis,” Robinson told The Observer. “I’m doing all the hard stuff now so in the fall and the spring, I just have to take two classes pretty much.”

Robinson’s other contributions as a student-athlete at Notre Dame include One Shirt one Body, an opportunity for college athletes to donate their athletic apparel to local communities. Robinson has presented the plan to the ACC as well as the NCAA, earning immediate support from both organizations.

 

Mailbag: Now Open (scheduling input requested)

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 01:  Actors Mike Myers (L) and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth from "Wayne's World" onstage during the 17th annual MTV Movie Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre on June 1, 2008 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Okay folks, we’ve had enough semi-positive encouragement to keep the video mailbag going for another week. With that said, I’ll need some reader participation to keep this thing rolling on.

As always, submit your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold. You can also ask your questions live via Facebook. You’ll need to LIKE THIS PAGE first, and then at the appropriate time, head on over to watch and participate.

To that point, let’s pick a time that works for everyone. Right now, here are the options that work at Inside the Irish HQ.  Weigh in and the best time wins. (How’s that for a democracy?)

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