Theo Riddick

Answering camp’s questions

21 Comments

With training camp over, the Irish now turn their preparation to South Florida, with Skip Holtz‘s troops readying for their first visit to South Bend.

As Brian Kelly met with the media yesterday, he took a shot at answering all but one of the big questions left unanswered before the No. 16 Irish begin the year. Let’s take a look at a few of the major questions entering camp and see how they’ve shaken out.

Who’s going to help fix the Irish return game?

All signs point to wide receiver Theo Riddick. Emphatically.

“Theo Riddick, Theo Riddick, Theo Riddick, Theo Riddick,” Kelly said when asked about the punt and kickoff returners. “Wherever you kick the ball he has to be around it. Kickoff return, it’s him and Bennett Jackson right now. Punts, it will be Theo.”

This is far from a surprise, but it has quelled any of the murmurs about guys like Michael Floyd, Cam McDaniel, and wildcards like Everett Golson. If Riddick is truly the Irish’s best player in open space, it’s only logical to have him making plays on both punts and kicks.

Who’s going to win the starting linebacker job next to Manti Te’o?

It looks like a crowded battle for the Will linebacker has been paired down to two players, with juniors Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox leading the way.

“It’s a very good competition there,” Kelly said. “Fox and Calabrese are battling it out and I’d say we’ll probably have a decision on that pretty soon. Both of those guys are going to play considerable football for us.”

I expect Calabrese to be the guy that gets named starter next Tuesday, but if you’re trying to venture a guess on how each guy will be used, it’ll likely be Fox spending more time in the passing game against spread teams while Calabrese is the hammerhead that’ll be used to blow up rushing attacks.

Fox’s ascension really just means that Kelly will have the ability to keep his middle linebackers fresh… at least the guy that’s playing next to Manti Te’o, who doesn’t plan on leaving the field.

What freshman is going to come out of the blue to seize early playing time?

That’s got to be Troy Niklas, who has wowed coaches and his fellow teammates with a physicality and athleticism that is hard to teach.

“He is extremely athletic,” Kelly said of Niklas. “He will be on all of our kick teams.”

Expect Niklas to be joined on kick teams by Ishaq Williams, which could be quite an imposing sight for opponents to see when two six-foot-six 250-pound freshman galloping down the field in coverage.

Whether tight end Jake Golic‘s injury made a difference or not, freshman tight end Ben Koyack sounds like he’ll spend this season on the field as opposed to saving a year of eligibility. The Oil City, Pennsylvania native is another stout youngster, and at six-foot-five, 253-pounds he’ll have the physicality needed to hold his own.

“Emerging would be the word I would use more than anything,” Kelly said of Koyack. “He’ll play this year.”

Will Andrew Nuss or Chris Watt win the starting left guard job?

It’s the only position on the offensive line available with Chris Stewart graduating, and both Nuss, a fifth-year senior, and Watt, a talented junior are running neck and neck for the job. Who’ll end up starting against South Florida?

“It depends what day you ask me,” Kelly said about the battle. “I would say right now we’re probably not ready to decide on that. We had some things today that we need to evaluated. Both those guys, I have a lot of trust and confidence in both of them, but I’m not ready to say who that starter will be.”

Again, who number one is probably isn’t all that big of a deal as both guys are going to play considerable football.

Who’s going to be the starting quarterback?

That answer is coming Tuesday. And from the sounds of it, both quarterbacks did a great job stating their case.

“We wanted to see everything from grounding the ball in a clock situation to throwing it away and not taking a sack knowing that you’ve got another down,” Kelly said. “We really had to rehearse most of those game situations because both of them are so statistically even. We were doing a production chart for both of them last night. The deeper we dug on numbers, the cloudier it became. I’ve been doing this a long time and sometimes, it’s easy as you look at the numbers and know who the number one and number two quarterbacks are. We are going to get into some subjective things as we move forward because the numbers are so equal.”

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)
Getty Images
6 Comments

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
Getty Images
6 Comments

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

6 Comments

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)
Getty Images
11 Comments

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?)

***