Tate Nichols

Local linemen could be recipe for recruiting success

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Losing a recruit like Taylor Decker would usually be cause for alarm. Over the last decade, the Irish have struggled to keep proper inventory along the offensive line, and the loss of a six-foot-eight, 300-pound left tackle prospect, three-star recruit or not, would’ve set off more than a few Irish fans. After all, it was misses like Decker that brought seasons like 2007, when a green offensive line turned a high-powered Irish offense into an inept unit that had linemen that looked more fit for roller derby that football.

A slow rise from the abyss followed that rock bottom season, and by the start of the Brian Kelly era, the Irish were playing solid football along the offensive line. Just as important, they were developing a proper depth chart, with veterans like Andrew Nuss and Mike Golic supplying depth instead of not-quite-ready freshman. As the Irish step into 2012 needing to replace seniors Trevor Robinson and Taylor Dever, they’ll look to guys like Tate Nichols and Christian Lombard, players with experience in the program and years in a college weight room.

That’s not to say that the Irish can rest on their laurels. After only landing two linemen in the class of 2012, Notre Dame will look to land a sizable group in their next recruiting haul. While the Irish reached to Las Vegas and Charlotte to reel in Ronnie Stanley and Mark Harrell, Notre Dame will have the opportunity to stay close to home when filling this year’s class with talented offensive linemen.

A quick scan through Notre Dame’s offers and a look at the national rankings for offensive linemen show a talent rich pool in the Midwest. Headlining that group is Michigan’s Steve Elmer, the Irish’s first commitment to the class of 2013. Possibly enrolling for spring semester, Elmer is one of the finest tackles in the country and has the athleticism to run the 100m dash for his high school. Two other relatively local targets that the Irish are already hot after are Chicagoland prospects Kyle Bosch and Ethan Pocic. Both players are already collecting elite offers and the Irish have already been in to visit both and have plans to get both either on or back to campus soon. With Illinois going through a coaching transition with Tim Beckman replacing Ron Zook, Notre Dame should be out in front of the state school in an area where Irish ties are already deep.

Add in players that are already sporting Irish offers like Peoria’s Logan Tuley-Tillman and Indianapolis’ Timothy Gardner, along with regional recruits like Northern Kentucky’s Hunter Bivin and Western Pennsylvania’s Patrick Kugler, and you’re beginning to see a strong base of players that the Irish are chasing, with distances from campus all a reasonable car ride, not usually the case for a school that’s reached wide for its roster.

Whether Notre Dame is chasing players closer to home because that’s how talent evaluation or because they missed on national players like Zack Banner and Arik Armstead is a valid question. While it’s certainly early in the evaluation process for recruiting services, just about every player listed has already been identified as one of the top 250 players in the country by one website or another, meaning the geographical odds might have simply shaken out in Notre Dame’s favor.

If that’s the case, it’s great news for new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, who had plenty of success with both the Chicago Bears and the Fighting Illini. With offensive coordinator Chuck Martin still covering Chicago for the Irish, and Tony Alford now coordinating the Irish recruiting effort, there’s plenty of advantages to chasing players close to campus. Namely, the Irish can get multiple visits to campus from a prospect, not just take their one shot with a guy like Banner. That geography helped with a highly touted recruit like Gunner Kiel, who made multiple spontaneous visits to South Bend without the need of booking flights and coordinating family travel.

The Irish will likely look to sign four offensive linemen in a class that could approach 20 players. After going coast to coast to find them the past few years, Notre Dame will merely need to protect its own backyard to put this class together. Success isn’t guaranteed, but a home field advantage can’t hurt.

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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