Davaris Daniels

The future is now for Davaris Daniels

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Michael Floyd is gone. After four record breaking seasons, the only No. 3 walking through the doors for the Irish is on the back of Amir Carlisle, who isn’t walking, but hobbling through on crutches, courtesy of a broken ankle that’ll rob the Irish’s newest offensive asset of a spring acclimation period.

While the Irish will be hard pressed to ever replace the school’s all-time leading receiver, it didn’t take long for head coach Brian Kelly to put rising sophomore Davaris Daniels on notice that he’ll be given the first shot at filling the very large hole Floyd left behind.

Even before having the thousand watt megaphone the Notre Dame media provides, Kelly often took to public proclamations to motivate his players. In his first comments of the spring, he started that process by making it known that Daniels, who sat out last season while learning the ropes, has all the physical ability needed to star in this offense.

“He probably tested out at tops in the skill position, ahead of guys like Cierre Wood, ahead of guys like Theo Riddick,” Kelly said of Daniels. “His numbers are off the charts in terms of vertical jump. He tested comparable to a number of the wide receivers at the NFL combine. He’s got great numbers.”

While Notre Dame didn’t release the results of their unofficial combine, a quick look at the NFL combine results let you know that if Daniels checks out with some of the better jumpers in the draft, he can certainly leap. (Though I think we already knew this.) While we caught a brief glimpse of Daniels running his 40 during the offseason workout video, we can only assume from Kelly’s comments that it was also comparable with the guys running in Indianapolis, which means it was in the 4.4 to 4.5 range. Whatever the exact number is, that’s a welcome change to an offense that couldn’t attack vertically with its personnel, even with Floyd in the lineup.

Of course, true to Kelly’s nature, he also made it abundantly clear that while Daniels has the skillset necessary to succeed, he’s yet to do it.

“Those are numbers. He hasn’t done anything yet,” Kelly said. “He hasn’t caught a pass in a game, hasn’t caught a touchdown pass. So we know he’s got the physical ability, now we’ve got to be able to see that translate, and it’s time for him to do it. We were able to move him slowly last year, it’s time for him to go, and this spring will be that opportunity, and we all feel very confident in his ability to come in and impact our offense.”

For his part, Daniels impressed Kelly in his first day on offense, running with the second unit behind fifth-year senior John Goodman and junior TJ Jones, showing off the sheer ability Kelly knows exists. In the various videos available around the net, it isn’t hard to see a confident kid with explosive athletic ability, even if it is in shorts and without pads.

Still, Daniels’ development will be one of the key stories of the spring. Rumors coming out of offseason workouts have the Irish thinking they’ve found offensive weapons in Troy Niklas and Amir Carlisle, two guys that can transform an offense quickly, especially when paired with All-American Tyler Eifert. Putting Theo Riddick with Cierre Wood should stabilize the running back depth chart, and allow Chuck Martin find something for George Atkinson and his sprinter speed to do.

Obviously, the Irish offense will go nowhere without a capable quarterback, but even that position should be buoyed by an attack that’ll likely look much different than the one we last saw floundering in Orlando. With Goodman and Jones yet to show they’ve got the chops to be an effective outside wide receiver, it’ll be up to Daniels to seize a job that’s there for the taking.

He certainly knows his head coach is watching.

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)

 

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.