As our friends at UND.com take us around the positional groupings, no unit (at least offensively) has more question marks than the outside wide receivers. Now coached by Mike Denbrock, who spent his first two seasons under Brian Kelly coaching tight ends, and his last run at Notre Dame coaching tight ends and offensive tackles, the receivers are desperately looking for a competent replacement for the Irish’s all-time leading receiver Michael Floyd.
After an impressive run finding big-bodied prolific wideouts, this could be the weakest the position has been since the Ty Willingham era. (It really has been a great run for Irish WRs. In 2005, both Jeff Samardzija and Maurice Stovall went for over 1,100 yards and 10 TDs. Samardzija and Rhema McKnight scored 12 and 15 TDs respectively in 2006. In the woeful 2007 campaign, Duval Kamara still set freshman records in two categories, Floyd broke them in 2008, while Golden Tate went for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns, and Tate had a super-human season in 2009, while Floyd’s injury truncated season might have been even more statistically impressive.)
The usual suspects have been rounded up. John Goodman has been given a fifth chance to make good, and early reports are very promising this spring. TJ Jones, now a junior, should also be ready to take a step forward. Davaris Daniels, who redshirted last season, is probably the most physically gifted of the group, but what the Irish will get out of his depends on No. 16 himself. Daniel Smith and Luke Massa will compete for time as well.
As usual, here are some thoughts and observations after watching practice report No. 10:
- 0:11 — Getting lazy on us, Jack Nolan? I swear I’ve spotted that sweatshirt before…
- 0:21 — Louis Nix has been absolutely hilarious on Twitter lately. Whether its making Stephon Tuitt try and eat a spoonful of salt, or highlighting his mug in the past two team pictures, this kid is a real treat to follow. Perhaps Brian Kelly would like a little bit more business out of him, which explains why he’s been running with the No. 2 defensive line while Kona Schwenke is taking snaps as the No. 1 nose tackle.
- 0:24 — And there’s Aaron Lynch, coincidentally when Jack Nolan says, “And EVERYBODY came back with a lot of enthusiasm for today’s tenth practice.” Nice shimmy there, Aaron.
- 1:10 — Denbrock calls the talent at wide receiver “raw and under-developed.” That seems fair, and he’s acknowledged the “crutch” that was Michael Floyd.
- 1:31 — We’ve seen this throw before but it doesn’t get any worse. A perfect moon ball by Everett Golson, who hits John Goodman for a long touchdown. It’d have been great to see Goodman go and get the ball, and shrug off defenders like that against Florida State. (Cue the Lo Wood doesn’t play for Florida State jokes…)
- 1:44 — Denbrock calls John Goodman consistent. That’d be great.
- 2:12 — It doesn’t mean he’ll contribute next season, but Luke Massa looks like a wide receiver. Not a converted quarterback playing wide receiver.
- 2:20 — Denbrock talks about Danny Smith’s confidence. It’d be good to see the South Bend native make a mark on the offense.
- 3:05 — I’m excited to see what Denbrock’s impact will be as “passing game coordinator.” It very well could be a promotion in title only, but Denbrock has shown himself to be a very savvy coach, and between Denbrock and Chuck Martin, this could be fun.
- 3:48 — First two people Denbrock calls out is Tate Nichols and Jordan Prestwood. Once and O-Line coach, always an O-Line coach.
- 4:14 — Great exchange with Ben Koyack. It also sounds like Kelly wasn’t kidding around with the communal aspect of special teams. It sounds like Denbrock will have a hand in kickoff return.
- 4:45 — The art of wide receiver blocking. The joy of spring football.
- 5:40 — Denbrock coaches up Andre Smith, a preferred walk-on that’s seen a lot of camera time this spring. Not that it means he’ll play, but the North Broward Prep looks the part at 6-2, 190.
- 6:25 — Easy for you to say, coach…
- 6:50 — That’s a nice route by Davaris Daniels. Looks explosive.
- 7:04 — That’s a catch by Daniels, but not such great coverage by Josh Atkinson.
- 7:18 — “We’re just getting jammed all over the field,” Denbrock says. That’s what Irish fans are all worried about too, Coach.
- 8:04 — Nice coverage by Bennett Jackson on Danny Smith’s dig route.
- 8:24 — “All day long!” Denbrock shouts after Daniels makes a play. That’s a best case scenario for Irish fans.
- 8:44 — That’s a great throw by Golson and nice catch by Luke Massa in a tight spot.
- 9:00 — Luke Massa doing work, then making Denbrock chuckle.
- 9:30 — Think Brian Kelly is getting the idea with coaching clinic invites. Don’t think Rick Neuheisel or Tim Murphy are going to steal staff members.
- 9:43 — That’s a bullet there by Golson. Could work with that…
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.
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.
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.
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.