John Goodman

A closer look at the depth chart: Offense

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With injuries, suspensions, and uncertainty in a few position battles, Brian Kelly released the season’s first official depth chart with a few minor surprises. We already knew quarterback Everett Golson locked up the starting quarterback job, but let’s run through the position groupings and see who broke camp in the starting lineup.

Here’s our first look, breaking down the Irish’s starters and back-ups for offense.

QUARTERBACK

Everett Golson, Soph.
Andrew Hendrix, Jr.
Gunner Kiel, Fr.

Thoughts: It’ll be interesting to see where Tommy Rees inserts himself after he’s eligible to get back on the field. While the Irish staff has belief that Golson has the ability to lead this offense and run it in the fashion Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin hope, they also know Rees is capable — and likely ready — to take a step forward.

With the staff ready for anything, they’ll likely hope Golson does enough good to hold onto the job through the season’s first two weeks. More importantly, he’s got to get the Irish two victories.

RUNNING BACK

Theo Riddick, Sr.
George Atkinson, Soph.
Will Mahone, Fr.

Thoughts: Cierre Wood finds himself missing from this depth chart thanks to his violation of team rules. That opens the door slightly for Mahone, who I’m guessing the Irish coaching staff absolutely don’t want to see on the field this year.

If you’re looking to impress your friends and are feeling gutsy, predict a big game for Atkinson. After an impressive spring culminated by a nice performance in the Blue-Gold game, I expect Atkinson to get a ton of touches against the Midshipmen, and turn a few into really big plays.

WIDE RECEIVER

John Goodman, Sr.
Daniel Smith, Jr.
Justin Ferguson, Fr.

TJ Jones, Jr.
Davaris Daniels, Soph.
Chris Brown, Fr.

Robby Toma, Sr.
Davonte Neal, Fr.
Amir Carlisle, Soph.

Thoughts: This grouping is a head-scratcher. After hearing about the promise of youngsters like Daniels, Brown, and Neal, none of them are in the starting lineup. Whether that’s a nod to Kelly showing veteran loyalty or the talented trio not being ready, we’ll likely see in Dublin on Saturday.

There are rumors that John Goodman isn’t 100 percent going into Saturday’s game, which will likely shake up the depth chart outside. It’s also interesting to note that Amir Carlisle, who is still working his way back from a broken ankle, is listed at the slot receiver position.

Chris Brown, the freshman receiver who will likely signify the Irish’s best deep threat is buried beneath TJ Jones and Daniels. I still expect him to get a dozen offensive snaps this weekend. Also — even if Carlisle is injured, I expect him to see the field before Will Mahone, unless the Irish think they can save a year of his eligibility.

TIGHT END

Tyler Eifert, Sr.
Ben Koyack, Soph.
Troy Niklas, Soph.
Jake Golic, Sr.

Thoughts: It’s the worst kept secret that Eifert is the team’s No. 1 tight end. He’s also the team’s No. 1 wide receiver, making the depth chart worth little more than the paper you’ll print it on. With Alex Welch out, the role of a traditional tight end will be given to Koyack and Niklas, with both sophomores having worlds of potential.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Left Tackle:

Zack Martin, Sr.
Ronnie Stanley, Fr.

Left Guard:

Chris Watt, Sr.
Connor Hanratty, Soph.

Center:

Braxston Cave, Sr.
Mike Golic, Sr.
Matt Hegarty, Soph.

Right Guard:

Mike Golic, Sr.
Connor Hanratty, Soph.

Right Tackle:

Christian Lombard, Jr.
Nick Martin, Soph.

Thoughts: There’s a lot to process here, but the easy takeaway is that the Irish don’t have a ton of depth here. There might not be a bigger plummet on the two-deep than the drop-off between senior Zack Martin and freshman Ronnie Stanley. Likewise, it’s interesting to see sophomore Connor Hanratty make his move into the two deep, providing depth at both guard positions, but expect fellow sophomore Nick Martin to be the first man off the bench to see the field if someone goes down. Starting right guard Mike Golic will be the first to slide to center if anything happens to Braxston Cave, while the injury to Tate Nichols kept the Irish really shy on options for a unit that needs a healthy season.

 

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.