John Goodman, Tyler Eifert

Breaking down 4-0: The receiving corps

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Part three in our bye week feature on Notre Dame’s 4-0 start. For more, check out our introduction, the secondary and the running backs.

OFF-SEASON PERSPECTIVE

All-American Tyler Eifert was a proven commodity. Everybody else? Well… After a run of highly productive receivers started almost a decade ago, the Irish said goodbye to Michael Floyd and hoped to possibly replacement him with a tight end. That’s no knock on Eifert’s ability, but a realistic appraisal of the options Notre Dame had with the cupboard filled with mostly unproven talent or journeymen headed into the season.

With the team’s leading returning wide receiver now playing running back, it was up to unheralded veterans like TJ Jones, Robby Toma, and John Goodman to team with talented youngsters like Chris Brown, Davonte Neal, and Justin Ferguson to replace Floyd and support an undecided quarterback if the Irish were going to get their offense on track.

PERSONNEL CHANGES

The pass catchers lost Theo Riddick to the offensive backfield, but welcomed linebacker Troy Niklas to the tight ends collection. That unit in particular held some promise, with sophomore Ben Koyack expected to do big things after a solid freshman season and Alex Welch looking more than capable as well. Those hopes would be muted when Welch went down for the season with a knee injury, as the Irish lost some versatility at the position.

Notre Dame would welcome Davaris Daniels to action after sitting out his freshman season. They’d lose another young receiver with Matthias Farley moving into the secondary and have Luke Massa slow to return after a knee injury in the spring.

John Goodman, Sr.
Robby Toma, Sr.
Daniel Smith, Jr.
Luke Massa, Jr. (A knee injury this spring likely limits Massa this fall.)
TJ Jones, Jr.
Davaris Daniels, Soph.
Matthias Farley, Soph. (Now starting at safety.)
Chris Brown, Fr.
Davonte Neal, Fr.
Justin Ferguson, Fr.

Tyler Eifert, Sr.
Jake Golic, Sr.
Alex Welch, Jr. (An ACL injury erases Welch’s 2012.)
Ben Koyack, Soph.
Troy Niklas, Soph.

There isn’t anybody in this group that can replace Michael Floyd’s production, but heading into the season the plan was to replace the Irish’s all-time leader with different players in different roles. With speedster Chris Brown looking like a deep threat, Davaris Daniels with great athleticism and ball skills, and Tyler Eifert looking pretty solid on the fade and screen game, the plan hasn’t necessarily come into fruition, but the pieces look to be there.

STATISTICAL BREAKDOWN

You probably wouldn’t have expected it, but through four games the Irish are actually averaging more yards per catch than they did last season. You can credit that to some big plays by Davaris Daniels, who is averaging 17.7 yards a catch and healthy early numbers put up by Eifert, Niklas, Goodman and Cam McDaniel.

With sophomore quarterback Everett Golson learning on the fly and Tommy Rees coming in to spell him in relief, offensive coordinator Chuck Martin has been candid about the need to jump start the passing game. Here’s what the Irish aerial attack looks like through four games, compared to last season’s stats.

Yards Per Game:
2011: 252.6 (40th)
2012: 211.o (86th)

Yards Per Catch:
2011: 10.9
2012: 13.0

Receptions Per Game:
2011: 23.2
2012: 16.25

OVERALL

It’s clearly been a step back in the passing game, which has been expected. With a bye week to get some things straightened out, and the nation’s No. 100 defense waiting for them in Soldier Field, the Irish hope to get on track with some better execution at the quarterback position.

Even with Eifert being held mostly in check this season, the unproven Irish receivers are playing better than expected, with solid contributions from veterans while the youngsters get accustomed to life in college football.

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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