Joey Brooks

Spring Solutions: 2013 edition


With the start of spring practice a week away, it’s time to toss aside the 2012 media guide and begin anew with 2013. It’s amazing to think about just how far this program has come in the last calendar year. With a new offensive coordinator, a jumbled quarterback battle, and more questions than answers following an 8-5 season, the Irish are light years away from where they were last time they rolled into the ides of March.

With Brian Kelly’s program out to prove that last season wasn’t a flash in the pan, it’s time for the Irish to begin the work that’ll help them put together back-to-back double-digit winning seasons, part of the road back to the elite of college football.

Let’s take a look at some of the interesting storylines we’ll be sure to track, before we run through a position-by-position breakdown.


Welcome to the party, Joey Brooks.

As it often happens during spring practice, a few wildcards tend to emerge. And in former Irish basketball player Joey Brooks, the Irish certainly have quite a large one.

The 6-foot-6, 225-pound Brooks, a reserve on the basketball team who redshirted this season with the hopes of saving a year of eligibility, swapped his hightops for cleats and is immersed in the transition from basketball to football. For Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin, it’s a low-risk move, especially with the Irish always looking for a physical mismatch. It’s not hard to see how Brooks (on paper at least) could provide that.

From Antonio Gates to Jimmy Graham, finding examples of basketball players making the successful transition to the gridiron isn’t difficult. But there’s a long way to go for Brooks, who struggled to find a spot in Mike Brey’s rotation. And while he’s got the size you want in an intriguing tight end / wide receiver prospect, getting it all to come together in 15 spring practices might be a tough order.

That said, the popular Brooks will get a nice long look this spring, and won’t need much time making friends, making fitting in a much easier as he works hard at the transition.



Is it finally time for Amir Carlisle to make his move?

If I was fooled by anyone last spring, it was Amir Carlisle, who I expected to compete immediately for playing time. But a broken ankle before spring practice lingered, and when nerve issues continued to hold Carlisle back, the injury turned into a lost year for the USC transfer, even while being granted immediate eligibility.

That season lost is the Irish’s gain this year, and Carlisle has an open shot at a running back job that’s wide open. With Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood both gone, Carlisle has the opportunity to fight George Atkinson, Cam McDaniel and Will Mahone for the inside track at tailback… before Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston hit campus this summer.

Running back isn’t the only place where Carlisle can make his mark, with the versatility to play both in the slot and in the backfield. But after a year where expectations didn’t come through, the depth chart — and an extra year of eligibility — could benefit both the running back and the offense in 2013.


Welcome back Austin Collinsworth and Lo Wood. Now go fight for a job.

It wasn’t too long ago that both Collinsworth and Wood looked like they had the inside track at major playing time. For Collinsworth, it was as a nickel back with tremendous versatility. For Wood, it was the starting field cornerback job. But neither made it to the season, with Collinsworth suffering an injury during the Blue-Gold game and Wood tearing his Achilles during fall camp.

Both veterans will be back and hopefully full throttle for spring practice, but will find themselves in a far different position on the depth chart. For Collinsworth, Zeke Motta’s departure, and Jamoris Slaughter being turned down for his sixth season of eligibility, give Collinsworth the chance to jump right back in the mix. But Wood will likely start behind KeiVarae Russell, who emerged as an impressive player who hopped right into the line-up as a freshman starter.

Eighteen months ago, the depth chart in the secondary could’ve been confused for the Hunger Games. Now there’s ample competition at each position, with reinforcements coming this summer. After a tough season lost to injury, both Collinsworth and Wood should come out flying.


Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”


Kelly confident Robinson will rebound

Notre Dame v Florida State

Corey Robinson‘s season was already off to a slow start. And that was before a difficult night at Clemson. The junior receiver came into last weekend with only four catches, held out against UMass after a pregame tweak of his knee put a scare into the Irish.

Robinson’s knee checked out fine. But mentally, it appears that the sure-handed junior is struggling.

Just before halftime against the Tigers, Robinson failed to reel in a long catch that would’ve given the Irish a much-needed touchdown heading into half. Early in the fourth quarter, a high throw from DeShone Kizer on the Irish’s first failed two-point conversion play slid through Robinson’s hands. Made worse was a mental mistake by Robinson, the Irish needing to use one of their second half timeouts when the junior wasn’t on the field.

Coached hard on the sideline by Brian Kelly and coached up by his position coach Mike Denbrock (as we saw on both Showtime and Fighting Irish Media’s ICON), the staff is doing it’s best to get Robinson’s confidence back.

With some wondering if Robinson’s struggles should open the door for talented freshman Equanimeous St. Brown, Kelly talked about their belief that the junior will return to form.

“Corey Robinson is going to get the job done. I had a very lengthy conversation with him yesterday,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I believe in Corey. Corey’s got to believe in himself, and he will. He’s got to go attack the football. He’s letting the football come to him. He’s letting it eat him up a little bit, but I believe in Corey.”

There’s no better place to showcase that belief than against Navy. The Midshipmen don’t have a defender physically capable of matching up with the 6-foot-5 Robinson, who will likely face his share of single coverage with Will Fuller likely demanding safety help.

Then it’s just a matter of Robinson showing the hands and confidence that made him one of last year’s most consistent performers.

“Once he starts attacking the football, I think we’re going to see somebody that can make the plays that we expect him to make,” Kelly said. “So I’m optimistic that we’re going to see the guy that we need to see on Saturday.”