Joey Brooks

Spring Solutions: 2013 edition

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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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.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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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.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”