greg-bryant-delray

Freshman Focus: Greg Bryant

50 Comments

Not many skill players have come to Notre Dame in recent years with the expectations of Florida’s Greg Bryant. After a heralded prep career, Bryant walks onto campus with many believing he’s already the best running back in South Bend.

Of course, heralded freshmen phenoms are nothing new for the Irish. But getting the type of performance out of them that you expect is an entirely different story. Still, Bryant is one of the most intriguing players in the Irish recruiting class because of what he brings to the table.

Physically ready to contribute, comfortable in an offensive system like the Irish’s, and capable of carrying the load or catching out of the backfield, Bryant looks the part of an early contributor. Now he’ll have to work hard through summer workouts, and quickly make a name for himself during fall camp.

If he does, a wide open running back race could be his to win.

RECRUITING PEDIGREE

Few names are as shiny and bright as Bryant’s. A five-star prospect by Rivals, he’s the highest ranked skill player to sign with the Irish since Jimmy Clausen. While not all services view him as quite that elite, he’s a consensus top 50 player, one of the elite offensive skill players in the country.

At a position that’s probably the easiest to break into in college football, looking at past years gives you an idea of what type of player the Irish could be getting. Ranked around the same spot as Bryant over the following few recruiting cycles? Freshmen phenoms Duke Johnson of Miami, Todd Gurley at Georgia, Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina, and Silas Redd of Penn State.

Then again, the last big name running back to sign with the Irish was James Aldridge, who never showed the type of promise many expected after a high school knee injury.

No pressure, kid.

EARLY PLAYING TIME OPPORTUNITIES

While most see the starting running back job as George Atkinson‘s to lose, even with his elite speed, he’s not necessarily without his faults. (Nicely documented here and here by our friends at OFD.) With Atkinson, Cam McDaniel, Amir Carlisle and Will Mahone possessing next to no experience, there’s an opening in the backfield if Bryant sees the hole and hits it (pardon the crummy running back metaphor).

Still, if we’ve learned anything these last three years, it’s that it takes a freshman some time to earn the trust of this coaching staff. Sure, there are examples like KeiVarae Russell learning to play cornerback on the fly, but for the most part, even the most impressive young players take some time to learn the ropes.

But if you are looking for a clear take on the attitude Bryant brings with him on his way to South Bend, he provided it last week when talking with Blue & Gold Illustrated.

“I can tell you right now that I’m not going to redshirt,” Bryant told B&G. “I’m putting myself in the best position to play early and nobody is going to work harder than me to get on the field. I’ve been playing among the best of the best in Florida and I’m prepared to go in and make plays for Notre Dame.”

PROJECTING THE FUTURE

Bryant is an interesting case study for both Rivals rankings and the Irish coaching staff’s player evaluations. While Bryant has an elite grade, he’s not one of the biggest, fastest, or strongest running backs in the country. Tony Alford has compared him to a stronger Theo Riddick, a comparison that should make Irish fans happy, but shouldn’t have them expecting another Jerome Bettis.

Still, Bryant has impressed recruitniks at the US Army All-American Bowl, had an elite set of offers, and has plenty of size, speed, and skill to be a very productive member of the Irish offense. Riddick put together a terrific senior season with below average size and speed. We should expect Bryant’s baseline measureables to probably exceed Riddick’s right now, and he’s known for his elusiveness as well. That’s a scary combination.

The timing is right for a player like Bryant to seize an opening in the Irish offense. Can it be him, Tarean Folston, or incoming blue-chipper Elijah Hood? That’s the big question.

Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Combine
Getty Images
5 Comments

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

Notre Dame v Florida State
3 Comments

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)
Getty Images
9 Comments

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?)

***

 

Restocking the roster: Offensive Line

Notre Dame offensive line
8 Comments

When Notre Dame takes the field this spring, there’ll be two very large holes in the offensive line that need filling. All-American left tackle Ronnie Stanley is gone. As is captain Nick Martin at center. Both three-year starters leave Harry Hiestand with some big decisions to make in the coming months as the Irish look to fill those key positions and still field a unit with the ability to dominate in the trenches.

The Irish have had incredible stability at left tackle, with Stanley sliding in seamlessly after four seasons of Zack Martin. Perhaps the best six-year run in the program’s storied history at the position, Stanley will likely join Martin as a first-rounder, back-to-back starters at a key spot that often dictates the play of one of the most important units on the field.

Replacing Nick Martin could prove equally tricky. Rising junior Sam Mustipher served as Martin’s backup in 2015, filing in capably for Martin after an ankle sprain took him off the field briefly against UMass. But Mustipher will face a challenge this spring from rising sophomore Tristen Hoge, the first true center recruited by Hiestand and Brian Kelly since they arrived in South Bend.

Kelly talked about 2017 being a big cycle on the recruiting trail for restocking the offensive line. You can see why when you look at the depth, particularly at tackle. Let’s look at the work that’s been done the previous two classes as Notre Dame continues to be one of the premier programs recruiting in the trenches.

 

DEPARTURES
Ronnie Stanley
, Sr. (39 starts)
Nick Martin, Grad Student (37 starts)

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Tristen Hoge
, C
Trevor Ruhland
, G
Jerry Tillery
, T
Parker Boudreaux
, G
Tommy Kraemer
, T
Liam Eichenberg
, T

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Hunter Bivin, T
Quenton Nelson, LG
Sam Mustipher, C
Steve Elmer, RG
Mike McGlinchey, RT

Alex Bars*, T
Colin McGovern*, G/T
Mark Harrell*, C/G
Tristen Hoge*, C
John Montelus*, G
Jimmy Byrne*, G
Trevor Ruhland*, G

*Has an additional year of eligibility remaining. 

ANALYSIS:
It’ll be a fascinating spring up front for the offensive line. We’ll get our first look at potential replacements and see if the Irish staff values a veteran presence (as it has done in the past) or puts former blue-chip recruits in position to become multi-year starters.

For now, I’m putting last season’s backups in line to ascend to starting spots. That’s not to say I think that’s what’ll happen. Hunter Bivin may have been Stanley’s backup last season, but as long as Alex Bars is fully recovered from his broken ankle, I think he’s the best bet to step into that job. Sharing reps at guard—not a natural spot for Bars to begin with—was more about getting him some experience, with the aim to move him into the lineup in 2016. That allows Bivin to be a key swing reserve, capable of playing on either the right or left side.

At center, the decision is less clear cut—especially since we’ve yet to see Tristen Hoge play a snap of football. Size and strength is a genuine concern at the point of attack for Hoge, not necessarily the biggest guy hitting campus. But it sounds like he’s had a nice first season from a developmental standpoint, and if he’s a true technician at the position, he could be a rare four-year starter at center if he’s able to pull ahead of Mustipher this spring.

On paper, the other three starting jobs don’t seem to be in question. Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey are ready to step to the forefront. Concerns about Steve Elmer’s buy-in will certainly be answered by spring, there’s little chance he’ll be on the field in March if he’s not going to be around in August. I’m of the mind that Elmer’s too good of a character guy to leave the program, even if his life doesn’t revolve around football 24/7. Now it’s time for him to clean up some of the flaws in his game, the only starter from last season who held back the Irish from being a truly elite group.

Depth isn’t necessarily a concern, but there isn’t a ton of it at tackle. That happens when you move a guy like Jerry Tillery to defensive line and lose a player like Stanley with a year of eligibility remaining. That could force the Irish to cross-train someone like Colin McGovern, a veteran who can swing inside or out if needed. McGovern seems to be a guy who would start in a lot of other programs, but has struggled to crack a two-deep that’s now filled with former blue-chip recruits, all of them essentially handpicked by Hiestand and Kelly.