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Counting down the Irish: 20-16

Jul 16, 2013, 8:57 AM EDT

Matthias Farley

After the first five slots of our Top 25 included three talented freshmen that could play supporting roles, our next five spots are dedicated to upperclassmen that will be major contributors this season, all expected to be members of the starting lineup.

If the inclusion of Jaylon Smith, Max Redfield and Greg Bryant represented the idea of bottled promise, the inclusion of numbers 20-16 on this list have mostly all demonstrated their abilities to the coaching staff.

If you’re looking for a sign that the depth of this team is improving, these five spots are a great data-point supporting that conclusion. Last season’s 20-16 included Robby Toma, Christian Lombard, Davaris Daniels, Troy Niklas and Bennett Jackson. The combined starts for that group heading into the season? Zero. Only two members of this group haven’t started any games, and the staff has evaluated both players and expects them to be key contributors this season.

Let’s continue the rollout of our annual rankings.

2013 Irish Top 25
25. Max Redfield (S, Fr.)
24. Elijah Shumate (S, Soph.)
23. Jaylon Smith (OLB, Fr.)
22. Ishaq Williams (OLB, Jr.)
21. Greg Bryant (RB, Fr.)

RANKINGS

20. Christian Lombard (RT, Sr.) That Lombard, a year after starting the entire season at right tackle, falls a spot in this rankings from 2012 should give you an idea of how much better the personnel is getting in South Bend. Because there’s no reason to think Lombard is going to be a lesser player in 2013 than he was in his first season in the starting lineup.

Lombard’s career trajectory is right on schedule, with the one-time Army All-American redshirting his freshman season, contributing on special teams and in mop-up duty as a sophomore, before winning the right tackle job as a junior. With a fifth-year available, Lombard should end up being a three-year starter on the offensive line.

At what position remains the one interesting question. While there isn’t necessarily the depth along the line yet that the coaching staff would like, Lombard has the positional flexibility to slide inside to guard if needed. That could be because Ronnie Stanley presents himself to be one of the five best offensive linemen on the roster or because Conor Hanratty isn’t ready to start at guard. But Lombard is a solid technician who will likely be a whole lot better in his second season than his first.

Highest Ranking: 8th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (three ballots)

19. Amir Carlisle (RB, Jr.) Carlisle is the sole wildcard of this group. The USC transfer sat out last season with a nagging ankle injury, when a nerve issue extended a broken ankle from spring practice well into the regular season. (Getting Carlisle immediate eligibility was an impressive task by the Irish’s compliance department, though they couldn’t handle any medical maladies.)

Carlisle bad luck on the injury front extended to this spring, when he broke his collarbone in full-contact drills. While he returned to practice less than a week later, the very real questions about his durability were cemented.

At his best, Carlisle could be the most explosive offensive weapon the Irish have. He’s capable of being a threat in the return game, he’s dangerous as a running back or receiver, and he’s got top end speed and moves that nobody on last season’s roster can match. Of course, he’s yet to take a snap wearing an Irish uniform, so any practice All-American awards need to be transferable to the gridiron on Saturday.

Brian Kelly raised more than a few eyebrows when he said that the coaching staff had seen all that they needed from Carlisle in the spring’s first handful of practices. That might just mean they too expect Carlisle to be one of the team’s most dangerous weapons, playing both running back and slot receiver. All he has to do is prove he can stay on the field.

Highest Ranking: 9th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (two ballots).

18. Carlo Calabrese (LB, Grad.) At this point in his career, we know what Calabrese is. And that’s a productive player at inside linebacker that still sometimes struggles in space and on passing downs. But sharing time with fellow fifth-year player Dan Fox, the duo played productive football next to Manti Te’o last season, anchoring one of the toughest run defenses in the country.

Calabrese was suspended for the season opener, but proceeded to put up strong numbers, playing key roles each week while starting five games. He may occasionally get exploited as a cover man, but the 245-pound sledgehammer will only improve in his final season for the Irish.

With Te’o gone and first-year starter Jarrett Grace stepping into his place, the pressure to be productive will be heaped on all three inside linebackers. While they won’t be able to replace the interceptions that Te’o miraculously made last season, they have every chance to be as productive making tackles and playing assignment correct football.

Highest Ranking: 13th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (two ballots).

17. Jarrett Grace (LB, Jr.) That our panel voted Grace above Calabrese shows the respect afforded to the heir to Manti Te’o’s starting job. Anchoring multiple special teams units last season, Grace is now stepping into the starting lineup, all but being handed the starting job while Calabrese and Fox will continue their platoon.

That alone shows you the belief this coaching staff has in Grace. The 6-foot-3, 248-pounder is a sideline-to-sideline player that many believe is faster and more athletic than Te’o. A highly touted recruit who turned down Nick Saban to come to South Bend, Grace will now anchor a front seven filled with talent, but desperately needs production out of the first year starter.

There’s every reason to believe that Grace will deliver it, though holding him to the standard Te’o delivered last season would be unreasonable. That said, he’s already established himself as one of the team’s leaders and will likely carve out a place in Irish fans’ hearts with his energy and athleticism.

Highest Ranking: 7th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (two ballots).

16. Matthias Farley (S, Jr.) Probably one of the best surprises on a 2012 team that was filled with many. After a freshman season spent playing wide receiver on the scout team, Farley transitioned to safety in what was likely a depth chart precaution, then proceeded to play his way into the starting lineup through an excellent spring practice and fall camp.

A cerebral and physical player, Farley moved quickly ahead of fifth-year senior Dan McCarthy, seeing surprise duty as a starter against Navy at outside linebacker before proceeding to start ten more games after Jamoris Slaughter’s season-ending injury. Learning on the job, Farley avoided giving up the big play, was tough and physical down in the box, and battled through a broken hand to keep the secondary intact.

There’s every reason to believe that Farley’s game will only move forward this season. After spending spring ball implanted in the starting lineup as the boundary-side safety, Farley will likely play a role similar to Slaughter’s, a tough guy that can deliver a blow in the box, but run with receivers as well. Farley is one of the true great developmental recruits that Kelly and company pulled out of the blue, a little known three-star recruit with no national or state ranking to his name. A student of the game, his experience last season coupled with a year learning the job with Bob Elliott, should have him set for a breakout season.

Highest Ranking: 9th. Lowest Ranking: 23rd.

***

Our voting panel:

Brian Hamilton, Chicago Tribune
Pete Sampson, Irish Illustrated
JJ Stankevitz, CSN Chicago
John Vannie, ND Nation
John Walters, MediumHappy.com
Ryan Ritter, HerLoyalSons.com
4pointshooter, OneFootDown.com
Keith Arnold, Inside the Irish

  1. nudeman - Jul 16, 2013 at 9:36 AM

    This list seems about right.
    Sort of surprised to not see Niklas here, as I doubt he’s unranked so that means he’s in a higher grouping? Really? If so, seems overly favorable for a guy who might be an Adonis but caught 5 passes last year and struggled with edge rushers.

    At this point, in no particular order I’m guessing the top 5 will include Tuitt, Nix, Z. Martin, Jackson and one of Spond, Shembo or TJ Jones, with Shembo being most likely.

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Jul 16, 2013 at 11:23 AM

      Don’t bag on a guy just because he has flowing locks and is easy on the eyes. Us handsome, long-haired guys don’t have it as easy as everyone else thinks we do.

      I am so dang excited to see what Jarrett Grace is going to do this year. I’m even more excited that it looks the LB corps is finally to the level where there is enough talent to keep you out of the starting lineup until you’re a Junior (OK, maybe we’re not quite there yet). Even if the kid is a bona fide blue chipper, I just don’t think it’s a good sign if you have a frosh or even soph starting at an inside LB spot. There’s too much physical development and mental training required to do this job well. Te’o’s frosh/soph years were good examples of this.

    • 808raiderinparadise - Jul 16, 2013 at 2:11 PM

      Tuitt & Nix are so important to this year.

      Niklas got too much love form Mayock for no reason …. kid looks the part of brawler but his football IQ and hands obvioulsy need improvment.

  2. nudeman - Jul 16, 2013 at 9:39 AM

    That should have been “Really?” Keith, we need the ability to edit

    • Keith Arnold - Jul 16, 2013 at 3:06 PM

      Fixed it for you.

      And let me get on it with WordPress… I’m sure they’ll listen to me, as one of approximately 10 million users of their software.

      • NotreDan - Jul 16, 2013 at 3:14 PM

        Any progress on the mobile format Keith old Buddy? Pretty please?

      • mtflsmitty - Jul 16, 2013 at 7:42 PM

        To fail to acknowledge the obvious warmth a good fellowship that now obviously exists between Keith and Nude would be a shame.

        To think it wasn’t long ago that Nude’s daily bagging on TR (and by proxy, KA) was so predictable it made fnc seem like a regular Dave Barry, and brought KA to semi regular censorship of Nude’s posts is amazing. Now KA is offering editing services to Nude’s comments.

        Maybe we should call it The Irish Spring.

        It can only foretell a wonderful 2013 season.

      • nudeman - Jul 16, 2013 at 10:28 PM

        It is an amazing turnaround, isn’t it? If the question was “can’t we
        all just get along?”, the answer is “yep”.

  3. irishaggie - Jul 16, 2013 at 10:32 AM

    I’m very excited to see Jarrett Grace. Big #59 is on the NCAA football 2013 commercial making a tackle. I know it’s a video game commercial but it shows you how highly he’s thought of. I agree in most part with these rankings and I’m under the assumption Dan Fox didn’t make the cut.

  4. bernhtp - Jul 16, 2013 at 11:44 AM

    Carlisle must have the highest ranking standard deviation. If healthy, he will likely be a top 10 with an outside possibility of being a top 5. He combines the top-end speed of GA3, better quickness than Riddick, the headiness of Cam McDaniel, along with very good hands. He is explosive. Reporters who saw him practice before he broke his collarbone said he was noticeably faster/quicker than everyone else. Wow!

    The obvious and huge caveat is that he hasn’t ever stayed healthy long enough to contribute. He got injured at USC after a very productive start, quickly got a broken ankle at Notre Dame before Spring ball last year, the ankle injury was extended by nerve damage during the season, and then he broke his collarbone in this spring’s first contact practice. Is he injury prone or just the victim of freak bad luck? The answer will determine whether he is #5 or #99.

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Jul 16, 2013 at 12:52 PM

      you don’t often hear someone raise “standard deviation” when talking about a player’s possible upside/downside, but that is what it is. well said.

      i hope, i hope the day does not come when i smack myself in the head and say “dammit! standard deviation is killing me!”

      • bernhtp - Jul 16, 2013 at 2:52 PM

        Hmmm. I get noted for alluding to St. Paul’s epiphany and then statistical probability distributions in consecutive days. This is a Notre Dame board after all.

    • onward2victory - Jul 16, 2013 at 1:20 PM

      My thoughts exactly bern. And the standard dev. comment is spot on. Can’t wait to see how this kid looks against Temple!

      • bernhtp - Jul 16, 2013 at 2:49 PM

        Speaking of standard deviants, we haven’t heard from dickasman in a while.

  5. whisk3yjack - Jul 16, 2013 at 3:17 PM

    Which two voters left Grace unranked? Because that’s indefensible.

    • bernhtp - Jul 16, 2013 at 3:31 PM

      Given that Jarrett has played little and never started, why is this indefensible? We have high hopes and expectations for him, but there is approximately zero track record on the field to count on. He is all promise and potential, which has obvious risk. Given the position, his history behind one of Notre Dame all-time greats, and what we hear from practice, I would put him in my top 25, probably top 20, but it isn’t indefensible to put others in front of him.

      • whisk3yjack - Jul 17, 2013 at 4:21 PM

        Grace has been confirmed as the starting MILB. Every one of our 22 starters should, by definition, be on a top-25 list of “impact” players. So two of the panelists either (1) don’t know Grace will be starting; or (2) think that a depth player will somehow have a bigger impact than a starter. Either way, I’d like to know who two two guys are, so I can disregard their opinions on NDFB in the future.

      • bernhtp - Jul 17, 2013 at 5:28 PM

        Both Fox and Calabrese are fifth year players and listed ahead of Grace. They have historically platooned at the Will, but it’s possible one of them (Carlo) will beat out Grace at the Mike. There’s also only one RB position, but Atkinson, Carlisle and Bryant will play it, and all three made the top 25. Special teams play will also contribute to the value/ranking.

        Net, net – probably wrong, but not indefensible.

  6. upthera44 - Jul 16, 2013 at 5:10 PM

    I feel like Farley is a bit underrated here. He was pretty phenomenal in his first year last year (interceptions, big plays on goal-line stands, sure tackling, etc.) and with his intelligence and poise I think he will continue to grow into being a leader on the team. So I would put him closer to the top 10 mark.

    • bernhtp - Jul 16, 2013 at 7:03 PM

      Farley is a great story, but he will get competitive pressure from the likes of Shumate and Redfield. The secondary will have a lot more depth.

  7. fnc111 - Jul 16, 2013 at 6:37 PM

    The two reasons to watch ND this year- Jaylon Smith and Jarrett Grace. True ND guys to the core. Those types of guys are what it’s all about.

    I’m guessing Brian Kelly will bench Smith for the game at the $h!t house of AA. You know, the same thing he did to the freshmen studs Lynch and Tuitt two years ago. I swear Kelly purposely tries to lose to those bums.

  8. onward2victory - Jul 16, 2013 at 7:19 PM

    Dude is your wife sleeping with CBK or something??

    • andy44teg - Jul 16, 2013 at 11:22 PM

      LOL…someone asked that same question months ago! To no one’s surprise, fnc failed to answer the question.

  9. seadomer - Jul 16, 2013 at 7:57 PM

    Sorry to interject … can one of you regulars give a short answer to this?
    I have been blindsided by life but I swear reading quickly I could not ascertain our QB situation … I assume it TR, Hendrix then MZ right?

    • papadec - Jul 16, 2013 at 9:08 PM

      Right – for now, before practice starts.

      • seadomer - Jul 16, 2013 at 10:02 PM

        Thx… I know we support whoever comes in as No 1
        I was thinking all permutation of this
        TR, AH, MZ …. makes sense

        AH, TR, MZ …. OMG TR has regressed or AH dramatically improves after he trips over one of his thick premed textbook, can’t be good

        MZ, TR, AH … fasten your seat belts … the opposing D have no film,

        I think the last case would cause all opposing D coordinators to drink heavily.

      • nudeman - Jul 17, 2013 at 9:23 AM

        I disagree on your MZ fantasy. NFC.

        Unless Chuck Martin was bluffing, he’s not remotely close to being a starting QB against teams like Michigan in Ann Arbor (week 2). And make no mistake, if you start him against Temple you’ve got to start him against UM, or else you’ve got an 18 year old QB who’s just been benched on national TV on your hands.

        While it is possible, I see it as highly unlikely. Like 2%.

  10. seadomer - Jul 16, 2013 at 10:14 PM

    Also, assuming Ghouslton-san returns wouldn’t it be epic to see if EG, MZ or our 2014 commit compete …. and the resultant would surely be at an elite level…. D will be even stronger and more experienced in 2014, same with the O line, still good but not elephant-like. …

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