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Counting down the Irish: 15-11

Jul 17, 2013, 11:02 AM EDT

Michigan v Notre Dame Getty Images

If the first five members of this list represented talented newcomers and untapped potential, the next five members of this group is filled with veterans ready to step into the spotlight.

To take a snapshot of the first ten names on our Top 25 list gives you a nice look at how this team’s roster is being built. A mix of talented recruits and newcomers will push to be included in the team’s top 22 (the starters), though every freshman ranks behind a veteran at their position. That’s healthy competition — the life blood of an elite program — something the Irish hope to cement themselves as this season after a surprising twelve-win campaign in 2012.

The next five members of this list all are expected to end up in the starting lineup. They’ve each taken a different route to get there, and all played important roles in last season’s success. They are equal parts highly touted recruits and developmental successes, but all have expectations to be heavy contributors if the Irish hope to make a BCS appearance.

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.)
20. Christian Lombard (RT, Sr.)
19. Amir Carlisle (RB, Jr.)
18. Carlo Calabrese (LB, Grad.)
17. Jarrett Grace (LB, Jr.)
16. Matthias Farley (S, Jr.)

RANKINGS

15. George Atkinson III (RB, Jr.) If there was a guy on this list that didn’t improve last season, it was Atkinson. Stuck in a battle for carries with Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, Atkinson struggled to find his stride, even taking a step back as a kick returner after returning two for touchdowns as a freshman.

Of course, calling Atkinson’s sophomore season a slump doesn’t really take into consideration the fact that he still managed to average 7.1 yards per carry. That gives you an idea of the big play potential he has every time he touches the football, with big runs against Navy, Michigan State and Miami among the most explosive plays of the season.

At a shade over 6-foot-1 and almost 220 pounds, Atkinson has a power physique and world class sprinter speed. He was listed among the top “freaks” in college football, by CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman. But to be the running back this team needs, he’ll have to continue to get better at the basics. Making the right read, getting his pad level down, salvaging something out of nothing. That’s what Brian Kelly and his staff value and that’s why Atkinson is still battling Amir Carlisle and Cam McDaniel for the starting job.

A strong spring practice has many inside the program believing that any immature streak in Atkinson’s past is gone and he’s ready to become the alpha dog. If he can continue to develop as a back, he’s got the upside to be absolutely frightening to opposing defenses.

Highest Ranking: 7th. Lowest Ranking: 21st.

14. Dan Fox (LB, Grad.) Nobody got the fresh start they needed when Brian Kelly and his staff took over more than Fox. Stuck as a bit of a tweener, many raised an eyebrow when Kelly and Bob Diaco shifted Fox to the inside of the 3-4 defense, asking a guy many thought could’ve been a safety to play in the trenches for this defense.

Fox latched onto Diaco’s tutelage and stepped into the starting lineup in 2011, sharing time with Carlo Calabrese but immediately helping to upgrade the athleticism in the front seven. Last year was his best season for the Irish, still ceding time to Calabrese in goal line situations, but playing more than just a complimentary role to Manti Te’o.

Entering his final year of college football, Fox is the type of guy that has become a very productive BCS player. Built from the ground up after being a hurdler and safety in high school, the 240-plus pound linebacker has infused athleticism into a position that for far too long was one of the detriments of the Irish defense.

Highest Ranking: 8th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (one ballot).

13. Sheldon Day (DE, Soph.) Day makes an impressive leap onto this list after a promising freshman season spent backing up Stephon Tuitt and Kapron Lewis-Moore. That Day’s ascent into the starting lineup and impact on the defense is all but assumed gives you an idea that the Indianapolis native is set for big things.

It’s hard to read too much into a debut season that featured only included two sacks and less than two dozen tackles, but Brian Kelly has raved about Day’s abilities. While he’s undersized for a defensive end in this system, he’s already being called one of the team’s best block destructors and is expected to be a disruptive force up front, especially when Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt demand the attention of opposing offenses.

If there’s a flier on this list, it might be Day. But there’s every reason to believe the hunch this group takes on him is well worth it. Stepping into one of the best front sevens in the country as a true freshman and making a significant contribution shows you how talented Day is. There’s every reason to believe that another year in the weight room and another season developing will lead to big things for the talented sophomore.

Highest Ranking: 10th. Lowest Ranking: 19th.

12. Danny Spond (OLB, Sr.) After hearing from Brian Kelly since day one how talented Danny Spond was, last season finally proved the Irish head coach right. Spond, one of Kelly’s first targets after taking the head job late in the recruiting cycle, became one of the key members of the Irish defense, sliding into the ‘Dog’ outside linebacker job, and allowing Prince Shembo to shift to the boundary side of the field, where he thrived.

Spond started eleven games for the Irish, playing a critical role not just against the run, but as an excellent drop and cover linebacker that was so talented he ended up playing cornerback in some nickel situations. Making that all the more impressive was the fact that many worried Spond would never play football again after a horrifying injury during training camp had many worried that his career was over. But after weeks of exploration by doctors, Spond’s severe migraine headaches cleared up and he became one of the glue guys in the Irish defense.

With the back-end of the Irish defense in much better shape than it was last season, Spond won’t likely be asked to do everything like he did at times in the coverage scheme. And after a successful first season in the starting lineup, Spond’s already cerebral nature will help take his experience playing and apply it quickly. Making things interesting for the Irish defensive staff is how to use all the talented outside linebackers on this roster. Ishaq Williams, Jaylon Smith, Spond and returning starter Prince Shembo all need to see the field, and keeping Spond on the field to help against the pass while the other three are among the team’s best edge rushers gives the Irish a true champagne problem heading into 2013.

Highest Ranking: 5th. Lowest Ranking: 25th.

11. Tommy Rees (QB, Sr.) For all the vitriol that Rees tends to feel from some Irish fans still angry about 2011′s turnover problems, the voting panel was just as divided about the senior quarterback. The school’s most accurate passer entering his final season in South Bend, Rees has gone from unheralded, surprise freshman starter to one of the team’s veteran leaders, called upon in a pinch to rescue a team with high hopes even with Everett Golson gone for the year.

For as much as people focus on what Rees can’t do, there’s plenty that make him one of the most valued members of this roster. The school’s most accurate passer in the program’s history, Rees knows the offense inside and out, completes the throws that need to be made, and has had success moving the offense, primarily in 2011.

Of course, no dissection of Rees can come without mentioning the turnover problems that plagued him during his sophomore season. When the Irish cleaned them up in 2012, they went from an eight-win team to the BCS National Championship game.

It won’t be hard for the Irish offense to take a step forward this season, especially when you look back at the growing pains the team went through as it developed Golson. In Rees’ final season, he’ll need to improve on the accuracy of his deep throws as well as his decision making. He’ll never be the running threat the Irish had with Golson, but there’s every reason to believe he can improve on the turnovers, with four years in the offense and continuity with Chuck Martin.

Highest Ranking: 3rd. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (one ballot).

***

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. NotreDan - Jul 17, 2013 at 11:15 AM

    You know, I sit here, and I’m just glad we have TR, seriously.

    It seems to work that way in life, you never really know how things will turn out, but if you pay close enough attention, you’ll see that most things happen for a reason, and in the end, they usually work out just the way they should.

    GO IRISH!

    • domerboyirish - Jul 17, 2013 at 2:11 PM

      Let me start by saying I think TR will have a good enough year that we will win a ton of games. He makes up for a lack of mobility and arm strength with good presnap reads and his knowledge of the playbook. His experience will be critical this year.

      The one thing I take exception to is the commens regarding his completion percentage. It doesn’t take a lot of ability to throw jump balls to Floyd and Eifert. I recall many passes that were up for grabs that those two just went up and snagged. That can rally inflate a qb’s compeltion percentage. Those guys are long gone and that security blanket isn’t available with the current set of receivers. Unless someone steps up to fill that role I think you see the competion percentage drop off this year. That’s just my gut opinion.

      • domerboyirish - Jul 17, 2013 at 2:55 PM

        Keith, I need the ability to edit!!!!!!

      • mcirish27 - Jul 17, 2013 at 4:37 PM

        Can’t you just proofread?

  2. mediocrebob - Jul 17, 2013 at 11:33 AM

    Well said , Dan. I’ll let the other people write off the Irish BC of Rees. I’ll stand by him one more time. We’d be in a lot of trouble had he taken off after seeing Golson take over last year.

  3. irishaggie - Jul 17, 2013 at 11:50 AM

    I was wrong about Dan Fox missing the cut. I think he’s worthy, I was just surprised to see him in front of Carlo and Jarrett. 10 of the first 15 have been defensive players. I predicted 17, it will surely only be 15.This is by far the most talented Notre Dame team I have seen in my life time. I was born in 1991. Fan since i can remember, but unfortunately I missed out on all the other great teams.

    I defend Tommy Rees a lot. I agree that he’s not an elite talent and maybe just an above average QB. What I really like about him is how quickly he makes decisions. Im hoping his senior decisions are better than 2011′s. I believe Brian Kelly will be more aggressive with the offense this season because of Tommy (although obviously not using the full playbook).

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - Jul 17, 2013 at 2:36 PM

      1991? I may have underwear older than you.

      P.S. I went to hit the reply button but hit the thumbs down by accident, sorry it was unintentional.

      • dillonbigred - Jul 17, 2013 at 2:55 PM

        I know I do.

      • papadec - Jul 17, 2013 at 9:07 PM

        Ohhhhhh Good Grief – now I do feel old! My kids are older than you – and I know I have ND drinking glasses & T-shirts that are too. Someone pass the Geritol.

  4. 4horsemenrideagain - Jul 17, 2013 at 12:02 PM

    The broken record of “Tommy Rees can’t run. Tommy Rees can’t throw. Tommy Rees takes to long at the line to make his audibles…” will continue to be heard all season, regardless of what success this team has. There will be people who complain, even after wins, that the wins weren’t pretty enough or that they should have won more decisively.

    It’s true that a strong defense hides plenty of warts. There isn’t a team on the schedule that will put up more than 20 points on this defense, with most teams being held below 10. This defense will cause turnovers and be much more than just a “bend, but don’t break” stopgap. This takes plenty of pressure off an offense that still has plenty of weapons, separate and apart from TR’s shortcomings. Along those lines, if Trent Dilfer could win a Super Bowl, TR can lead this team to 10+ wins. No doubt in my mind. And just to give the naysayers something to get all riled up about, I’ll say it here: ND goes into Stanford 11-0.

  5. onward2victory - Jul 17, 2013 at 12:19 PM

    I guess this means my favorite player, Keivarae Russell, makes the top 10?! I love the way he plays with so much confidence. Fearless and athletic.

    So stoked to watch this defense!

  6. ndadvocate - Jul 17, 2013 at 12:21 PM

    Welcome to South Bend Corey Holmes! This kid is a nice pull.

  7. 25kgold - Jul 17, 2013 at 1:16 PM

    • bernhtp - Jul 17, 2013 at 1:53 PM

      Great kid and recruiting win. But we also need to hire the videographer/editor that produced this. This video has by far and away to best quality I’ve seen in a highlight reel – great camera work, great editing, great highlight effects, etc.

      • papadec - Jul 17, 2013 at 3:47 PM

        Absolutely agree – even I was able to follow him in these highlights. He is going to be an exciting player @ ND.

      • bb90grad - Jul 17, 2013 at 5:56 PM

        Love the coach miked up at 2:58; “somebody’s makin’ a play”.

  8. nudeman - Jul 17, 2013 at 2:23 PM

    Tommy Rees belongs on the list, no doubt. I’ve hammered him for a lot of things over the years, but the fact is the man is still standing; the ultimate survivor. Not even a taxi cab driver or an overweight constable have been able to stop him.

    He’s not the best athlete. He’s not even the most talented QB on the roster, I think we’d all agree. But he’s the QB at the University of Notre Dame and I’ve got to salute him for that.

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - Jul 17, 2013 at 2:41 PM

      Nude, was the cop overweight? I don’t remember reading that and I would hate to think you’d disparage our boys in blue…..(insert donut joke here!)

    • nudeman - Jul 17, 2013 at 3:18 PM

      Aren’t most cops overweight?

      Oh, sorry. It’s “Politically Correct Wednesday”. Forgot.
      I take that back and will make no further references to donut eating cops, white running backs, fair haired Italians, sober Irishmen, black white supremacists or peace loving Muslims

      • jimpy49 - Jul 17, 2013 at 9:23 PM

        Nude, you are starting to sound like Dickasman. Don’t go over that edge, man…..

        Reese is a survivor, and lots of people besides cops like donuts…..

      • jerseyshorendfan1 - Jul 17, 2013 at 10:17 PM

        Have you seen the “Cronut”? It’s half croissant half donut……changed my life.

      • NotreDan - Jul 17, 2013 at 10:49 PM

        I TOTALLY got all the sarcasm nude, LOL

    • papadec - Jul 17, 2013 at 3:52 PM

      Our Rocky Balboa? Maybe even the poster boy for “Invictus”? Hat’s off to you nude – for that post.

  9. nudeman - Jul 17, 2013 at 2:25 PM

    And bern, Tommy Rees just took over the standard deviation lead.

    • NotreDan - Jul 17, 2013 at 3:11 PM

      I noticed that too!

      BTW I’ve had some fun in the Yahoo comment sections on Spurrier’s comments at the SEC thing… what a d-bag he is.

      • papadec - Jul 17, 2013 at 3:56 PM

        NotreDan – Spurrier always has been, still is, always will be. A perfect fit for the sec.

      • irishaggie - Jul 17, 2013 at 3:59 PM

        Steve Spurrier sounded like such a liberal yesterday. He wants everything to be fair, ‘lets give you this”, “lets give you that”, “let me feed your parents too while were at it”. Im pretty sure if South Carolina made as much revenue as ND, they would be independent. If you’re swimming in money, you dont want to share Steve, its logic.

      • NotreDan - Jul 17, 2013 at 6:11 PM

        My post, which shut them ALL up was… “How come nobody ever complains about BYU not being in a conference?”

  10. bb90grad - Jul 17, 2013 at 5:58 PM

    Someone posted on CBSportsline that now that ND has (sorta) joined, the ACC is relevant again. Luv it.

  11. onward2victory - Jul 17, 2013 at 6:50 PM

    Spurrier is basing his argument on the assumption that these “super-conferences” are unquestionably a good thing. I’m not convinced. The sport has grown a ton in popularity recently and I think will continue to grow with these super-conferences, but I’m afraid college football is going to get too big for its own good. And years from now we’ll look back at this current time period as the era that brought CFB from amateurism to a huge semi-pro league, and we’ll look back fondly of “how it used to be”.

    Either way, I hope Jack and/or CBK address his comments and make the Ol’ Ball Coach look dumb.

    • papadec - Jul 17, 2013 at 9:20 PM

      Spurrier doesn’t need any help sounding stupid – he does a fine job by himself. If he’s the best spokesperson for the sec – welllllllllllll there you go, that says it all. I don’t hear anyone complaining about Army & Navy, as independents either, & aren’t there 1 or 2 more independents this year? Maybe that’s the new Independent League? Just checked espn – answered my own question. There are seven (7) independents – add Idaho, New Mexico State & Old Dominion to those mentioned.

    • NotreDan - Jul 17, 2013 at 10:52 PM

      great insight onward2… love the intelligence behind most of “our” posts here.

  12. fnc111 - Jul 18, 2013 at 10:02 AM

    Tommy Turnover.

    The all-time leader in screen passes completed.

    Who is the writer crappin?

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