Durham Smythe

Freshman Focus: Durham Smythe

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It’s not often Notre Dame gets in late on a recruit committed to Texas and ends up getting him to sign with the Irish. But that’s exactly what happened with tight end Durham Smythe, with the Texas native walking away from his commitment to Mack Brown and the Longhorns in favor of Brian Kelly’s tight end friendly scheme.

With the Irish already having Mike Heuerman in the recruiting class, Smythe, who committed to Texas back in March but decommitted in December, looks more like a perk of an undefeated regular season than a must have. But with the depth chart veteran heavy and the Irish offense constantly evolving, accepting the commitment of a lifelong Irish fan — and an excellent pass catching tight end — made too much sense.

Let’s take a closer look at Durham Smythe.

RECRUITING PEDIGREE

There’s some variance between recruiting services, with Rivals viewing Smythe as a three-star prospect while 247 has him in their top 250. But with a (one-time) Texas commitment, and offers from Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Miami, Oregon and Stanford, it’s hard to see the 6-foot-5, 240-pound tight end as anything but an elite prospect.

Kelly talked about what made Smythe such an attractive prospect.

“He hasn’t even tapped his potential at 6’5″, 230, and he’s 230 right now,” Kelly said on Signing Day. “He’s going to be obviously a big, physical player for us but has the soft hands and the ability to get out and run routes. We’re excited about Durham coming in later in the process, but getting a chance to meet his family and spending time, it’s a great fit.”

After stepping away from his commitment to Texas in December, Smythe took an official visit in early January to Stanford before visiting South Bend less than two weeks before Signing Day. He left campus committed to the Irish.

EARLY PLAYING TIME OPPORTUNITIES

Irish fans didn’t have months to explore Smythe and what he brings to the Irish offense. But looking at the depth chart, moving ahead of three veterans — Alex Welch, Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack, might be too much to ask of a freshman.

That said, there’s a multiplicity to the Irish offense, and nobody on the current depth chart has shown themselves to be an every down lock like Tyler Eifert or Kyle Rudolph had. Both Heuerman and Smythe need to do some growing into their frames, but each seem to be a capable receiver first, with the ability to battle in the trenches coming after some time in the weight room.

Still, saving a year of eligibility wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, especially with Welch, Koyack and Niklas all potentially exiting in the same year.

PROJECTING THE FUTURE

Again, without a long look at Smythe, we won’t truly know what the Irish have until we’ve seen him work with the team. But there’s every reason to be excited about a kid with elite recruiting offers and size and hands you just can’t teach.

As we look at the way the depth chart plays out, many expect Alex Welch to come back strong after a knee injury ended his 2012 during the preseason. The staff hasn’t lost any belief in Ben Koyack after an up and down sophomore season, and Troy Niklas looks like he’ll be a standout player in his final two seasons of eligibility.

That said, there’s room for everyone in this offense, with last season showing the multiple ways tight ends can be used. During spring, we saw the Z (slot) receiver position manned by a tight end, and there’s reason to believe that two and three tight ends could be on the field at the same time, making for some difficult run-pass conflicts for opposing defenses.

The staff loves Smythe’s ability to catch the football, and with the size he walks onto campus with, there’s every reason to believe he’ll find a way into this offense. When is the big question.

 

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

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Some believe that the best way to look at recruiting is in two-year increments. As programs rebuild and rosters turn over, covering the needs of a football team over two recruiting cycles  allows a coaching staff to balance its roster.

That balance is critical to the health of a program. And it’s not just the work of a rebuilding coach. As we saw in Brian Kelly’s sixth season, injuries, attrition and scheme change impacted the defense, especially in the secondary.

Another position set to deal with major change is wide receiver. Gone is All-American Will Fuller, departing South Bend after three years, scoring 29 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He’ll look to run his way into the first round of the NFL Draft. Also gone are veterans Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, putting the Irish in an unenviable position, needing to replace the team’s three leading receivers.

Reinforcements aren’t just on the way, they’re already on campus. While there’s not a ton of production to see, the recruiting stockpile has created a chance to reload for Mike Denbrock’s troop. So let’s take a look at the additions and subtractions on the roster, analyzing the two-year recruiting run as we restock the receiving corps.

DEPARTURES
Will Fuller
, Jr. (62 catches, 1,258 yards, 14 TDs)
Chris Brown, Sr. (48 catches, 597 yards, 4 TDs)
Amir Carlisle, GS (32 catches, 355 yards, 1 TD)
Jalen Guyton, Fr. (transfer)

 

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Equanimeous St. Brown

Miles Boykin*
CJ Sanders
Jalen Guyton
Chase Claypool*
Javon McKinley*
Kevin Stepherson*

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Corey Robinson, Sr.
Torii Hunter, Sr.*
Justin Brent, Jr.*
Corey Holmes, Jr.*
CJ Sanders, Soph.
Miles Boykin, Soph.*
Equanimeous St. Brown, Soph.
Kevin Stepherson, Fr.*

 

ANALYSIS
Brian Kelly expects St. Brown to step into Will Fuller’s shoes. If the Irish are able to pluck another sophomore from obscurity to the national spotlight, it’ll say quite a bit about the depth and productivity the Irish staff has built at the position. At 6-foot-5, St. Brown has a more tantalizing skill-set than Fuller—and he was a national recruit out of a Southern California powerhouse. But until we see St. Brown burn past defenders and make big plays, assuming the Irish won’t miss Fuller is a big leap of faith.

The next objective of the spring is getting Corey Robinson back on track. The rising senior had a forgettable junior season, ruined by injuries and some bruised confidence. A player who has shown flashes of brilliance during his three seasons in South Bend, the time is now for Robinson, not just as a performer but as an on-field leader.

Torii Hunter Jr. is also poised for a big season. After finding reps at slot receiver and possessing the versatility to see the field from multiple spots, Hunter needs to prove in 2016 that he’s not just a utility man but an everyday starter. His hands, smooth athleticism and speed should have him primed for a breakout. But Hunter might not want to stay in the slot if CJ Sanders is ready to take over. After a big freshman season on special teams, Sanders looks ready to make his move into the lineup, perhaps the purest slot receiver Brian Kelly has had since he arrived in South Bend.

The rest of the spring depth chart should have modest goals, though all face rather critical offseasons. Justin Brent is three years into his college career and the biggest headlines he’s made have been off the field. Whether he sticks at receiver or continues to work as a reserve running back remains to be seen. Corey Holmes is another upperclassman who we still can’t figure out. Will he ascend into the rotation with the top three veterans gone, or will he give way to some talented youngsters?

Miles Boykin earned praise last August, but it didn’t get him time on the field. He’ll enter spring with four years of eligibility, same as early-enrollee Kevin Stepherson. The Irish staff thinks Stepherson has the type of deep speed that they covet, capable of running past cornerbacks and stretching a defense. Boykin has size and physicality that could present intriguing options for an offense that’ll be less reliant on one man now that Fuller is gone.

Live Video Mailbag: 40-year decision, more BVG, freshmen and more

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We’ve done plenty of mailbags, but this is our first shot at a Live Video Mailbag. This should be a better way to answer more questions and hopefully interact with a few of you as we try to work off some of yesterday’s Super Bowl snacks.

Topics on the list: The 40-year decision, more Brian VanGorder talk, the incoming (and redshirt) freshmen and a whole lot more.

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Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention

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Amidst the chaos of their live Signing Day show, UND.com ran had a far-reaching interview with head coach Brian Kelly. It was conducted by his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and his former team captain, Joe Schmidt.

So while there was a little bit of talk about the 23 recruits who signed their national letters-of-intent, there was also a very illuminating exchange on an issue that’s really plagued the Irish the past few seasons: Injuries.

Football is a dangerous game. And for as long as people play it, there’ll be impactful injuries that take players off the field. But as Notre Dame settles into what looks like their longest run of stability since the Holtz era, the focus of Kelly and Swarbrick has moved past modernizing the team’s medical services, strength program and nutrition and onto the science of injury prevention.

Here’s what Kelly said about the efforts currently taking shape:

“I think the science piece is very important, because no longer is it just about strength and conditioning,  it’s about durability. It’s the ability to continue to play at an optimal level but also with the rigors of a college schedule, and particularly here at Notre Dame, how do we maximize the time but maximizing getting the most out of our student-athletes and not lose them?

“As you know, we’ve had a couple years here in a rough stretch of injuries. And how do we have an injury prevention protocol that brings in the very best science? You’ve done a great job of reaching out in getting us those kind of resources. so I think tapping into that is probably the next piece. As well as providing the resources for our student-athletes. Continuing to look at facilities. Continuing to give our student-athletes maybe that little edge. Because everybody’s got 85 scholarships.”

It’s clear that the issue is one that’s on the radar for not just Kelly, but the athletic administration. So it’ll be interesting to see some of the steps taken as the program begins investing time and additional resources to an issue that’s really hit the Irish hard the past few seasons.

There’s plenty of other good stuff in the 13-minute interview, so give it a watch.