Purdue v Notre Dame

Offseason cheat sheet: Wide Receivers

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Brian Kelly has worked hard at restocking the wide receiving corps. Since arriving in South Bend, Kelly did inherit some star power (see Floyd, Michael), but for the most part he was underwhelmed with the depth that existed on the roster he took over.

That’s not to say that Charlie Weis did a poor job recruiting wide receivers. It’s probably one of the positions he recruited best. But Weis never seemed to have enough bodies at the position, and one of Kelly’s first orders of business was to restock the shelves.

That hasn’t always been easy. Three players that started out at wide receiver, Bennett Jackson, Austin Collinsworth, and Matthias Farley, now roam the defensive backfield. Two more, Justin Ferguson and Davonte Neal, are now gone. And while the receiver position is the one spot that this staff hasn’t pulled a true blue-chipper, the depth chart is finally to a place where the passing game can take flight.

POSITIONAL OVERVIEW

For the first time under Kelly, the Irish passing attack won’t focus on one leading man. That’s not to say that there isn’t a pecking order, with TJ Jones entering his final season and Davaris Daniels ready to take flight. But there’s a pretty big drop after that dynamic duo, though it’s a solid blend of youth and journeymen that should help the Irish have their most diversified aerial attack since Kelly took over.

After Jones and Daniels, how the Irish breakdown their reps should be very interesting. Will CJ Prosise be a true Z receiver or will Amir Carlisle get the majority of snaps in the slot? Can a freshman standout like Corey Robinson or James Onwualu do enough to help the offense from the start? Will Daniel Smith prove to be more than just a great blocker?

Talking with people around the program, there’s a ton of confidence that while this position group doesn’t have a ton of experience, there’s a lot of talent. With a diverse group of talents, that should help power the Irish offense forward, even after a difficult offseason.

ROSTER READING

Here’s a look at all the wide receivers on the roster, doing our best to incorporate the depth chart as well.

1. TJ Jones, Sr. #7
2. Davaris Daniels, Jr. #10
3. Chris Brown, Soph. #2
4. CJ Prosise, Soph. #20
5. Daniel Smith, Sr. #87
6. Corey Robinson, Fr. #88
7. James Onwualu, Fr. #17
8. Will Fuller, Fr. #15
9. Luke Massa, Sr. #14
10. Torii Hunter Jr., Fr. #16
11. Nick Fitzpatrick, Sr. #28
12. Eric Lee, Jr. #37
13. Gerald Martinez, Soph. #83
14. Josh Anderson, Soph. #46
15. Omar Hunter, Fr. #81

CRYSTAL BALL

It might finally be saying something that the Irish could potentially go ten deep at the position this year, assuming a guy like Torii Hunter were healthy. But that we know so little about everyone minus Jones and Daniels is a scary proposition for Irish fans used to having a marquee talent playing on Saturday for the past decade.

That said, just because Jones and Daniels have flown under the radar doesn’t mean they can’t be national prospects. Both receivers were a silver lining in the Alabama game, playing well into the second half when the offense was all about throwing the ball. Expect both guys to have breakout seasons, with 1,000 yard upsides in an offense that could break loose after a modest ’12 output.

But the fun might exist what happens outside that duo. Will Chris Brown step in and play a role as a deep threat with a quarterback that hasn’t proven to be effective throwing down field? Will Corey Robinson be as impressive as he’s looked in practice videos? Can the Irish finally get some production out of the slot receiver position, perhaps proving Brian Kelly a genius of position switches again with the CJ Prosise experiment? Can a guy like Luke Massa carve out a niche in this offense, a big body type that’s more athletic than you think.

Just about everybody in the freshman class, with the exception of Hunter who is rehabbing an injury, looks like they’ll be able to contribute. If that happens is anyone’s guess, but the smart money has both Robinson and Onwualu playing from week one. Still, this looks like an offense that may have co-leading men, with the rest of the unit just hoping to fine a small supporting role.

Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Combine
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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

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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)
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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
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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)
Mark Harrell, Sr* (No Starts, fifth-year available)

*Harrell’s departure is not confirmed, though expected.  

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
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.