Tuitt Nix

Offseason cheat sheet: Defensive line

16 Comments

My how things have changed. Once a position group that was the bane of Notre Dame fans’ existence, the defensive line has powered the renaissance Brian Kelly has orchestrated. That being said, this group isn’t without some setbacks. Two players that looked like key reserves on the line, Chase Hounshell and Tony Springmann, are lost for the season. That’s forced young talent like Isaac Rochelle into the two-deep depth chart earlier than planned.

Still, with two starters that’ll likely end up as first round draft picks, and young talent that’s on the rise, this group should be counted on as one of the strengths of the team. While depth is still somewhat of an issue, let’s run through the defensive line.

POSITIONAL OVERVIEW

Across the front three, the Irish should be as good as anyone in the country. With Tuitt, Nix and Day, the Irish have a stout trio that can hold up and play dominant football against the run but also get after the quarterback.

If you listened carefully to Kelly this camp, expect to see Louis Nix on the field for more passing downs, with the staff thinking that Nix has more to add to the pass rush. Add Tuitt’s pass rush skills and the ability for Ishaq Williams or Prince Shembo to put a hand in the ground and a four-down front on passing downs could be scary for opposing offensive lines.

How well the Irish play will likely be determined by the second wave of talent. Guys like Kona Schwenke and Tyler Stockton are veterans that haven’t seen the field much yet, but will be counted on to take quality reps. First year contributors like Isaac Rochelle and Jarron Jones also have responsibilities heaped on them from the start if this group is going to be as good as advertised.

ROSTER READING

1. Stephon Tuitt, Jr. #7
2. Louis Nix, Sr. #1
3. Sheldon Day, Soph. #91
4. Isaac Rochelle, Fr. #90
5. Kona Schwenke, Sr. #96
6. Jarron Jones, Soph. #94
7. Justin Utupo, Sr. #53
8. Tyler Stockton, Sr. #92
9. Jacob Matuska, Fr. #89
10. Chase Hounshell, Jr. #50
11. Tony Springmann, Jr. #69
12. Marquis Dickerson, Fr. #95
13. Arturo Martinez, Sr. #86

CRYSTAL BALL

With Tuitt healthy after a hernia robbed him of some explosiveness down the stretch last season and Nix prepared to leave college football with a bang, don’t expect to see these two come off the field too often. That should leave Day with quite a few one-on-one opportunities, and this coaching staff believes they’ve got a player that should be able to feast on them.

With a ton of inexperienced quarterbacks on the schedule and less spread opponents than in the past, expect Tuitt to take a take down Justin Tuck’s single-season sack record. It’ll make for a tough decision for Tuitt after the season: Leave school early or return for his fourth season.

If you’re looking for a sleeper? Don’t snooze on Justin Utupo. He might not have the size needed to play on the interior, but he could be the type of handful that becomes a high energy change of pace. Utupo could earn time because of Tony Springmann’s season-ending knee injury, a blow to the depth chart that’ll necessitate Ishaq Williams’ cross-training at defensive end.

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

Notre Dame v Florida State
Getty
3 Comments

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)

 

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

BVG
23 Comments

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.

***

Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention

os-notre-dame-ad-pleased-acc-move-20140513-001
Getty
11 Comments

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.