Greg Bryant

Bryant impressing during bowl prep

21 Comments

After what many thought was a lost season, freshman running back Greg Bryant is making up for lost time. During Notre Dame’s preparations for the Pinstripe Bowl, the five-star recruit is practicing up to his reputation, earning the praise of his head coach over the weekend after recovering from minor knee surgery.

“He’s moving along very well after the procedure that he had,” head coach Brian Kelly said. “He’s running around, took some carries in our scrimmage. He’s really good, really excited about where he can be next year.”

Bryant’s development was a constant question in Kelly’s weekly meetings with the media this season. But after undergoing a surgery similar to the one that ended Louis Nix’s career at Notre Dame, Bryant is healthy, happy, and ready to join the competition this spring for carries in a very crowded backfield.

Last week, we talked about Bryant’s redshirt season, and what it could mean for the Irish depth chart. While Bryant needs to carve out a niche for himself next year, it’s clear that getting healthy — and saving a year of eligibility — could pay immediate dividends.

“I think we did the right thing with him not playing this year, because I can see where his development and how he’s going to help our football team next year. He’s a dynamic player,” Kelly said.

If you listened to the rumors and message boards, Bryant had one foot out the door this season as he didn’t step onto campus and dominate, as some thought he could.  Yet the Florida native seems to have kept an even keel, shrugging off some of the questions that came with not playing right away.

“It wasn’t that he wasn’t happy. Every freshman goes through that period of time,” Kelly explained. “First, that ‘Hey, I’m a great player. I should be playing.’ Then, how do I communicate that back to my friends that I’m not playing? What’s wrong with you? You’re not a good player?

“I think his dad helped him a lot with that. Usually you find a parent to help get involved in that. So you’re having a conversation with the parent. That usually helps a lot. It starts there.”

While things came slowly on the field, Bryant did get an early taste of what’s expected from him. That included some early touches this season. But more importantly, it included an acclimation to college football that is really important at a school like Notre Dame.

“Handling the academics, handling just being here at Notre Dame, that with the rigors of college football and everybody’s a really good player,” Kelly said, when asked about his goals for Bryant this season. “His experience here is going to be not just on the field but off the field as well. He’s done a really good job.”

Kelly singled out Bryant’s work in the classroom, usually a good indication that a student-athlete is engaged in the process. And after watching snippets of Bryant during the Pinstripe Bowl’s practice reports, it appears that the knee injury hasn’t diminished the running back’s hunger to compete.

After watching Everett Golson and Davaris Daniels excel after a redshirt season, Bryant can follow a similar plan. It might not be immediate, but it’s certainly good enough.

 

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

Notre Dame v Florida State
Getty
5 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)

 

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

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.