Prince Shembo

Notre Dame vs. Rutgers: Final thoughts before kickoff


It’s a beautiful day in New York, with the temperatures feeling more like autumn than late December. So any fears that Notre Dame’s final game of 2013 would end up an ice bowl can be forgotten.

Still, it’s hard not to think about the difference a year makes when watching the Irish play a 6-6 Rutgers team. This wasn’t how people saw this season ending. But with no better bowl options, the Irish headed to New York, where Yankees brass have shown plenty of love to Notre Dame, drumming up as much buzz for this game as possible.

Notre Dame just released a statement that juniors George Atkinson and Jalen Brown will not play today due to a violation of team rules. That’s not a great datapoint for Atkinson, whose request for an NFL evaluation coupled with some curious comments from his father, have you thinking there’s some trouble in South Bend brewing.

(CSN Chicago’s JJ Stankevitz has some scoop on Atkinson’s suspension, with a since deleted tweet from Atkinson spelling out a fairly minor incident.)

But trouble at bowl games isn’t anything new. And it’s the time of year where anything can happen.

Let’s walk through some final thoughts before kickoff.

Max Redfield moves into the starting lineup. Social media clued us in to one of the biggest developments of the season’s final month, with Redfield announcing on Instagram that he’s getting the start this afternoon. The freshman safety from Southern California was one of the team’s top recruits in the freshman class, but hasn’t made the immediate impact that Jaylon Smith has this year.

With safety play this season underwhelming, Redfield’s move is welcomed by Irish fans, stacking the back end of the Irish defense will some intriguing subplots heading into next season.

Brian Kelly has talked about the complexities of the safety position in the Irish defense. Let’s see if the extra 10 practices helped Redfield make the mental leap.

Is this goodbye for Stephon Tuitt? It could be the final game in a Notre Dame uniform for Stephon Tuitt. The hulking defensive end has a decision to make in the coming days, with the NFL’s deadline to enter the draft January 15. The second round grade that came back from the NFL’s advisory committee hasn’t changed the mock draft experts thoughts on Tuitt, with just about all of them still viewing Tuitt as a mid-first rounder.

But the microscope will only intensify in the coming months. Tuitt’s return could give him another season of game tape, another year with strength coach Paul Longo, and a critical piece of the puzzle for the 2014 defense.

Adios, Tommy Rees. It’s the final game for the senior quarterback that’s seen a lot of ups and downs. It’s also the end of an offensive era for the Irish, with Everett Golson’s return, and the recruitment of Malik Zaire, DeShone Kizer and Blake Barnett all bringing a dual-threat skill-set to South Bend.

Brian Kelly had plenty of success against Rutgers while at Cincinnati. Rees has had success throwing the ball down the field. Let’s see what the Irish have cooked up for Rees’ final game, likely the last of the slow-down, read, spread passing attack.

Will the Irish run the football effectively? It’s hard to tell if Rutgers has a good rush defense. Stats support that conclusion, but the Scarlet Knights haven’t played a single good rush offense and opponents prefer to pass on their mediocre defense.

Tarean Folston will get the start in the backfield. Cam McDaniel will likely spell him. But can the rebuilt interior of the Irish offensive line handle Darius Hamilton and Marcus Thompson? I tend to think they can.

Finishing Strong. How will the seniors on this team go out? Will we see Prince Shembo unleashed? Can TJ Jones put together a monster game? How will Bennett Jackson match up with jumbo wide receiver Brandon Coleman? On paper, the Irish have much better talent than Rutgers. Can the Irish take care of business and finish this season on a high note?

Will new coordinators put their own stamp on the game plan? Brian Kelly dodged the question of who was calling plays, jokingly crediting the good calls to him and the bad ones to Denbrock. But we’ll see if Denbrock’s influence will be seen this afternoon on offense, with the veteran assistant getting his first opportunity at Notre Dame to coordinate a unit.

The same goes for Cooks, who could bring a different philosophy to defending than Bob Diaco. Rutgers finished 102nd in turnovers lost, so it’ll be interesting to see if Cooks takes a few more chances to try and generate takeaways.



Restocking the roster: Running Backs

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Josh Adams #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs for a 26-yard gain against the USC Trojans in the first half of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Notre Dame’s running back depth chart was tested to its max less than 10 minutes into the season opener. The projected two-deep, Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, were both lost for the year—Bryant out of school as an academic and disciplinary casualty by the start of fall camp and Folston because of a knee injury suffered on his third carry of the season.

Welcome back to Notre Dame, Autry Denson.

The school’s all-time leading rusher in his first season as a running back coach had to be feeling a little woozy. He had a converted wide receiver taking featured-back carries and a true freshman a little over a year removed from his own major knee injury serving as his primary backup.

That the Irish had their most prolific running season under Brian Kelly says quite a bit about the job that Denson did. It’s also a credit to the offensive line blocking, the adjusted scheme that also protected two new starting quarterbacks, and the talent that remained at the position.

Spring presents new challenges. Tarean Folston should be a little over seven months removed from ACL surgery, making him doubtful to do anything more than wear a red jersey. With C.J. Prosise‘s departure, Adams goes from record-setting rookie to spring starter, with Williams likely carrying a large load as well.

Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh arrive this summer, reinforcements on the way. But before we get there, let’s take a look at the pre-spring roster at running back.


C.J. Prosise (156 carries 1,032 yards, 11 TDs)
Greg Bryant (lost preseason 2015)


Josh Adams (117 carries, 835 yards, 6 TDs)
Dexter Williams (21 carries, 81 yards, 3 TDs)
Tony Jones Jr.
Deon McIntosh 


Tarean Folston,* Sr.
Josh Adams, Soph.
Dexter Williams, Soph.
Justin Brent,* Junior

*Additional year of eligibility remaining.


ANALYSIS: This might be a position battle deferred to fall camp, especially if Folston is still in recovery mode. At this point, it doesn’t make sense to rush back from an ACL tear for 15 practices, so while the rising senior may be chomping at the bit to return, it’s better to save it until August.

Folston will likely be the team’s most versatile back, but keeping Adams off the field will be a hard chore. His breakaway speed was on display multiple times in 2015, with his record-setting run against Wake Forest the team’s longest play from scrimmage. Adams also likely added some mass and physicality to his game in the offseason weigh-training program, giving the Irish someone capable of hitting the big play and also moving the sticks in short yardage situations.

The staff believes that Dexter Williams is a talented back, so with three solid contributors on the roster before Jones or McIntosh hit campus, it’ll be fun to see how snaps get sorted. (From that perspective, you can only wonder how they’d have dealt with the champagne problem of having Prosise around…) Justin Brent remains an option as well, though the attrition from the receiving corps makes you think he’ll be back at receiver.

The wildcard in all of this is Folston. He’s a unique talent with natural ability you just can’t teach. If he’s fully recovered and ready to engage in a position battle, there won’t likely be a drop off even with the early departure of Prosise.


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


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?)