Michigan State v Notre Dame

Entering with a bang, the time is now for senior class

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In college football, the twists and turns of every class tell an interesting story. Some gel together to form the nucleus of a winning squad. Others become an afterthought, decimated by injuries, attrition or coaching change.

Reading Lou Somogyi‘s terrific piece on the Irish’s recruiting class of 2011 ($) is an important reminder that things don’t always work out as planned.

Entering their senior season, this group was supposed to be the one that returned the Irish to glory. But Somogyi quotes filmmaker Woody Allen when accurately describing this group; “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”

Here’s a snippet from his excellent article at BlueandGold.com, breaking down the state of the 2011 recruiting class, now rising seniors on the Irish roster:

Three five-star prospects along the defensive front headlined Notre Dame’s 2011 recruiting harvest. Then there were three other complementary players added to the bonanza defensive line haul — and potentially a seventh star power prospect there who could play either offense or defense.

“Just wait until these guys enter their senior seasons at Notre Dame in 2014. Something special will be in the works.”

Well, here we are in the spring of 2014 … and suddenly the Fighting Irish with new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder are in a reconstruction phase, at least on paper, along the defensive line and front seven in general.

Notre Dame signed 23 recruits in 2011. Of that group, only 18 remain. Here are those that are gone:

George Atkinson: Declared for the NFL Draft.
Brad Carrico: Injury ended his career after sophomore season.
Aaron Lynch: Transferred to South Florida. Played one season before declaring for NFL Draft.
Stephon Tuitt: Declared for NFL Draft.
Troy Niklas: Declared for NFL Draft.

A quick time machine back to February 2011 would have Irish fans jumping for joy over their front seven haul. And as we hear similar excitement from Irish fans after signing the 2014 group, a quick reminder from three years ago gives us an idea of how quickly things can go pear-shaped.

Lynch and Tuitt only had ten games to play with each other before Lynch went home. Fellow five-star prospect Ishaq Williams is still waiting to become a full-time starter. Both Chase Hounshell and Tony Springmann, two key depth players, are coming off of serious injuries. So are linebackers Jarrett Grace and Ben Councell.

As we try and figure out what young talent will work their way into the lineup, the best guess might be someone not so young at all. Veteran Anthony Rabasa has an open road to playing time. The staff would love to get something out of Hounshell or Springmann. Joe Schmidt, a member of the 2011 class (but only awarded a scholarship last season), is in line for major playing time at inside linebacker.

Defense is hardly the only spot where opportunities arise. Veterans Conor Hanratty and Matt Hegarty should battle for time on the interior of the offensive line. Amir Carlisle will have his chance at slot receiver. But as we look at roster management, this is a make or break season for many players hoping to return to finish their eligibility.

After struggling to build roster depth, an astounding 15 seniors have a fifth year of eligibility remaining.

Rattling quickly through the positions, it’s easy to say that the Irish staff would welcome back Everett Golson, Carisle, DaVaris Daniels, Nick Martin, Grace and Matthias Farley without much question. Veteran depth on both the offensive and defensive fronts is essential to Kelly as well, so you can expect to see Springmann, Hounshell, Hanratty and Hegarty as well. It’s not crazy to think that 10 seniors will spend a fifth year in South Bend.

You wouldn’t have been called crazy if you predicted both Tuitt and Lynch would be gone after three seasons. You might have been if you predicted Niklas and Atkinson. But even with a large chunk of this group gone, there’s still time to have this class achieve its goals.

But the clock is ticking.

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

Notre Dame v Florida State
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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?)

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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)

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
Mark Harrell*, C/G
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.