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Blue-Gold game: Ten Irish players to watch

Apr 9, 2014, 2:31 AM EDT

Elmer AP

The 85th annual Blue-Gold game is set to kickoff Saturday at 12:30 p.m. EDT. While the game format has yet to be finalized, one thing (other than an Irish victory) seems to be certain: We’ll get a very good look at the future Irish squad.

For those in attendance, the weather looks like a rare spring day that’ll bring sunshine. For those of us watching on the NBC Sports Network, they’ll have an opportunity to pause and rewind, utilizing their DVR to get one last look at Notre Dame football before Labor Day weekend.

Don’t expect Brian Kelly to reveal too many secrets. Nor will he give too many minutes to proven starters (blink and you might miss KeiVarae Russell, Sheldon Day or Jaylon Smith.) But for emerging players on the roster, Saturday is a very important opportunity to leave a mark on the coaching staff.

RELATED: Watch the game online via NBC Sports Live Extra

So while the playcalling might be vanilla and the game clock will be running much of the second half, consider these 10 players to watch in Saturday’s Blue-Gold game.

 

MALIK ZAIRE
QB, Sophomore

While most of the attention this spring has been on Zaire’s intention to win the starting job, Saturday’s scrimmage serves as a key progress report for the Irish’s backup quarterback. The rising sophomore showed his first bit of promise at this time last year, throwing for a nice touchdown in an otherwise sloppy Blue-Gold affair.

But Zaire will need to show more than just glimpses of competency. He’s going to need to show the type of offensive comprehension that essentially makes him the offense’s second most important player, as Zaire’s ability to master the offense will likely dictate how wide open the playbook will be for Everett Golson as well.

One thing to watch for: Let’s see how Zaire does as the triggerman to the Irish’s option attack. We’ve seen glimpses of his slick skills in UND.com practice videos, but an efficient operator in an up-tempo spread option game could give the Irish the curveball they’ve been looking for in the red zone.

 

ROMEO OKWARA
DE, Junior

After being a jack-of-all-trades reserve outside linebacker, Okwara has used this spring to make the transition to defensive end. The North Carolina native is entering his third year playing in the Irish program, and while he’s still a teenager, the clock is ticking for him to make an impact.

The skillset is there. Long, powerful and explosive, Okwara is the type of athlete that looks the part of a dominant defensive end. But he’s got a long way to go from a technique perspective, and going up against Ronnie Stanley, Mike McGlinchey and the Irish’s other talented offensive tackles is a good test.

One thing to watch for: Don’t expect to see anybody lay a finger on either Irish quarterback. But Okwara should have the opportunity to pin his ears back and rush hard off the edge, something we still have no clue if he’s capable of doing. Okwara’s going to be asked to beat opponents’ best offensive tackles. Let’s see if he can beat the Irish’s talented group, first.

 

GREG BRYANT
RB, Sophomore

There might not be a player Irish fans want to see more than Bryant. After only getting a handful of touches before a knee injury prematurely ended his freshman season, Bryant is back with a vengeance this spring, one-third of a three-headed running back group that the former blue-chip recruit seems committed to leading.

At his best, Bryant has the ability to be a dynamic presence in both the run game and passing attack. He’s the most powerful back on the roster, and also might be the most natural pass catcher as well. We’ll likely get our first look at Bryant the punt returner as well, with the sophomore a candidate to replace TJ Jones as the team’s primary returner.

One thing to watch for: We’ll likely see Bryant get his share of carries. But even if Kelly and Mike Denbrock are doing their best to keep opponents from seeing the unknown commodity until the season begins, expect to see a wrinkle of Bryant in the passing game as well.

 

MIKE MCGLINCHEY
RT, Sophomore

That McGlinchey has taken over the right tackle job says quite a bit about the Philadelphia native. The largest man on the Irish roster, McGlinchey has all the upside in the world, but he’s being asked to learn on the fly. His ability to be a quick study has helped the Irish put three tackles on the field, with Steve Elmer shifting inside to left guard.

Both Harry Hiestand and Kelly marvel at the prospect that McGlinchey can become. We’ll get our first extended look on Saturday, when he’s asked to anchor the right side of the line.

One thing to watch for: How will McGlinchey plays within the nuances of offense? Does he hold up well against a speed rush? Can he deal with power techniques? Is he an effective run blocker? With butterflies likely fluttering before his first live televised game, playing with sound technique will be important.

 

MAX REDFIELD
S, Sophomore

Brian Kelly all but forced Redfield into the starting lineup against Rutgers. The move of Matthias Farley to nickel back all but assures he’ll stay there under Brian VanGorder’s watch as well. On Saturday, we’ll get our first look at Redfield’s progress, with the hopes that he becomes the center fielder and dynamic safety the Irish have missed desperately since Harrison Smith graduated.

Redfield has been asked to learn a new system this spring, with VanGorder and Kerry Cooks going back to square one with a very young secondary. But the five-star talent has game-breaking ability that is needed at a position with few certainties, and any learning curve needs to be in the rear view mirror.

One thing to watch for: The best safeties are the ones that show up everywhere. VanGorder’s attacking defense should set Redfield loose against both the run and the pass. Let’s see if he’s able to make a big play in both phases.

 

JOE SCHMIDT
ILB, Senior

We’ll finally get our chance to see the linebacker who has turned into the talk of spring practice. Schmidt will anchor the No. 1 defense on Saturday, a spot he’ll likely hold heading into fall camp. And after being one of the first to soak up VanGorder’s revamped defense, Schmidt will likely be set loose sideline to sideline tasked with making plays.

One thing to watch for: There are two types of spring breakthrough performers. The first are players whose game takes a huge step forward. The second are players that a coaching staff pushes forward, crediting the player while desperately hoping he makes an impact in the fall.

Everything suggests Schmidt has played his way into the starting lineup. But until we see him in action, there’ll be a healthy dose of skepticism about the former walk-on being the tonic desperately needed at a thin position.

 

DURHAM SMYTHE / MIKE HEUERMAN
TE, Sophomores

Neither of the sophomore tight ends on this team saw a minute of action last year. Now this duo will be thrust into the lineup, with only Ben Koyack at the position until reinforcements come this summer

Saturday will be our first good look at a rather odd couple. Smythe has drawn the attention and kudos of his head coach, with Kelly challenging the Texas native to continue to make strides in the weight room. The same needs to be said for Heuerman, who looks like a glorified H-back on the field, but could be a weapon in the passing game.

Heuerman brings a body type and skillset that hasn’t been in South Bend for a while. And Kelly’s praise and early returns give you reason to think that Smythe might be the next in a long line of good tight ends.

One thing to watch for: Will Mike Denbrock utilize his tight ends differently than Chuck Martin? Obviously the loss of Troy Niklas and Alex Welch turns this position into a different asset. But getting a look at both Smythe and Huerman’s ability to get downfield should be fun to watch.

 

TORII HUNTER JR.
WR, Sophomore

A freak leg injury cost Hunter his freshman season before he ever arrived on campus. Now we’ll get our first look at the talented Texas wide receiver, who is fighting his way into a very deep receiving corps.

How Hunter works his way onto the field remains to be seen. Brian Kelly has already stated that he feels good about his slot receiver position with Amir Carlisle and CJ Prosise. Outside receivers Will Fuller and Corey Robinson have impressed this spring, with Chris Brown supplying veteran leadership. Add in newcomer Justin Brent and Hunter, and you begin to wonder how the reps will split up… especially when DaVaris Daniels returns this summer.

One thing to watch for: Hunter will likely get a chance to develop chemistry with Malik Zaire, a partnership that probably existed on the scout team and with the reserve offense all spring. Against a thin secondary that’ll likely have quite a few walk-ons playing, Hunter should have the chance to put up big numbers in his “debut” for the Irish.

 

JARRON JONES
DT, Junior

The Irish’s move to a four-man front lessened the burden on Jarron Jones. No longer tasked with directly filling Louis Nix’s shoes, Jones will line up next to Sheldon Day on the interior of the Irish defensive line, playing an attacking role after learning the art of holding the point of attack on the fly last season.

VanGorder spoke earlier this week about the need for Jones to continue to hone his craft and learn the art of his position. But he also acknowledged the knack Jones has for being productive, something that we saw flashes of last season and a habit that’s continued this spring.

One thing to watch for: There are high hopes for Jones, now that he’s settled into being a defensive tackle. Let’s see if he’s able to make some plays in the backfield on Saturday against a tough offensive line.

 

EVERETT GOLSON
QB, Senior

Any list wouldn’t be complete without Golson, who will be back on the field at Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since his suspension. Let’s not kid ourselves. We won’t see all that much from Golson and the offense, with any new wrinkles offensively kept for next season. But the Irish need a field general running their offense, and there’s no one better than Golson for that job.

After serving as a very athletic game manager in 2012, Golson needs to be the conductor of the Irish offensive orchestra, a group that’s in desperate need of more production. Seeing sparks of that Saturday will have many fans feeling better about the offense heading into summer.

One thing to watch for: After throwing downfield early and often last year with Tommy Rees, the Irish offense should be even more capable of doing so with Golson under center. It’s no secret that Kelly likes his receivers to go vertical. Let’s hope we see a few deep balls delivered by No. 5, with the idea that they put up very large chunks for the Irish offense.

 

 

  1. viktory2013 - Apr 9, 2014 at 5:35 AM

    Interesting seeing Strong and True; Corey Robinson, Keivarae Russell, Malik Zaire, and Everett Golson were featured. Intelligent, articulate, obviously STUDENT athletes…what a concept! Wonder if some of these other schools have heard of it?

  2. yaketyyacc - Apr 9, 2014 at 6:28 AM

    always fun to watch, not really a portent of the future. like watching Jeter swinging at imaginary balls. still fun!

  3. irishdog80 - Apr 9, 2014 at 9:49 AM

    Add Ishaq Williams to the list. I will be watching to see how he holds up against the ND O-Line.

  4. jerseyshorendfan1 - Apr 9, 2014 at 11:21 AM

    Who will win the coveted Junior Jabbie award for break-out performance at the spring game? I like Robinson to catch a few long balls.

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 9, 2014 at 3:44 PM

      mcglinchey for catching a TD on a tackle eligible, looking like Andy Heck.

      • jerseyshorendfan1 - Apr 10, 2014 at 12:35 PM

        Wow that’s going old school. Daddy like.

  5. 25kgold - Apr 9, 2014 at 11:34 AM

    Just in time for spring: http://youtu.be/eTpvahstQ3E

    • goirishgo - Apr 9, 2014 at 2:30 PM

      Trick Shot Monday is the best. Great to see the guys having fun.

  6. shaunodame - Apr 9, 2014 at 12:47 PM

    I wanna see where Elijah Shumate lines up and how much he plays. I think he’s a VERY talented player who has flown under the radar for the most part this offseason

  7. fnc111 - Apr 9, 2014 at 12:55 PM

    Let’s watch them all. It’s just a televised practice.

  8. onward2victory - Apr 9, 2014 at 3:14 PM

    I’ll be interested to see if they have made improvement in the red zone offense (no fades please). The Irish Illustrated video shows that they worked on some red zone stuff today. The video is worth watching if only to see Coach Van Gorder lay into Doug Randolf. The Mustache is back, with a vengeance.

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 9, 2014 at 3:34 PM

      I was hoping The Shirt for this season would feature a picture of BVG with something along the lines of the following:

      “Fear the Mustache”

      “If you Mustache, I’m the Defensive Coordinator”

      “A little bit of panache and a whole lotta mustache” or

      “Real men (and Purdue women) wear mustaches”

      • ndgoldandblue - Apr 9, 2014 at 4:04 PM

        My vote goes to the fourth one. Classic.

      • notredameirish1980 - Apr 9, 2014 at 4:56 PM

        Sure you’re not talking about BP women? Aw, the sight of sweat pants in August……

      • c4evr - Apr 10, 2014 at 6:11 PM

        How ’bout, ‘Ridin’ the Irish Mustache in 2014′…

  9. mmanor01 - Apr 9, 2014 at 3:19 PM

    Do you think BVG’s mustache is like Homer Simpson’s beard in that he shaves it off every morning and it instantly grows back into perfect shape?

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 9, 2014 at 3:35 PM

      I think if anyone tried to shave off BVG’s mustache, it would probably sprout a fist and punch them in the face.

    • heartofgoldandblue - Apr 9, 2014 at 3:49 PM

      This brings up a good question….

      Who would win in a fight?

      A. BVG’s mustache

      or

      B. Chuck Norris’ beard

      • jerseyshorendfan1 - Apr 9, 2014 at 5:10 PM

        Sorry to tell you this but Chuck Norris’ beard would probably roundhouse kick BVG’s stache right off his face. I heard that if you ask Chuck Norris what’s up, he will immediately roundhouse you to the face. I read it on the internet so it must be true.

      • mediocrebob - Apr 9, 2014 at 5:15 PM

        We’ll find out this fall if BVG’s stache is on Chuck’s level.

      • thefightinfloyds - Apr 10, 2014 at 12:16 PM

        Chuck Norris is a ladyboy… My 10 year old niece could break him in half like a dry twig.

      • 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 11, 2014 at 10:28 AM

        BVG’s mustache is so big, that it has its own mustache, and that mustache is bigger than Chuck Norris’ mustache.

        with that being said, chuck’s beard has some legendary roundhouse kick capabilities. I think that comes from being in 3 “Missing in Action” movies, and over a decade of “Walker Texas Ranger.”

    • mtflsmitty - Apr 9, 2014 at 11:51 PM

      I’m looking forward to the new in-season series KA will be running in partnership with UND.com on Mondays: The Good, Bad and the Ugly.

      The first section will be a video featuring Jack Nolan offering his assessment of the weather’s impact on BVG’s mustache. Of course, given the section title, the mustache always stands up heroicly to anything that bitch, Mother Nature, sends his way..

      Second section is photographic tour of fans in the stands that week, with Keith’s commentary. Although taunted relentlessly by Jack, Keith avoids ever having to ‘out’ Tommy Rees’ 2014 edition of peach fuzz.

      Final section is a series of BVG action shots doctored so he appears stacheless. Fully exposed upper lip…Ugly indeed.

  10. ndfenian - Apr 10, 2014 at 11:39 AM

    Why is all the talk on Zaire as the change of pace in the red zone? It may have been Tim Prister who started that theory but wouldn’t we rather have our starting QB, Golson, be our red zone guy?

  11. standingdomer - Apr 10, 2014 at 12:40 PM

    * Will Ishaq and Romeo be effective rushers?
    * Will we have any depth on the D-line to give players a rest?
    * Would Joe Schmidt be considered a “walk-on” if solely judged by his play on the field?
    * Will having a real quarterback and the threat of the pass open up our running attack? (I think yes, and our run game may be more formidable than our passing attack)
    * Do we truly have depth at wide receiver or just a bunch of potential?
    * Will Jaylon demonstrate noticable progress in his second year? (I sure hope so and if so, scary how good he’ll be!)
    * Will BVG roll out a streamlined/simplified scheme at first to showcase Redfield’s athleticism?
    * Is our defense really going to be that much worse than it was last year? (a lot of guys didn’t play up to the level of their reputation…)

  12. martyhealy - Apr 10, 2014 at 12:57 PM

    Keith, I agree with your order with respect to Zaire number 1 and Golson number 10.

    At least for now, Golson is the “Man”. Five interceptions by Golson might get me to sit up Saturday but I still think he has the job.

    I am a 100% Golson backer.Your title “Ten Irish Players to Watch” puts Golson right at the bottom since most ND fans know already what he brings and are much more curious about Zaire. “That’s me”

    Nothing will get me more excited for the upcoming season than if Zaire shows me he can definitely play also. Stay Healthy everyone.

    How much Flessinger will we see?
    Which two players fill Nix’s Blue/Gold running shoes Saturday?

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