BYU v Notre Dame

Irish A-to-Z: Cam McDaniel

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Against just about all odds, senior Cam McDaniel led the Irish in rushing in 2013. With Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston joining him in the backfield in 2014, he faces similarly long odds to do it again.

But the betting man shouldn’t count McDaniel out. Even though he’s not the biggest, strongest or fastest back on the roster, McDaniel has been a productive football player for the Irish every chance he’s been given. In 2013, he worked his way to the top of a five-headed depth chart by being reliable as both an inside and outside runner, grinding out the tough yards when George Atkinson and Amir Carlisle couldn’t.

With the depth chart down to three backs, McDaniel doesn’t seem to have the skills that Folston and Bryant possess. But he does have the trust of his head coach, something that Kelly’s shown to be mighty important for a running back.

Let’s take a look a closer look at the Texas native and the challenge he faces in 2014.

 

CAM MCDANIEL
5’10” 207 lbs.
Senior, No. 33

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

McDaniel was just a three-star running back, even though he ran for over 1,900 yards as an All-State back at Coppell, earning District MVP at the highest level of play in Texas high school football. McDaniel was sitting on offers from programs like Stanford, Colorado, Minnesota, Iowa and Iowa State, but when Notre Dame came calling, it was all but over.

McDaniel committed in late November, where he joined soon to decommit Justice Hayes and George Atkinson in the 2011 recruiting class (who was then viewed as a receiver). Here’s what Kelly said about McDaniel on Signing Day.

“Here’s a young man that’s got great durability. Played at the highest level in Texas,” Kelly said. “Carried the ball inside. This is not a guy that lined up at the slot and they threw screens to. This is a guy that was able to run. The real sell for us was his durability, toughness and his ability to play through some injury and also have a dynamic piece to him as well. He can catch the football. He can play in all of the special teams for us. And he’s physical enough at 190 pounds that he can run inside. He’s got an inside presence.
We needed somebody that could bang it up inside as well. And his durability and his ability to play through some nicks and a couple of injuries was a huge component for us. He’s got good speed at the top end of competition.”

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2011): Played in eight games, mostly on special teams. Made two tackles and also returned two kicks for 24 yards. Had three carries for nine yards on the season.

Sophomore Season (2012): Saw action in all 13 games, one of the team’s best special teamers. Rushed 23 times for 125 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per carry and scoring one touchdown. Cross-trained and briefly saw action as a cornerback. Made five tackles on special teams.

Junior Season (2013): Played in all 13 games, starting four. Led Notre Dame in carries (152) and rushing yards (705). Tied for the team lead with three rushing touchdowns.

 

UPSIDE POTENTIAL

At this point, we’ve seen the player that McDaniel is. He’s a tough, well-rounded, versatile running back. And on a roster that was left off-balance with Cierre Wood departing with a year of eligibility remaining and Atkinson and Carlisle not living up to expectations at the position, McDaniel served as a more than competent fill-in.

At 4.6 yards per carry, McDaniels’ lack of explosiveness is statistically obvious. And pushing 210 pounds, he’s still not the type of pound-it-out short-yardage ball carrier that you want to move the chains or pound it in for six points. That role will likely go to Bryant or Folston, two players who naturally carry that weight better, not to mention have an extra gear.

But McDaniel is a natural running from the shotgun, capable of seeing a hole and finding daylight. And while most expect to see that sophomore duo have a breakout season, McDaniel’s utility alone will get him enough playing time to stay happy.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Count me among those who expect to see McDaniel a little bit leaner and lighter in 2014. Forced to be the big back in an offense that desperately needed George Atkinson to play up to his weight, taking off 10 pounds could help add a bit of elusiveness to McDaniel, a skill he showed previous to last season.

Ultimately, how you see McDaniel’s season playing out depends on how you see Folston and Bryant. I’m a believer in the young duo, but also think there’s plenty to get out of a veteran that’s seen a lot of action like McDaniel. Whether that’s as the team’s third-down back, or sharing time in the backfield with Folston or Bryant flexed outside, McDaniel is the type of player who will do whatever it takes to help the team.

Does that mean making tackles on special teams? Maybe. Does that mean wearing a ‘C’ on his jersey? Offensively, who’s a better option? McDaniel is a supremely confident athlete, hardly willing to “step aside” for the young rising stars to own this backfield.

That type of pride and veteran leadership is what a winning program is built on. And in McDaniel, Notre Dame has a wonderful example to young players.

 

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The Irish A-to-Z
Josh Atkinson
Nicky Baratti
Alex Bars
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Justin Brent
Kyle Brindza
Chris Brown
Jalen Brown
Greg Bryant
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Amir Carlisle
Austin Collinsworth
Ben Councell
Scott Daly
Sheldon Day
Michael Deeb
Steve Elmer
Matthias Farley
Tarean Folston
Everett Golson
Jarrett Grace
Conor Hanratty
Eilar Hardy
Mark Harrell
Jay Hayes
Matt Hegarty
Mike Heuerman
Kolin Hill
Corey Holmes
Chase Hounshell
Torii Hunter Jr.
Jarron Jones
DeShone Kizer
Ben Koyack
Christian Lombard
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Nick Martin
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska

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)
Mark Harrell, Sr* (No Starts, fifth-year available)

*Harrell’s departure is not confirmed, though expected.  

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
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.

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

Notre Dame v Florida State
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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
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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.

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