Post-spring stock report: Wide Receivers

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What a difference a year makes.

After DaVaris Daniels‘ career was ended during the Frozen Five debacle, Notre Dame’s receiving depth chart had exactly one catch to pair with Everett Golson, a 50-yard heave against Oklahoma that still serves as the biggest play of Chris Brown‘s career.

Yet even with a group of unproven receivers, in 2014 the Irish passing offense was the most prolific of the Kelly era, with sophomore Will Fuller emerging as Notre Dame’s most prolific sophomore in school history. Joined by a supporting cast that was more than viable, the entire unit returns for 2015, making this position group—even before the infusion of four intriguing freshman—one of the roster’s great strengths.

Let’s take a look at where this group stands after spring practice with a look at the depth chart and stock report.

 

POST-SPRING DEPTH CHART

X: Will Fuller, Jr. (6-0, 180)
W: Chris Brown, Sr. (6-1.5, 195)
Z: Amir Carlisle, GS (5-10, 192)

X: Torii Hunter, Jr.* (6-0, 190)
W: Corey Robinson, Jr. (6-4.5, 215)
Z: C.J. Prosise, Sr.* (6-.5, 220)

X: Corey Holmes, Soph.* (6-.5, 184)
W: Justin Brent, Soph. (6-1.5, 205)

*Denotes fifth-year of eligibility.

 

STOCK UP

C.J. Prosise: Even if his stock is on the rise as a running back, Prosise cemented his place among the top 11 players on the offense, a lofty place to be when you consider the talent piling up. Capable of being a true crossover player, expect to see Prosise all over the field, wreaking havoc on defensive coordinators while keeping opponents honest as they try to account for Will Fuller.

Even if his biggest move this spring wasn’t at wide receiver, Prosise had a huge spring.

 

Will Fuller: This was the type of spring where you could almost expect an established player to take it easy. But even with a cast on his hand, Fuller’s long touchdown during the Blue-Gold game served as a reminder that the Irish’s most dangerous weapon is only going to improve in 2015.

There was plenty of work to be done for Fuller this spring, with him learning to play as a marked man in 2015. And as Mike Denbrock aptly said this spring, Fuller can be as good as he wants to be. The good news? He expects to be better—and that showed this spring.

 

Chris Brown: I’m taking this one on a hunch from UND.com’s Jac Collinsworth. So maybe this is the year where the light goes on for Brown. And as he approaches his final season in South Bend, let’s hope it is.

Physically, there’s nothing not to like about Brown. He’s filled out his frame, but is still the speedster that got behind the Oklahoma secondary. And after an uneven three seasons, it appears that Brown understands the type of consistency that’s demanded from him.

Projecting Brown’s numbers in 2015 is a difficult proposition. But with Fuller likely pulling a safety over the top and Notre Dame’s ground game keeping opponents honest, there’s absolutely no reason that Brown can’t have a monster year.

 

Torii Hunter: For all the talk of Hunter spending this spring with the baseball team, at the time of the Blue-Gold game, Hunter had a whopping three at-bats, giving you an idea as to where his future lies. That’s on the football field, and Hunter spent the spring reminding people that he’s got a chance to be a very productive college player.

Hunter’s versatility is ultimately what led me to give him the final “buy” grade. And as Prosise spends time in the backfield, Hunter could take some of those snaps, though he’s capable of playing both inside and out for the Irish.

Ultimately, there’s only one football. And even if I’m struggling to find catches for Hunter, he did his best to remind the coaching staff that he’s deserving of a few more.

 

STOCK NEUTRAL

Justin Brent: As much as I wanted to elevate this grade to a buy, I’m still skeptical of Brent’s ascent—considering he had to dig himself out of quite a hole after last season’s off-field escapades to just get back to neutral. So credit the young player for working hard this spring, and scoring a nice touchdown in the Blue-Gold game.

With perhaps the most imposing physique in the wide receivers room, Brent looks like an upperclassman. But if he wants to see the field he’s going to have to start thinking and behaving like one, both on and off the field. Consider this spring a step in the right direction, but I’m going to have to see more before going all-in.

 

Corey Robinson: Nagging injuries took Robinson out of the mix this spring. And while he’s still developing into a complete wide receiver, there are really bigger worries than Robinson not getting the most out of 15 spring practices.

Still, it’s Robinson’s third season in the program. After a nice sophomore campaign, he’s an upperclassman now, and it’s time to see the flashes of brilliance turn into consistent play. With a stacked depth chart his numbers might not explode, but situationally the Irish have a huge weapon with Robinson’s Spiderman hands and Inspector Gadget arms. Now he’s got to make the leap.

 

Amir Carlisle: For all the wonder if Carlisle was even coming back for a fifth year, the grad student earned nothing but praise from Brian Kelly for his work this spring. And it really shouldn’t be a surprise considering his successful transition to the slot receiver spot last year.

Carlisle may not be the electric running back most had pegged when he transferred from USC. But he’ll give opponents problems in space and should get his opportunities down the middle of the field.

 

Corey Holmes: The depth chart might not allow it, but Holmes showed a promising future this spring. With a silky smooth game that was reminiscent of a young TJ Jones, Holmes went up and made a tough catch down the middle of the field in the Blue-Gold game, a nice reward for a young guy with four seasons of eligibility remaining.

It’ll be up to Holmes to create urgency for his career, because the depth chart isn’t all that giving. But there’s a fine technical receiver ready for his opportunity, and its up to him to create it in 2015.

 

STOCK DOWN

Empty. 

 

OVERALL TREND

Buy. This might be my favorite position group on the roster, and that’s without considering what Miles Boykin, Jalen Guyton, CJ Sanders and Equanimeous St. Brown on campus yet.

Put simply, this group is miles from the ones that surrounded Michael Floyd early in Kelly’s tenure. The Irish staff isn’t lacking a viable No. 2 to put across from All-American candidate Will Fuller, it’s trying to figure out who to keep off the field.

Ultimately, the receivers production will come down to how this offense wants to operate. Expect the big plays to go up, even if the yardage and catch numbers go down. And if Malik Zaire gets more time on the field, it’ll be a ton of deep balls and a lot more running — with passing totals closer to his LSU numbers than a standard Everett Golson aerial attack.

But from top to bottom, next year’s roster—and really, if Fuller stays, the 2016 roster as well—could be the most talented group of wide receivers to be on campus together at Notre Dame. So I’m expecting big things from this group.

Assistants: Polian on defensive depth; Lyght on Love; and Lea on the rover

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Three Irish assistants were available to the media following Notre Dame’s sixth spring practice Wednesday. Each of special teams coordinator Brian Polian, defensive backs coach Todd Lyght and linebackers coach Clark Lea commented on something or other of note. Together there just might be enough substance to justify your time here today.

At the bottom of this post is a video with most of the below quotes and many more from yesterday’s session.

POLIAN ON DEFENSIVE DEPTH AFFECTING SPECIAL TEAMS
The most unique aspect of the special teams coordinator, at least when compared to his offensive and defensive counterparts, is the fact that his charges include nearly the entire breadth of the roster. Aside from the quarterbacks, the starting offensive line and the defensive tackles, just about every player could find himself on a kickoff coverage or return unit.

More often than not, defensive players—accustomed to seeking out contact, rather than attempting to avoid it—fill out most of those spots. That may not be the case with this Irish rendition, and not necessarily by choice.

“We’re not as deep as you’d want to be in some other spots with depth at linebacker and depth at safety,” Polian said. “So where are we going to make up those bodies, and they’re going to have to come from offense. Those guys have made very positive impressions.”

Polian specifically mentioned junior running back Dexter Williams, sophomore receiver Chase Claypool and sophomore running back Tony Jones, as well as sophomore safety Jalen Elliott, as having excelled thus far. When he came to Jones, Polian added phrases such as “real excited” and “fantastic,” echoing sentiments Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly espoused earlier this week.

Along with that personnel shift, Polian wants to increase the intensity with which players approach the third unit. Often seen as auxiliary duty, inferior to position group work, special teams should not include a dialed back attitude.

“The biggest change has to be the urgency with which we attack special teams and our execution and critical efficiency in important times of the game.”

The Indianapolis Star’s Laken Litman wrote a longer discussion of Polian’s comments, including how he will look to supplement junior receivers Chris Finke and C.J. Sanders at punt return.

“We’ll have a gong show and say who wants to get a look that’s not getting a look,” Polian said. “We’ll start firing balls at them and if you drop two, you’re fired. But we’ll find another one or two guys.”

Please, WatchND and Fighting Irish Media, please record all of that. The possibilities for hilarity would extend further only if Jarron Jones or Lou Nix were still around to insist on taking a turn.

LYGHT ON LOVE
Sophomore cornerback Julian Love saw plenty of action in 12 games last season, finishing with 45 tackles and one each of an interception, fumble forced and fumble recovered. Nonetheless, Lyght sees room for Love to improve.

“The thing for him and his development, when he’s uncomfortable … he has to rely more on his fundamentals and his technique and be proficient with his execution of his technique and those fundamentals,” Lyght said.

Love started eight games at cornerback last season, the most career starts at the position on the Irish roster. Thus, despite being only a sophomore, he is already in a position to lead.

“Julian can tackle in space, he can cover,” Lyght said. “We want him to get better in his man-to-man techniques and in his leadership role. He is a young player but he is going to play a lot for us.”

Love will play, and likely start, at the boundary cornerback position. As Irish Illustrated’s Tim O’Malley lays out in an elongated look at all five cornerbacks in the mix, the days of left/right cornerback duties are in the past.

“In the college game, it is a boundary/field game,” Lyght said. “It’s not like the NFL where the hashmarks are in the middle of the field and it’s a left/right game…

“If you get the guys comfortable playing boundary, playing field, they can get a better feel for the game, get a better feel for the route combinations, and be able to execute at a higher level playing that way.”

A quick layman’s translation: The hashmarks in college football are much wider than in the NFL. Thus, when the ball is placed on the right hashmark, the right side of the field becomes the boundary and is much narrower than the left, the field.

LEA ON THE ROVER
How about another take at explaining the heralded rover position in new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme? Let’s here Lea’s quick summary:

“We have a lot of bodies, so we’re really trying to identify who the right fit is,” he said. “The beauty of that position is it is a hybrid, so there are times you want a bigger-body linebacker type, there are times where you want more of a nickel type.”

Lea also took a moment to extensively praise the leadership of both senior linebackers Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini.


Mid-week reading: On Wimbush; NCAA $$$; A look back at Te’o

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A litany of links typically makes for good Friday fodder. A week’s worth of the internet can help any reader through an unproductive end of the week. Unfortunately, spring practice’s rhythms are inconsistent, unlike summer’s constant nothingness and fall’s non-stop charge.

Hey, who said you can’t take a long lunch on a Wednesday, anyways?

MORE WIMBUSH AND WHITFIELD
Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples joined Notre Dame junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush out in San Diego two weeks ago during spring break, watching as Wimbush listened to private quarterbacks coach George Whitfield’s instructions. Staples, per usual, tells a good story, slipping some nuggets of information within it where you may not even notice.

Many around this space have asked who foots the bill when a college quarterback seeks out Whitfield’s tutelage. Per Staples, Wimbush’s mother paid for the week.

Throughout the story, Wimbush emphasizes the importance of a Notre Dame degree, going so far as to point to former Irish quarterbacks Everett Golson and Malik Zaire acquiring their diplomas before departing Notre Dame. None of us know Wimbush’s academic progress—now approaching his second summer school session, Wimbush is likely ahead of the usual second-semester sophomore’s credit pace—but this tidbit may prove pertinent in nine months time. Considering what its pertinence would say about a bigger picture, Irish fans should certainly hope it is of note.

To this memory, the classic image relayed from Golson’s time with Whitfield was Golson throwing over brooms held by staffers, mimicking the long limbs of charging defensive linemen. Those fictional pass rushers have become a bit more realistic in nature, now apparently represented with outstretched tennis rackets.

NCAA GIVING NOTRE DAME NEARLY $1 MILLION
In what has been described as a “one-time supplemental distribution,” the NCAA is dispersing $200 million among its members. The amount each school receives is determined by the total number of full scholarships it gives to student-athletes, with each partial scholarship contributing its appropriate fraction toward that total figure.

Notre Dame will receive $984,724 thanks to giving out 299.20 scholarships in 2013-14. Some context behind that latter number: The football team takes up 85 scholarships. The men’s basketball team is allowed 13, and the women’s basketball team gets 15. The remaining 186.20 are split among the other 20 varsity sports (counting men’s and women’s teams separately in rowing, swimming and diving, and track and field).

Other notable schools:
Ohio State receives the most, more than $1.3 million, thanks to its 403.98 scholarships.
USC’s 279.06 scholarships equates to $918,440.
Michigan’s 353.18 scholarships will yield close to $1.2 million.

All these dollars must be spent it ways aiding the student-athletes. Schools cannot put the funds toward items like stadium construction or coaches’ salaries. Rather, the NCAA indicated the money is for “the direct benefit of the student-athlete and their academic success, life skills, career success, health and safety and student-athlete focused diversity and inclusion initiatives.”

All expenditures must be approved by the NCAA. The money comes from an endowment that had reportedly come to exceed $360 million.

REMEMBER THE TE’O DRAFT HOOPLA?
The below video does not necessarily reveal anything we do not already know about former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, despite its ponderous title. It does, however, make a good point.

Aside from a sporadic comment deep in the morass of these pages, not much is said about the Lennay Kekua situation anymore. At the time, it was the most talked about item anywhere, let alone in Notre Dame corners. Personally, a former co-worker at the Los Angeles Times called late one night that week four-plus years ago. He and I had not spoken in close to two years, and we haven’t spoken since. But the Te’o/Kekua story prompted him to seek an understanding of what in the world was going on.

In some irish.nbcsports.com history, the day after that story broke—it broke on Jan. 16, 2013, so I am referring to Jan. 17—still holds the record for most views to this particular site.

Good for Te’o to have successfully moved past that saga. These days, every comment former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer makes is scrutinized. He is even criticized for not having excellent timing with Jonas Gray, of all people. Looking back on Te’o, it should be remembered the most dramatic stories, one seemingly crafted perfectly for the internet, fade into the cobwebs of time.

[Here, a link in case the intended embed below fails.]

PHIL STEELE’S PROJECTED AP TOP 10
Enough with the past. Let’s project the future.

Phil Steele, of the revered Phil Steele’s College Football Preview, projected August’s Associated Press Top 10. Steele has accounted for voters’ tendencies rather accurately in years past, so it is not an entirely fruitless exercise. Then again, he is projecting the results of the first of many polls with no actual consequence.

Of Steele’s projected top-10, Notre Dame will face only No. 4 USC.

KENPOM’S TOO EARLY PRESEASON TOP 10
If you think Steele’s top 10 is too early, then skip this.

College basketball analytics master Ken Pomeroy put together his top 10 for next season, though any unexpected draft departures or transfers can certainly alter his calculations. After all, the season is not actually over yet.

Of certain Irish interest: No. 9 North Carolina, No. 8 Louisville and No. 6 Virginia. The last of those has already suffered a transfer which Pomeroy tweeted will “abruptly” end the Cavaliers’ time in his preseason top 10.

SPEAKING OF BASKETBALL, WELL DONE DENNIS, WHOEVER YOU ARE
Math is hard, so take this with a grain of salt, but I believe Dennis’ bracket of “Brey Brey’s Kids” will win the Inside the Irish March Madness pool. Dennis, your $984,724 is in the mail.

Don’t think that means there is no reason to watch the Final Four, though. Your host might be able to rise into the top half of the field, which would be good for his pride, and therefore the quality of writing in these parts.

It shouldn’t be too surprising my bracket flopped. This is a football page. Besides, by my eye, no one I actually know firsthand will finish higher than fourth. That is more of a relief than it should be.

Now is the time for Daelin Hayes to turn athleticism into pass rush threat

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This space has mentioned a few times the dearth of returning sacks among Notre Dame’s defensive line. It is a pertinent fact—no returning Irish defensive lineman recorded a sack in the 2016 season—but it fails to mention the flipside of that.

Most of Notre Dame’s defensive linemen had few, if any, opportunities to rush the passer in 2016. Perhaps at the top of the list of those who should bring down the opposing passer a few times this fall, sophomore Daelin Hayes has laid claim to a starting rush spot through five spring practices.

“The athleticism is what obviously stands out,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “He’s extremely athletic, he’s fit physically, 250 pounds and very strong.”

These facts are, after all, the reasons Hayes was a highly sought-after five-star recruit according to rivals.com.

“It’s the football knowledge, learning the techniques at the position in which he plays is really the piece,” Kelly continued. “It’s just learning right now for him. This is the time to do it, in spring ball.

“Squeezing down on a tight end when the back is away. Wrong-arming the puller. These are all football terms and schemes that are a bit new to him. We have to be patient with him. He’s an explosive athlete. There’s going to be some mistakes along the way, and I’m okay with that as long as he’s learning.”

Without much depth pushing for playing time behind him, Hayes will have the opportunity to make, and subsequently understand, those mistakes. Seniors Jay Hayes (no relation) and Andrew Trumbetti are mired in competition for the other end spot, while sophomores Julian Okwara, Adetokunbo Ogundeji and Khalid Kareem may have even more development ahead of them than Daelin Hayes does.

Incoming freshmen Kofi Wardlow and Jonathon MacCollister will join the fray in the summer, but for now, the younger Hayes has his chance to impress with his natural gifts while absorbing the intricacies of new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s defense.

Hayes is not a complete unknown. While Okwara made four tackles last season in 11 games and Kareem appeared in four games, Hayes saw action in every contest, finishing the season with 11 tackles, one pass breakup and one forced fumble.

“He’s an athlete,” defensive line coach Mike Elston said last week. “He’s on the edge in a two-point stance. He’s not a trained, put-your-hand-on-the-ground defensive end. He played running back in high school. He can see things better in a two-point and can diagnose quicker. He’s able to be more productive.”

It may be accurate to mention no returning Notre Dame defensive linemen tackled a quarterback for a loss last season, but it is more precise to also include the Irish have possibilities of changing that trend.

SPEAKING OF THE DEFENSIVE LINE
Notre Dame is nearly as thin at defensive tackle as it is at end. Junior Jerry Tillery leads the way with senior end-converted-to-tackle Jonathan Bonner lining up next to him thus far. Their reserves: Oft-concussed senior Daniel Cage, senior Pete Mokwuah and junior Micah Dew-Treadway with junior Elijah Taylor out for the spring with a foot injury.

Theoretically, junior Brandon Tiassum is also in the mix, and three freshmen (Kurt Hinish, Myron Tagovailo-Amosa and four-star Darnell Ewell) will join the group in the summer.

And maybe, just maybe, perhaps, possibly … Clemson graduate student transfer Scott Pagano could walk onto campus alongside those freshmen. Pagano visited Notre Dame the first week of March, and was due to look at Oklahoma and Arkansas the next two weekends, respectively. Instead, Pagano reportedly cancelled both of those visits Monday.

Pagano does still have a visit to Oregon scheduled for April 21. Until indicated otherwise, it may be prudent to presume Pagano hopes to land as close to his Hawaiian home as possible.

RELATED READING: 1 Day Until Spring Practice: A look at the defensive line

Recruiting success continues with OL Dirksen, class’s 12th commit

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Even in the doldrums of spring practice, Notre Dame’s recent recruiting success continues. Rivals.com three-star/scout.com four-star offensive lineman John Dirksen offered a verbal commitment to the Irish on Saturday, bringing the 2018 class to 12 commitments.

The 6-foot-5, 290-pounds Dirksen (Marion High School; Maria Stein, Ohio) joins consensus three-star prospect Cole Mabry (Brentwood H.S.; Brentwood, Tenn.) as the offensive linemen thus far among the 12. In three of the last four years, Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand has pulled in four recruits, with 2015’s two (Trevor Ruhland, Tristen Hoge) as the exception. This recruiting cycle could again bring a limited offensive line haul, given the likely limits on the class’s size.

While any and all current class of 2018 team rankings should be taken with many grains of salt—there are 318 days between today and National Signing Day, after all—Dirksen’s commitment solidifies the Irish hold on the No. 3 class, per rivals.com. Other recruiting services place Notre Dame even higher.

Dirksen chose Hiestand and the Irish over offers from Michigan State, Iowa State and Boston College, among others.