Notre Dame v Syracuse

Irish A-to-Z: Ronnie Stanley

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Notre Dame landed their most important recruit last winter when Ronnie Stanley decided to stay in school. A fast-rising tackle prospect who some believed could’ve been the first offensive lineman off the board in the NFL Draft, Stanley decided to return to South Bend, to anchor the Irish offensive line and to build himself into an elite prospect.

Following in the footsteps of Zack Martin, Notre Dame’s left tackle is another elite talent, though his game is more about upside than Martin’s work as a steely technician. Given the chance to spend an offseason fully healthy, Stanley enters 2015 as one of the premier players in college football.

Let’s take a look at the Las Vegas native.

 

RONNIE STANLEY
6’5.5″, 315 lbs.
Senior, No. 78, LT

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

One of the top recruits on the West Coast, Stanley picked Notre Dame over offers from USC, UCLA, Oklahoma and a ton of other programs.

A four-star, Top 100 recruit according to Scout, Top 250 according to Rivals. Played in Semper Fidelis All-American game. Most importantly, he opened the pipeline to Bishop Gorman high school, where Alizé Jones and Nicco Fertitta came from as well.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2012): Played against Navy and Michigan in a reserve role. Elbow injury ended his season and preserved his eligibility with a medical redshirt.

Sophomore Season (2013): Made 13 starts at right tackle, a key part of an offensive line that only had Zack Martin and Stanley start every game. The team allowed just eight sacks on the season, second best in the FBS.

Junior Season (2014): Started all 13 games at left tackle, making 26 straight starts for Stanley. Switched sides of the offensive line previous spring, sliding into Zack Martin’s spot. Recorded 16 pancake blocks and allowed only one sack.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

I didn’t think Stanley would make the leap that he did, at least not that quickly. It’s funny to think about the debate we had during the offseason as we wondered who’d slide into Martin’s spot. Funny, because the staff knew it would be Stanley from the get-go, a nice reminder that those guys tend to know what they’re doing.

It’s hard to discount all the good things Kelly and Hiestand continue to say about Stanley. And while he’s still young — he’s got three seasons of eligibility left after playing only briefly in 2012 — you’ve got to think the left tackle position is going to take a step backwards this season, with Martin being among the elite players in college football.

That said, Stanley gives the Irish something Martin couldn’t athletically. And while he’s not being asked to lead the unit the way Zack did, he’s got to turn 2014 into a season where he establishes himself as not just a leader, but a frontline player.

The Irish staff believe he’s already that. A solid season against some difficult matchups in 2013 was a great start. But Stanley has the opportunity to be great. He needs to take the biggest step there this season.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

When your name is being mentioned as a potential No. 1 overall pick, I’d say the future looks pretty bright. I’ll leave the total evaluation to the pros, but right now, the goal for Stanley in 2015 is to match his dominance to his athleticism.

If Stanley is able to do that, he’ll be Notre Dame’s first Top 10 pick since Bryant Young went No. 7 in 1994… if Jaylon Smith doesn’t beat him off the board.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

It’s counterintuitive, but Notre Dame’s pass protection took a large step backwards when Everett Golson took over for Tommy Rees. While the latter couldn’t evade the rush with a five-step head start, Golson’s ability to read protections and defenses wasn’t up to Rees’ speed, and Everett couldn’t run his way out of trouble every time, either.

Malik Zaire is a different quarterback than Golson, but there’ll be similar growing pains, especially as he sees things for the first time. But in many ways, Zaire is the perfect quarterback for this offensive line, allowing them to play a mauling style of football with their blocking schemes, allowing the run to set up the pass.

With Zaire a lefty, Stanley will not be protecting his blind side like he was Golson. But Notre Dame’s offense will move its quarterback, so Stanley will get all the opportunities needed to show his ability to play there at the next level. More importantly, a healthy dose of run blocking with let Stanley show that he’s capable of physically moving opponents, not just of being an athletic blocker on edge rushers.

A redshirt season as a freshman means Stanley technically has two years of eligibility remaining. But expect this season to be the last for Stanley in South Bend, a year where he’ll rack up the accolades on the awards circuit before being a high first round pick.

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL
Jay Hayes, DL
Mike Heuerman, TE
Kolin Hill, DE
Tristen Hoge, C
Corey Holmes, WR
Chase Hounshell, TE
Torii Hunter, Jr. WR
Alizé Jones, TE
Jarron Jones, DL
DeShone Kizer, QB
Tyler Luatua, TE
Cole Luke, CB
Nick Martin, C
Greer Martini, LB
Jacob Matuska, DL
Mike McGlinchey, OT
Colin McGovern, OL
Peter Mokwuah, DL
John Montelus, OL
Nyles Morgan, LB
Sam Mustipher, OL
Quenton Nelson, OL
Tyler Newsome, P
Romeo Okwara, DE
James Onwualu, LB
C.J. Prosise, WR/RB
Doug Randolph, LB/DE
Max Redfield, S
Corey Robinson, WR
Trevor Ruhland, OL
CJ Sanders, WR
Joe Schmidt, LB
Avery Sebastian, S
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, LB
Durham Smythe, TE
Equanimeous St. Brown, WR

Report: Tarean Folston won’t return for fifth year

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
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Tarean Folston will declare for the NFL Draft. The senior running back, who has a fifth-year of eligibility available after a medical redshirt in 2014, will instead turn his focus to preparing for the professional ranks. Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman broke the news, confirming the decision with Folston.

The departure wasn’t totally unexpected, though Folston was also a candidate for a graduate transfer. But after running for 1,712 yards over four years, the 214-pound back will hope an NFL team takes a shot on him, likely looking at tape of Folston the underclassmen to make their evaluation.

The Cocoa, Florida native burst onto the scene as a freshman against Navy when he ran for 140 yards on 18 carries in the Irish’s 38-34 win. He was Notre Dame’s leading rusher in 2014, running for 889 yards and 5.1 yards per carry  and six scores in 2014.

Expected to do big things in 2015, Folston’s season lasted just three carries, a torn ACL suffered against Texas in the season opener. After Josh Adams emerged that season, Folston fell behind him in the depth chart, getting just 77 carries in 2016.

The move clarifies a depth chart that looked to be unchanged heading into next season. But with Folston’s exit, rising sophomore Tony Jones will join Adams and Dexter Williams in the rotation. Fellow sophomore Deon Macintosh and incoming freshman C.J. Holmes will also compete for playing time.

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Getty
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Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach

clark-lea
UND.com
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Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

 

 

 

Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

delvaughn
ASU Sports Information
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Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.