Notre Dame won’t have running back Greg Bryant this season. Already looking at a four-game suspension for violating team rules, news broke today via Irish Illustrated that the junior running back was declared academically ineligible for the fall semester, ending his season before it even began.
It’s another bump in the road for Bryant, a former five-star recruit who has yet to fulfill that promise in two-plus seasons in South Bend. Per Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated, Bryant won’t report to campus for training camp, but will instead enroll in classes with the rest of the student body in late August.
Notre Dame confirmed the news earlier today, with Brian Kelly releasing a statement through SID Michael Bertsch.
“There are certain expectations within our program that must be met on a daily basis,” Kelly said. “Quite simply, Greg did not meet those expectations.”
Bryant remains on scholarship and will work out with the team once he returns to campus. But he will not be on the Irish roster. Per Sampson, Bryant’s eligibility came down to a summer course—he needed a B+ he received a B-.
Father said Bryant needed a B+ in a summer school course to stay eligible. Received a B- “It was that close,” Bryant Sr. said.
The ineligibility leaves Bryant’s place in the program on unstable footing. It also likely cements C.J. Prosise’s permanent move to running back, while also forcing either freshman Josh Adams or Dexter Williams into the rotation. Bryant was already running with the third-team this spring, but his departure certainly hurts a depth chart that’s one of the thinnest on the roster.
When last summer’s never-ending academic investigation froze Ishaq Williams’ football career, the next man on the defensive end depth chart was Isaac Rochell. After a mostly anonymous freshman season, counting on Rochell to be a starter looked like a stretch that exacerbated the Irish’s roster inefficiencies at defensive end.
But instead, Rochell turned in the best season of any player on the Irish defensive line. The Georgia native stayed healthy, was productive behind the line of scrimmage and proved himself to be up to any task that was thrown at him, adding another promising piece to a front four that looks to have added another frontline starter to a pair of defensive tackles.
After an impressive sophomore season, let’s take a look at what Rochell has planned for an encore.
ISAAC ROCHELL 6’3.5″, 287 lbs.
Junior, No. 90, DE
He wasn’t viewed through the same lens as Stephon Tuitt, but Rochell left the state of Georgia as a first-team All-State player, turning down offers from Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and several others to head to South Bend. Not too shabby.
A Top 150 prospect, Rochell looked a little bit like a tweener between a defensive tackle and end, but that didn’t stop Brian Kelly from keying in on him during his Signing Day press conference, the first time he talked about his impressive upside.
Freshman Season (2013): Played in all 13 games, making a total of 10 tackles. Rochell also forced a fumble. He made four tackles against Air Force.
Sophomore Season (2014): Started in all 13 games for the Irish, one of just three defensive players to do so. He made 39 tackles, tying for second on the team with 7.5 TFLs, including 2.5 sacks. He also had 10 quarterback hurries and blocked a field goal.
WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR
Maybe we should’ve taken Brian Kelly’s preseason comments calling Rochell “a beast” more seriously. I underestimated his ability to hold up at defensive end.
I tend to throw last season’s results out when thinking about Rochell. You can’t blame a young player for struggling to make an impact, especially as a 3-4 defensive end. But that’s not the case this season, as Rochell now goes from part of the future to piece of the present.
That’s scary, but only because we really don’t know much about Rochell. He was productive against Air Force, though Notre Dame’s schedule is going to need more than just dominance competence against Service Academies. Ultimately, Rochell’s move into the starting lineup will scare you if you expected big things from Williams, and will be a jump-start to the future if you thought Notre Dame would get another season of mediocrity out of the former five-star recruit.
Rochell looks plenty sturdy, and at almost 290-pounds, he’s a defensive tackle in any other era of Notre Dame football. He might still be that on passing downs, sliding inside as the Irish bring in more speed off the edge. But for the Irish defense to hold up, Rochell is going to need to be able to do that against the run, almost a leap of faith at this point.
Overlook Rochell if you want. But I can guarantee you opposing offensive coordinators won’t do it. That’s because the rising junior looks poised to be one of the breakout stars of the Irish, a 290-plus pound defensive end who can wreak havoc as an interior pass rusher while also showing enough speed off the edge to do well as a strong-side end, as well.
Rochell went viral with his steamrolling of Stanford All-American Andrus Peat. And his 10 quarterback hurries are a sign that his pass rush skills are almost where the Irish need them to be, a crucial development when you look at where the Irish defense needs to be this season.
We spend a lot of time talking about Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones, wondering about their NFL future. I expect this season to end with Rochell fitting into a similar discussion, an impressive trajectory for a third-year player.
I see Rochell breaking through and going for double-digit TFLs in 2015. Part of that is the fact that he’s still at a position where he’s clearly better than any other option, and the other part is the versatility that exists in Rochell’s game—the capability of being a three-down player.
We still don’t know the fate of Ishaq Williams, going through an NCAA petition process that’ll decide if he’s able to play football in 2015 or not. But even if Williams comes back, it might only be to spell Rochell, who deserves to stay on the field as long as he can.
Working with defensive line coach Keith Gilmore, the new Irish assistant will know very quickly that he has a special player. And if Rochell is able to ramp up his productivity as a pass rusher, he’s got the chance to break loose just like Stephon Tuitt did in his sophomore season.
Perhaps the most impressive student-athlete on Notre Dame’s roster, Corey Robinson‘s sophomore campaign saw him earn first-team Academic All-American honors, a rare achievement for an underclassman. Now the goal is something perhaps more superficial—sync up his work on the field with his achievements off of it.
Robinson showed moments of greatness, playing a dominant game in Tallahassee that could’ve been greater had it not been ruined by a questionable yellow flag. And even though a broken thumb didn’t slow him down early in the season, Robinson’s production dwindled the second half of the year, with consistency still a question mark for the rising junior.
As an upperclassman, that needs to change. And as Will Fuller begins 2015 as a marked man, it’s up to Robinson and teammate Chris Brown to prove that opponents need to respect both sides of the field.
Notre Dame was the first to offer Robinson, a raw, gangly receiver from a small school in San Antonio. But by the time the recruiting cycle was over, Robinson had ascended to a four-star recruit with a handful of impressive offers to his name.
Freshman Season (2013): Played in all 13 games for the Irish, starting three. Caught nine passes for 157 yards and a touchdown, a 35-yard score against Air Force.
Sophomore Season (2014): Played in all 13 games, starting two. Caught 40 passes for 539 yards and five touchdowns, finishing second on the team in catches and touchdowns. First-team Academic All-American. Rockne Student-Athlete.
WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR
Feeling pretty good about getting both the off-field and on-field success right.
If there’s a prototype for the perfect football player for Notre Dame, Robinson seems pretty close. He’s a top-flight student, a PLS major (Program of Liberal Studies), one of the most demanding and intellectually stimulating majors the university has to offer. That matches up with the Renaissance Man reputation that’s already been hoisted on Robinson, a talented musician who seems to have a knack for just about everything. On the field, he’s got unique physical traits and comes from a family where it’s clear that the gene pool is pretty good, too.
I already expected a huge spike in Robinson’s production, a combination of the sophomore improving, the offense expanding, and a variety of weapons giving Robinson some juicy 1-on-1 matchups. And if DaVaris Daniels is suspended for a lengthy period, Robinson will be hoisted into the starting lineup, forced to play a bigger role on the outside with Chris Brown and Fuller.
The sky seems to be the limit for Robinson. There are still questions that need to be answered, mostly with how he beats tight, physical coverage. But if the Irish can utilize him properly, then Robinson should be a very, very productive player this season.
If Robinson is going to be more than a productive college receiver, this is the season where you should see him take off. Last year there were some really solid moments (clutch 4th down conversions, the touchdowns against Florida State), but a late-season lull and some uncharacteristic drops (one that turned into a pick-six for Everett Golson) spoiled the performance and showed some limitations in Robinson’s ability to control his body, a necessity for the lanky receiver.
At this point, I’m not sure it’s realistic to think that Robinson is going to be quick enough off the line of scrimmage to be a dominant player. But situationally he can be a handful, and as a No. 2 (or No. 3 if Chris Brown stays in the starting lineup), Robinson has the potential to be a nightmare.
Remember when we talked about the matchup problem Robinson could be in the red zone with his basketball height and leaping ability? Maybe Mike Sanford will be the guy who arrives and finally says, “Hey, let’s throw this kid some fades in the end zone.”
That’s probably oversimplifying how Robinson can run up his touchdown total, but the fact that the Irish will be really tough running the football—especially with a quarterback who is a threat to keep the football near the goal line—means he’ll draw plenty of one-on-one coverage. (Run the ball, throw a fade to Robinson or a quick screen to Fuller? That’s quite a menu for any quarterback.)
We learned the term “catch radius” when watching Robinson turn UND practice reports into Spiderman spottings. So after battling through a hand injury that had to make squeezing the football harder, it’ll be important to see Robinson return to his velcro ways.
But beyond that, finding the footballs to make sure Robinson has the ability to build on 40 catches and push towards 50 or 60, that’s the question. Because if the junior is going to emerge as a big-play threat, he’ll need to demand the football over C.J. Prosise, Brown, Amir Carlisle and already guaranteed touches for Fuller in a crowd of capable playmakers.
Robinson has an NBA body and hands that you can’t teach. If he’s able to balance that with a play-to-play consistency, he’s another wonderful option.
We kicked off our list with five candidates for a breakout season. Our next installment seems to be doing one better: All five players have already started football games (or in one case, a game), now the goal is to become dominant performers.
For some, it’s still a learning process. We saw that with Nyles Morgan in 2014, a young linebacker prone to mistakes but still capable of making the big play. For others like Chris Brown and Elijah Shumate, 2015 constitutes a final season to perform, with the hope that three seasons of experience will result in a breakthrough.
We saw game-breaking moments from a player like Corey Robinson. We also saw Mike McGlinchey step into the starting lineup and thrive, surviving a mid-game relief appearance against USC’s Leonard Williams before performing more-than-admirably against LSU.
The depth on Notre Dame’s roster begins to show itself in this installment, with all five players capable of putting together very big seasons.
2015 IRISH TOP 25 RANKINGS
25. Jerry Tillery, DL 24. Greg Bryant, RB 23. Durham Smythe, TE 22. Matthias Farley, DB 21. Quenton Nelson, LG
20. Nyles Morgan (LB, Sophomore): No, it wasn’t always pretty. But Morgan’s baptism by fire should help as he moves into his sophomore season. In limited playing time subbing in for an injured Joe Schmidt, Morgan managed to make 47 tackles, the eighth most of any freshman at Notre Dame in the program’s history.
Morgan’s big play potential is obvious. He managed 3.5 TFLs in his four starts, three more than Joe Schmidt managed during his MVP (as voted by peers and coaches) campaign.
A big, fast and mean linebacker, Morgan will compete with Schmidt and Jarrett Grace for time in the middle of the defense. And if he’s able to take the next step from a mental prospective, there’s a chance that Morgan can see the field at the same time as Schmidt and Jaylon Smith, giving the Irish a linebacking corps that should be incredibly productive.
19. Chris Brown (WR, Senior): For two seasons, Brown’s 50-yard catch against Oklahoma served as the singular highlight on the receiver’s resume. But in 2014, he showed shades of becoming a complete player, serving as a capable No. 2, even if it still only happened in spurts .
But as a senior, inconsistency won’t cut it. And playing across from Will Fuller, that type of productive should be a given. So if you’re looking for a candidate to step forward in a receiving group that doesn’t lose a body, Brown is an odds-on-favorite.
He’s big (nearly 6-foot-2) and fast (a high-school sprinter and national record-setter in the triple jump). He’s also finally understanding what it takes to be a consistent performer in Brian Kelly’s offense, though 39 catches and 548 yards is just a start. Somebody has to help take the attention off of Fuller. And Brown is the type of veteran leader who should get one of the first chances to do it.
18. Elijah Shumate (S, Senior): After an impressive freshman season where Shumate helped the 2012 defense as a slot cornerback, the veteran safety battled injuries during a mostly lost sophomore season and then struggled with the transition into Brian VanGorder’s defense in 2014. Still, he started 11 games and played in all 13, finishing third on the team in tackles with 66, chipping in a game-ending interception against Michigan to score a touchdown that counted everywhere but the scoreboard.
But that’s not the type of productivity that’ll get things done at the back end, and Shumate spent too much of last season not fully grasping his role in the Irish defense. But Shumate had a strong spring and is expected to put together a much more impressive final season in South Bend.
Capable of playing near the line of scrimmage and one of the team’s toughest hitters, the 213-pounder will be armed with another season of knowledge in VanGorder’s system. Hopefully that unlocks a smashmouth playmaker who’ll cause trouble for quarterbacks and strike fear into receivers.
17. Corey Robinson (WR, Junior): Robinson played the game of his career against Florida State, nearly completing the touchdown hat trick and pulling out a historic win if it weren’t for a dubious offensive pass interference call. And while he had a few other clutch moments in 2014, there’s a consistency that still needs to be added to Robinson’s game if he’s going to take the next step as a receiver.
There’s reason to believe that he can. Robinson put together an impressive sophomore season even after playing most of the year with a fractured thumb. That neutralized one of Robinson’s best traits, a pair of velcro hands, as he continued to evolve as a route runner and grow comfortable with a body that seems to have sprouted well past his listed 6-foot-4.5 height.
A year after being named a first-team Academic All-American and Notre Dame’s Rockne Student-Athlete of the Year, it’s time for Robinson to emerge as a true red zone weapon—not to mention a complete receiver—as he looks to round out his game.
Highest Ranking: 17th. Lowest Ranking: 22nd.
16. Mike McGlinchey (RT, Junior): The jump Notre Dame’s starting right tackle made in the rankings from 2014 gives you an idea of his upside. And for all the talk about Ronnie Stanley and his chances to be the potential top pick in 2016, some think McGlinchey could offer much of the same thing at offensive tackle, a scary proposition if true.
At a shade under 6-foot-8, McGlinchey has the mass and length needed to be a prototype tackle. And we’ve heard more than enough from Brian Kelly to understand that McGlinchey’s best asset might be his athleticism.
While Christian Lombard did his best to gut out a tough final season in South Bend as he battled back injuries, McGlinchey sat on the bench. He was the odd-man out after spending last spring as Notre Dame’s projected right tackle, only to see Steve Elmer slide outside during fall camp. Even after that experiment failed, Harry Hiestand and Kelly decided to stick with a veteran like Lombard, though after seeing McGlinchey play when Lombard’s back finally gave out, he seemed more than ready for action.
Entering his third season in the program, McGlinchey is getting his chance. And the physical roadgrader should have a very good season.
Our 2015 Irish Top 25 panel Keith Arnold, Inside the Irish Bryan Driskell, Blue & Gold Matt Freeman, Irish Sports Daily Nick Ironside, Irish 247 Tyler James, South Bend Tribune Michael Bryan, One Foot Down Pete Sampson, Irish Illustrated Jude Seymour, Her Loyal Sons JJ Stankevitz, CSN Chicago John Vannie, NDNation John Walters, Newsweek
Irish fans have been waiting to see Max Redfield emerge as the star safety Notre Dame has desperately needed since Harrison Smith went to the NFL. But entering his third season, Redfield is still a work in progress.
It hasn’t all been the Southern California native’s fault. Redfield has had two defensive coordinators. He’s had his position coach change. And he’s seen information overload likely impact his ability to make split-second decisions, the different between playing great football… and getting replaced, like Redfield was last season.
2014 was an up-and-down year for Redfield, with a public benching after the Arizona State game serving as the low point and a nice performance against LSU in the Music City Bowl a impressive rebound.
The junior is Notre Dame’s best hope at safety. Let’s take a closer look at the former five-star prospect.
MAX REDFIELD 6’1″, 198 lbs.
Junior, No. 10, S RECRUITING PROFILE
Redfield had a five-star rating before he pledged to Notre Dame at the Under Armour All-American bowl. It was just part of the strong finish the Irish had on the recruiting trail, snatching Redfield’s commitment from USC and putting him in the Irish secondary.
Freshman Season (2013): Played in 12 games, starting against Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl. Made 12 tackles on the season.
Sophomore Season (2014): Played in all 13 games, starting 11 at safety. Made 68 total tackles, tops for defenders in the Irish secondary. Had interception against Michigan. Made 14 tackles against LSU, putting him on multiple All-Bowl Team lists.
WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR
To put it bluntly, I missed on this. Redfield didn’t thrive in Brian VanGorder’s system, as the safety play for Notre Dame was a huge liability.
Count me among the believers in Redfield, who should put up big numbers roaming center field for VanGorder’s defense. If cornerbacks KeiVarae Russell, Cole Luke and Cody Riggs are capable of holding strong in coverage, Redfield is going to be the beneficiary of plenty of misdirected passes, with receivers rubbed off their routes and timing interrupted.
That said, one of the tenets of a Brian Kelly defense is a disdain for giving up big plays. And ultimately Redfield will be the Irish’s last line of defense, with the responsibilities of being the man over the top and ultimately understanding all that’s going on.
After struggling with the transition to the college game and a complex system, one listen to Redfield assures you those worries are gone and his confidence is back. We’ll see if that short memory continues when things break down on the field, but for now the Irish have the makings of a young star at safety.
There’s a fairly large disconnect between what the coaching staff views Redfield’s ceiling at and what we’ve seen from him on the field. Again, it’s worth the standard boilerplate disclaimer: Redfield’s a safety and it sometimes takes some time. If it were up to Irish fans, Harrison Smith would’ve been an outside linebacker as a third-year player. Instead he became one of the country’s best safeties.
At this point, I just don’t think Redfield has the same ceiling as Smith, even if he was a blue-chip recruit with five-stars next to his name. But I do think he’ll take a large step forward, and there’s no question that he’s got elite athletic abilities, even if his natural playmaking ability hasn’t come out yet.
On paper and at their best, the duo of Redfield and Elijah Shumate look like future NFL contributors. In reality, we haven’t seen anywhere close to that yet. But they’ll be different players now that they’ve spent a season with VanGorder and benefit from the coaching of Todd Lyght, and that’s a big reason why it’s still logical to be bullish about Redfield’s future.
I’m going to bet on Redfield one more time, taking my own advice that sometimes it takes a little bit longer for safeties to figure it out. That said, there are some things that I’d like to see cleaned up in his game, and it’s hard to un-see that missed tackle on the sidelines against Arizona State, the kind of olé that sticks with a player for a long time.
You need to be a ball-hawking centerfielder if you aren’t the most physical guy in the world. And Redfield’s single interception and just two pass breakups sure doesn’t look like ball-hawking. He was a step slow too often in 2014, seeing a play develop, but not reacting soon enough to make a difference. That’s not good safety play.
But Redfield’s bowl game performance really helped. (No, the touchdown pass wasn’t his fault.) And that’s the way Redfield should play every week, near the football constantly and racking up tackles while playing physical.
This spring, we heard all the right things about Redfield’s game. And the change at position coach will be good for Redfield, a new voice—and clean slate—important. Make no mistake, there isn’t anybody else in this secondary who can play safety the way the Irish staff needs Redfield to play. So if the Irish are going to be as good as they think they can be, they’ll need Redfield to up his production.
My guess? He’ll do it. So I’m putting the baseline at 85 tackles and four interceptions, while also expecting him to exponentially increase his ability to be disruptive in the passing game.