Author: Keith Arnold

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Irish A-to-Z: Chris Brown



Chris Brown enters his senior season in South Bend, still looking to build on a magical start. When the lanky South Carolina native arrived on campus, he was a designated deep threat — used to perfection against Oklahoma on one of the season’s defining plays.

His career hasn’t lived up to that moment, and last year’s promising campaign had a few bad ones as well (let’s just say Brown isn’t going to be handling any more jet sweep carries at the goal line). But 39 catches and 548 yards are a season to build on, and word out of spring practice showcased a different type of player, one likely with a sense of urgency.

An elite track and field athlete—Brown would’ve won the Big East’s Triple Jump title as a high school junior—there’s a lot to like about the South Carolina native. So let’s take a look at what to expect from the veteran leader of the wide receiving corps.


6’1.5″ 195 lbs.
Senior, No. 2, WR



His senior season was shortened by injuries, but Brown’s athleticism was displayed on the track, a national record setter in the triple jump and a 10.8 100-meter dash. He was viewed as a three-star prospect, but Notre Dame beat out home state South Carolina and Steve Spurrier for Brown’s signature and he took an official visit to Alabama, and Kelly wasn’t shy about his belief in Brown on Signing Day.

“If we were talking from an NFL standpoint and I was the general manager after draft day, we would consider this young man a steal of the draft,” Kelly said on Signing Day 2012. “We believe he has a skill set that we do not have currently on this football team.”



Freshman Season (2012): Saw action in all 12 games. Started two. First catch of his career was a 50-yarder against Oklahoma. Also made a six-yard grab against Wake Forest.

Sophomore Season (2013): Started four games while appearing in all 13. Season-long catch of 40-yards against Purdue. Caught his first touchdown against Air Force. Totaled 15 catches for 209 yards and one touchdown.

Junior Season (2014): Started 11 of 13 games last season, putting up career high in catches and yards. Had nine catches of 20 yards or longer. Had career best 82 yards on two catches against Navy.

I was skeptical that Brown was ready to take the leap last season and I turned out to be mostly right, especially considering DaVaris Daniels’ absence opened things up for Brown.

This prediction is completely dependent on a few key variables: First, the explosiveness that we’re hoping to see from the Irish offense in 2014, namely quarterback Everett Golson’s ability to hit big plays down the field. If that’s the case, then expect Brown to be one of the main beneficiaries.

Secondly, it’s dependent on Brown cleaning up his game. In a stable of sure-handed pass catchers, Brown stood out for a few careless drops. There was also the end zone interception against Pitt where Brown wasn’t competitive on the route. Those types of things are fatal in a Brian Kelly offense, and will get you taken off the field.

Perhaps we were expecting too much from Brown early, the product of remembering one singular play in a season where he only made two catches. Brown played his best in the Pinstripe Bowl, rebounding from the disappointment against Pitt and capitalizing on the opportunity after a month of practice.

I’m not entirely convinced that Brown is any better than the fourth receiver in this offense, and that doesn’t take into consideration slot players C.J. Prosise and Amir Carlisle. But if this offense runs optimally, there should be catches and touchdowns to go around, for Daniels, Fuller, Robinson and Brown.

We’ll know if the resurgent spring was coachspeak and the bowl game simply a data point come this fall. But Brown is the type of player that the Irish are counting on to help them score points, so his ascent could be crucial in 2014.

I think Brown turned his game around in 2014 after some early season struggles, becoming a key piece of the outside receiving game, pretty much pairing with Corey Robinson opposite Will Fuller. He made a big catch against LSU and played pretty well against USC in blowout circumstances.



Call me crazy, but there’s still plenty of upside for Brown. This is a big, strong, fast kid, who only just now has started to play big, strong and fast. And while I’ll be a fool to fall for it, talking with Jac Collinsworth—pretty much the only media member who had a look at every spring practice—he couldn’t stop raving about the performances he saw from Brown in practice.

I still think Chris Brown has NFL potential as a receiver, especially when he runs a 4.4 and jumps out of the gym at pro day. But if he can’t shake the inconsistency that’s defined his game so far in his senior season, than it’s never going to happen.



We’ve watched veterans step forward under Brian Kelly and play very good football. And I actually believe this is going to happen with Brown. Will Fuller has nowhere to hide next season, as defenses are going to be hyperaware of his spot on the field before every snap. So that should automatically lead to some preferred matchups for Brown, situations he needs to win.

We’ve watched Brown fail to make the big play—a critical fumbled last year at the goal line, getting beat out for a ball in the end zone during Notre Dame’s loss to Pitt in 2013. But we also saw him climb the ladder to convert a big 3rd down against LSU, and break off big chunks of yardage when given the opportunity.

TJ Jones went from a 649 yard junior season to a ridiculous 1,108, nine-touchdown senior year. I’m not predicting that type of output for Jones—I just don’t think he’s going to get the touches. But at the same time, I think a eight touchdown, 800-yard season is in the cards, with a 15-plus-yard-per-catch average happening.


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


Irish A-to-Z: Justin Brent

Justin Brent, Devin Butler

There are good debut seasons. And then there are debut seasons like the one Justin Brent just had.

The Indianapolis native enrolled early in South Bend, exciting fans with his physicality and size that made him look like a potential fit in a receiving corps lacking a college-ready body like the one Brent already possesses. But Brent’s season was a roadmap of what not to do at Notre Dame, making headlines for all the wrong reasons as a mostly anonymous special teams performer.

(It’s not worth going over again, so just move on from here if you don’t know what happened…)

While he worked his way out of Brian Kelly’s doghouse before the bowl game, Brent enters his second season in a similar spot—looking for reps in a competitive wide receiving depth chart, and now having some negative headlines to overcome.

There were signs of a turnaround this spring, including a nice touchdown in the Blue-Gold game. But entering his second season, let’s take a look at the crossroads where Brent finds himself.


6’1.5″, 205 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 11, WR



Brent committed to Notre Dame waaaaay early, a full summer ahead of most early commits. But his recruiting profile rose steadily, especially when he lit up The Opening and the Rivals Five-Star Challenge in Chicago.

Brent didn’t have overwhelming offers, but that comes with pledging to the Irish after your sophomore season and playing running back out of need as a senior. He was a high four-star prospect according to Rivals regardless, and he looked it from the moment he stepped on campus.



Freshman Season (2014): Played in nine games, mostly on special teams. Did not make a catch at wide receiver.



So the Irish coaching staff didn’t redshirt Brent, but you could’ve made the argument that it made more sense to do so, especially considering he played only on special teams.

The Crystal Ball looked pretty sharp, especially with depth chart issues and the craft of playing wide receiver likely contributing to the logjam in front of Brent.

It may have been a foolish prediction around Signing Day, but I get the feeling that Brent might spend the year redshirting. It’s a decision that Kelly pulled off with DaVaris Daniels, another receiver with NFL potential who was stuck behind Michael Floyd so this isn’t a referendum on his talent. But there just might not be enough footballs to make it worth using a year of eligibility.

Where Brent might slide into the mix is after Daniels heads to the NFL, which may be after the 2014 season. That would leave Will Fuller, Corey Robinson and Chris Brown as outside receivers, along with the unknown quantities that are Torii Hunter Jr. and Corey Holmes (and an incoming freshman class). If Brent projects inside, he’ll likely have both Prosise and Carlisle still in the mix, though the staff believes he’s an outside receiver in the current system.

Snippets of practice videos aren’t necessarily the best evaluation tool, but Brent has some work to do sharpening his routes and getting more comfortable playing as a true wideout. But physically and athletically he looks the part of a dominant offensive weapon, and that’s a great place to start.

Brent starts fall camp in a pretty similar place, and that’s without considering the talent coming in as true freshmen to compete.



There’s still a ton to like about Brent as a football player, though I worry a bit about his smoothness in space and his hands, two things you don’t want to worry about for a receiver. So while he’s made some dazzling plays in practice, he’s also shown some struggles getting in and out of routes and catching the football, two traits that turn wideouts into safeties.

That’s not looking like the career path for Brent, but a detour could be in the making—especially if his maturity and decision making doesn’t take a very big step forward. Notre Dame’s in a tight spot with scholarships, and malcontents aren’t going to stick around anymore.

Brent’s best gift is an NFL body that he’s clearly spent hours crafting. But the development between the ears is what’ll be most important, and was certainly what Kelly challenged during spring drills every time he mentioned the Indianapolis native.



While I’ve been pretty hard on Brent, I actually think the thing that struck me the most was the celebratory hug he shared with his head coach after the Music City Bowl victory. That didn’t look like an embrace you got from an exiled freshman with one foot out the door, but rather the look of a kid who seemed ready, willing and engaged.

One thing that might actually help Brent is starting quarterback Malik Zaire. It’s unlikely that Brent caught too many passes from Everett Golson in practices last season. But Zaire? The duo’s chemistry was on display in the Blue-Gold game, and could also help Brent’s confidence come training camp.

While I mentioned physical play as a way for Miles Boykin to get on the field, Brent’s the perfect body type to mangle defensive backs as a blocker on the edge. That’s a thankless job that requires pinpoint technique and buy-in, something we’ll see if Brent possesses.

This career could go two ways—a transfer or a four-year career that puts in the rearview a bumpy debut season. Next season will go a long way towards determining that path.


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

Offseason Q&A: Georgia Tech

Justin Thomas, Synjyn Days

Last year, Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech team burst onto the scene, nearly wrestling the ACC championship away from Florida State in a primetime showdown. While the Yellow Jackets didn’t pull out the victory, they sprinted away from Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl and won by double-digits, capping off an 11-win season.

The year came at a perfect time for Johnson, and a long term contract extension followed. The momentum came at the worst time for Notre Dame, with the option maestro ready to take on his former Navy enemy, adding a showcase game to the September slate and another test to see how Brian Kelly, Brian VanGorder and the Irish defense do against an option attack.

To get us up to speed on Tech’s offseason, Tyler Duke of From the Rumble Seat joins us. With Johnson’s mad scientist offense and a defense that could be really stout coming to South Bend, the third week of the season looks like a crossroads for both program’s College Football Playoff Hopes.

Let’s dig into a juicy September matchup.



After averaging seven wins a season since 2010, last year Georgia Tech won 11 games, including a one-sided victory over Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl. With 13 starters coming back on both sides of the ball, just how excited are Yellow Jacket fans for the 2015 season?

I’d say the optimism is much, much higher than it was at this time a year ago. Last year, fans were very uneasy about the state of the program and even the future of Paul Johnson. After the surprisingly fantastic season of 2014, fans once again believe in what Johnson does and especially what he can do with this unit. There have been plenty of talented departures, but with Justin Thomas under center, the general belief is this team can play with anyone.


At the helm of the program is Paul Johnson, a coach Notre Dame fans know well from his time at Navy. His option offense also puts fear into the hearts of Irish fans—and I’m guessing Notre Dame’s coaching staff as well.

Georgia Tech hiring Johnson in the first place was an interesting move. And with a contract extension that takes him through 2020, Johnson will likely retire after his time at The Flats. How is Johnson viewed by GT faithful, and has that opinion been reshaped after last season?

Johnson’s support has shifted much like the optimism of the team, but some are still hesitant to believe he can keep it up. The fans that were on the fence definitely had their opinions reshaped because of the success last year.

His detractors still think that Johnson’s success is dependent upon having a star quarterback, and these fans would probably always find something to criticize Johnson for. Typically, their main reasoning is they just don’t like the style of the offense.


We’ll get back to the offense in a minute. But it looks like Georgia Tech’s defense could be one of the better units Notre Dame will face next season. After being the weak link in 2014, how tough will the Irish have it against Ted Roof’s defense?

The defense should be much improved in 2015 which is a huge relief for Jackets’ fans. Some improvement was already evident towards the end of last season when they became one of the most opportunistic defenses in the nation at forcing turnovers.

Nine starters are returning, and Jabari Hunt-Days will be back on the roster after being ineligible in 2014. The former linebacker will be moving to the defensive line and should be an impact player right away. I’m reluctant to say the defense will be the strength of Georgia Tech this year, but I do believe they’ll be much more consistent and dependable because of the experience returning.


Is it safe to say that Georgia Tech’s offense is all about Justin Thomas? In Thomas, does Johnson have his perfect trigger man? It looks like graduation — and some spring injuries — put a dent in the skill players but the OL returns four starters.

Irish fans are anticipating terrifying productivity from their more talented option opponent. Do you see things the same way?

The offense absolutely looks like it should be the Justin Thomas show in 2015. There’s a problem with that though. As we know, defenses can typically choose a part of the option they want to take away to force another unit to do the damage. Defenses will likely use this approach as much as possible to force the ball out of Thomas’ hands when possible.

I’m sure Johnson will come up with strategies to make this harder for defenses, but the inexperienced skill position players for the Jackets have to step up if the offense want to be anywhere close to as productive as they were last season. Irish fans shouldn’t expect the Tech offense to be quite as scary and efficient as they were in 2014.


The subplots of this game are fairly mesmerizing. Johnson is still under the collective skin of Irish fans. Johnson also has a bone to pick with Brian VanGorder, Notre Dame’s second-year defensive coordinator who took over the Georgia Southern program and removed the option offense, a decision that short-circuited.

Brian Kelly has struggled against the option, spending the offseason deploying one of his former assistants to find solutions for stopping it. With some really interesting games on Notre Dame’s schedule, this one might be the most intriguing. It’s only early June. But are Yellow Jacket fans just as excited?

The anticipation for this game is definitely returned from Georgia Tech fans. Notre Dame is always an intriguing game no matter the talent level on either side, but this game should really be a huge contest for both sides in trying to throw their name into playoff contention.

Going into a hostile environment in South Bend and getting a win would be huge for a Tech team that will be 2-0 in all likelihood. If the Irish come out victorious against Texas and Virginia to start out, this should be one of the premiere matchups early on in the season. Notre Dame will have the edge on getting into gear with two much tougher games to start out, so Tech will have to get out of cupcake mode and get ready quick to be competitive. It should be fun.

OLB/DE Jamir Jones commits to Notre Dame

Notre Dame v Syracuse

Notre Dame’s quick-growing 2016 recruiting class is adding another familiar name. Rochester defensive end Jamir Jones, brother of starting defensive tackle Jarron Jones, committed to the Irish coaching staff on Tuesday, fresh off receiving his offer. He joins Julian Okwara—brother of Romeo—as younger siblings of Irish players in the 2016 recruiting class.

Jones had early offers from Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse, UConn and Boston College. He worked out at Notre Dame’s summer camp before being offered by the Irish staff and made his decision public via Twitter.



“There is no school better than Notre Dame. You get everything at Notre Dame it’s worldwide,” Jones told “My mom is about to start crying.”

At 6’4″ and 220 pounds, Jones isn’t the in the trenches type that his older brother is. And after playing quarterback and tight end for his Aquinas Institute program, Jones will likely start as an outside linebacker or edge rushing defensive end.

It’s worth pointing out the success Kelly has had recruiting younger siblings. After landing the elder Jones and Okwara, that families trusted Notre Dame’s staff with their next son. (If Urban Meyer did that, both Jaylon Smith and Mike Heuerman would be Buckeyes.)

Notre Dame’s recruiting class moves to nine commitments with the addition of Jones, giving the Irish another potential edge rusher in a class that needs to secure multiple options.



Irish A-to-Z: Miles Boykin

Property of Sun-Times media

Notre Dame protected the Chicagoland area when they landed receiver Miles Boykin. An All-State performer and a summer riser on the recruiting trail when he picked Notre Dame, Boykin’s a big-bodied physical receiver who has the look of an offensive mismatch.

At 6’3 and 225 pounds, Boykin has plenty of size—a bigger player than tight end Mike Heuerman already. But the Irish coaching staff believes Boykin has a future at the X receiver spot, capable of doing big things in space and in the red zone.

Let’s take a look at the incoming freshman.


6’3″, 225 lbs.
Freshman, No. 81, WR



A Semper Fidelis All-American, Boykin was a consensus four-star prospect. He had offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Ole Miss, Florida and Oregon among others.

UPDATE: As our buddy JJ Stankevitz points out, Boykin was named the Chicago Tribune’s Athlete of the Year — No big deal.



It’s hard not to think of Michael Floyd when you see a big, strong receiver like Boykin—especially with that size. But that’s not necessarily a fair comp to give a young guy who’ll have a much longer road to get onto the field.

Yet Boykin certainly impressed the Irish staff with his ability to go get the football and to do it in a physical manner. Notre Dame’s receivers have been missing that piece of the puzzle since Floyd went to the NFL, and Boykin certainly has the type of potential to do some great things.

I see a bit of Maurice Stovall in Boykin’s game, and deciding how large Boykin gets will likely dictate if he stays outside as a receiver, or grows into a flex player who could eventually turn into a versatile tight end prospect.



Physicality will likely dictate if Boykin sees the field this season, as it’s hard to see too many balls coming his way. But thinking back to how James Onwualu got on the field and how Daniel Smith was utilized, Boykin might not be the receiver with the biggest recruiting profile, but if the Irish plan on running with Malik Zaire and a talented offensive line and Boykin shows himself willing, he could be taking those snaps.

But to pin Boykin’s future as a blocker doesn’t do much service to his athletic traits. On Signing Day, Brian Kelly talked about the mismatches Boykin can creates. While it might take a season or two for the Irish to need Boykin to provide the offensive boost, it looks like Notre Dame has a good one in the Illinois native.


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