<span class="vcard">Keith Arnold</span>

Rice v Notre Dame

Counting down the Irish: 15-11

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For those getting caught up, start here. Then, check out the players who just missed the cut. Our rankings start with No. 25-21

 

What a difference a day makes. Just 48 hours into our rollout and Notre Dame announces it’ll be without our No. 24 player on the list, running back Greg Bryant. Already lost for the first third of the season, Bryant’s inability to handle his business in the classroom adds another detour to a promising football career that may never get back on course.

But for as important as Bryant may be on paper, he was essentially Notre Dame’s No. 3 running back. So for all the five-star hopes, if this is “the big preseason story” that usually collides with Brian Kelly’s team in its opening days, the Irish should feel lucky.

Now back to the players eligible in 2015…

After looking at five experienced players who’ll help make up the core of the Irish, our next five players found ways to either play very good football, or at least show the ability to be able to do that.

There’s a multi-year starter. One of the team’s most impressive breakout defenders. A preseason All-American and a defender who—if healthy—has the same ceiling. And oh yeah, the team’s returning MVP.

 

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

19. Chris Brown, WR
18. Elijah Shumate, S
17. Corey Robinson, WR
16. Mike McGlinchey, OT

 

Purdue v Notre Dame
Purdue v Notre DameMichael Hickey/Getty Images

15. Steve Elmer (RG, Junior): Elmer started last season at right tackle, a tough fit for a young player who had just learned how to play guard on the fly. While he’s certainly got the size to play on the edge, Elmer’s body control sometimes let him down, lunging his way out of position and missing—sometimes badly—on blocks.

But after three games, Elmer slid back inside to guard and his play almost immediately improved. And while there were still some high-profile rough patches, by season’s end Elmer had put together an impressive sophomore season, and found a permanent home at guard.

With NFL size and above-average athleticism, Elmer seems primed to have an elite season. He’s a high IQ played and with the chance to play two-straight seasons next to Mike McGlinchey, the right side of the Irish offensive line has really nice upside.

Highest Ranking: 8th. Lowest Ranking: 18th.

 

Keenan Reynolds, Isaac Rochell
Keenan Reynolds, Isaac RochellAP Photo/Alex Brandon

14. Isaac Rochell (DE, Junior): It looked like Notre Dame was going to have a huge question mark at defensive end last season when Rochell stepped into the starting lineup. While Brian Kelly sounded confident with his praise during preseason that Rochell could capably replace Ishaq Williams, it was hard to project greatness for Rochell after a mostly anonymous freshman season where he filled in sparingly.

But Rochell’s play up front was probably the best surprise on the defense. He held up well against the run. He made plays behind the line of scrimmage—with 7.5 TFLs and 10 quarterback hurries. But most important? He stayed healthy. On a defense that seemed to lose a body every game down the stretch, Rochell started all 13.

Where’s the pass rush going to come from in 2015? Why not Rochell? A three-down player who can kick inside on third down if Brian VanGorder wants to put some speed on the edge, Rochell has already shown the productivity of his more heralded teammate Sheldon Day, and he’s still just scratching the surface.

Highest Ranking: 8th. Lowest Ranking: 22nd.

 

Notre Dame v Arizona State
Notre Dame v Arizona StateChristian Petersen/Getty Images

13. Max Redfield (S, Junior): As you can see from the variance in ballots, the jury is still out on Redfield. When Notre Dame’s junior safety was named to Phil Steele’s All-American team, a few Irish fans chuckled. That certainly wasn’t the safety who got benched for a one-armed Austin Collinsworth and true freshman Drue Tranquill.

But Redfield salvaged last season against LSU. After hurting his ribs against USC, Redfield came back and played a productive football game, notching 14 tackles for a defense that badly needed support from its safeties.

One of the best athletes on the team, we heard this spring that the lightbulb turned on for the former five-star recruit. Checking in at No. 13, it’s pretty clear that this is still very much a wait-and-see proposition for this group, though it shouldn’t be a huge surprise if Redfield takes a big leap forward in his second season playing in VanGorder’s system. For the sake of the defense, they need Redfield to do it.

Highest Ranking: 8th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (one ballot).

 

Joe Schmidt
Joe SchmidtAP Photo/Joe Raymond, File

12. Joe Schmidt (LB, Grad Student): Again, our panel had a big difference of opinion on Notre Dame’s returning Team MVP. Some (me included) had him among the team’s top players. That was based on both above-average productivity as well as the mental part of Schmidt’s game that kept the defense on the same page.

Yet others see Schmidt for what he is: An undersized veteran who is surrounded by athletes at his position that look and fit the role of a middle linebacker better. Add in a more-serious-than-discussed ankle and leg injury, and Schmidt’s road back to the starting lineup may not be as difficult as the one that got him there to begin with, but it’s no easy stroll.

Ultimately, Schmidt’s production tipped the scales to allow him to sneak into the top half of our 25-man list. But as the personnel on this roster continues to improve, Schmidt’s ceiling may not match with the best players on this team, so he’ll have to continue to find a way to maximize his performance.

Highest Ranking: 5th. Lowest Ranking: 25th.

 

North Carolina v Notre Dame
North Carolina v Notre DameJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

 

11. Jarron Jones (DL, Senior): If Jones wasn’t coming off a late-season foot injury, you could probably expect him to be closer to top-five than just outside the top ten. But then again, we’re still at a point in Jones’ career where the sample size is still relatively small.

For as dominant as Jones was against Florida State, Notre Dame’s senior defensive tackle is still learning the tricks of the trade. That stems from a slow start after a redshirt season spent at defensive end and a sophomore season only saved by an emergency Senior Day performance at nose tackle after Louis Nix and Kona Schwenke went down.

By nature, Jones is a productive player. While his body is sometimes doing the wrong thing, he has a knack for making plays. He’s dangerous as a kick blocker (it helps to be nearly 6-foot-6). He’s also shown an ability to wreak havoc in the backfield. But at No. 11, it feels like there’s still some worry about his healthy before our panel is assured that Jones is the type of talent who could emerge on the national stage.

Highest Ranking: 7th. Lowest Ranking: 17th.

 

***

Our 2015 Irish Top 25 panel
Keith Arnold, Inside the Irish
Bryan DriskellBlue & 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 A-to-Z: Trevor Ruhland

Ruhland
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An early offer and commitment, offensive lineman Trevor Ruhland begins his Notre Dame career on a developmental track that requires patience. A two-way high school player, Ruhland will focus on life on the interior of the Irish offensive line, learning from an established depth chart that’s quickly become a war chest of talent.

Far from the highest-ranked offensive lineman, Ruhland projects as a scrappy mauler on the interior. And while his best days may be a season or two away, he’s another piece of the puzzle for Harry Hiestand to make fit.

 

TREVOR RUHLAND
6’4″, 285 lbs.
Freshman, No. 57, OL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

More of a regional recruit than a national target, Ruhland likely had limited offers due to the fact that he committed to Notre Dame well in advance of his senior season and stayed off the camp circuit.

A first-team All-State and All-Area player, Ruhland also chipped in on the defensive line of a program that finished runner-up for the 7A state title in Illinois.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Get back to me this spring.

In Ruhland, it’s tough to know what you have until you see him in pads and stack him up against the rest of the offensive line. His high school tape showcases a guy who isn’t afraid to battle in the trenches, but then again, Notre Dame’s entire depth chart does the same.

That said, if you’re looking for something that could set Ruhland apart, take a gander at his Signing Day video, where Tom Lemming compared him to Chris Watt and Harry Hiestand talked about his physicality and demeanor during Notre Dame’s one-day lineman camp. Sounds like a good start.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

There are redshirt candidates and then there are redshirt guarantees. It sure feels like Ruhland is all but guaranteed to spend this season learning and in the weight room, likely one of two seasons where most of the reps he takes are on the practice field.

But as we look forward, Ruhland will be competing with a fairly large group of lineman to replace Steve Elmer after 2016 (and potentially Quenton Nelson if he shifts outside to tackle), and could also be a candidate to try snapping, potentially throwing his name into the hat of a fairly wide-open center battle once Nick Martin heads to the NFL.

 

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

 

 

Medical redshirts announced for Michael Deeb, Mike Heuerman

Heuerman
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Two veterans on the Notre Dame football team will be permanently hanging up their cleats. Linebacker Michael Deeb and tight end Mike Heuerman have both been medically disqualified, the university announced today. Both will remain at Notre Dame, staying on scholarship while working towards their respective degrees.

The roster move officially clears up two scholarships on a crowded 85-man roster that is quickly coming into context. Neither Deeb nor Heuerman were expected to play much of a role on the team in 2015, even before injuries were considered.

The loss of Deeb ends the linebacker’s career after two mostly anonymous seasons. After not seeing any action as a freshman, Deeb saw the field against USC and LSU, though only briefly. Deeb was cross-training with defensive ends during spring practice, hoping to make a transition to a pass rushing position with the linebacking depth chart crowded in front of him.

Heuerman did not see the field in either of his two seasons on the roster. He redshirted as a true freshman and got off to a slow start in 2014 after a summer hernia surgery. He was largely buried on the depth chart this spring, behind even transitioning defensive lineman Chase Hounshell.

Due to privacy laws, Notre Dame did not release any additional medical information on either player.

 

Greg Bryant academically ineligible for ’15 season

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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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-.

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.

 

 

 

Irish A-to-Z: Isaac Rochell

Michigan v Notre Dame
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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

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

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.

 

PLAYING CAREER

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.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

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.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

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.

 

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