William Fuller, Julian Whigham, Durell Eskridge

How does Will Fuller follow up his monster 2014 season?


Mostly lost in the middle of Notre Dame’s late-season swoon was Will Fuller‘s sophomore campaign. When the spindly receiver crossed the goal line against LSU, he scored his 15th receiving touchdown of the season, tying the school record held by Jeff Samardzija and Golden Tate. Quite an explosion after a freshman season with just ten catches.

Fuller will enter 2015 as a bonafide All-American candidate. He’ll also be a marked man, no longer capable of sneaking up on opponents.

During coaches availability, CSN Chicago’s JJ Stankevitz caught up with Mike Denbrock, talking with Notre Dame’s associate head coach about Fuller’s 2014 season and what to expect in the future.

While the staff expected Fuller to emerge as a playmaker, they didn’t necessarily see a 15 touchdown campaign on the horizon. But moving forward, it’s clear that the expectations for Notre Dame’s star receiver won’t be diminished.

“I don’t think there’s anything that can hold Will Fuller back from being great at what he does,” Denbrock said. “The only person that can do that is Will Fuller, and I don’t see Will standing in his way. I think he’s a hard-working kid that wants to be the best at what he does.”

As we look towards 2015, I caught up with JJ and talked Fuller, his expectations for next season and what the future in South Bend looks like for the next great Irish receiver.


KA: After scoring 15 touchdowns and nearly 1100 yards, what are fair projections for Fuller next year?

JJ: I’m not sure we’ll see a huge increase in his numbers — maybe a few more catches if he can eliminate his drop issues — but I also don’t expect a major drop-off. Maybe 80-85 catches for 1,100-1,200 yards and 10-12 TDs?

KA: That’s what’s crazy to me. Can you imagine what his numbers would’ve been last year if he just made a few of the ordinary catches? A drop on a deep post against USC was a sure touchdown. He had another like that earlier in the season. We could’ve been looking at something like 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Another variable in all of this is Mike Sanford. How does he use Fuller?

JJ: I think that ties into which quarterback Notre Dame goes with.

KA: Good point.

JJ: Fuller and Everett Golson had an excellent rapport, but if Malik Zaire is the guy, ND won’t be throwing it as much as they did last year, which obviously means fewer targets for Fuller.

KA: Can we just get to the point where we kind of acknowledge that both these guys are going to play? And what does that do to a wide receiver’s productivity?

JJ: I’d be surprised if both don’t play in some capacity within the offense next year. To what extent? ND’s still figuring that out.

Look at what Fuller did in the Music City Bowl — 5 catches, 57 yards, 1 TD. That’s a good line, but it’s not the 7 catches, 133 yards, 2 TDs he had vs. North Carolina, for example.

KA: True — And the TD was on a screen that Fuller turned into a TD.

JJ: Which is one of his biggest strengths.

KA: I also noticed that in your conversation with Mike Denbrock, he basically said the sky is the limit for Fuller. You could notice BK’s comments last year changing, too. Early in the season he was still challenging Fuller to be “the man.” By the end, he was basically announcing that he was uncoverable.

JJ: Yeah — that was in relation to my question about whether Fuller could become that No. 1 receiver along the lines of a Mike Floyd or Golden Tate.

KA: I think he’s more of a Golden than Floyd, though he’s probably a better deep threat than both. And that’s coming from the guy who had been waving the Mr Mike Floyd flag since the kid was 15.

JJ: You Cretin-Derham kids stick together.

KA: Amen to that.

JJ: With Fuller, though — I’m not sure he has to be that No. 1 guy. Corey Robinson and Chris Brown are back, and Robinson is his year.

KA: Who’s No. 1? Does it matter? I know we want Robinson and Brown to be great. But they had comparable numbers to Boise State running back Jay Ajayi — no great shakes. And Prosise should have a monster season, I tend to think he’s the guy who takes “the leap.”

JJ: Right, but they did combine for 79 receptions opposite Fuller on the boundary.

KA: Dang it, JJ. Throwing stats like that out really kills my theories.

JJ: I did get a C+ in high school stats, so take that, Mr. Weisman.

KA: Stats. Ouch. Still have nightmares from that class in college.

JJ: Don’t we all.

KA: Maybe we should just get someone to do a YouTube of Will Fuller’s 2014 season for us. As I think we all might have just kinda missed one of the most dominant receiving seasons in ND history. Or maybe not missed it, just spent too much of it complaining about something else.

KA: To close this up, let’s play with some over/unders:

O/U on Fuller at 75 catches

JJ: Under, but not by much.

KA: I’m going over.

O/U on 1150 yards

JJ: I’m hedging based on the QBs, like we touched on earlier.

KA: O/U on TDs at 12.5

JJ: Under, but again, not by much, and that’s because I think Robinson becomes a more dependable red zone threat in Year 3.

KA: One thing that’s really throwing all this projecting off is that Fuller’s going into his junior season. That was the breakout for Samardzija, Tate and Floyd, though he was great whenever he could stay on the field as a sophomore.

JJ: Yeah, and Fuller didn’t have a gradual build-up to his junior year, either. It was six catches in 2013 and then 76 in 2014. Went from a minimal role to a huge one almost overnight thanks to DaVaris Daniels’ two suspensions.

KA: Final bet: If you had to put $$ on it, does Will Fuller spend four seasons in South Bend?

JJ: Yes.

KA: Rationale?

JJ: He’s 6-foot, 180 pounds right now. He doesn’t have the height or the physicality to be a first-round pick after his junior season, just basing that off the top receivers in this year’s draft. He very well could wind up being a solid player in the NFL, but he’d be best served to have three full seasons (so, sophomore-senior) proving his talent in a college offense.

KA: ND fans should hope you are right. And the Irish record books might be rewritten again.


Spring Practice breakdown: A look inside (Finally!)

New York Post

Allow me to sit on the front-porch rocking chair and wax nostalgic. Back to the days of practice reports with minutes upon minutes of footage, a chance to pause and rewind dozens of times, getting a glimpse at the future of Notre Dame’s football team.

Sure, we jumped to some terribly misguided conclusions. (I’ll let you guys remind me of those.) But they also provided some wonderful clues.

Nine practices in, it feels like a return to the good old days. While I miss Jack Nolan‘s weather reports and unending Adidas swag, yesterday’s practice update from FIDM and young gun Jac Collinsworth was a winner.

So let’s dig way too deep into it and see what we can pull out.



0:15 — It hard to miss the monster in the middle of the team huddle. But with his jersey tucked into his shoulder pads, you might not have noticed Jarron Jones (94). But having one of the keys to the Irish defensive line in uniform has to be one of the biggest victories of the spring season, as Jones’ recovery from lisfranc surgery must be on track.

Don’t expect to see him taking heavy reps or even playing in the Blue-Gold game, but it’s great to have him on the field.

0:58 — Jones wasn’t ready for a team breakdown, though. That honor went to walk-on senior running back Josh Anderson (48). Get ready to see that little bowling ball get some reps during the Blue-Gold game.

He reminds me of a young Timmy O’Neill.

1:13 — There’s a lot to like (including the slo-mo) in this collision between Daniel Cage (75) and Steve Elmer (79). After playing much sooner than many expected, Cage looks the part of an impressive nose guard.

1:21 — Speaking of young players, we watch tight end Tyler Luatua (13) lock onto a block with Romeo Okwara (45). Watch Jerry Tillery (more later) give Nick Martin (72) all he can handle, while Jay Hayes (93) gets turned inside by Mike McGlinchey (68).

1:29 — So that Tillery kid (99)? There he is in the backfield meeting Greg Bryant (1), though Malik Zaire (8) pulls the ball out on the read and finds his way up field.

1:33 — In the spirit of 50-50, the next snap is Everett Golson (5) running the football. Red jersey or not, tuck it away, Ev!

(Blink and you might have missed it: After missing a few days, Andrew Trumbetti (98) is back at practice.)

1:39Ronnie Stanley (78) 1, Isaac Rochell (90) 0. On the opposite side, McGlinchey gets a nice lock on Okwara. Gotta love O-line drills.

1:42Amir Carlisle (3) catches an out-route from Zaire with linebacker Greer Martini (48) asked to make a tough cover.

1:45Justin Brent (11) holds on in the corner of the end zone for a nice catch outside. Brent’s season will be an interesting one to watch. Kelly certainly has challenged the Indianapolis native who made headlines for all the wrong reasons last season.

2:00 — Interesting comparison by Collinsworth: C.J. Prosise as TJ Jones from the 2013 offense.

Though Prosise’s size at 220 pounds makes him more of a battering ram capable of moving the pile in short yardage, race-to-the-boundary runs. He’s also probably faster than Jones, adding an even more dynamic element.

If you can’t tell, I’m bullish on Prosise in 2015.

2:13 — Is this the year Bryant explodes? It feels like we’ve been saying this forever, but he’s entering just his sophomore season of eligibility.

2:25 — Remember the Chris Brown (2) that had everybody so excited after going long against Oklahoma in 2012? Well, it’s time to see the finished product.

Talking with Collinsworth yesterday, he’s convinced Brown is primed for a breakout season. He certainly has the physical tools to do so. (Remember, Brown would’ve been the Big East triple jump champ… as a high school junior.)

He’s fast enough. He’s got legit size at 6’1.5″ and 195. But there’s no time to waste in the battle for the No. 2 receiver spot across from Will Fuller.

The drops are what’ll kill Brown’s productivity. Because beating Jesse Bongiovi (34) on an out-and-up certainly isn’t going to be what it’s like against Texas come September.

2:46 — We’re talking about the safeties here, but that’s sophomore Nick Watkins (21) running with the No. 1 secondary.

3:13 — Another nice catch by Carlisle, this time on Matthias Farley (41) in the red zone. Any thought that a guy like Carlisle might have been on the bubble to return for another season looks to have been a silly one.



Opportunities await Notre Dame’s running backs

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Autry Denson‘s running back room has to feel lonely sometimes. With just Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant as scholarship backs, C.J. Prosise‘s cross-training this spring at least brought another voice into the room.

And while a crew of walk-on runners have filled some chairs—and will likely fill the stat sheet in the upcoming Blue-Gold game—the room should never feel empty. Because the shadow of one of college football’s premier backs should be felt on a daily basis.

Boise State’s Jay Ajayi ran for 1,823 yards in 2014. He had 347 carries, a shade under 25 a game. He caught 50 passes for 535 yards. He scored 32 total touchdowns.

Those aren’t numbers. Those are monster numbers.

As a runner, Ajayi wasn’t just more productive than Notre Dame’s entire 2014 backfield, he was essentially the Irish’s entire 2012 ground game, too—but double the rushing touchdowns.

As a receiver, Ajayi would’ve finished behind only Will Fuller in catches. He put up essentially Corey Robinson’s receiving numbers, and that’s after carrying the Broncos offense on his back as a runner.

Put simply, opportunities await.

So while the collective focus this spring is on the quarterback battle between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire, Denson’s running backs should feel like the big winners of the coaching shakeup.

Notre Dame’s ground game has been better-than-average just once in Brian Kelly’s five seasons in South Bend. So give Kelly credit for bringing in Sanford to do more than just coach quarterbacks and (potentially) call plays. He brought him in to help renovate a running game that’s been operating at well below efficiency.

Boise State ran the football 57 percent of the time in 2014. That number should be in big, bold font as a reminder to the running backs that if they’re dominant, they’ll be getting the football.

So while the room might feel empty this spring, the opportunities are everywhere. Especially after seeing the Irish offense succeed when they committed to a ground game in their victory over LSU in the Music City Bowl.