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Irish A-to-Z: Cole Luke

Notre Dame’s most-tenured starter is Cole Luke, with 26 starts manning a challenging post for Brian VanGorder. Now a senior on a defense lacking in experience, Luke will have leadership duties as well as the job of covering opponents No. 1, needing a strong finish to his collegiate career after a year stuck in neutral.

Flying under the national radar—Luke didn’t find his name on the Jim Thorpe watch list—there’s a very good cornerback capable of playing at a championship level. But Luke will need to play with a sense of urgency that usually comes with a final season, a veteran who is now long in the tooth, able to draw on the memory of some really good battles over the past three seasons.

 

COLE LUKE
5’11”, 193 lbs.
Senior, No. 36, CB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Top 150 player, offers from both Oklahoma and Texas before choosing Notre Dame. Luke was an early target for Notre Dame, and played at Hamilton under former Irish quarterback Steve Belles.

Luke committed early and then stuck with Notre Dame as some elite programs kept giving chase. It was a big recruiting win.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2013): Played in all 13 games, made 15 tackles. Broke up two passes. Made six tackles against Air Force.

Sophomote Season (2014): Played and started all 13 games, finishing sixth on the team with 48 tackles. Tied for team lead with four interceptions. Broke up 11 passes, good for the third most in school history and the most since 1978. Also defended 15 passes, tied for 20th in FBS. Had two interceptions against Stanford.

Junior Season (2015): Started all 13 games, making 41 total tackles, one TFL, two interceptions and five pass break-ups. Led Notre Dame’s defense with 870 total snaps, playing his best-graded game against Pitt, per PFF College.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Luke didn’t have the season that he did in 2014, when he was challenged with perhaps the most dynamic slate of top-line receivers in the country.

For as productive as Luke was last year, this season might be primed for even better returns. if KeiVarae Russell is as good as expected, opponents won’t want anything to do with him. So that might mean Luke’s number is getting called more often, a great situation for a cornerback who believes in his ability to make plays.

In 2015, we need to find out how competitive Luke really is. Russell will bring that out in his secondary mates — and Lyght will foster it as well. But every great cover man plays with zero memory and a unbendable self-belief that seemed to exist at moments for Luke, but also showed some low-points (I’m thinking of the USC game, specifically).

That’s life as a sophomore. But Luke is an upperclassman now and has the potential to be as good as he wants to be. We’ll find out in 2015 if that’s just a productive college cornerback… or a DB with the chance to be another top draft pick on a roster that looks stacked with pro prospects.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

There’s an NFL player here, and Luke’s senior season will determine whether or not he’s a guy drafted in the early-to-mid rounds or if he’s a player who’ll fight to stay on the bottom of a roster. He won’t likely test with elite speed and he’s got good-but-not-great size. So he’ll need to make his waves as a technician, and find a way to be around the football more—something he did quite well as a sophomore.

But Luke at his best is a standout. The more you watch his sophomore season (and flashes last year) the more you see a a coverman with great positional talent.

Whoever starts opposite Luke next season will be a newcomer. So that’ll mean the senior will draw the marquee assignments, potentially flipping sides of the field and following a receiver if Todd Lyght and VanGorder think that makes the most sense. So Luke will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his talents before the next level awaits.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Luke is a key piece of the puzzle for the Irish in 2016. He and Max Redfield will be senior starters on the back end, two veterans who absolutely need to bring their best to the table for the Irish defense to improve. I think Luke is primed to do just that, playing his third season in a system he’s familiar with and playing for the second straight year with Lyght as his position coach.

Can Luke make big plays? He sure can. We saw him all around the football in 2014 with 11 pass breakups and four picks. That’s the type of impact the Irish need from him, and it’ll likely determine whether or not he gets looked at as a national player or just a nice veteran.

To be a great cornerback you need to be a productive one, and this defense desperately needs to find ways to take the football away and be impactful. I think Luke does it this year, growing into a leadership role and playing with the confidence of a senior. Luke’s my pick to lead the secondary in interceptions and pass breakups.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua

Irish A-to-Z: Tyler Luatua

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With a change of heart, Tyler Luatua decided to stay at Notre Dame after announcing his intention to transfer to BYU before spring practice. Accepted back onto the team after a meeting with Brian Kelly, Luatua now needs to find his place back into a stacked tight end depth chart.

Luatua’s got a unique skill-set compared to the rest of his positional partners. Built more like a guard than a receiver, he could be a key piece of the running attack as an attached blocker, though he’ll need to find consistency and stay healthy.

 

TYLER LUATUA
6’2.5″, 255 lbs.
Junior, No. 13, TE

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Notre Dame beat out Alabama for Luatua’s signature, where his brother played as a reserve offensive lineman. Luatua had an elite offer list that didn’t quite mesh with a modest three-star ranking, likely because of height limitations.

Still, Notre Dame was excited about landing a prospect who may not have been to their usual positional profile, but was someone they targeted early.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Played in 10 games, with the majority of his action coming as a second tight end. His largest contributions came against LSU in the Music City Bowl victory.

Sophomore Season (2015): Played in 10 games, starting three (Virginia, Navy and against Ohio State). Tallied no stats in the passing game, though played 212 offensive snaps in his ten games.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

He didn’t stay healthy and he didn’t catch a pass. Swing and a miss.

Want a potential touchdown vulture in the red zone? Sound smart and consider Luatua one of your dark horse candidates. When Malik Zaire is bootlegging after a nice play fake, Luatua looks like the perfect candidate to haul in a pass in the flats, rumbling for a score.

As mentioned above, Luatua’s work won’t find the stat sheet all the time. But the fact that he shed some bad weight between the fall and the spring, and the fact that he’ll be working in a slightly different offense makes Luatua one of the offense’s more intriguing under-the-radar contributors.

Notre Dame knew what it wanted when it chased hard after Luatua in recruiting. And a thumping tight end who can punish you at the line of scrimmage and also be a very difficult body to tackle in space already looks like the baseline.

While the tight end depth chart is still mostly a mystery, if Luatua is healthy I’ve got him pegged for 13 games and a ton of good blocking. Throw in a few short catches or some damage in the playaction game and it’ll be fun to see how his career progresses.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Notre Dame’s designated blocker needs to prove he can be a better… blocker. There was too much inconsistency at the point of attack for Luatua, who graded out negatively in seven of the ten games he played, per PFF College.

Those stats sometimes skew negative when your job is evaluated on a won-loss record against an offensive lineman or blitzing linebacker, but that’ll be Luatua’s niche if he can have one these next two seasons. With Jacob Matuska transitioned to the position, Luatua will battle a larger body for snaps in two-tight end personnel groupings, with the ability to keep opponents honest if there’s a roll-out or play action.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

With Alizé Jones transitioning to receiver and Durham Smythe having health struggles these past few years, Luatua could very well be one of the team’s snap-leaders at the position. But he’s got to improve his technique and consistency.

Skipping spring ball isn’t the best way to get a jump start on a position battle. But credit Luatua for making the tough decision to come back and to Kelly for welcoming him back with open arms.

Luatua has too much experience not to play a significant supporting role. I don’t suspect he’ll find his way into the passing game with better options at the position, but this offense’s DNA could be that of a power-running team. And that means a significant role for the third-year contributor.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love

 

 

Notre Dame gets commitment from DT Darnell Ewell

Rivals / Yahoo Sports
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Virginia defensive tackle Darnell Ewell committed to Notre Dame on Friday, giving the Irish a future building block in the trenches. The 6-foot-4, 295-pounder is a consensus 4-star prospect, a Top 150 player who picked Notre Dame over finalists Michigan, Ohio State, Clemson and Alabama.  (That’s the first time I’ve ever typed that sentence.)

Ewell visited Notre Dame in June, a family trip that really paid dividends in the Irish’s pursuit of the future defensive tackle. He talked about what made Notre Dame right for him, taking a quote out of the RKG playbook, with a tip of the cap to White Castle. (Again, the first time I’ve ever typed that sentence.)

Irish 247’s Tom Loy had the money quote, when Ewell decided it was going to be Notre Dame after a Midwestern swing through South Bend, Columbus and Ann Arbor:

“It was really exciting. The coaches were really, really excited,” Ewell told Irish 247. “Believe it or not, after the visits I went on, I went to White Castle. We talked it over and thought about it.

“That’s when I knew I found the best school for me and the one I really, really fit in at. Trust me, I really fit in there. This decision was really good for me. They have the academics and football. It was just a really good opportunity that I couldn’t pass on. So, I took it.”

Ewell’s commitment pushes Notre Dame’s 2017 recruiting class to 16. It also puts the Irish among the top groups in the country, with just about every recruiting service viewing Notre Dame’s class in the Top 5, with Scout putting the Irish at No. 2.

The defensive front now has Ewell along side Kurt Hinish. Jonathan MacCollister also likely could grow into a three-technique, with the Irish in pursuit of several edge rushers with over six months to go until Signing Day.

Ewell is an honor student, National Honor Society Member and in the Junior ROTC at Lake Taylor High School.

PFF ranks Notre Dame’s OL best in the nation

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The loss of Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin, picks No. 6 and 50 respectively, is the most impactful talent drain from the Irish offensive line in recent years. But that hasn’t lowered the expectations for Harry Hiestand’s front five.

While watch lists and media days are taking up most of the attention, PFF College released their ranking of the ten best offensive lines in college football. And even without Stanley and Martin (and multi-year starter Steve Elmer) the Irish are ranked as the best in the land.

Here’s PFF College’s Top Ten Offensive Lines:

10. Florida State
9. West Virginia
8. Auburn
7. Indiana
6. Washington State
5. LSU
4. USC
3. Appalachian State
2. Stanford
1. Notre Dame

There are a few head-scratchers on the list, including the FBS newcomer Appalachian State and Big Ten doormat Indiana. But based on PFF’s analytic approach—and the fact that they grade every snap of every game—this is likely a more worthwhile list than any of the preseason lists finding their way into publication.

Leading the way for the Irish are left tackle Mike McGlinchey and left guard Quenton Nelson. Both come into the season with high expectations, as PFF has ranked both in college football’s top 100 players.

Here’s PFF’s analysis on why Notre Dame sits at No. 1:

Despite the losses of Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin to the NFL draft, I believe the Irish will have the premier college offensive line in 2016. Led by Mike McGlinchey  and Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame has the talent to be a dominant group.

I recently took a trip to South Bend to watch practice and workouts and was amazed by offensive line coach Harry Hiestand’s efforts to use the “KISS” formula. Keeping it short and simple is what the Irish o-line looks to do, and they do it well. Using an old-school style of running off the ball blended with a modern style zone blocking allows the Notre Dame line to utilize their talent up front to create seams for their talented ball carriers.

Their favorite play — the “outside zone” — is a prime example. The offensive line looks to reach the defenders and if unable, they use the defense’s momentum against them and continue to run the defender creating those seams for the backs. Notre Dame had +61.6 run block rating and +18.1 pass block rating in 2015 and I have no doubt they will be among the top in both categories this season.

Notre Dame will battle two of the other top five offensive lines this season when they take on traditional foes USC and Stanford.

 

Irish A-to-Z: Julian Love

Rivals / Yahoo Sports
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Julian Love arrives on campus after a prolific high school career and in possession of a very diverse skill-set. An RKG if there ever was one, Love’s character and pedigree went a long way towards the Irish jumping on the Chicagoland product and making him an early target, before any of the Midwest’s elite programs came calling.

Projected to play defensive back, Love’s athleticism is what got the coaching staff excited—a true football player who did just about everything for a two-time state champion.

 

JULIAN LOVE
5’11”, 175 lbs.
Freshman, DB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Consensus 3-star prospect, Back-to-back 5A State Champions in Illinois, first-team MaxPreps All-American, All-Illinois first team per Chicago Tribune and Champaign News. Had early offers from Iowa, Northwestern, Illinois and Boston College before picking Notre Dame at an early Junior Day.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

There’s nothing that profiles “elite” about Love, but he reminds me of the same type of football player that the Irish recruited out of Cretin-Derham Hall in James Onwualu. There’s no chance that Love grows into a linebacker, but he’s a born leader who’ll start his career at one position and then the staff will see what makes the most sense after getting their hands on him.

Will it be easy for Love to beat out some of the talented athletes that the Irish staff has recruited at the skill positions? No. But he’ll likely find a niche early, and it feels like it’s been forever—maybe Robert Blanton— since the Irish have had an overachiever roaming the secondary. Maybe Love is the guy that breaks through.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

The limited ceiling that comes with modest offers and a three-star ranking likely serves as fuel for a player like Love. That’s a big reason why I don’t think he’ll redshirt. Like Onwualu, who found a way into the starting lineup at receiver, Love will carve out some role on this team.

The logical one is special teams. Even if he’s a kick-cover guy now instead of a returner, Brian Kelly’s small-school DNA makes him love all-around football players, and while Love certainly isn’t the freakiest athlete of the recruiting cycle, but he might be one of the best football players.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer