Michigan v Notre Dame

Irish A-to-Z: Romeo Okwara

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For most of Romeo Okwara‘s college career, the defender’s young age was mentioned when discussing the intriguing athlete’s upside. With ideal length, more than adequate athleticism and a skill set that fit in both Bob Diaco and Brian VanGorder’s defense, it was always a wait-and-see proposition for the North Carolina native, who simply needed a few years in Paul Longo’s weight room to catch up to his age.

But Okwara’s a senior now. And even if he’s only now about to turn 21, the clock on his collegiate career is nearly done ticking, making 2015 a critical season for a defensive end who very quietly led Notre Dame in sacks last season, all while learning on the fly.

Let’s take a closer look at one of the key unknowns on the defense.

 

ROMEO OKWARA
6’4″, 260 lbs.
Senior, No. 45, DE

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Okwara committed to the Irish the summer before his senior season, an incredibly young prospect who tantalized the Irish staff with his length and speed. He was a three-star prospect, though had offers from Clemson, Miami, Virginia Tech and the major in-state programs.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2012): Played in all 13 games, credited with seven tackles. Made a key tackle-for-loss against Oklahoma. Played mostly outside linebacker.

Sophomore Season (2013): Played in all 13 games, starting against Navy. Made 19 tackles, and 1.5 TFLs. Had season-high five tackles against Navy and Stanford.

Junior Season (2014): Started 12 games, playing in all 13. Led the Irish in sacks with four, made 11 tackles against Purdue, a career-high, leading to a FBS Defensive Player of the Week award. Forced fumble against Michigan.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

I’m going to take a little more than partial credit for this, because Okwara did actually lead the team in sacks, even if 4.0 isn’t a number you’re that enthused about unless it’s a grade-point-average.

At a position that still lacks depth and pure pass rushers, Okwara is one of the keys to the Irish defense, part of a group that looks talented on paper, but needs to translate projection to production. With just about every sack on the roster departed after Prince Shembo and Stephon Tuitt headed to the NFL, Okwara will have every opportunity to start fast and make a name for himself.

If we’re trying to learn something from the spring, Okwara was all over the field in the Blue-Gold game, notching three sacks under rules that should give stats like that zero relevance. But that’s all we have to cling to until we see Okwara take the field against Rice, where he’ll have the first opportunity to put up numbers in VanGorder’s stat-friendly defense.

The coaches believe Okwara can get after the quarterback. If he can’t, there’ll be others getting the opportunity to do it. But after two seasons as a member of the supporting cast, expect Okwara to do a nice job as he steps into the limelight.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

The future is pretty much now, right? So if you’re looking for a time to expect big things out of Okwara, you’re in a push-the-chips-to-the-middle moment. That said, there might be something to this. Okwara passes the eyeball test. At 6-foot-4, 260-pounds, he’s a great looking defensive end, and certainly a guy you want coming off the bus first.

At times, Okwara was incredibly disruptive—see an 11 tackle game against Purdue. At times, he was completely invisible. That might be a great skill for a Marvel character, but it isn’t for a pass rusher in this system.

I like Okwara and he’ll have a full calendar year in the system. But I also wonder if he’s maxed out his potential. So while it’s tough to see him turning into a early-round draft pick, it’s not ridiculous to think a lightbulb could turn on and he’ll be a productive senior.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I don’t expect Okwara to lead the team in sacks again. But I do expect him to improve on his pass rush numbers. I’ve got him penciled in for a half-dozen, which I think will have him in the team’s top five, but behind at least a few defenders.

We’ll see how things shake out on the defensive front, but it’ll be interesting to see if Andrew Trumbetti takes a big step forward after a nice debut freshman season, or if Okwara grows into a starting role after finally settling into one position.

At this point, it’s not worth looking back at the redshirt season that would’ve done Okwara good. It’s only worth looking forward. And I think the future is bright for a rock-solid senior season and then a shot at playing football on Sundays.

 

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

Coming Soon: Counting Down the Irish, 2015 edition

Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt
9 Comments

With the start of training camp right around the corner, it’s time for our annual tradition of ranking the Top 25 players on the Notre Dame roster.

As we enter season six of the Brian Kelly era, we find a Notre Dame roster that’s as talent-rich and deep as any we’ve seen. And as we enter our sixth season of this annual exercise, we’ve built a group of pollsters and experts that spend more time watching the Irish practice and play than any group we’ve ever had.

A year after 40 players received a vote and only 12 players made it on every ballot, we’ll see how this year’s roster looks in the eyes of our panelists. With a top-heavy team that features preseason All-Americans in Jaylon Smith and Ronnie Stanley, and standouts like Sheldon Day, KeiVarae Russell, returning Team MVP Joe Schmidt and offensive player of the year Will Fuller, this season’s rankings should also be fascinating.

We’ll start rolling out the results on Monday.  Starting with the near-misses before we name our top five players on Friday. It’ll serve as a wonderful preseason snapshot, even if it’ll also serve as a reminder that even with 20 returning starters, somebody will sneak up on us.

Interested in turning back the clock? Let’s take a quick look at the top five from the past five seasons.

2014 
5. Tarean Folston, RB
4. Everett Golson, QB
3. Sheldon Day, DT
2. KeiVarae Russell, CB
1. Jaylon Smith, LB

2013
5. Prince Shembo, LB
4. Bennett Jackson, CB
3. Zack Martin, LT
2. Stephon Tuitt, DE
1. Louis Nix, DT

2012
5. Stephon Tuitt, DE
4. Zack Martin, LT
3. Cierre Wood, RB
2. Tyler Eifert, TE
1. Manti Te’o, LB

2011
5. Gary Gray, CB
4. Zack Martin, LT
3. Harrison Smith, S
2. Manti Te’o, LB
1. Michael Floyd, WR

2010*
5. Trevor Robinson, OT
4. Chris Stewart, OG
3. Manti Te’o, LB
2. Kyle Rudolph, TE
1. Michael Floyd, WR

 

 

Want proof that Notre Dame’s football program is getting better? Just take a deeper look at these Top 25 lists—especially as players like Will Fuller emerge at No. 25, like he did last season.

I’m excited about our panelists (listed alphabetically, below) from this year and want to thank them in advance for their work. We’ll average out the scores from each ballot over the weekend and start the reveal Monday.

 

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
Eric Murtaugh, 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: Tyler Newsome

247Sports
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With Kyle Brindza gone, sophomore Tyler Newsome takes over the punting duties. And outside of seeing a few not-really live kicks in the Blue-Gold game, what that means remains to be seen.

Newsome has earned solid review from the coaching staff and is a long-levered kid, standing much taller than your average punter. But with he and Justin Yoon taking over the kicking duties, it’s a brave new world on Scott Booker’s special teams units, and we could be looking at four-straight seasons of the same battery—and that’s the best case scenario.

Let’s look closer at Notre Dame’s starting punter.

 

TYLER NEWSOME
6’2.5″, 205 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 85, P

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

No specialist is a highly-touted recruit, but Newsome did garner a three-star ranking by Rivals and was a Semper Fidelis All-American game participant. He also was the No. 4 ranked punter according to Kohl’s Kicking School.

The All-State Georgia performer got offered a scholarship by Notre Dame after camping in South Bend and that was it.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Pretty much exactly what happened.

If Newsome sees the field this year, it’s because something bad happened to Kyle Brindza. It’s most likely that Newsome will save a year of eligibility and then take the field in 2015, where he’ll be competing with incoming freshman kicker Justin Yoon.

My guess? Newsome will be punting and Yoon kicking in 2015, a lot of pressure on two young scholarship specialists.

It’s hard to get too serious about digging into the YouTube clips of high school kickers and punters, but Newsome is exactly what the coaching staff wanted when they decided to offer a scholarship to a specialist. He’s a versatile kicker with high upside who has shown the ability to do multiple jobs at the high school level, but a guy that projects easily as a punter at the very least.

Newsome will have some responsibilities hoisted on his shoulders soon. But it won’t happen in 2014.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

I’d be lying to you if I had some deep-diving analysis here. But I’ll give you the cliff notes:

Newsome’s the punter. There’s nobody else on scholarship that can do the job. So the Irish coaching staff must have a pretty solid belief that they’ve targeted the right guy for the job, especially after getting a season to look at him during practice.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

The best part of this projection? I don’t think Notre Dame’s punter is going to get much work this season. The Irish offense should render Newsome fairly obsolete, though I do hope his ability to directional punt is better than most young kickers.

If you’re looking for something out of Newsome, it’s the hope that he’s consistent. If anything can kill the momentum of a football team, it’s a punter who might send one 45 yards on his first attempt only to mishit one 25 yards a kick later. (Fans might have their suspicions who I’m thinking about here.)

Do I care if Newsome has as strong of a leg as a guy like Brindza? Not really, as long as he catches the snap, kicks the ball consistently, and understands that a punt downed inside the 15 is a lot better than the one that barely rolls into the end zone.

 

 

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

Offseason Q&A: Stanford

David Shaw
12 Comments

Notre Dame’s season finale will once again have major implications—if all goes according to plans. The Irish will close the season in Northern California, visiting Stanford in a rivalry that’s growing quickly to become one of the more important ones on the Irish schedule.

No longer are the Cardinal the shabby outfit best remembered for a spunky marching band or a zany mascot. David Shaw has built one of college football’s most consistent programs, continuing Jim Harbaugh’s reclamation project as he’s put together a rough-and-tumble bully in a conference not exactly know for its physicality. Just as impressive, the Cardinal have also revved up their recruiting machine, another elite academic institution that’s winning its share of battles for blue-chip talent.

To get us up to speed on things at The Farm, Do-Hyoung Park joins me. A fellow St. Paul native, Do is a senior staff writer and former sports editor of The Stanford Daily where he’s covered the Cardinal football, baseball and tennis squads, while also serving as part of the football broadcast team on KZSU, Stanford’s student radio station. He’s majoring in chemical engineering.

(He also wrote this, which I’d be happy to co-sign.)

From the great state of Minnesota, Do provided some great, in-depth answers to the best questions I could think up. Hope you enjoy.

 

After an incredible run, Stanford finally had an average season, with the Cardinal finishing 8-5 on the year. Their losses were all respectable, but a tough schedule and just an average offense doomed David Shaw’s team. What was the attitude like on The Farm this spring? And from a psyche perspective, how did the players and coaching staff react to their most disappointing season since early in the Harbaugh era?

I definitely can’t speak for the players and coaches, but I can tell you one thing: It’s been clear to me for the last couple of years that despite all of the program’s recent success, nobody has started to take winning for granted — success is earned, not a given.

And with that in mind, I think the 8-5 season was more frustrating for the team than disappointing. They felt they were certainly going out there and playing well enough — on defense, at least — to earn their victories week in and week out (apart from the Oregon and ASU games). But game after game, seemingly one momentary lapse in execution would do the team in and turn what arguably should have been wins in their minds into losses.

Remember that Stanford actually did score the go-ahead touchdown late against USC but had it called back on a boneheaded chop block by running back Remound Wright. Remember that Stanford had Notre Dame on the ropes before cornerback Wayne Lyons pretty much forgot to cover his man on fourth-and-11.

Don’t let the record fool you — the 2014 Stanford team was worse than its predecessors, but not by much. Three games came down to one play that didn’t go Stanford’s way. If they had, we’re looking at 11-2 and probably a top-10 ranking to end the year. Isn’t football fickle?

The bottom line is that every week, the players were frustrated because they knew that they were capable of playing so much better. Nothing really changed for the Cardinal when they tore Cal, UCLA and Maryland apart to end the season — it’s that they stopped making mistakes and finally started playing to their potential.

Call it a rebuilding season, a downturn or whatever you will, but people around the Stanford program know that their record in 2014 wasn’t indicative of how good this program was (and still is), and I’m willing to bet that they’re poised to use the frustration of last year as fuel for their fire in 2015. These guys are used to playing with a huge chip on their shoulders, and that goes double for this season.

 

Kevin Hogan is entering his final season on The Farm. Irish fans have seen Hogan plenty, and are well aware that they were one of the quarterback’s favorite schools, but didn’t offer before Hogan committed to Stanford. Last year was an up and down season for Hogan, though he finished on a high note. How confident are Cardinal fans that Hogan is the type of quarterback who can do more than just steer the ship? The Irish had Tommy Rees, a “game manager” quarterback by most Irish fans’ appraisals. Is Hogan more than that?

Even through two Pac-12 titles and two Rose Bowl appearances, Cardinal fans have never had full confidence in Kevin Hogan. By now, they’ve resigned themselves to the fact that no, Kevin Hogan will never be more than a “game manager” in their minds. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Sure, it’s incredible when a program gets a quarterback like Andrew Luck that can truly carry a program and raise the bar, but Stanford doesn’t need life-changing play at the quarterback position to be an elite team — it just needs an efficient, mistake-free player that can effectively distribute the ball. And that’s exactly what Hogan can do when he’s at his best.

It was, as you described, an up-and-down season for Hogan last year, but he was dealing with quite a bit of adversity both on and off the field in having to play behind an offensive line breaking in four starters while also dealing with the illness and eventual passing of his father during the season.

Despite that, the accuracy problems that have plagued him in the past have seemingly gotten better, and when his offensive line is getting push for his running backs to balance out the offense, Hogan can be brutally efficient in dishing the ball on a dime to his playmakers out wide. Such was the case when he was 15-of-20 for 214 yards at Cal and 16-of-19 for 234 yards at UCLA.

His biggest problem over the last few seasons was that he wouldn’t go through his progressions and lock on to his biggest weapon, Ty Montgomery, and try to force him the ball, often into heavy coverage. But with two-plus years of starting experience under his belt and a deep, talented receiving corps around him, I’m expecting his mistakes and lapses to be few and far between this year. And that’ll be enough.

 

Perhaps the biggest change inside the Cardinal program is the defense. Even if Lance Anderson managed to keep the train rolling after replacing Derek Mason, Stanford needs to replace NINE STARTERS from a veteran defense. How exactly will they do that? Or are you expecting a major step backwards?

The defensive situation may appear pretty dire at first glance, but I’m quite surprised that people haven’t given Stanford’s defense at least the benefit of the doubt after it finished as a top-5 unit in the country in each of the last three seasons.

It’s not like Stanford hasn’t had to rebuild on defense before. At the end of 2013, the Cardinal lost DE Josh Mauro, LB Trent Murphy, LB Shayne Skov, DE Ben Gardner and SS Ed Reynolds, who were most of the entire defensive core of that 2013 team. (Four of the above are now NFL players.) The Cardinal didn’t even skip a beat.

It’s not like Stanford hasn’t been recruiting well on defense — the Cardinal are plugging holes with four-star and five-star recruits all over their two-deep.

And finally, it’s not like Stanford is going to be playing fresh faces — because of Stanford’s robust defensive rotation, only two of the projected starters on defense haven’t seen significant game action before.

Lance Anderson (DC), Duane Akina (secondary) and Randy Hart (D-line) are some of the absolute best coaches in the business and have proven track records. I’m sure the defense will have its growing pains at the start, but I don’t think it will regress by much.

 

Back to the offensive side of the ball. Stanford built their offense around a strong offensive line and a solid running game. But they couldn’t seem to find a go-to running back after having great luck riding guys like Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney. Who do you expect to take charge of the position group in 2015 and will the offensive line simply reload after losing Andrus Peat?

Shaw has made no secret of the fact that rising sophomore Christian McCaffrey will be the feature piece of the Stanford offense in 2015. Stanford fans were sorely disappointed that they didn’t get to see more of him last year, and for good reason too: McCaffrey is, without question, the most electric playmaker on this team and the future leader of this offense.

Last year, he averaged a remarkable 7.1 yards per carry and 14.8 yards per reception, and regardless of where he’s playing — running back, slot receiver, wildcat back, kick/punt returner — he has the speed and change-of-direction ability to be a game-changer. On top of that, he’s added a lot of muscle this offseason, which adds a more downhill, power dimension to his game as well.

McCaffrey isn’t going to be a traditional Stanford power back in the mold of Taylor or Gaffney, and I’m expecting Shaw to expand the playbook in a way he never has before at Stanford to exploit McCaffrey’s considerable skill set. I’d still expect Remound Wright, who was great to close 2014, in short-yardage and goal-line situations, though. Unfortunately, it looks like Barry Sanders will be the odd man out. I really wish that he’d panned out.

The offensive line shouldn’t take a huge step back with the loss of Peat, as former five-star recruit Kyle Murphy, who started every game at right tackle last year, will switch over to Hogan’s blind side and highly-touted sophomore Casey Tucker should fill in just fine at right tackle. This line struggled for most of last year but came together in a big way down the stretch — if it can retain that late-season form, McCaffrey and Hogan should have a big year.

 

It just isn’t realistic to think that the Stanford defense will fall off a cliff. So who do you expect to step forward on that side of the ball for the Cardinal? Can you walk us through the defenders you expect to emerge as big-time players in 2015?

The defensive line will determine whether or not Stanford’s defense will remain elite in 2015.

Solomon Thomas, the five-star crown jewel of Stanford’s 2014 recruiting class, was reportedly borderline unblockable in the spring, and alongside classmate Harrison Phillips, who put on 20 pounds this offseason, the defensive ends have tremendous upside but are still unproven. The ridiculous combination of Thomas’ size, agility and drive have the potential to make him one of the breakout defensive stars in not just the Pac-12, but the nation this year.

As the ESPN Pac-12 Blog said earlier this summer, though, the true make-or-break position on this line will be at nose tackle. There are currently zero nose tackles on Stanford’s roster, and the Cardinal will likely turn to senior DE Aziz Shittu to fill in at arguably the most important position in Stanford’s 3-4 defense. I don’t know if I necessarily expect Shittu to emerge as a star or not, but if Stanford’s defense is going to be successful, he’s going to need to have a big year.

Behind the line, expect linebacker Blake Martinez, last year’s leading tackler, to again be an underrated yet dominant run-stuffing force on the inside. And in Stanford’s revamped secondary, Kodi Whitfield, who transitioned from wide receiver to free safety, is poised for a huge year. He’s impressed just about everyone with how quickly he picked up the position, and as a converted offensive player, he’s going to have a leg up at locking on to opposing schemes and looks.

Don’t forget the last guy that switched from WR to DB at Stanford. You might have heard of him.

 

David Shaw is widely respected at the college level. His record since taking over for Jim Harbaugh speaks for itself. Yet last season, we finally heard some grumbling about Shaw’s performance—though mostly from Cardinal fans likely spoiled from these past few seasons.

That said, the Cardinal lost some games they maybe shouldn’t have (USC for one). Are some of the question marks (red zone playcalling, for one) just the product of a five-loss season, or has Shaw’s star lost a bit of its shine in recent years?

I’m surprised it took you so long to hear the Shaw discontent — Stanford fans have been grumbling about Shaw and his “overly conservative” playcalling since at least 2012. And, as you know, that came to a head last year when Shaw was the fans’ scapegoat for Stanford’s hilariously awful red-zone efficiency.

When you take a closer look at it, though, I don’t think Shaw’s play-calling has been the problem; his stubbornness is what has been holding him back a bit.

Shaw has always loved his run-first, methodical style in the red zone, and in Stanford’s run of dominance from 2012-14, he had the personnel to pull that off: The offensive line was stout and the running backs could find the holes and protect the ball well.

In 2015, Shaw tried to do the same with personnel that just couldn’t handle it. You can’t really blame Shaw for offensive line penalties, fumbles and missed field goals (all of which were much bigger problems than Shaw’s play-calling), but you could potentially blame him for not adjusting and continuing to put his players in those same positions to make the same mistakes over and over again. But even that might be a stretch.

The reality is that hindsight is always 20/20, and whenever something goes wrong, Stanford fans love to second-guess and point fingers — often at Shaw. They bashed him for throwing too much in the 2013 loss to Utah (despite the Utes’ strong run defense). And again for running too much in the Rose Bowl loss to Michigan State (despite Sparty’s ridiculous secondary). And again for punting twice from USC territory in the 2014 loss (even though our extremely unreliable kicker would have been kicking into a strong wind). If something goes wrong, whatever Shaw did, somebody will find a way to complain about it. He really can’t win in that situation.

With that in mind, I don’t think Shaw deserves all of the discontent that Stanford fans direct towards him. Also keep in mind that he runs a clean program and recruits extremely well given Stanford’s constraints. And as a Stanford graduate himself, he absolutely loves his job. I don’t really know what more you can ask for.

 

Notre Dame and Stanford are becoming quite a rivalry, and once again a regular-season finale could very well have postseason ramifications. The Irish have playoff hopes as they prepare to enter fall camp. What needs to happen for the Cardinal to be in the mix for a Pac-12 title and a spot in the CFB Playoff when Notre Dame comes to Palo Alto over Thanksgiving weekend?

Given the recent past, it’s really weird to think that the defense worries me much more than the offense does.

In general, Stanford’s key is to win the trenches. If the O-line reverts to early 2013 form, Hogan can’t be his efficient self. If the D-line doesn’t stuff the run and force pocket pressure, then the high-flying quarterbacks of the Pac-12 will decimate Stanford’s talented yet inexperienced secondary. Stanford’s offense is talented, but Hogan just doesn’t have the firepower to keep up in a shootout.

If the lines hold, though, the sky’s the limit for this Stanford team, and if it can win on the road at USC in Week 3, the secondary has time to develop further before Stanford’s other tough matchups (Arizona, Oregon, UCLA, Cal, Notre Dame — all at home). That USC game is key. If Stanford wins that, then I’ll be convinced that the defense is for real, and Oregon is the only obstacle between Stanford and a Pac-12 North title — and a legitimate shot at the playoff.

Irish A-to-Z: Quenton Nelson

Quenton Nelson
13 Comments

After a redshirt season, Quenton Nelson is ready to play. Jumping to the head of the line at a crowded (and talented) position, Nelson is taking his five-star pedigree and bringing it to the starting lineup.

Or at least that’s the current plan. But after a spring spent leading the way at left guard, Nelson is in the driver’s seat to start between Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin, a first-year contributor sandwiched between two of college football’s best at their position. A mauling guard who already possesses the strength of an NFL lineman, we’ll see if there are growing pains at a key position along Harry Hiestand’s offensive line.

Let’s take a closer look at the New Jersey native as he prepares for the unofficial beginning of his college career.

 

QUENTON NELSON
6’4.5″, 325 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 56, OG

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Not many offensive lineman projected better, with Nelson earning a five-star ranking and looked at as a Top 30 player in the country. Nelson was an Army All-American and made waves in San Antonio, not to mention on the internet, when he ripped off 26 reps of 225-pounds on the bench press, better than most lineman at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Nelson had offers from Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Stanford and just about anywhere else he wanted. But he committed to Notre Dame early and stuck with his pledge.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Nailed it, though it looks like Nelson is a guard, while classmate Alex Bars—currently set to platoon with Nelson—is a future tackle once Ronnie Stanley departs for the NFL.

This might not be a popular opinion, but consider me among the few people that don’t want to see Nelson on the field in 2014. Using a year of eligibility, especially when the depth chart looks solid with the current projected starting five, would cheat Notre Dame’s staff out of four full seasons of Nelson, likely played at a very elite level.

Save the year and Nelson enters the spring with the inside track in a crowded group fighting for Lombard’s job, and ready to shift outside to tackle when a job opens up.

Of course, a lot of that depends on how well McGlinchey plays. Or Elmer for that matter. Right now, Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin feel like the only true “locks” on the line, with Lombard and Elmer likely right behind. Kelly isn’t going to save a year of playing time if he feels like Nelson can help the Irish win now, even if it’ll mean a few bumps along the road as a freshman learning on the job.

Again, the biggest question is how Hiestand keeps all these linemen competitive, happy and productive. And after just six weeks of summer workouts, it looks like the Irish have another star in the making in Quenton Nelson.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

You couldn’t ask for more in a young offensive lineman. Of course, that just means that Nelson has the physical attributes needed to be a very good player. But a lot of offensive line play is between the ears, and we’ll see how quickly Nelson adapts to the demands of the game, and if he finds himself a little too far out over his skis as a first-year player.

That shouldn’t impact the long-term future of Nelson, who has the size and length of a tackle, but the attitude and strength of a guard. As you look to the future, it’s easy to see 2016’s offensive line featuring Nelson next to Bars on the left side, while McGlinchey and Elmer man the right side. That’s a foursome that all profiled to be left tackles that most college programs would love to have.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

For as good as Nelson can be, he’s still just a redshirt freshman. To that point, I expect a good season, within reason. That means that he’ll likely struggle against elite defenders, with veteran players capable of using Nelson’s aggression against him, and potentially getting the young guard and his body out of position.

Of course, there’s also a good chance that Nelson is as good as advertised. Because he did spend the spring beating out a talented depth chart, and his natural strength and power are absolutely keys to being a great guard in Hiestand’s blocking scheme.

Some guys are born to be offensive linemen. Nelson looks like one of those guys. The chance to be a four-year starter is a rare one. But Nelson seems to be on that trajectory.

No pressure, kid.

 

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