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Irish A-to-Z: Sam Mustipher

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This spring, you’d have probably won some money if you had Sam Mustipher emerging as the No. 2 center. But with Matt Hegarty’s departure and some failed experiments before him, it was Mustipher who was backing up Nick Martin and snapping the ball to Everett Golson in a spring game played on Notre Dame’s practice field.

Of course, there were some shaky moments in the Blue and Gold game. But Mustipher’s ascent has to be looked at as a positive move for the second-year player, a promising recruit who seems to have found a home at the center spot.

With Tristen Hoge redshirting and Martin in his final season, a battle is set for this spring. But as we enter the 2015 season, let’s take a closer look at Mustipher.

 

SAM MUSTIPHER
6’2″, 305 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 52, OL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

An Under Armour All-American with elite offers. Mustipher picked Notre Dame over Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Stanford.

Notre Dame always projected Mustipher as an interior lineman, and while he struggled a bit on the elite recruiting circuit, it’s clear that top programs saw a talented prospect when they looked at Mustipher.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

I’d look a lot smarter if the word “center” appeared in the following two paragraphs.

Something quite eventful would need to happen for Mustipher to see the field in 2014. So his eligibility clock likely starts ticking in 2015, with Christian Lombard gone and Nick Martin, Conor Hanratty and Matt Hegarty in their (potential) fifth years. That should make for an interesting battle on the inside, with Steve Elmer likely able to shift back outside if needed and other linemen like Hunter Bivin, Colin McGovern and John Montelus all angling for playing time.

But projecting that far into the future is a fool’s errand, especially when we’ve seen so little of the linemen that will be fighting for a job. But as we continue rolling through this exercise, one thing is certain: There is no lack of talent along the offensive line.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

That Mustipher is the No. 2 center says all you want if you’re taking Harry Hiestand’s offensive line at face value. But we’ll likely see if Mustipher is a placeholder this spring, when Hoge’s redshirt comes off and Martin departs.

There were some shaky snaps by Mustipher in the spring game, missing wide and disrupting some timing throws by Golson. That can’t happen if Mustipher sees the field this fall, and it’s likely been one of the main practice areas for the Maryland native this summer.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Mustipher might be the most unproven part of Notre Dame’s two-deep, a good sign for the work the Irish have done stocking the depth chart. But if something happens to Martin, we’ll see how ready he is to play, a first-year contributor in the middle of an offensive line that’ll already be starting a first-year player at left guard.

Martin has already battled health issues, a major difference between him and his ironman brother. But Mustipher is likely ready to contribute if he’s the guy tapped to serve as a backup. If not? Expect to see some other bodies shuffle through this fall camp, with candidates including Colin McGovern, Hunter Bivin and John Montelus.

 

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

Notre Dame ranked 11th in preseason Coaches Poll

Malik Zaire
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Notre Dame opens the season ranked No. 11 in the preseason USA Today Amway Coaches Poll. The Irish, who finished last season 8-5, return the majority of their starting lineup, providing some context for the bullish expectations. Only Gus Malzahn’s Auburn team is ranked higher among teams that finished with five losses in 2014.

Of course, the Coaches Poll no longer plays a role in deciding the national champion, so it’s merits are debatable. And preseason polls don’t do much more than spur on water cooler chatter or internet umbrage, which we’ve seen plenty of this week. Especially from coaches themselves—with many taking their media day speaking opportunities over the last few days to almost universally express the opinion that Notre Dame should be in a conference and all conferences should have a championship game.

(Thus providing the opportunity to remind everybody why coaches don’t usually have an opinion in things like schedules, conference championship games, or anything other than what takes place on the field of play.)

Back to the preseason rankings, the Irish may not have a vehicle for a thirteenth regular season game, but they certainly have a schedule deserving of postseason consideration. If the Irish are capable of running the gamut, they’ll have to defeat No. 10 USC, No. 12 Clemson (in Death Valley), No. 17 Georgia Tech and No. 21 Stanford (in Palo Alto). Of Notre Dame’s other opponents, only Texas received votes, tallying eight points in the preseason poll.

The Coaches Poll voters include Brian Kelly, as well as Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Ken Niumatalolo from Navy.

Irish A-to-Z: Nyles Morgan

Notre Dame v Arizona State
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Last year, we saw what a talented freshman linebacker in over his head looked like. His name was Nyles Morgan, and the blue-chip recruit personified the second-half defensive collapse that flushed the Irish season down the drain.

Of course, that’s the bad part. The good? Morgan also flashed the skills that made him a tackling machine. So while Irish fans grumbled about missed assignments and struggles grasping the system, the 30,000-foot-view named Morgan a Freshman All-American, and he ended up one of the team’s leading tacklers, even though he played just a fraction of the season.

One calendar year after starting his career in South Bend, the future looks very bright for Morgan. Let’s take a look at what we can expect in his sophomore campaign.

 

NYLES MORGAN
6’1″, 237 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 5, LB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Elite. Morgan was an Army All-American and the Irish won a long recruiting battle, a come-from-behind victory considering both his area recruiter (Chuck Martin) and defensive coordinator and position coach (Bob Diaco) left at the home stretch.

But Brian Kelly and Brian VanGorder picked up the slack, and the Irish won a tough victory for one of Chicago’s premier players, beating out Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, Michigan, Ole Miss, USC and many others.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Freshman All-American. Finished T-8th for tackles by a freshman with 47. Made 11 stops against USC and chipped in a half-sack against LSU. Played in 12 games, starting four after Joe Schmidt was lost for the season.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Nailed it, though the complexities of VanGorder’s system, and the realistic nature of any summer-enrollee freshman fully grasping the defense at the level Joe Schmidt did, made the bad parts ugly.

Morgan couldn’t ask for a better situation to walk into. With a new defensive system in place and a hole in the depth chart, the freshman will see the field from day one and will likely contribute from the middle of the defense come the season-opener against Rice. Getting early snaps can only help him, as Morgan will undoubtedly look like a freshman at times, seeing and doing things for the first time at this level.

It’s hard to remember now, but even Te’o ran around lost as a freshman, with then defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta begrudgingly throwing Te’o to the wolves as the 2009 season rolled on. VanGorder’s system stresses aggression and attacking, something that’ll likely make Morgan’s job easier. But only if he’s able to mentally handle the transition, a challenge that Irish fans should be optimistic about, especially after re-reading Kelly’s Signing Day comments.

Ultimately, Morgan’s going to play. How much and how well remains to be seen. But on the hoof, there’s probably not a more impressive linebacker on the roster than Morgan, who certainly doesn’t look like your average freshman.

For Notre Dame’s defense to succeed, he can’t play like one, either.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

 

How many ways can you say sky high? To me, the biggest question is whether or not Morgan stays behind Schmidt this fall, or if Notre Dame’s returning team MVP shifts to Will linebacker to allow Morgan to get on the field.

Morgan will be the future rock of this defense. And putting him next to Schmidt could give him a boost in the same way putting Jaylon Smith next to Schmidt did at the beginning of the season. The only difference? Morgan wouldn’t be playing out of position.

Again, the Te’o comparison is probably a good one. As a sophomore, he’s going to make some mistakes. And in a depth chart that has veteran options (Jarrett Grace and Schmidt) and a returning All-American at Will, it’s going to take some manufacturing to make sure the Irish get the most from Morgan.

But before it’s all said and done, Morgan’s going to be a very, very good one.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I’m pegging Morgan for a Top Four tackler on the roster, taking into consideration that finding snaps is going to be the hardest part for him. But Morgan is too athletic to keep off the field, and VanGorder and Kelly are too smart to keep a 240-pound heat-seeking missile off the field, especially when Jaylon Smith could help the Irish off the edge as a pass rusher just as much as a middle of the field linebacker.

No, he won’t be perfect. And if Morgan decides to freelance this season, he’ll do so mostly from the sideline while Grace, Greer Martini or several other linebackers get a chance to play. But all reports have Morgan a student of the game, and after a tough year learning on the fly, expect Morgan to take a huge step forward.

 

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

Irish A-to-Z: John Montelus

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When Brian Kelly plucked offensive lineman John Montelus from his hometown of Everett, Massachusetts, the Irish looked to be adding another mauler to the interior of Harry Hiestand’s offensive line. And after two seasons of reshaping his body and learning the ropes, Montelus is in a competitive two-deep, still looking for a role in this offense.

Yet another highly-touted recruit in the junior class fighting for playing time up front, Montelus ran with the second-string this spring behind right guard Steve Elmer while Quenton Nelson and Alex Bars shared time on the left side. That’s a long way from where he started, badly out of shape after a shoulder injury disrupted the beginning of his career.

Let’s take a closer look at Montelus and the still uphill climb he has in front of him.

 

JOHN MONTELUS
6’4″, 310 lbs.
Junior, No. 60, OL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A Top 100 prospect who picked Notre Dame over places like Florida, LSU, Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State and more.

Kelly went into his hometown and plucked one of Massachusetts’ best football players, a US Army All-American. But Montelus hurt his shoulder in San Antonio, ultimately setting him back at the beginning of his career.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2013): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2014): Played in one game, seeing time against Michigan. Served as a guard on Notre Dame’s offensive scout team.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

The shoulder injury seemed to slip by me last year. But I do like the comparison to Chris Stewart, one of my favorite student-athletes to come through Notre Dame in quite some time.

For as promising as Montelus is as a prospect, it might be a while until he works his way into the lineup. This season is a perfect year for him to get some experience on special teams, a massive interior blocker that should keep punters and place kickers safe. From there, he’ll need to continue working, as he’ll battle some promising prospects for playing time, especially as Hiestand’s recruiting efforts don’t seem to be slowing down.

In many ways, Montelus reminds me of a better-developed Chris Stewart. It took the former offensive lineman a few seasons to get his body under control and to find the best way to tap into his potential before becoming a nice starter for the Irish.

We’re going to have to recalibrate what we expect from offensive linemen in South Bend, especially as the two-deep becomes packed with players capable of contributing. That means that Montelus might not be on the field all that soon, but his future is still as bright as ever.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

The embarrassment of riches (at least on paper) that Notre Dame has along the offensive line makes projecting Montelus’ future very difficult. This spring, new offensive coordinator Mike Sanford mentioned that the offensive line depth—nearly ten deep with players capable of starting—gave him flexibility like he’s never had. Montelus will need some of that flexibility to be put into play if he wants to be a viable option to replace (or surpass) Steve Elmer or Quenton Nelson.

Realistically, Montelus needs to keep working for his opportunity. Nelson doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Elmer has two seasons left of competition. And there’s not much positional flexibility for Montelus, one of Notre Dame’s more true guards.

Again, there’s a reason why Montelus was highly recruited. But entering his third year, and in competition with players like Colin McGovern, Sam Mustipher, Hunter Bivin, Mark Harrell and Jimmy Byrne (with elite talent on its way in), the depth chart is only going to reload.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

The number I find most impressive with Montelus is 310. (Pounds.) That’s down 30 from when Montelus was an out-of-shape freshman, showing his commitment to fitness and reshaping his body after recovering from shoulder surgery.

Going from what we’ve heard is always dangerous, but Montelus has a reputation of being one of the team’s more physical interior offensive linemen. That should serve him well, especially as the Irish try to eliminate the finesse from their game plan. And he’s gotten the attention of his head coach, who talked about the additional reps he was taking this spring and how it’s only helped him improve and show the coaches what he’s capable of doing.

Ultimately, I think Montelus makes his move—but only onto the offensive line on special teams. Unless an injury hits on the interior, I expect regular action for him on the kick units, all while making sure he holds onto his place in the two-deep at guard.

 

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

Irish A-to-Z: Peter Mokwuah

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It didn’t take long for Notre Dame’s coaching staff to know they wanted to offer Peter Mokwuah. After getting a glimpse of the big-bodied defensive tackle, Brian VanGorder and Brian Kelly went to Staten Island and left with a key piece to the depth chart.

Now a year removed from a redshirt season spent learning and building his body, Mokwuah gets to show what the Irish staff uncovered in the final days of recruiting. With a depth chart that has veteran experience but also injury woes, Mokwuah could be called on to held hold the point of attack.

Let’s dig deeper into Big Pete’s chances.

 

PETER MOKWUAH
6’3″ 317 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 96, DL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Notre Dame came into the picture late, with Brian Kelly and Brian VanGorder setting foot in St. Joseph-by-the-Sea high school and leaving with a commitment. Mokwuah was a Rutgers commit, but was quick to switch allegiances once the Irish came calling.

A three-star prospect who stayed off of national lists, Mokwuah has a big, projectable body and filled a gaping roster hole.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Just like Louis Nix, Mokwuah didn’t play as a freshman. Unlike Nix, Mokwuah enters a depth chart near the bottom needing to work his way up.

There’s no pressure on Mokwuah to step onto the field and play in 2014. While the depth chart isn’t the deepest up front, it could benefit Mokwuah to spend a year watching, learning and growing even larger under Paul Longo’s guidance.

But it’ll be interesting to watch Mokwuah’s development at Notre Dame — mostly to see if VanGorder was able to quickly identify a contributor at defensive tackle in just a few weeks of work, especially after spending most of the last decade in the NFL. Transition recruiting periods are always difficult, and the personnel needed in VanGorder’s scheme is different than what Bob Diaco was looking for.

But Kelly acknowledged casting a wider net at defensive tackle after being incredibly selective, and it resulted in Daniel Cage and Mokwuah joining the class when they weren’t even on the radar at Thanksgiving.

Ultimately, what should make Mokwuah succeed at the collegiate level is his size and versatility. And while he’s only been on campus since June, his newest nickname (“Little Lou,” after Louis Nix) certainly shouldn’t have Irish fans upset.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Without having seem Mokwuah do anything but take some snaps in the spring game, it’s impossible to know what Notre Dame has in him. But even if Jerry Tillery was the defensive lineman who stole all the attention this spring, Mokwuah will be needed if the Irish are going to be a run-stuffing defense that takes away the line of scrimmage.

Mokwuah still seems like a ball of clay, ready to be molded by new defensive line coach Keith Gilmore. The good news? He’s a really big one, and that’s more than half the battle up front.
CRYSTAL BALL

As I look at the depth chart, Mokwuah’s participation likely hinges on the health of Jarron Jones. The senior defensive lineman might be a step slow coming off of foot surgery, and that would force the entire tackle position to shift down a rung.

That bad news for Notre Dame would be good news for Mokwuah’s playing time, though. But even then, he’ll be fighting a capable group of young defensive linemen for playing time, with guys like Daniel Cage and Tillery likely having a head start.

Late attention on the recruiting trail isn’t much of an indicator in ability to contribute. We saw that with Cage, who quickly moved into the rotation at nose guard. So while Mokwuah’s road to the field looks backed up, he’s got four years of eligibility remaining. And even if his contributions are limited to special teams and garbage time, getting on the field this season should be the realistic goal.

 

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