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Irish A-to-Z: Josh Barajas

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Incoming freshman Josh Barajas enters Notre Dame with great expectations. Viewed as one of the state of Indiana’s top prospects, the Irish won a tough recruiting battle with Penn State, flipping Barajas back to the Irish—a place where he looked like a perfect fit all along.

With length and speed, Barajas needs to add some bulk to his frame. And while he’s not quite at the level of a Jaylon Smith when it comes to freakish traits, Barajas has the type of playmaking skills that have many thinking he could be the next great linebacker to come through the pipeline.

Brian VanGorder’s system demands an outside linebacker with both speed and length. Barajas looks to have both of those traits, and he’ll look to use them as soon as possible.

 

JOSH BARAJAS
6’3″, 220 lbs.
Freshman, No. 30, OLB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

U.S. Army All-American. Consensus 4-Star player. All-State Indiana, with 247 viewing him as the state’s top prospect. Barajas more than held his own in San Antonio, his first national exposure as a football player.

Had offers from Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State and Oregon among others.

 

UPSIDE POTENTIAL

Athletically, Barajas fits the sweet spot in the size-speed-athleticism matrix. And from the sound of Brian Kelly’s signing day comments, he profiles nicely when you compare him to athletes like Nyles Morgan and Jaylon Smith, not exactly bad comps.

“I think he possesses a lot of the same physical traits: Speed, the ability to arrive with a violent collision. He’s just a physical player and that size and power is a unique trait. It’s very similar to what you mentioned in Nyles and Jaylon,” Kelly said.

“So he’s got similar traits, similar qualities, and we’re going to progress him just like we did with those two guys. We’ll see how much he can handle, and as much as he can handle is as much as we’ll give him.”

Again, even the best freshman middle linebacker recruit in the country struggled and looked lost at times last year. But the fact that Barajas is an edge player might be an advantage to seeing the field early.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

When a team returns the majority of its defense, it’s always difficult to see how a freshman fits into the equation before ever actually seeing him on the field. But in Barajas’ case, his versatility could be a great piece in sub-packages, and certainly could lead to him seeing the field on coverage units.

While he doesn’t have the look of a pass rusher, you’ve got to wonder if the departure of Bo Wallace might allow the Irish staff to kick the tires on Barajas as a hand-on-the-ground pass rusher. It’s a move that got Kolin Hill on the field as a freshman, and most believe that Barajas is at least as good of an athlete.

Ultimately, the 2015 season looks like one where just about every freshman defender will be hoping to earn a bit role in the larger unit. That’s likely the plan for Barajas, who needs to gain some weight before he’s big enough to survive in the trenches.

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB

Williams has a home at Notre Dame, even if football future is unclear

USC v Notre Dame
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The curious case of Ishaq Williams has become clearer. But only slightly.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly spoke about his exiled defensive end, who returned to campus this summer and is reenrolled in the university after serving a two-semester suspension for honor code violations. And while his role on the team—and his place among the 85 football scholarship roster spots—isn’t fully explainable (we’ll try later), Kelly did make it clear that Williams will be a part of the football program, will be on scholarship at Notre Dame, and will earn his degree.

“Every time I use my words it spins it differently,” Kelly said Monday to a group of assembled media at the Kelly Cares Football 101 event. “I want to be clear.  He’s back in school. We’re really excited about that part of it. And I know he’s back in school because he told me. He’s in workouts because I’ve seen him. Those two things I know for sure.

“All the other stuff is NCAA eligibility stuff that is a lot more complicated. It has to do with missed terms and hours and appeals and things like that. A lot more complicated. We’re gonna go through that process. He knows there’s a hill to climb there.”

Williams’ eligibility clock expires after the 2015 season. And after listening to Kelly’s latest comments, the tea leaves lead us to believe that the issue isn’t with Notre Dame, but rather with eligibility requirements set by the NCAA. Taking a step farther out on the branch—and again, this is pure speculation—one could make the slightly-more-than-educated-guess that Williams’ GPA, after being adjusted to reflect the courses where academic violations took place, might have slid below 2.0, the threshold for playing.

Regardless of Williams’ status with the NCAA,  the veteran defensive end will be a part of the football program. He could be a full-time member of the scout team, or he could be in the rotation at a seemingly healthy position, paired with Isaac Rochell at strong side defensive end. This detour in Williams’ career certainly won’t end his hopes of playing on Sundays.

“He still has a want and a desire to play in the NFL. He’s huge, he’s big and looks great,” Kelly said. “We’re going to work him out and he could practice with us, and keep himself in a position where he could go through a Senior Day and do all those things as well.”

While Williams hasn’t played up to his 5-star pedigree, there’s no doubt he’d be a nice piece of veteran depth to add to the front seven. But as the various parts of this process grind through the wheels of bureaucracy in Indianapolis, Kelly made it clear that Williams would achieve the ultimate goal of earning his degree from Notre Dame, something Williams never waved from during his suspension.

“He’ll be on scholarship,” Kelly said. “I’m not here to paint any pictures whether it’s this chance or that chance. All I know is he’s gonna be back in school and he’s going to get his degree from Notre Dame. If he plays football, we’ll be ecstatic for him. But the bottom line is he’s going to get his degree from Notre Dame.”

 

Irish A-to-Z: Josh Adams

Property of the Trentonian
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Even with Notre Dame’s running back depth chart precariously thin, the addition of incoming freshman Josh Adams didn’t necessarily look like a no-brainer. The Pennsylvania native was in the middle of rehabbing an ACL tear when the commitment took place, eliminating a season of game tape for the Irish staff while adding in a very large question mark.

But Notre Dame’s staff saw what it wanted when Adams was on campus for a summer camp after running for over 2,000 yards as a sophomore. And that early commitment to Adams paid off when he rebounded with a solid senior season, and probably just as importantly, the Irish swung and missed on top national target Soso Jamabo.

A long, lean athlete who has a physical build similar to George Atkinson coming out of high school, Adams joins Dexter Williams as youngsters in a backfield filled with veterans. Let’s kick off our A-to-Z series with a look at one of the incoming freshmen getting their first taste of college football.

 

JOSH ADAMS
6’2″, 210 lbs.
Freshman, No. 33, RB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A four-star running back on 247Sports’ composite ranking. Adams was an All-State AAAA on Pennsylvania Football Writers’ team. His bounce-back 1,600-yard campaign was only 10 games, with an ankle injury ending his year early.

Adams had offers from Penn State, Pitt, Rutgers and Stanford, though never visited Palo Alto after deciding on Notre Dame in late June.

 

UPSIDE POTENTIAL

It’s not viewed as a compliment any more, but calling Adams a George Atkinson clone is supposed to be one, assuming that Adams has functional hands and a better head on his shoulders. At 6-1 or 6-2, Adams is a lanky back, and while he might not have the elite speed Atkinson did, he’ll likely play faster, something that plagued GA3 throughout his three seasons in South Bend.

Back when he pledged to Notre Dame—and still during his recovery from an ACL tear—his then high school coach Dan Rackovan had this to say about Adams’ upside potential.

“His potential, both size and athletically are off the charts,” Rackovan told Irish Illustrated. “He’s a very explosive kid, a finisher. And above all else, he’s a great kid. He’s a really good student, a leader in the school, all the things you’d want to be a part of your football team.”

Here’s what Brian Kelly said about Adams on Signing Day, probably a more glowing review than his prep coach.

“(He) has not even tapped what he can do at the position. He has not played a lot of football, and at 6 2, 210 pounds, we think he can be with the speed that he possesses, we think he can be whatever he wants to be,” Kelly said. “We can’t wait to develop him. Great speed, great size, and has the ability with our weight training to be that kind of big, physical back that we are looking for.”

 

 

 

CRYSTAL BALL

There doesn’t seem to be any snaps for a young ball carrier on this roster, unless one of these guys does something mighty special during fall camp. And while the Irish staff feels like they found a special football player in Adams, there’s no hurry to get him on the field.

While Tony Alford was the one who recruited Adams, it’s worth noting that it’ll be Autry Denson who’ll develop him. And Denson’s career at Notre Dame, not to mention his DNA as a player who maxed out his ability, will serve Adams well, especially as the lesser heralded prospect of the two backs in the 2015 recruiting class.

By all reports, Adams fits the bill of an “RKG.” Here’s what his coach Tom Hetrick said after Signing Day.

“This is a special day because Josh is a special kind of kid,” Hetrick said. “He always does the right thing. He’s a great ambassador for our program.”

 

With the depth chart at running back a veteran group, that mental makeup will pay dividends if it takes a few years to see the field. But with size and speed, Adams could find his way onto the field via special teams, and sure shares the profile of a safety if we’re looking at position switch candidates.

 

 

Irish A-to-Z: Another deep dive into the Irish roster

William Fuller, Julian Whigham, Durell Eskridge
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Summer is here. And that means another big project here at Inside the Irish: The return of Irish A-to-Z.

Last year, we were dumb bold enough to tackle a complete roster breakdown digging into every player on the scholarship roster. While our friends over at Irish Illustrated have taken on a similar endeavor, even though we’re not the only game in town anymore, we’re still back at it with another edition of Irish A-to-Z. 

With the 85-man roster still coming into focus, there’s a lot of typing to be done between now and late August. So get ready (cold sweats beginning) for a daily staple that should get you up to speed on everybody from freshman running back Josh Adams to new starting quarterback Malik Zaire.

As the Irish get started on their “OTAs” and building their team in preparations for a 2015 season with great expectations, we’ll be doing the same from Inside the Irish HQ. That means checking out our Crystal Ball readings from last year, and projecting the impact of every player heading into the season.

So feel free to look back at the spot-on analysis on players like Joe Schmidt, Will Fuller and C.J. Prosise. (I’ll leave my swing and misses for you guys to unearth…) Even if football is more than 90 days away, it’s going to be a busy three months here at Inside the Irish.

Lack of depth at QB won’t change game plan with Zaire

150608_MalikZaire
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On Monday, the South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen tracked down Brian Kelly, the head coach making his first public comments since the departure of Everett Golson and the ascent of Malik Zaire into the starting lineup. So while the focus of the day was Kelly’s charity golf tournament for the Kelly Cares foundation, the spotlight—as always—was on the state of the Irish.

Since Kelly arrived in South Bend, Notre Dame has struggled to keep a competitive depth chart at quarterback. Kelly inherited a deficiency at the position, with the only scholarship quarterback on his roster Dayne Crist, who was recovering from an ACL injury. Add to that the transfer of Gunner Kiel and the suspension and eventual transfer of Everett Golson, and you find the Irish right back to where they started.

But it appears that Kelly has learned something from the experience. And while there’s absolutely no experience behind Zaire—who himself has only played in one game where the final score was still in question—don’t expect Kelly to protect Zaire from himself, just because there’s no safety net behind him.

Here’s a snippet from Hansen’s report where Kelly talks about playing to Zaire’s strengths and not worrying about what’s behind him.

“I think we have to play him to what his strengths are,” Kelly said Monday at Lost Dunes Golf Club, where his charity golf event, the Kelly Cares Invitational, was taking place.

“We’re just going to have to get a second quarterback ready. But we’re not going to play scared. We’re not going to play tentative. We have too many good pieces around our football team to take the quarterback position and wrap him in bubble wrap.”

Zaire rushed for 187 yards on 33 carries (5.7 per carry average) and two touchdowns in six quarters of meaningful downs, against USC and LSU, and a handful of mop-up cameos last season. He redshirted as a freshman in 2013.

Golson, who joins his new teammates at Florida State this month, totaled 283 yards for the 2014 season on 114 carries (2.5 per carry) and eight TDs.

But he fumbled 12 times, losing eight of those, some of which came on read option plays. Zaire has yet to commit his first college turnover of any kind.

If you’re looking for an intriguing position battle, the backup quarterback job certainly has the looks of it. Brandon Wimbush isn’t just any freshman stepping foot on campus, especially considering he ran a 10.8 100m dash this spring for the St. Peter’s Prep track team. (To put that into context, C.J. Prosise ran a 10.9 100m as a high school senior.) And while he certainly didn’t have a great Blue-Gold game, DeShone Kizer isn’t someone to give up on after one year in the program.

So while it’s safe to say that Wimbush won’t wear the redshirt that was all but assumed anymore, Kelly hopes that Zaire’s durability—we saw it on display as he pinballed his way through LSU’s defense for 22 carries—will carry the day for the offense.

“Injuries are part of the game, and we’re going to hope that he’s physically strong,” Kelly told Hansen. “He’s done a great job in weight training and putting himself in position that he can take what’s necessary to run the ball. But we’re not going to change what we think are his strengths and what he can do for our offense.

“We’ve worked too hard to this point to change now.”