Amir Carlisle

Irish A-to-Z: Amir Carlisle

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Entering his fifth year, Amir Carlisle has had quite a collegiate journey. Starting as a playmaking running back at USC, he came to Notre Dame and became a hard-luck, injury-plagued runner. A lingering ankle injury cost him 2012 and then a collarbone break robbed him of his next spring.

While his days at running back didn’t stick, Carlisle’s reinvention at wide receiver may be the best part of his story. As a slot receiver he’s created a niche, and one that could expand if C.J. Prosise spends extended time in the backfield.

The end of a whirlwind journey ends as the fifth-year senior tries to accomplish big things for the Irish in 2015. Let’s take a closer look at Amir Carlisle.

 

AMIR CARLISLE
5’10”, 192 lbs.
Grad Student, No. 3, WR

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Carlisle was a Top-100 player coming out of high school, originally committed to Jim Harbaugh before the Stanford coach left for the NFL. That shifted Carlisle down state to USC, with the Irish bridesmaid for the dual-threat running back.

Carlisle always looked like the type of smaller back that’d need to depend on his hands and shiftiness in space to excel — something he didn’t do as the team’s opening day starter in 2013. But that didn’t mean some of the top programs in the country weren’t after him, especially after he dazzled on the camp scene.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2011): Played in eight games for USC, carrying the ball 19 times for 118 yards. Ran for 90 yards on ten carries against Colorado. An injury ended his season early.

Sophomore Season (2012): Even though he was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA, Carlisle missed the entire season after lingering nerve damage from an ankle break before spring practice kept him off the field.

Junior Season (2013): Started four games at running back while appearing in all 13 for the Irish. Averaged 4.3 yards a carry on 47 attempts. Against Temple saw Carlisle gain 68 yards on seven carries in the season opening victory.

Senior Season (2014): Started six games at wide receiver while playing in 12 for the Irish last year. Had 23 catches for 309 yards and three touchdowns. Also had seven carries for 46 yards. Had a career-best game against Michigan, catching seven passes for 61 yards and scoring two touchdowns. Had three catches for 92 yards and a touchdown against Arizona State.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

I’m not sure I could’ve done much better than this prediction.

I’ve gone out on a ledge before on Carlisle, putting him among my ten best players on the Irish roster heading into last season. I was wrong then, though I don’t think I’d be wrong now to think he’ll contribute something to the Irish offense as a full-time receiver.

But projecting a guy who couldn’t crack five-yards a touch to all of a sudden become the next Lache Seastrunk is a pipe-dream as well. The reality is usually somewhere in the middle, so let’s just assume that’s what happens with Carlisle. And while it’s tempting to think that Carlisle will finally be the running back/hybrid that Irish fans crave a la Percy Harvin, we might get to see one or two jet sweeps or runs like TJ Jones had last season, but it’ll never be enough.

Carlisle is a talented skill player. He’s got speed and ability that didn’t often exist on this roster before Kelly came to town. A fast track in Notre Dame Stadium will help. So will the scar tissue that comes from a disappointing debut seasonat ND. But Carlisle will either make an early move next season or be surpassed by C.J. Prosise, a 220-pounder with a different physicality at the position.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

I think I overrated Carlisle in the past because I mistook his excellent lateral movement skills and his above-average speed for elite athleticism. I just don’t think he’s that good of an athlete, though he’s certainly better than most.

To that point, I think Carlisle’s going to be a very productive football player. So does the coaching staff if they moved C.J. Prosise into the backfield, leaving Carlisle to mostly man the slot.

Saying all that, there’s only so many footballs to go around. And if the Irish are going to run the football more with Malik Zaire, I’m struggling to figure out how Carlisle improves on his numbers from last season, though I certainly think he will if only because he’ll be more consistent.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Ultimately, Carlisle is going to be a handful in the slot just because of the other weapons around him. With Will Fuller on the outside, running back Tarean Folston in the backfield and Malik Zaire forcing defenses to account for him as a runner, Carlisle should have a lot of 1-on-1 opportunities in the slot.

So while I spent the past few paragraphs complaining about his athleticism, we did see a ton of big plays from Carlisle last season in his first year as a receiver. And there’s reason to believe Mike Sanford and the Irish power-trio of offensive minds will figure out how to isolate Carlisle on a safety and make a defense pay. That happened at times last season, so expect it to happen a few more in 2015.

 

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

Irish get commitment from safety Spencer Perry

Spencer Perry
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Florida safety Spencer Perry committed to Notre Dame on Monday, a little over a week after visiting campus for the Irish Invasion camp. The move followed Perry’s de-commitment from in-state power Florida, taking the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder from a Gator pledge to a member of Notre Dame’s rapidly growing 2016 recruiting class.

Perry also had offers from Michigan, Ohio State, Auburn and several other programs. But the IMG Academy product didn’t take long to see Notre Dame and decide he needed to be in South Bend.

Perry will join teammate Tony Jones in the 2016 class, adding another key chip at a position of need. He also adds a really unique athlete with the type of length teams covet at safety, and the physicality to play either in-the-box or in center field.

Perry stepped up his announcement game, putting together a highlight video via Facebook to announce the decision. (See the above tweet.) Ever since visiting campus, he’s spoken highly of Notre Dame, and it’s a big recruiting victory for new secondary coach Todd Lyght.

How Perry fits into Notre Dame’s future plans is obvious. Landing another safety, especially one with the pedigree of Perry, is a huge victory for the rebooted recruiting staff of the Irish.

That Notre Dame now has key commitments from three Florida natives, with Autry Denson and Lyght each pulling a player from one of the state’s premier pipeline programs is worth noting, especially after the departure of Tony Alford and Kerry Cooks.

If all things hold, Notre Dame will enter July with 10 recruits, a much better place than where they were even a month ago. The Irish Invasion camp and getting prospects to South Bend continues to be a benefit for Notre Dame’s staff, allowing them to offer, evaluate and accept the commitment from Jalen Elliott, Jamir Jones, Kevin Stepherson and Perry.

 

Irish A-to-Z: Daniel Cage

Rice v Notre Dame
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One of the last members of Notre Dame’s 2014 recruiting class was one of the first people to make an impact on the field. Defensive tackle Daniel Cage saw action early and often as a freshman, making an impact even before depth issues forced him into the mix.

While it was sooner than expected—and probably hoped—Cage immediately validated what Brian VanGorder saw on the recruiting trail, turning in a solid freshman season in the trenches. With a year in the weight room and better conditioning, bright days are ahead for one of the Irish’s most rugged run-stoppers.

Let’s take a closer look at Daniel Cage.

 

DANIEL CAGE
6’0.5″, 315 lbs.
Sophomore, N0. 75, DT

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Notre Dame beat out Michigan State for Cage on Signing Day, getting a late January official visit and then sweating out a fax machine victory. Nebraska, Arkansas and Missouri were also on the list.

Cage was evaluated by former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, but the offer didn’t come until VanGorder took over. Cage’s three-star rating was thrown into the trash bin the minute he stepped foot on campus, and he played past that rating almost immediately.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Played in 11 games, one of six true freshmen to do so on defense. Pitched in four tackles including a half-TFL against USC. Missed the Louisville game with a knee injury and didn’t play against LSU.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

I’m taking credit for a Bruce Heggie reference. And also for pointing out that some “developmental offers” see the field a lot sooner than others.

What will be fascinating to follow is the “larger net” that Kelly and VanGorder cast for defensive line prospects. Looking back at the earliest offers from this coaching staff, all the way back in 2010 and 2011, the hit rate is about 50-50 on those “developmental” offers. Keeping a complete flier like Bruce Heggie out of it, this staff has done a very good job finding below-the-radar type players like Romeo Okwara and Chris Brown, humble recruiting rankings that will be exceeded come this season.

Cage will be part of a new wave of defensive tackle prospects, with five bodies set to join the program between the 2014-15 recruiting cycles. They’ll be replacing players like Tony Springmann and Chase Hounshell, playing a different system, but hopefully turning into effective players.

That Cage came on board at the end of January doesn’t mean anything. But after being in the NFL for the better part of the last decade, VanGorder’s been given a lot of say in player evaluations, and Cage was clearly his call. That he was so quick to jump on the Cincinnati prospect should give us an early litmus test of VanGorder’s player evaluations and also a look at how the defense will change under his direction.

For as different as VanGorder’s system is than Bob Diaco’s, you can’t help but think that Cage has turned out to be a perfect two-gap player, a fit in either system.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

With Jarron Jones and Sheldon Day both back on campus, Cage will be a situational player for the Irish. And that’s likely the type of defensive tackle you want entering his sophomore season, a two-down run plugger, though he’s shown in high school that he can wreak havoc in the backfield. (Per Tim Prister’s profile on Cage, he had a ridiculous 22 sacks as a sophomore!)

Still, if Cage continues to shape his body and expand his work volume, you’re looking at Notre Dame’s next starting defensive tackle, likely in tandem with Jerry Tillery. As Kelly pointed out when he took the redshirt off Jay Hayes, Notre Dame hasn’t had too many good defensive linemen stick around for five years. That Cage was one of the first youngsters to play—even before the injuries hit—might mean that his upside could include Sundays, too.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

It’s an important season for Cage, and really for the entire defensive line. We tend to forget the success of September and October, but the Irish defensive line was tough to run against, and that should be the case again in 2015.

But there’s no training wheels on to start this season, and that means Cage better be ready to go come jump street, because the opening seven weeks will test the Irish, especially against Georgia Tech and Navy. (Boston College, one of the nation’s best running attacks, is a November opponent as well.)

As for Cage, playing behind Jones will allow him to stay fresh and keep both players at optimal levels. And adding more importance to Cage’s play is the fact that Jones is still making his way back from a significant foot surgery, all but absent during spring drills.

Cage looks like a good one. We’ll find out if he projects to be great after this season.

 

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

 

 

 

Greg Bryant suspension tests offensive depth chart

Notre Dame v Syracuse
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News broke Monday morning that running back Greg Bryant will be suspended for the first four games of the season. As first-reported by Irish 247, Bryant will miss a quarter of the regular season based on the dreaded-and-ambiguous “violation of team rules,” thinning a running back depth chart that was already down to just Bryant, returning starter Tarean Folston and converted wide receiver C.J. Prosise.

Incoming freshmen Dexter Williams and Josh Adams will have a chance to pick up the slack. Playing true freshman running backs isn’t necessarily a Plan A, but far from a crisis situation. Adams is over a year recovered from an ACL injury and Williams comes to South Bend with high expectations, so they’ll have an additional hop in their step during summer workouts with a job opening up for grabs.

Bryant’s absence also puts the spotlight on the slot receiver position. Earlier this summer, head coach Brian Kelly dropped the nugget that Prosise was nearing 230 pounds, not exactly the size you expect from a slot receiver. That kind of bulk points at more than just moonlighting at running back, meaning fifth-year senior Amir Carlisle will be taking the reins as the starting Z receiver.

But behind him remains a mystery. Torii Hunter Jr. has yet to emerge, though the coaching staff speaks highly of his talent and playmaking abilities. The door could also open for some talented freshmen, with C.J. Sanders as close to the slot receiver prototype as you could ask for. There’s also rising sophomore Corey Holmes, who flashed some nice ball skills during spring ball after making only two appearances early in the 2014 season.

(Crazy thought: But pairing Sanders with flex-tight end Alizé Jones could give the Irish a similar look to when they utilized both Troy Niklas and Tyler Eifert as slot receivers — going jumbo with an offense that already plans on running the ball downhill.)

Of course, the suspension plays most heavily on the shoulders of Bryant. The former five-star recruit faces another bump in the road—this one self-imposed—after seemingly turning himself into a model student-athlete and leader on the team.

Transferring is not an option. Per Irish Illustrated‘s Pete Sampson, Bryant will be going nowhere, with Greg Bryant Sr. telling Sampson that his son remains involved in summer school and team workouts.

“That’s not even in the equation,” Bryant Sr. told Irish Illustrated. “We’ve been through that already when he was a freshman. That wouldn’t be in his thoughts and if it was, it would have to go through me.”

While the headline likely shook Irish fans this morning, the reality of the situation is far from dire. There are certainly high expectations for Bryant (both from the staff and the coaching staff), but take away the five-star pedigree that Bryant arrived with, and this is a back who’s struggling to stay in the two-deep, hardly cause for a four-alarm fire drill in the dog days of summer.

There’s been no official statement from Notre Dame on the suspension, but multiple outlets are reporting the suspension. If the suspension stands, Bryant will miss games against Texas, Virginia, UMass and Georgia Tech, returning to face Clemson.

Irish A-to-Z: Jimmy Byrne

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Like the rest of his classmates along the offensive line, Jimmy Byrne spent 2014 learning the ropes and hitting the weight room. The Ohio native who chose the Irish over Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes begins 2015 in a similar spot to where he was last season, behind a depth chart of talented players.

But with his eligibility clock just beginning and some veteran depth about to graduate, Byrne’s time could be coming. But it’ll be up to him to make a move, especially with Harry Hiestand among the best recruiters in the country.

Let’s take a closer look at rising sophomore Jimmy Byrne.

 

JIMMY BYRNE
6’4″, 295 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 67, OL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Byrne shut it down early, committing to the Irish during the 2012 season though he didn’t sign until 2014. But he had already weighed an offer from hometown Ohio State, and had other options like Illinois and Michigan State.

Byrne’s a St. Ignatius product, a school that’s sent players to both South Bend and Columbus. As he has since he got here, Harry Hiestand took another good player from Meyer and offensive line coach Ed Warinner, bringing an interior player to Notre Dame.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action, preserved year of eligibility.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

I mentioned the idea of Byrne as a center last year and I’m going to do the same again this year. Because with Quenton Nelson looking like a guard in the future and Steve Elmer back on the inside, it’s still a crowded position.

It’s really going to be interesting see how the battle for Christian Lombard’s right guard job plays out after this season. Does the job go to a veteran like Conor Hanratty? Or a young riser like John Montelus? After not hearing a world from Colin McGovern, he impressed mightily during spring practice.

Take into consideration that Steve Elmer is a born tackle playing guard out of necessity and the shake out should be fascinating. There’s every reason to believe Byrne could play center if needed, and if he grows he could lengthen into being a tackle. With the depth Hiestand is building, getting on the field is a battle, and making your way into the starting lineup before becoming an upperclassman might not be easy.

Evaluating linemen on high school film isn’t a winning proposition, especially for a guy sitting at a laptop. But the data-points suggest Byrne has the ingredients to be a good one.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

That Nelson and Alex Bars will likely be splitting reps at left guard doesn’t really say much about Byrne’s talent—rather it says more abut how good that duo is. Kelly’s raved about both, and Bars just seems like too good of an offensive line prospect not to get onto the field, even if he’s a natural tackle.

But Byrne now enters that murky area where he’ll need to improve on the practice field to prove to Hiestand and Kelly that he’s ready to take reps when they matter—because the game day rotation is full. That alone could limit his upside, as he was running with the third string this spring, behind veterans who may or may not be in the program for five seasons.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Ultimately, makeup plays a big role in how an offensive lineman turns out. For every early contributor like Zack Martin or Steve Elmer, there’s a guy who finds his way into the lineup later in his career and thrives, a la Mike Golic. That’s the path Byrne is on—and frankly, that’s the more likely path for everybody on this offensive line, especially if Hiestand keeps cherrypicking elite talent.

Again, if I’m an offensive lineman at Notre Dame, I’m teaching myself to snap. Because after Nick Martin departs, it’ll be a wide open competition, with Sam Mustipher a converted center and Tristen Hoge the first true center the Irish have recruited under Kelly.

Byrne’s essentially the same guy that we were guessing on last year. He’s 10 pounds heavier, likely in a lot better shape, and still doing battle in one of the best depth charts we’ve seen along the offensive line in years.

 

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