Notre Dame v Florida State

Last looks: Wide receivers


Notre Dame’s wide receiving depth chart features talent at just about every level. Starting with All-American candidate and sophomore record-setter Will Fuller and working down to freshmen like Equanimeous St. Brown and C.J. Sanders, top to bottom this is the most exciting set of playmakers the Irish have had at the position in, maybe—ever?

That, of course, will be decided on the field. But needless to say, Notre Dame’s receiving corps looks a lot different than the one Brian Kelly inherited in 2010.

(Seriously, go look at that group. After Michael Floyd, only Duval Kamara had done anything at the position, and the Irish were relying on freshman TJ Jones, converted running back Theo Riddick, sophomore Robby Toma and John Goodman to fill out the depth chart.)

With expectations sky high for Mike Denbrock’s crew, let’s take our last look at Notre Dame’s most talented position group on offense.


Position Coach: Mike Denbrock



X: Will Fuller, Jr.
W: Chris Brown, Sr.
Z: Amir Carlisle, Grad Student

X: Torii Hunter, Jr.*
W: Corey Robinson, Jr.
Z: C.J. Sanders, Fr.

Additional Depth

Equanimeous St. Brown, Fr.
Corey Holmes, Soph.
Jaylen Guyton, Fr.
Miles Boykin, Fr.

*Denotes additional year of eligibility available. 



Will Fuller. Fuller is a marked man. And when I asked him about it on Media Day, he certainly didn’t look like a guy too stressed about additional attention getting in the way of him doing his job. Notre Dame’s most prolific sophomore ever might have a hard time duplicating the numbers he put up last year, but he might not—especially if he’s more consistent in his routes and cuts down on the self-inflected mistakes like drops.

Physically, Fuller probably lacks the “freak” size/speed ratio you’re looking for these days. But he’ll run past just about anybody in college football and he’s deadly in the screen game, too.



Chris Brown & Corey Robinson. While they both technically play the same position, I’m expecting these two to see the field plenty, and maybe even together. The time is now for Brown, who has showed something by keeping in front of Robinson on the two-deep and staying in the starting lineup. And for all the preseason love heading Robinson’s way (if you didn’t know any better, you’d expect that Robinson was the guy who scored 15 times last year), he’s still running with the twos.

Both these guys have elite skill-sets. Now they need to play like it.



Is Torii Hunter going to play up to his camp clippings? Just about everybody who left a camp practice this August was talking up Torii Hunter, making you feel like the versatile junior is finally beyond the scary leg injury he suffered at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. But I’m still trying to figure out how Hunter fits into the plans.

Sure, his versatility will allow him to take reps in the slot. But is he a guy that’s taking Fuller off the field or getting targets that could’ve been headed for Robinson or Brown? I’m setting the bar low, but if Hunter emerges as a weapon in this offense the rich are getting richer.


How will opponents try to defend Notre Dame’s passing game? Seriously, if things are running as they should, how do you slow down Notre Dame’s offense? Put seven or eight in the box against a strong running attack with Malik Zaire and you’re unable to do much more than cover these receivers man-to-man. Show respect to weapons like Fuller or mismatches like Robinson and the numbers in the box get mighty run friendly.

Fantasy football hasn’t taken over college football, so nobody is living or dying by the number of targets Fuller gets this season. But the passing attack could have some very advantageous matchups at their disposal if Zaire gets the ground game working right, and that’ll be fascinating to watch as Brian Kelly, Denbrock and Mike Sanford try to pick their poison.


Can Zaire be accurate enough in Notre Dame’s quick passing game? We take for granted just how automatic Everett Golson was in the short passing game. His ability to grip-and-rip passes (no laces!) was a big factor in the success Notre Dame had in the screen game and it allowed the Irish offense to move efficiently (when he wasn’t giving the ball away).

An early viewing of Notre Dame practice video showed a few missed throws by Zaire that have you scratching your head. Golson just didn’t miss—especially against air. So while Zaire’s ability in the zone read game will open things up that Golson just was never comfortable doing, Zaire needs to prove he can throw the quick game efficiently, especially with the weapons the Irish have in space.



How good are these freshman, and can they really work their way onto the field? I’m buying the hype on guys like Equanimeous St. Brown, C.J. Sanders and Miles Boykin. But I’m legitimately wondering how they find their way onto the field.

I expect Sanders to push Amir Carlisle. But if we see St. Brown on the field, it’ll likely be because he’s too good not to be on it, and he’ll find a way to challenge defenses that’ll be forced to cover a true freshman with little help.


What will Mike Sanford add to the passing game? Okay, he’s supposed to turn the room upside down. But can he add something to a passing attack that some think Kelly already loves just a little too much? Sanford has coached and played for some innovative football men. If he can add a wrinkle or two to the mix, it’d be a great addition to an offense that could be very efficient and prolific.


It’s crazy to think that only Chris Brown should be gone from this group in 2016. Sure, there’s a chance that Will Fuller heads to the NFL after this season. But after seeing the receiving corps that Notre Dame trotted out there early in the Kelly era, this group runs like 10 deep in 2015, and that doesn’t count CJ Prosise or Justin Brent.

There’s no reason to believe that the recruits that Notre Dame pulled the trigger on early in this recruiting cycle don’t have the upside potential of the too-soon-to-say-it-but-they-sure-look-good group that the Irish staff signed in the 2015 class. So next year, you’re looking at a dozen receivers trying to find their way onto the field? That’s insane. Even if some fourth-stringers put in transfer papers, it’s amazing how much success the Irish have had finding receivers, especially considering they aren’t chasing down five-star recruits.

Mailbag: Special teams, depth, dark clouds and more

William Fuller, Julian Whigham, Durell Eskridge

Let’s get the rest of the mailbag finished off so we can concentrate on game week. (Feels really good to type that sentence.) Thanks again for some great questions.


jommy995: Punt returns. Fixed for good?

Not sure, but you’ve gotta like Notre Dame’s chances if Will Fuller is back there.

It’s worth pointing out that the Irish had their best punt returning season since Golden Tate’s 2009 year, and the Irish led the FBS in blocked kicks. So all that hammering on the Notre Dame special teams isn’t necessarily an updated opinion.

(Also, just a PSA, even though I’m not sure this group needs it. Everybody realizes the rules in college are different than the rules in the NFL on punts, right? It’s much harder to break returns in the CFB than the NFL because of coverage rules. Back to the program…)

With Fuller, Notre Dame has a really dynamic option. And if they choose to go in another direction—even walk-on Chris Finke, as Kelly mentioned earlier in camp—it’ll be a long way from the days of John Goodman giving the one-armed salute before fair catching another one.


@jekyllandhyde12: Our recruiting class is not as highly ranked (lots of three stars) this year. Is Alford’s move the main reason for the slip?

Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts needed a reboot when the Irish needed to replace not just Tony Alford, but also quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur (who was recruiting California) and Bob Elliott, who was essentially replaced by Keith Gilmore. Add to that the turnover behind the scenes, with the Irish losing some key help in the recruiting office, and there was definitely some time lost to get situated.

Mike Elston, Notre Dame’s new recruiting coordinator, is doing his best to make up for lost time. And the good news? The Irish are, with offers—especially in the 2017 class—coming fast and furious, and on-campus visits and interest to match.

But I want to challenge your “lots of three stars” comment there, Doc. Because Notre Dame has made an absolute killing recruiting under-the-radar guys under Brian Kelly and this staff believes in its ability to recruit players and stick with their convictions, not worry about a star-rating next to their name.

This year’s class is going to be on the smaller side. It’s also one that’ll be position specific, looking to fill holes at certain spots. But looking at last year’s class, a group that Irish fans thought was just okay, this group looks much, much better than that.

And of course, one last important statement: There’s a lot of time between now and February.


ncdomer: With a full roster, why are we still perilously thin and inexperienced at key positions like QB, RB, and S?

c4evr: why, after 5 years, are the Irish still one injury away from disaster at a number of positions?

Ah, I love you guys.

While I don’t feel like we need to go through every transfer or injury to get everybody up to speed, needless to say the quarterback issues have been well covered and Greg Bryant’s transfer has earned more headlines than anything he’s done on the field thus far.

But this football team is one of the deepest in college football and certainly the deepest of the last 15-20 years in South Bend. So if that’s “perilously thin” or “one injury away from disaster,” well that’s just college football.

Nobody follows every team like the one they like the most, but have you checked out what’s going on at Alabama with their quarterbacks? Or how about Stanford, often applauded as one of the elite defensive stockpiles on the West Coast? It might as well be a line change in hockey.

In an era of 85 scholarships, free fifth-year transfers and at a school where the academics ain’t exactly a walk in the park, there’s going to be attrition. But Notre Dame has approximately 83 planned scholarships out there, and however you want to split those up, sometimes it’s going to get a little thin.


@mejanaf: What is your biggest concern on this team that could derail the Irish from reaching their goal?


Secondarily, I’d have to say special teams (kicker and punter are first-time performers) and then (very far behind that) Malik Zaire and his inexperience.


irishdodger: Based on all the comments by BK & media on current team, is there any excuses for this team to not at least win ten regular season games?

I’ll give you four really good excuses:

Georgia Tech
at Clemson
at Stanford.

So if the baseline is 10 regular season wins, that’s a pretty steep baseline. That said, in an earlier question someone asked what the O/U for wins this year should be. I’d say 10.5.

I just don’t like the “excuse” word, I think that’s too disrespectful to the schedule. But I have high expectations for this team.


alsatiannd: KA: Rooting for or against Golson this year? Or, if he’s not Irish, who cares?

Oddly apathetic. For Everett’s sake, I hope the kid at least wins the starting job, otherwise the decision is a complete miscalculation and will really hurt his professional propsects. I also hope his offensive line is better than the nine total returning starts that’s currently projected, because that could be an absolute nightmare, too.


whodabigdog: I was lucky enough to get tickets for Fenway and was wondering if you are going? It would be fun to get together for a Samuel Adams or 12. I’m sure we can find a dive like the Boat Club.

I’m still TBD for the second-half of the season, but that Fenway game should be awesome (as long as the weather moderately cooperates). As for a Sam Adams? Twist my arm.

And yes, The Boat Club? If there’s an establishment that’s as disgusting as that place in Boston, I can’t help but think I should at least check it out. Do they serve all-you-can drink light beer for six dollars?


@maximumham: odds ND ends undefeated?

Every year, I spend all of August thinking about how Notre Dame can pull that off. So far, my conclusions have been correct just once.

I have no idea what the odds are. But I do think you’ve got to approach it in an incremental process. So let’s see them beat Texas. And then Virginia. And win a dog-fight with Georgia Tech, the scariest game on the schedule in my opinion.

I used to say, “Talk to me in October.” But I certainly think this team has the best shot of any that I’ve covered/watched.


Mailbag: Kizer’s chances, the D’s experience and play-calling

Purdue v Notre Dame

There are a ton of good questions to get to so this will roll out in multiple parts. Many thanks for the thoughtful work. (And some nice examples of brevity.)

First, let’s take a look at everybody’s favorite player on a football team: The backup quarterback.


finishthefight1986: Do you think it will be worthwhile to provide Kizer with intermittent opportunities this year considering, as you have mentioned in another write-up, Zaire has issues with the intermediate routes?

bettis646: Will Kizer get meaningful reps in blowouts? By meaningful I don’t mean hand the dang ball to a running back until the clock expires.

This is a good question, and I wonder how Kelly will look at it. Yes, I think it’s important to get Kizer experience. Though not because Zaire sometimes struggles with intermediate routes. Establishing your backup quarterback on your terms is always better than on somebody else’s.

But last year, we talked about the same thing, and it’s pretty clear that Brian Kelly thought the game reps were better served in Golson’s hands, especially after a year away from the team. I’ve got to think he’ll view his time with Zaire the same way.

If Notre Dame is legitimately blowing someone out in the first six or seven weeks of the season, that’s a very good thing. So if that means a handful of snaps for Kizer, great. I’m all for it, and was on the record saying I thought Zaire should’ve gotten a series in the first half against Rice.

Worth noting — I actually think it’s helpful that Kizer is the holder this year. He gets a chance to get on the field and handle the football in pressure situations. No, it’s not quarterbacking. But it’s better than nothing.


liv4nd: All those injuries to the defense last year cost us 4 out of the 5 losses. Could 2014 be a blessing in disguise? Now we are set up with upperclassmen that are healthy and sophomores behind them with REAL experience. Thoughts?

This is certainly the way an optimist would view things, and I think it’s probably better to have played football than to have not played. But it’s interesting, someone posed a question like this to Mike Elston on Media Day, and he didn’t necessarily think that the guys who were out there got a ton out of being out there and getting handled.

I received a Twitter question from @01Dhish asking about Greer Martini and Nyles Morgan that essentially was the same thing, and those are the two players that Elston referenced when discussing the “is all experience good experience?” question. And both of those guys look at the film from last year like they’re looking at some embarrassing home video.

(For the record, I think —as does Elston—that both of those guys will be key players for the Irish in the future. In 2015? More likely to be complementary parts.)

I think the fact that Notre Dame has depth at multiple levels of the defense is a good thing. I also think that when someone goes down that the person behind them at least has a concept of what the Irish are trying to do on defense is a good thing, too. That hasn’t always been the case and the experience gained in November can’t hurt.


4horsemenrideagain: Why is BK being cagey about who will be calling the plays? Sre we to believe that BK still doesn’t know the answer to this question, and if BK really doesn’t know, isn’t this sort of scary at this late date?

I don’t think he’s really being all that cagey. I think he’s calling the plays, and he’s open to changing that decision down the line if he thinks it’ll help.

Kelly revealed that Mike Sanford will be upstairs, and I actually think that makes a ton of sense. Kelly has and will continue to be the QB coach on game day. So it’s not realistic to think that Sanford is going to be chatting it up with Zaire when the head coach has been doing that from day one.

I also think it’s really helpful from a schematic perspective to have Sanford upstairs. He’s is a great offensive thinker and he’ll have a direct line to Kelly about what he sees and what things look like from up top.

Lastly, I think most of us put too much emphasis on who calls the play. I think the process of scripting a game plan is far more important than who calls the play on Saturday. When the game plan is developed, all three guys will have a strong say in “setting the menu,” essentially putting calls onto the playsheet that they think will work best against that opponent.

Yesterday, Montana’s Bob Stitt got his first true close-up when the general college football world saw his Montana team beat four-time defending FCS national champ North Dakota State. For all the talk of “genius,” Stitt went for it—and failed—three times on 4th down, including one last in the first half that put points on the board for NDSU. He also ran a few jet sweeps in short yardage situations (among some other crazy play calls) that would’ve had Notre Dame fans losing their minds.

#Still happened. And weirdly enough, it looks a lot like how Brian Kelly calls a game.