CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Malik Zaire #8 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes past defensive end Mike Moore #32 of the Virginia Cavaliers in the third quarter at Scott Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won, 34-27. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Number changes begin roster shakeup

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With freshmen on campus and summer workouts beginning, Brian Kelly’s 2016 football team is beginning to take shape. And while it’s hardly the type of news that moves the meter, a few returning Irish football players will be wearing different numbers than the last time we saw them.

Blue & Gold’s Lou Somogyi got his hands on the jersey changes. They are:

Asmar Bilal, No. 22 (previously 27)
Shaun Crawford, No. 20 (previously 14)
CJ Sanders, No. 3 (previously 9)
Equanimeous St. Brown, No. 6 (previously 86)
Devin Studstill, No. 14 (previously 13)
Nick Watkins, No. 7 (previously 21)
Brandon Wimbush, No. 7 (previously 12)
Dexter Williams, No. 2 (previously 34)
Malik Zaire, No. 9 (previously 8)

If we’re really digging deep into these changes, the only move that’s really interesting is Zaire’s move from No. 8 to No. 9. That number was taken by Sanders last year (on offense, Jaylon Smith had it previously) and Mike Heuerman previously.

The other moves feel logical, the result of a young player getting a chance to select a number they liked after a player departed from the program. Sanders and St. Brown took over jerseys from Amir Carlisle and KeiVarae Russell respectively. Williams takes Chris Brown’s number and Crawford takes over for C.J. Prosise. Studstill’s move likely comes because Tyler Luatua returns to the program and both could participate on special teams.

 

Irish A-to-Z: Chase Claypool

Rivals / Blue & Gold
Rivals / Blue & Gold
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Very early in the recruiting cycle it became clear that Chase Claypool was one of the most intriguing prospects in the country. And when Notre Dame landed him, they signed one of the biggest wildcard athletes in the recruiting cycle.

What that means? We’ll find out when he hits the field in August.

Notre Dame’s Canadian import is a dynamic prospect, likely to start his career as a wide receiver. But the lanky and raw athlete could end up anywhere, a Swiss Army Knife of a football player who is just figuring out a game that could lead him to the secondary, tight end, outside linebacker or defensive end.

 

CHASE CLAYPOOL
6’4.5″, 218 lbs.
Freshman, WR

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A consensus four-star prospect, Canada’s top prospect. Chose Notre Dame over Michigan, Oregon, Tennessee and more. A Blue-Grey All-American Bowl participant. Invited to The Opening.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

When it comes to potential, it’s hard for me to be more excited for a prospect than I am Claypool. He’s got all the tools necessary. He’s a raw athlete who hasn’t come up playing football. And he’s been used in a number of positions and played a ton of sports coming up—keeping specialization out of the equation… until now.

That’s what has me so excited. And also, his new head football coach.

“He’s so raw that we’re going to be able to create a player that can play so many different positions for us,” Brian Kelly said on Signing Day. “So we’re really excited about him.”

Claypool ran in the low-4.6s in Oregon when he was at The Opening, a more-than-solid number that matched up well with other elite big receivers. Assuming he can hold on to—or (more likely) improve—that speed, all while adding weight during his time in Paul Longo’s strength program, he could be a freaky, freaky football player.

Regardless of position.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Maybe I’m crazy, but I’d love Claypool to spend the summer cross-training on both sides of the ball. It’s not unheard of for a long and lean guy like Claypool to gain 15 pounds over three months, and if he does that he’ll be close to 235 pounds, enough weight to come off the edge and chase the passer.

Of course, I did watch his highlight video. This is a kid who averaged more than 49 points a game on the basketball court and comes to South Bend a very moldable piece of clay. (No pun intended.)

Getting on the field as a freshman shouldn’t be the most important piece of the development puzzle here. But if there’s a chance to make an impact early, it shouldn’t stop him.

It’s hard not to think about what the Irish staff did with Troy Niklas as a freshman, filling a hole at outside linebacker while utilizing a guy who just looked and played differently. Then he switched to tight end as a sophomore. Maybe they can do the same with Claypool.

Then again, wide receiver isn’t the deep spot on the roster that it was last season. And contributing as a freshman isn’t necessarily as far-fetched as it was the past few years. It won’t take long to see how Claypool’s talent translates to the next level. If he’s ready to take the leap forward, this coaching staff will find a way to maximize his abilities—at any position.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage

 

CB Devin Butler reinjures foot, 2016 season in doubt

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Notre Dame’s veteran depth at cornerback took a hit during summer training as senior Devin Butler reinjured his left foot. Brian Kelly announced that Butler could miss 14 to 16 weeks after fracturing the same bone that he injured during practice the week before the Fiesta Bowl.

That timeline turns 2016 into a likely redshirt for Butler, who was expected to compete for a starting job opposite Cole Luke. He has a fifth-year available, seeing action in 37 of the 39 games the Irish have played since arriving on campus. Butler sat out the spring as his foot recovered.

The South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen was on-hand at Brian Kelly’s charity golf tournament when the head coach broke the news:

“It’s tough,” Kelly said. “(He’s) a guy that’s struggled both in his life and in football.

“He had a great semester academically. We really see him trending in the right way. And then to have an injury like that was very disappointing for him. And we’re disappointed for him.”

Notre Dame’s cornerback depth chart looks like another position to watch heading into camp as the Irish try to replace KeiVarae Russell and find the right starter opposite Cole Luke.

Rising junior Nick Watkins is rehabbing a broken arm. Sophomore Shaun Crawford looked strong in spring drills, but is still recovering from a torn ACL last August. Nick Coleman and Ashton White will compete as well. Troy Pride and Julian Love arrived on campus this weekend, both freshmen ready to compete.

Kelly said that Butler will have surgery next Monday, with a screw being inserted into the fracture.

 

CJ Sanders ahead of schedule after hip surgery

C.J. Sanders CJ Sanders
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Notre Dame’s slot receiver position hinges on the health of rising sophomore CJ Sanders. And according to a few updates from head coach Brian Kelly, Sanders is ahead of schedule as he recovers from surgery that repaired his hip flexor.

“CJ is ahead of schedule by almost three weeks, which is really good news,” Kelly told Blue & Gold’s Lou Somogyi.

Sanders, who returned both a punt and a kick for a touchdown during his freshman season, will spend more time at receiver—assuming he’s healthy. Six weeks ago, Sanders showed some of the progress he was making, running on an anti-gravity treadmill for the first time since surgery. That trajectory seems to have held, with Kelly hopeful that Sanders can train with his teammates this summer.

As the Irish restock a depth chart that needs to replace starters Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, having Sanders as an option in the slot is key to opening up a depth chart that needs Torii Hunter Jr. on the outside.

Notre Dame’s receiving corps will be coming into focus over the next few weeks. Senior Corey Robinson will announce on Wednesday his intentions for next season, deciding whether to continue to play football or end his career after multiple concussions. Even Robinson’s decision to return might not change the decision to keep Alizé Jones on the outside, with the tight end spending time this spring at the boundary receiver spot.

From there, the Irish receiving corps is high on potential but low on experience. Assuming he stays healthy, Hunter will fill one starting spot. From there, intriguing talents like Equanimous St. Brown and freshman Kevin Stepherson look like players capable of contributing, but they’ll be learning on the fly. Neither project to be slot receivers.

Freshmen Chase Claypool and Javon McKinley both arrived on campus over the weekend, though neither is a traditional slot receiver. Corey Holmes spent some time working in the slot this spring, though his deep speed might be better used on the wide side, replacing Fuller at the field receiver position.

With Sanders out this spring, walk-on receiver Chris Finke earned plenty of reps. Finke is also in the mix to replace Sanders as the team’s punt returner.

 

Torii Hunter Jr. drafted by Angels in 23rd round

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 31: Torii Hunter Jr. #16 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass and is tackled by Avery Williams #2 of the Temple Owls on October 31, 2015 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Temple Owls 24-20. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Notre Dame’s presumptive No. 1 wide receiver was given some props for his baseball skills on Saturday. Torii Hunter Jr. was selected by the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday, a 23rd round pick in the MLB draft.

Hunter is a reserve outfielder on the Irish baseball team, playing sporadically for Mik Aoki. In 19 games this season, Hunter hit just .182, though flashed a nice glove and stole two bases in as many attempts. He balanced baseball with a football career that came first, even during spring practice.

The pick came from a team that had Torii Hunter Sr. roaming centerfield through the prime of his career. The Angels actually had their former centerfielder announce the pick Saturday afternoon, surely a special moment for father and son. The pick came a round before the Mariners drafted Trey Griffey (son of Ken), a receiver at Arizona, who hadn’t played baseball since high school.

Like the pick of Griffey, Hunter’s selection was likely more ceremonial than a bet on his professional future. Hunter was also selected out of high school by the Detroit Tigers, a 36th round pick in 2013.