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Irish A-to-Z: Elijah Taylor

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A year after redshirting, Elijah Taylor enters a crowded defensive line group looking for playmakers. A year after the front seven struggled to hold up against the run, Taylor is one of many young players who can help Keith Gilmore build a rugged front.

Likely still a ways from the field, Taylor will provide depth behind Jarron Jones and Daniel Cage, though isn’t too far away from being a Next Man In.

 

ELIJAH TAYLOR
6’3″, 285 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 58, DL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Taylor had a three-star ranking from Rivals, but a four-star offer list.  Notre Dame won Taylor’s signature over Ohio State as well as Florida State, Miami, Michigan State and a handful of other big programs. He was a first-team All-State defender and also a member of the Cincinnati Enquirer’s All-Star team.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2015): Did not see action, preserving a year of eligibility.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Injuries hit and Taylor kept on his redshirt. Smart move.

Unless a rash of injuries hit, Taylor will have the opportunity to learn at his own pace and save a year of eligibility this season. With Jarron Jones healthy and Sheldon Day looking like a lock to stay on the field, finding a way into the three-deep would be an accomplishment, and there’s no reason to take snaps if Taylor isn’t going to see significant time.

The best view of his development will likely come in the spring, as the Irish begin life without Day (and possibly Jones). If Taylor is as strong and athletic as some reports point out, he’ll have a chance to work his way into the mix in 2016.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Most defensive tackles don’t arrive on campus ready to contribute. But Taylor’s ceiling will likely be determined by his ability to play both nose guard and three-technique, with more versatility obviously better. The strength is there. But the athleticism is still a question.

As part of the next wave of talent to come through this defensive line, Brian VanGorder and Keith Gilmore’s fingerprints on this roster will either elevate this group or make it abundantly clear that the defense has regressed from the Diaco era. Taylor is another one of those developmental targets who need to get better and find a role as the roster rolls over.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

If Taylor can find his way into the rotation, it’s a successful season. Because if Jarron Jones stays motivated and Daniel Cage can shake off a few training camp bumps and bruises, this will be a stout interior.

The defensive tackle group is lacking guys who can step in for Sheldon Day. Jerry Tillery is going to have first crack at that and Jon Bonner is still an option as a guy who hasn’t shown much yet.

I think Taylor is a role player at best—mainly in the trenches. If he can jump ahead of guys like Bonner and Pete Mokwuah, he’ll be a two-deep player. I’d call that a successful season as a redshirt freshman.

 

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
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska
Mike McGlinchey
Colin McGovern
Deon McIntosh
Javon McKinley
Pete Mokwuah
John Montelus
D.J. Morgan
Nyles Morgan
Sam Mustipher
Quenton Nelson
Tyler Newsome
Adetokunbo Ogundeji
Julian Okwara
James Onwualu
Spencer Perry
Troy Pride Jr.
Max Redfield
Isaac Rochell
Trevor Ruhland
CJ Sanders
Avery Sebastian
John Shannon
Durham Smythe
Equanimeous St. Brown
Kevin Stepherson
Devin Studstill

 

Kelly confident Jay Hayes will be healthy for Texas

Jay Hayes Irish 247
Tom Loy / Irish247
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Projected starter Jay Hayes has a sprained ankle. The injury was spotted by multiple media reports from Wednesday’s open practice, setting off a few alarms via social media. But Brian Kelly downplayed the severity of the injury and is confident that Hayes will be back and ready for Texas, a key piece of the puzzle for the Irish at weakside defensive end.

“He’s a grade one, high ankle sprain. But not a severe one,” Kelly said after practice. “Been in the boot now, I think this is his third day, fourth day. That’s generally seven-to-ten days, but we’ll take it each day.

“We’ll feel good that we’ll have him ready for the Texas game.”

In his place, fellow junior Andrew Trumbetti took first team reps. Talented freshman Daelin Hayes is expected to spell both, especially in pass rush situations. The former five-star recruit, who spent the spring semester enrolled at Notre Dame but recovering from an injury, has been a pleasant surprise this spring.

If (the elder) Hayes is unable to play against the Longhorns, Trumbetti is a capable replacement. He’s played in 12 games each of the last two seasons, making three starts last year. He’s a lesser run defender than Hayes (who started his career as an interior defensive lineman), but is expected to do more as a pass rusher.

 

Brian Kelly: Both Kizer and Zaire will play against Texas

Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire gets ready to throw a pass as the Notre Dame football team practices at Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016.  About the only thing Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly can say for certain about the quarterback position on the eve of practice is he doesn't expect DeShone Kizer and Zaire to play at the same time. (Santiago Flores/The South Bend Tribune via AP)
AP via South Bend Tribune
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Brian Kelly announced that both Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer will play against Texas, answering one of the biggest questions of the preseason with an solution that didn’t seem plausible heading into training camp.

“We’re best prepared to play Texas playing both DeShone and Malik,” Kelly said Wednesday during his Media Day press conference.

Thus ends a quarterback derby—for now—that was one of the biggest position battles in the country and the single largest storyline for Notre Dame heading into this season. And with the decision coming more than two weeks before the Irish head to Austin, it was likely made to get that position settled and an offensive game plan started.

“The decision was made now so they can just settle into getting better every day,” Kelly said.

When pressed for specifics on how this will all work, Kelly didn’t tip his hand—keeping a schematic headache alive for Texas coaches, and every other opponent down the line. So while he didn’t commit to this being more than just a one-game experiment, he did think it was the best  way to ensure Notre Dame returned home from Austin with a win in the most important game on their schedule.

Kelly has spent much of training camp talking about how close this battle was. The past week has had him acknowledge that Zaire and Kizer are two of his best five playmakers. And because of that, it was the best move to make sure they both have a chance to help the Irish win.

“My ultimate decision is that I can’t put one of them on the sideline against Texas,” Kelly said.

Now the work begins on the game plan. As Notre Dame prepares its attack against Charlie Strong’s improved team, Kelly seemed confident that his offense will not struggle to find an identity, even with two different quarterbacks piloting the attack.

“The offense is seamless when one of them will come out of the game, there’s not a big change when one is in than the other,” Kelly explained. “There’s play call differences, but that doesn’t require much change at all.”

The team now moves forward with two leaders on offense. And while there might be frustrations among both players to be sharing a job, Kelly said it was in the best interest of the program to make sure both guys got on the field.

“These two guys are too good. I just watch them in practice and they’re making plays,” Kelly said. “It was just counterintuitive to take one of these guys off the field.”

 

 

Irish A-to-Z: Devin Studstill

Studstill 247
Tom Loy / Irish247
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Another rookie, another young player who took charge as an early enrollee. Devin Studstill went from high school to pushing Max Redfield for starting reps this spring. Quite a jump for a guy who was supposed to be at prom, not running with the first string.

While fall camp looks like Redfield is back with the ones, Studstill quickly earned the praise of his defensive coaching staff—a group that needs to develop the talented young safety who projects to get on the field early.

 

DEVIN STUDSTILL
6’0″, 198 lbs.
Freshman, No. 19, S

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A consensus three-star recruit, Studstill earned All-State honors and was the Florida Sentinel’s large school defensive player of the year. While his physical traits didn’t wow any of the recruiting services, he had offers from Miami, Texas and a handful of other big programs, picking Notre Dame over West Virginia, where his father played quarterback before being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Another early target by Notre Dame’s staff, who got to see Studstill at Irish Invasion camp and followed his development during their recruitment of Te’von Coney. Studstill showed that a young player could figure out Brian VanGorder’s system, bringing a high-IQ safety onto campus and ahead of a few players on the depth chart.

He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he can play downhill, is physical and has free safety skills. His ceiling may top out because he’s not going to stand out as a physical freak, but Autry Denson paid him the ultimate compliment when he said “he was a young man that God created to play football.”

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Redfield may be the starter, but Notre Dame is going to need another safety who can play in the open field. And Studstill seems to have earned enough trust to get the staff to believe he’s the guy—though they don’t exactly have a ton of options.

With depth not making a redshirt logical, getting Studstill experience on special teams is a good start. And then he’ll likely be the next guy in behind Redfield, who has done a nice job of convincing the staff he’s ready to play consistent football, but has yet to show that he can actually do it.

 

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
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska
Mike McGlinchey
Colin McGovern
Deon McIntosh
Javon McKinley
Pete Mokwuqh
John Montelus
D.J. Morgan
Nyles Morgan
Sam Mustipher
Quenton Nelson
Tyler Newsome
Adetokunbo Ogundeji
Julian Okwara
James Onwualu
Spencer Perry
Troy Pride Jr.
Max Redfield
Isaac Rochell
Trevor Ruhland
CJ Sanders
Avery Sebastian
John Shannon
Durham Smythe
Equanimeous St. Brown
Kevin Stepherson

 

Irish A-to-Z: Kevin Stepherson

KJ Stepherson
Tom Loy / Irish 247
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A modest recruit who flew under the national radar. A stick-skinny freshman with surprising deep speed.

Kevin Stepherson‘s early arrival on campus has led to great expectations. Now all he has to do is deliver. (No pressure, kid.)

 

KEVIN STEPHERSON
6’0″, 181 lbs.
Freshman, No. 29, WR

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A three-star prospect who dominated Irish Invasion camp, Notre Dame immediately viewed Stepherson as an under-the-radar prospect, not a guy who barely cracked the Top 100 wideouts in the country.

With offers from Florida, Miami, LSU and Michigan, he certainly caught the eye of some big programs. And after arriving on campus early, Stepherson looked like another great find for Notre Dame’s staff.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL 

At this point, it’s just a matter of time before someone compares Stepherson to Will Fuller. That might heap quite a bit on the freshman’s shoulders, but Brian Kelly has routinely praised Stepherson’s route-running and hands, two assets Stepherson enters college with that are at a more advanced place than Fuller’s.

Of course, pure speed is another commodity. And while Stepherson looks like a blazer, there’s good speed and then there’s Will Fuller speed. So until we see the young Floridian torch opponents over the top, we’ll drop his ceiling down a few notches—no slight when you’re comparing him to the most dangerous deep ball threat in college football.

Yes, that’s the freshman hype machine talking. But if we’re setting a ceiling for a prospect, all you can go on is what we’ve seen in 15 practices and snippets from training camp. So while comparing Stepherson to an All-American and first-rounder, that doesn’t mean his ceiling is anything but sky high.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

This is the part where I remind you that even Will Fuller wasn’t Will Fuller during his freshman season. He was a gangly kid who caught a couple deep balls among his six grabs as a rookie.

Stepherson is going to eclipse those numbers. He might even challenge for a starting job. But it’s just too much of a leap to predict a monster season from Stepherson, even if the entire starting receiving corps is being replaced and the Florida native seems primed for a key role.

I’m setting the standard for Stepherson high—but only to a point. If Stepherson is going to share time in the slot, he’s got a chance to put up numbers at least equal to the last true freshman who jumped into an unproven depth chart—TJ Jones.

Jones had 23 grabs and three touchdowns as a rookie. I think Stepherson is going to eclipse that, but maybe not by much.

 

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
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska
Mike McGlinchey
Colin McGovern
Deon McIntosh
Javon McKinley
Pete Mokwuqh
John Montelus
D.J. Morgan
Nyles Morgan
Sam Mustipher
Quenton Nelson
Tyler Newsome
Adetokunbo Ogundeji
Julian Okwara
James Onwualu
Spencer Perry
Troy Pride Jr.
Max Redfield
Isaac Rochell
Trevor Ruhland
CJ Sanders
Avery Sebastian
John Shannon
Durham Smythe
Equanimeous St. Brown