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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 29 Kevin Stepherson, receiver

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot, 180 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Sophomore with three years of eligibility remaining including the 2017 season
Depth chart: Based on spring practice, Stepherson is third on the depth chart at the X, or field, position behind juniors Equanimeous St. Brown and Chris Finke. In some respects, the emergence of junior Miles Boykin at the W, or boundary, position threatened Stepherson’s playing time as much as any other development, as it created an opportunity for St. Brown to move to the field rather than have to run the boundary routes more likely to draw double coverage.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star prospect, Stepherson became a valued target once the Irish coaching staff saw his speed in person. Despite his low ratings — rivals.com slotted Stepherson as the No. 66 receiver in the class of 2016 and the No. 58 prospect in Florida — he received offers from the big programs throughout the south, including his homestate Florida, Miami and LSU.

CAREER TO DATE
After enrolling early, Stepherson’s speed made it clear he would see playing time as a freshman, and he did indeed despite being involved in the late-August arrests which led to the dismissal of safety Max Redfield. Perhaps most notably, Stepherson caught three passes for 72 yards and a score against Duke and five passes for 75 yards and a touchdown versus Army.

2016: 12 games, 25 receptions for 462 yards and five trips to pay dirt.

Behind St. Brown and then-senior, now-playing-minor-league-baseball Torii Hunter, Stepherson was Notre Dame’s third-leading receiver last year.

QUOTE(S)
Cue the speculation. Stepherson’s performance last season would seem to dictate he spend this spring running with the starters, yet he was most often seen with the third-string. Some of that may be attributable to new offensive coordinator Chip Long apparently having a predilection for large receivers, such as the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Boykin and 6-foot-4 ½, 224-pound sophomore Chase Claypool (at the Z, or slot, position) to go along with the 6-foot-5, 204-pound St. Brown. Some of that drop down the depth chart may also be tied to unconfirmed off-field items.

After the very first spring practice, Irish coach Brian Kelly indicated Stepherson was simply yielding snaps to players who needed more opportunities to learn the positions.

“It’s really too early to read into first-, second-, third-[team] because we’re moving some guys around,” Kelly said. “We don’t want to put Kevin in a position where he’s got to learn a couple of different positions. It’s by virtue of moving other guys to that X position and giving them reps that Kevin already knows the X position. It’s not that he’s the third. We’re trying to get some other guys work over there.”

Toward the end of spring practice, Kelly also acknowledged Stepherson was struggling with a hamstring injury.

“It’s been a lingering hamstring that has not responded quite well,” Kelly said. “It was pulled again. We’re treating it pretty aggressively with anti-inflammatories. He has not needed PRP but he just hasn’t been right, he hasn’t been 100 percent.”

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
This is the part where I remind you that even [former Notre Dame receiver] 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 lot, 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.”

2017 OUTLOOK
For this exercise, let’s presume whatever item or items plaguing Stepherson this spring are history come Sept. 2 (60 days from now, by the way). If they aren’t, the outlook for this season is simple: sporadic playing time, if any, leading to widespread frustration.

The Irish are surprisingly deep at receiver. Aside from the three large targets projected to start, Finke has proven to be a shifty threat, junior C.J. Sanders has speed that may not quite exceed Stepherson’s but still should be noted, and sophomore Javon McKinley received praise throughout the spring. With Stepherson, that is seven viable contributors before even acknowledging the two incoming graduate transfers, Freddy Canteen from Michigan and Cam Smith from Arizona State. Both undoubtedly expect chances to play — that is why they transferred, after all — and both are known for speed.

Thus, Stepherson falling down the depth chart could be entirely football-related in the long-term. A perk of that depth, though, is even the second- and third-stringers should get chances. Cycling in fresh legs furthers Long’s hopes of an up-tempo approach.

The best-case scenario for Stepherson individually would be he forces his way into playing time, perhaps to Boykin’s detriment, perhaps Claypool’s. He will almost certainly not play often in the boundary position. Stepherson’s speed is best-utilized to take the top off the secondary. Allowing a safety to simply play over the top toward the sideline compromises that approach. If able to cut loose in the field, however, Stepherson could quickly build on last year’s numbers, perhaps finishing with 35 catches and 600 yards.

The worst-case scenario for Stepherson would be Long’s big-body tactic takes hold and the sophomore speedster is called upon only infrequently. Even then, he will need to outpace the likes of Sanders and Smith to claim the deep threat priority.

DOWN THE ROAD
The depth at receiver is a luxury to be enjoyed while it lasts. Perhaps St. Brown heads to the NFL after this season — it is not an outlandish prospect. Smith will be out of eligibility. That could be it for natural attrition. When factoring in the freshmen joining the group, Notre Dame will still have more receivers than logical chances.

If Stepherson finds chances to contribute this season, then that disparity in years to come may rise to the chagrin of other options. If he does not, he may be the disgruntled one.

Retaining dynamic talents from Florida has long been a perilous task for the Irish. This is by no means to say Stepherson will head that direction. It is to say, such could be a distinct possibility.

But a few long touchdowns this year could quickly convince Stepherson and all other involved parties his floor moving forward is similar to former Notre Dame receiver Chris Brown’s ceiling. Brown was always incorporated into the offensive plan, even if it did not always result in piles of stats. The threat of Brown’s speed alone was enough to worry defenses, and in that way he was a consistent contributor.


2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 92)
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 95)
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92: Jonathon MacCollister; defensive end (originally theorized as No. 46)
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver (originally theorized as No. 84)
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end (originally theorized as No. 90)
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman (originally theorized as No. 65)
No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 73)
No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
No. 71: Alex Bars, offensive lineman
No. 70: Hunter Bivin, offensive lineman
No. 69: Aaron Banks, offensive lineman
No. 68: Mike McGlinchey, left tackle
No. 67: Jimmy Byrne, offensive lineman
No. 58: Elijah Taylor, defensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman
No. 56: Quenton Nelson, left guard
No. 55: Jonathan Bonner, defensive lineman
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Sam Mustipher, center
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, defensive lineman
No. 48: Greer Martini, inside linebacker
No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, linebacker/defensive lineman
No. 42: Julian Okwara, defensive end
No. 41: Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 94)
No. 40: Drew White, linebacker
No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, kicker (originally theorized as No. 52)
No. 38: Deon McIntosh, running back/receiver
No. 35: David Adams, linebacker
No. 34: Tony Jones, Jr., running back
No. 33: Josh Adams, running back
No. 32: D.J. Morgan, safety
No. 30: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, rover
No. 25: Jafar Armstrong, receiver (originally theorized as No. 87)

TRANSFERS
No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

INJURIES
No. 13: Tyler Luatua, tight end, career ended by medical hardship

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 30 Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, rover

Rivals.com
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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2, 205 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Freshman; four years of eligibility remaining
Depth chart: Owusu-Koramoah’s late recruitment was largely a symptom of new Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko identifying him as a potential rover for the coming years. This season, senior captain Drue Tranquill will likely take most of the snaps at rover with junior Asmar Bilal filling in against more physical, run-based opponents. Owusu-Koramoah would theoretically be the next option, especially after junior linebacker Josh Barajas’ transfer to FCS-level Illinois State.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star prospect, Owusu-Koramoah originally committed to Virginia before shifting to a decision between Notre Dame and Michigan State. The No. 40 linebacker in the class, per rivals.com, and No. 18 recruit in Virginia, he chose the Irish the afternoon of National Signing Day, quite literally calling coach Brian Kelly to inform him of such while Kelly was meeting with the media.

QUOTE(S)
The National Signing Day call was certainly pre-arranged to some extent, but Kelly’s relief in announcing Owusu-Koramoah’s commitment was still palpable, especially considering he could play at safety if needed, and Notre Dame was troublesomely light in defensive back recruits in the 2017 haul. Owusu-Koramoah’s late inclusion doubled the total in the Irish class.

“Another one of those guys that really fit what we were looking for, especially in coach Elko’s defense,” Kelly said. “That safety position that can come down close to the line of scrimmage, plays physical.

“We hosted [Owusu-Koramoah] with [now-senior linebacker] Nyles Morgan. When you host somebody, you want them to see Notre Dame and see the social aspects. These guys didn’t leave the film room. I mean it, it was like they were joined at the hip for six hours just talking football. That’s the kind of kid he is. He loves football. He’s going to be a great addition to the Notre Dame football family.”

WHAT WE SAID WHEN OWUSU-KORAMOAH’S NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
Owusu-Koramoah not only picked Notre Dame over Michigan State, but also de-committed from Virginia to focus on the two Midwestern schools. He fills what had been a huge hole in this recruiting class. Prior to his commitment, only Jordan Genmark-Heath represented the defensive backfield in the class of 2017. Really, another would have been preferable — perhaps a cornerback to complement the two safeties — but bringing in two this cycle is acceptable, rather than an intimidating shortcoming.

“Owusu-Koramoah may project as a ‘rover,’ a crucial piece in new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme.”

2017 OUTLOOK
Tranquill will lead the Irish defense this year from the rover position. The discussion of playing Bilal against teams such as Georgia, Michigan State and Stanford is valid in theory, but don’t be surprised to see Tranquill still taking the majority of the snaps in those games.

Owusu-Koramoah will not be in the conversation, barring injury. But as a freshman learning the keystone duties in Elko’s defense, a season’s delay is both understandable and productive in its own right.

He could, however, be involved in special teams. Coordinator Brian Polian would be thrilled to have a physical athlete with good speed to send after kick and punt returners. This may seem a small role to use up a season of eligibility, but the Irish special team units have needed to improve the last few seasons. Using what tools you have to do such is an easy choice to make.

DOWN THE ROAD
If Owusu-Koramoah takes to the rover position in the long-term, Elko’s first Notre Dame recruiting cycle—only a few weeks of one, at that—will have been a grand success. Owusu-Koramoah was brought in specifically to serve as the linebacker/safety hybrid Elko relies on. Even with Tranquill holding those duties through the 2018 season, Owusu-Koramoah will have his chance once he has a grip on the scheme as a whole.


Aside from the five early enrollees, the numbers are not yet confirmed for the Irish freshmen class. That is one of the admitted drawbacks to organizing this summer-long series numerically. But thanks to social media and the technologies of 2017, those numbers have slowly come to be known.

By those mediums, it appears Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah will wear No. 30.


2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 92)
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 95)
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92: Jonathon MacCollister; defensive end (originally theorized as No. 46)
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver (originally theorized as No. 84)
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end (originally theorized as No. 90)
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman (originally theorized as No. 65)
No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 73)
No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
No. 71: Alex Bars, offensive lineman
No. 70: Hunter Bivin, offensive lineman
No. 69: Aaron Banks, offensive lineman
No. 68: Mike McGlinchey, left tackle
No. 67: Jimmy Byrne, offensive lineman
No. 58: Elijah Taylor, defensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman
No. 56: Quenton Nelson, left guard
No. 55: Jonathan Bonner, defensive lineman
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Sam Mustipher, center
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, defensive lineman
No. 48: Greer Martini, inside linebacker
No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, linebacker/defensive lineman
No. 42: Julian Okwara, defensive end
No. 41: Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 94)
No. 40: Drew White, linebacker
No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, kicker (originally theorized as No. 52)
No. 38: Deon McIntosh, running back/receiver
No. 35: David Adams, linebacker
No. 34: Tony Jones, Jr., running back
No. 33: Josh Adams, running back
No. 32: D.J. Morgan, safety
No. 25: Jafar Armstrong, receiver (originally theorized as No. 87)

TRANSFERS
No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

INJURIES
No. 13: Tyler Luatua, tight end, career ended by medical hardship

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 32 D.J. Morgan, safety

Rivals.com
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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2, 208 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Sophomore with four years of eligibility remaining including 2017
Depth chart: Morgan stands behind three other options at the boundary safety position, one of which had only this spring to make impression enough to move up the depth chart. Sophomore Jalen Elliott is the likely starter, backed up by early-enrolled freshman Isaiah Robertson and junior Nicco Feritta.

Recruiting: A rivals.com four-star recruit, Morgan committed to Notre Dame rather than Arizona State, Cal or Colorado, among others. His primary Sun Devil recruiter was Del Alexander, now the Irish receivers coach. Rivals rated Morgan the No. 23 safety in the class of 2016 and the No. 47 prospect in California.

CAREER TO DATE
Morgan preserved a year of eligibility in 2016.

QUOTE(S)
The only recent mention of Morgan came in a quick discussion of the safety depth chart from Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly the week of the Blue-Gold Game. Kelly indicated Morgan was on the same level as Robertson in regards to deserving playing time.

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
If the Irish need special teamers, Morgan is an immediate plug-and-play option. If they want to spend a year developing him as an understudy, a redshirt makes sense. If Morgan catches on to the position like [current sophomore] Devin Studstill did, he can compete for time behind [current senior] Drue Tranquill. If he doesn’t, saving the year makes sense.

“Expecting a major impact by Morgan is setting the bar too high. But if he can be part of Scott Booker’s special teams core and help provide depth behind Tranquill and sixth-year safety Avery Sebastian, Morgan will join classmates Spencer Perry and Jalen Elliott as first-year lettermen right away.”

2017 OUTLOOK
An inability to climb this particular safety depth chart puts a rather staunch ceiling on Morgan’s short-term future. Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko is desperate for a contributor on the defensive backline. The opportunity is there, and was all spring, yet Morgan did not force himself into the conversation.

With that in mind, Notre Dame special teams coordinator Brian Polian will undoubtedly be happy to have a physical player at his disposal. Morgan should contribute on special teams this year. That is not necessarily a sentence to irrelevance. If he makes some plays in that third of the game, Elko and Kelly will have to take notice.

DOWN THE ROAD
Of the three safeties ahead of him on the boundary side of the depth chart, it should be noted Elliott has three more years of eligibility and Robertson has as much eligibility as Morgan does. Not moving up the ranks this spring bodes poorly for Morgan’s chances in the coming years, especially as more players join the ranks.

If Morgan shines on special teams this year, making plays in games will lead to conversations among the coaches about giving him a chance to do such with the defense. If he does not, however, Morgan may need to make a position change in order to find playing time.

With that in mind, he projects as a possible candidate at rover. Tranquill has two years of eligibility remaining, but no particular backup has distanced himself from the rest. Junior Asmar Bilal is touted as the run-stopping option at rover, but that is both a small niche and an unproven aspect. In seasons to come, Morgan could find playing time at rover an easier commodity to make a reality than it is for him at safety.


2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 92)
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 95)
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92: Jonathon MacCollister; defensive end (originally theorized as No. 46)
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver (originally theorized as No. 84)
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end (originally theorized as No. 90)
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman (originally theorized as No. 65)
No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 73)
No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
No. 71: Alex Bars, offensive lineman
No. 70: Hunter Bivin, offensive lineman
No. 69: Aaron Banks, offensive lineman
No. 68: Mike McGlinchey, left tackle
No. 67: Jimmy Byrne, offensive lineman
No. 58: Elijah Taylor, defensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman
No. 56: Quenton Nelson, left guard
No. 55: Jonathan Bonner, defensive lineman
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Sam Mustipher, center
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, defensive lineman
No. 48: Greer Martini, inside linebacker
No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, linebacker/defensive lineman
No. 42: Julian Okwara, defensive end
No. 41: Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 94)
No. 40: Drew White, linebacker
No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, kicker (originally theorized as No. 52)
No. 38: Deon McIntosh, running back/receiver
No. 35: David Adams, linebacker
No. 34: Tony Jones, Jr., running back
No. 33: Josh Adams, running back
No. 25: Jafar Armstrong, receiver (originally theorized as No. 87)

TRANSFERS
No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

INJURIES
No. 13: Tyler Luatua, tight end, career ended by medical hardship

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 33 Josh Adams, running back

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2, 220 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Junior with two years of eligibility remaining, including 2017
Depth chart: For the first time in his career, Adams enters the season as the unquestioned starter, even with talented reserves ready for playing time behind him in junior Dexter Williams and sophomore Tony Jones, Jr.
Recruiting: A rivals.com three-star recruit, Adams tore his ACL his junior year of high school, limiting much of his recruitment process. He committed to the Irish before his senior season, turning down offers from Penn State, Pittsburgh and Stanford. Adams then validated the faith in his recovery by rushing for 1,600 yards in only 10 games to close his high school career before an ankle injury again cut his season short.

CAREER TO DATE
Adams began his college career buried on the depth chart, but by the end of the season-opener, he had two touchdowns already to his name. With then-junior Tarean Folston out for the season, Adams’ role only increased from there, though then-junior C.J. Prosise bore the load as the primary threat.

Prosise rode that strong year to the NFL (now with the Seattle Seahawks), but Folston returned healthy last season, clouding Adams’ status as the lead ballcarrier. Before long, performance made the pecking order clear, though Folston still contributed throughout the season, as did Williams.

Adams’ total of 1,768 yards in his first two seasons has been exceeded by only three Irish running backs in history, including current running backs coach and all-time Notre Dame rushing leader Autry Denson. His four-year total stands 2,550 yards ahead of Adams’ to date.

2015: 13 games, 117 carries for 835 yards and six touchdowns, a 7.1 yards per carry average.
2016: 12 games, 158 carries for 933 yards and five touchdowns, a 5.9 yards per carry average.

2015 receiving: seven catches for 42 yards and one score.
2016 receiving: 21 catches for 193 yards and one score.

QUOTE(S)
Let’s keep this simple with a quote from Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long discussing the variety of options he has at running back.

“It’s not difficult, because we run them a lot,” he said the day before the Blue-Gold Game. “It’s who can stay out there the longest, really. We utilize two of them a lot of the time, so having depth [at running back] is critical so we can keep them all fresh throughout the game. We’re pushing a lot of plays, and it’s going to start with the run. Keeping each other fresh helps a lot.

“But you want to start with a guy like [Adams]. There’s no doubt about it. Then you’ve got Dexter and Tony Jones and [sophomore] Deon [McIntosh], guys who can come out there, change the pace of play.

“Josh has elite speed, but he has size. Then you bring another guy in who might be a little bit different, find out what they do well, that’s hard for the defense. You can’t have enough running backs in this offense.”

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
Pencil me in for a ho-hum 1,000 yard season and 10 touchdowns. And that’s assuming that Tarean Folston has a nice year and Dexter Williams finds a role in this offense as well.

“Of course, Adams has to stay healthy, and if we’ve seen anything these past few years, it’s that one Notre Dame running back is going to get bitten by the injury bug. But with a full calendar year in the strength program, and maturity and confidence that position coach Autry Denson praised this spring, Adams is going to be one of the faces of the offense this season, especially as the Irish look for answers in the passing game to replace Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle.

“Depending on how optimistic you want to be, it’s not inconceivable to think that Adams could find himself in elite company next season. While he won’t likely climb into the Fournette, McCaffery conversation at the top of the heap, he’s got potential that’s not far off that.

“Not sure of that? Just go back and look at the numbers and game tape. A freshman season averaging over seven yards a carry and with speed to take a 98-yarder to the house? Adams could turn in a work horse season and explode statistically — especially if the Irish offense turns to the ground to move the unit.”

2017 OUTLOOK
If the 99-to-2 entry for McIntosh seemed harsh in sentencing him to a season spent returning kicks and if the entry for Jones seemed filled with tempered optimism, do not forget to consider Adams as a limiting factor for the underclassmen. If anything, Adams may be underrated at this point.

Falling 67 yards short of an even 1,000 yards rushing can mellow some enthusiasm, as illogical as that may be. With one more broken tackle, Adams quickly could have found himself only a few scores from Keith’s “ho-hum 1,000 yard season and 10 touchdowns.” One should note, such a season would never be ho-hum.

Yet, that is exactly what Adams has done. His production has been steady from day one, so steady it fails to draw appropriate notice.

Whether or not carries are split this season will not ultimately alter Adams’ trajectory. When push comes to shove, the Irish will rely on him. Even if the offense leans toward capitalizing on junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s arm, that weapon will be best utilized after defenses have been forced to account for the run. Adams will be the best bet to force such recognition.

In an offense like Long’s, a running back rotation will be as much about tempo as it is about carries. Rotating in a fresh back to keep the offense snapping as quickly as possible will serve Long’s intentions well. In that regard, having a number to choose from will be ideal, but make no mistake, Adams will lead the way. If Keith was ready for 1,000 yards and 10 scores a year ago, perhaps 1,200 yards and eight scores could be a happy medium this fall. Such an uptick may seem Pollyannaish, but it seems only fitting when recognizing the experience of the offensive line compared to a year ago, now returning four 12-game starters. The uptick is even less of a bump if presuming Notre Dame reaches a bowl game. (Adams averaged 77.75 rushing yards per game in 2016. In a 13-game season, that pace would have totaled 1,011 yards, a 121 percent increase over Adams’ freshman year. Another increase at that rate would, in fact, equal 1,224 rushing yards.)

DOWN THE ROAD
This space attempts to moderate expectations. When it comes to Adams, that seems somewhat foolish. He may not yet be regarded as an NFL prospect this spring, but neither was Prosise entering 2015. One strong season resulted in him hearing his name called during the third round. A third consistent season for Adams could lead him to consider heading up a league without using up his collegiate eligibility.

Considering how the NFL views running backs’ value against their age, no one could argue with such a move.

But there is a non-zero chance Adams returns for the 2018 season. At that point, an assault on the Irish record books will be fully underway. As it stands now, Denson’s career mark is the approximate ceiling for Adams’ final totals, and those numbers are obviously heavily influenced by the offensive scheme.

Given health — and that should not be disregarded, considering Adams’ injuries in high school, even if the last two years have featured nothing more than a nagging hamstring — Adams will make those numbers worth knowing. To this point, Adams has been the complete package as a running back. There is no reason to expect that to change now.


2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 92)
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 95)
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92: Jonathon MacCollister; defensive end (originally theorized as No. 46)
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver (originally theorized as No. 84)
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end (originally theorized as No. 90)
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman (originally theorized as No. 65)
No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 73)
No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
No. 71: Alex Bars, offensive lineman
No. 70: Hunter Bivin, offensive lineman
No. 69: Aaron Banks, offensive lineman
No. 68: Mike McGlinchey, left tackle
No. 67: Jimmy Byrne, offensive lineman
No. 58: Elijah Taylor, defensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman
No. 56: Quenton Nelson, left guard
No. 55: Jonathan Bonner, defensive lineman
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Sam Mustipher, center
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, defensive lineman
No. 48: Greer Martini, inside linebacker
No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, linebacker/defensive lineman
No. 42: Julian Okwara, defensive end
No. 41: Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 94)
No. 40: Drew White, linebacker
No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, kicker (originally theorized as No. 52)
No. 38: Deon McIntosh, running back/receiver
No. 35: David Adams, linebacker
No. 34: Tony Jones, Jr., running back
No. 25: Jafar Armstrong, receiver (originally theorized as No. 87)

TRANSFERS
No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

INJURIES
No. 13: Tyler Luatua, tight end, career ended by medical hardship

Friday at 4: ‘They can only get better’

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When looking at a team every day of the year, the details can distract from the bigger picture. There is an applicable phrase about a forest and trees, if memory serves.

Acknowledging that, sometimes an outsider’s perspective is helpful. While someone filling a site called “Inside the Irish” might overly focus on the defensive line depth issues exacerbated by junior tackle Elijah Taylor’s LisFranc fracture, someone looking at the broader scheme might think to ask, “How can the defensive line not improve over its performance last season?”

That is where talking through Notre Dame’s coming season with Phil Steele serves a helpful purpose. While Steele knows college football, he has 130 other teams to study in addition to the Irish. At some point, he has to separate himself from the specificities. To steer some of his focus, Steele heavily relies on formulas he has fine-tuned over more than two decades of publishing a comprehensive college football preview. This year, those computers project Notre Dame to have the No. 15 total defense in the country.

Wait, what? That can’t be right. Math is stupid.

Oh, those computers think the Irish will be the No. 9 pass defense in the country? Someone call Al Gore, the internet must be broken. Those computers certainly don’t have access to it. They must be making up numbers at random. There can be no other rational explanation.

“Look at the schedule,” Steele responded. “Temple loses a four-year starter at quarterback. Boston College does not have an overwhelming offense this year. Michigan State is going to be struggling a little bit offensively. Miami of Ohio is not an overwhelming offense this year. Wake Forest does not have an overwhelming offense.

“[Notre Dame] should be ready for the schemes of Navy. My computer actually factors in the level of the offenses they’re taking on. That’s where the computer came up, and I’m not going to argue with it.”

Well, that seems rather logical. Certainly the comments to this post will react with a similar approach.

When it comes to his own input, Steele repeatedly pointed to the change in Irish defensive coordinators, now with Mike Elko at the helm, formerly of Wake Forest. (more…)