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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 80 Durham Smythe, tight end

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-5 ½, 256 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Fifth-year senior with only eligibility in 2017 remaining
Depth chart: Smythe will start at tight end, though junior Alizé Mack could impinge on some of Smythe’s targets in the passing game.
Recruiting: A three-star recruit, per rivals.com, Smythe flipped his commitment from his home state Texas to Notre Dame shortly before National Signing Day 2013. Smythe also considered Stanford and had offers from Michigan and Florida, among others.

CAREER TO DATE
Last year was Smythe’s chance to emerge after preserving a year of eligibility in 2013, watching Ben Koyack man the tight end position in 2014 and suffering injuries in 2015. Instead, the Notre Dame offense seemed to deemphasize the tight end in the passing game, leading to questions if Smythe would return for a fifth and final season.

2014: One catch for seven yards
2015: Three catches for 18 yards and one touchdown
2016: Nine catches for 112 yards and four touchdowns

QUOTE(S)
As much as Smythe was not relied on in 2016, he was a consistent red zone presence and entered this spring as something of a known commodity, certainly so when compared to the other promising talents at tight end. Thus, whenever Irish coach Brian Kelly mentioned Smythe, it was as the leader of the unit as a whole, more than anything else.

“We can play four of those tight ends as receivers,” Kelly said in March. “We think there’s great versatility. We know Durham Smythe has really made great strides. He’s been very impressive.”

Those strides may be late in Smythe’s college career, but Kelly noticed them enough to mention such twice.

“Durham Smythe is in the best condition physically that he’s ever been, mentally and physically,” Kelly said. “With him, Alizé [Mack] and [senior] Nic Weishar, you’ve got a great combination.”

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
I’m sticking with similar projections to 2015 for Smythe, who may be asked to help out more in the running game, but is a rare veteran pass catcher on an offense counting on experience to keep things productive. That’ll likely mean more targets for Smythe as there are plenty of opportunities to go around. Even if he shares the load, it’ll lead to his breakout season, even if it’s a year later than expected.

“If Smythe gets to 25 catches and scores a few times, it’ll be a nice year — with a fifth-year all but guaranteed. And if the Irish ground game continues to roll, it’ll be because Smythe did a great job as a versatile tight end, perhaps the most traditional of talents Scott Booker has had at the position since he took over.”

2017 OUTLOOK
It does not take much of a logical leap to figure part of the reason Smythe prolonged his Notre Dame career was new offensive coordinator Chip Long’s tendency to feature the tight end, even two tight ends, in the passing game. Smythe may not reach the 25 catches envisioned by Keith, and that will partly be because Mack will likely receive a touch more attention from junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush, but Smythe should still outdo last season’s production.

If anything should be carried forward from Smythe’s 2016, it is the four scores on only nine catches. Mack can present the mismatch challenge for defenses leading to chunks of yardage. Smythe can then help finish off drives by using his long and tall frame to secure successes in the red zone.

A year ago, that previous paragraph may have screamed blind optimism. Given Long’s history with tight ends and the Irish bounty at the position, it seems a bit more practical at this point.

DOWN THE ROAD
Smythe’s size means he will likely carry his football prospects as far as they can go. A strong 2017 could elicit some NFL feelers come spring and perhaps, given strong drill testing, a late-round draft flier.


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 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84 (theoretically): Michael Young, receiver
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver

Notre Dame LB Josh Barajas to transfer to Illinois State

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Death, taxes and summer transfers. Perhaps it does not have the same ring to it, but the annual rite of Notre Dame losing a player to transfer between school years is just as consistent as those two other, more imposing deadlines.

Rising junior linebacker Josh Barajas will transfer to Illinois State, a Football Championship Series (FCS) school. By transferring down to the FCS level, Barajas will not need to sit out a year and will have three seasons of eligibility.

While losing a piece of linebacker depth may be less than ideal, Barajas’ departure does bring the Irish roster to the NCAA maximum 85 scholarships.

“We knew a lot about Josh coming out of high school, having played at Andrean High School with [Illinois State junior tight end] Tylor Petkovch,” Redbirds coach Brock Spack said. “He was a very good player coming out of high school and landed at Notre Dame, but felt he needed a new start. We felt he would be a great fit for our system and give us a lot of flexibility at the linebacker position as a possible pass rusher. He can really play in space outside, but he is athletic enough to play inside or outside for us.”

In the spirit of the time of year and the ongoing 99-to-2 series, let’s take a look at Barajas — who was No. 30 — through that prism.

Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2, 239 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Junior with three seasons of eligibility remaining including the 2017 season
Depth Chart: Barajas faced an uphill climb at Notre Dame as an inside linebacker. For this season, seniors Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini have vice grips on the starting spots, and Barajas had fallen behind others attempting to back up the senior stalwarts, including classmate Te’von Coney.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit, rivals.com rated the U.S. Army All-American as the No. 13 linebacker in the class of 2015 and the No. 2 player in the state of Indiana.

CAREER TO DATE
Barajas preserved a year of eligibility in 2015 before appearing in nine games last season. He recorded no other statistics.

QUOTE(S)
The only mention of Barajas this spring came when he missed a few practices toward the end of March due to illness.

“He got ill and had been out for three days, so he took a step back,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “The good part of it is we’re teaching fundamentals, so it’s going back to the fundamentals with Josh.

“He’s a great kid, we love him, and he got sick, he got ill.”

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
Just reading between the lines and looking at the depth chart makes projecting Barajas’ 2016 difficult. At a shade under 6’2″, he’s less of a candidate to play as an edge rusher, and position coach Mike Elston said this spring that the current plan is for Barajas to work at middle linebacker behind Nyles Morgan.

Barajas spent some time early in spring sharing reps at Sam linebacker, working behind James Onwualu. But with Greer Martini back this fall, those are two very good players he’ll have to beat out, an unlikely scenario even if Barajas looks like a new man. The Will linebacker spot also looks like a job that Te’von Coney and Asmar Bilal will share, with Martini also capable of playing there if needed.

Can Barajas make an impact this season? Sure. But he’ll have to make even bigger strides this summer and fall than he did in his impressive spring.”


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 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84 (theoretically): Michael Young, receiver
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 81 Miles Boykin, receiver

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-4, 225 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Junior with three seasons of eligibility remaining including the 2017 season
Depth chart: Following spring practice, Boykin appears to lead the charge for the starting position at the W, or boundary, receiver position. Sophomore Javon McKinley provides motivation for Boykin to stay on top of his game on the outside, with incoming freshman Jafar Armstrong likely to take practice reps there, as well.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit, Boykin chose Notre Dame over a number of prestigious offers, including Ohio State, Michigan and Oregon.

CAREER TO DATE
Boykin preserved a year of eligibility in 2015 before catching six passes last season for 81 yards and a touchdown. He saw action in all 12 games, with the score coming against Virginia Tech.

QUOTE(S)
Boykin’s springtime emergence may have caught the Irish coaches a bit by surprise. If nothing else, his steady development in the weight room and on the practice field gives Notre Dame the option of moving junior Equanimeous St. Brown to the X, or field, position, giving the dynamic breakout star from a year ago even more space to work with.

“[Boykin is] tracking the ball very well and catching it consistently,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said in March. “Last year it was about consistency for him. He’s starting to show the consistency that will allow him — he’s very sneaky. He eats up a lot of ground with those long strides. Before you know it, he’s running past people.”

A week later, Kelly trotted out that buzzword of consistency a few more times in relation to Boykin, praising the receiver’s fit into new offensive coordinator Chip Long’s offense and particular preferred routes.

“Miles is starting to build some ‘bank,’ if you will, as it relates to consistency,” Kelly said. “I’m using the word ‘bank,’ he’s putting a lot in the bank of trust. That we can trust he’s going to give us the kind of performance that’s going to lend itself toward playing time.

“He’s been very consistent as a ball-catcher. He’s been very consistent in terms of assignments. His traits have been very evident in terms of attention to detail. His focus has been great. His attitude, he’s been gritty.

“He gets a lot of those back-shoulder throws where he has to go up and get it, and he lands, physically, he gets beat up a little bit. I see him in there getting treatment and he comes back out and makes good decisiosn.”

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
I’ve got Boykin pegged for the 10 to 15 catch range, with outliers on either side being possible. The optimist in me sees the depth chart and his physical traits. The pessimist in me sees the other guys who have been given shots in front of him and the challenge of leaping someone like [now-junior tight end Alizé Mack] or [former Irish receiver Corey] Robinson if he’s healthy and playing.

“Ultimately, someone is going to step in and be a surprise at the position next year. We’ve assumed Torii Hunter, Jr., will be the leading man. Kevin Stepherson was the freshman spring sensation. And [Mack] feels like the answer if Robinson isn’t going to be able to play after a series of concussions.

“It’s easy to be a fan of Boykin if you watched him as a high schooler and saw his recruiting profile. Now it’ll be up to him to fight for a role at a position that’s one of the most unsettled on the roster.”

2017 OUTLOOK
Boykin’s rise to the top of the depth chart this spring was always a possibility, if not necessarily a likely one following the 2016 season. As Keith pointed out, Boykin’s pedigree kept this result in play despite his minimal role. The question now is, will he maintain this consistency and thus create more opportunities for himself?

If he does, 20-plus catches and a couple touchdowns seems entirely reasonable. If St. Brown and Mack are the top-two targets in the 2017 offense, Boykin will likely be competing with sophomore slot receiver Chase Claypool to be the third. The difference between third and fourth is not all that much. A year ago Stepherson pulled in 25 catches for 462 yards and five scores while now-junior C.J. Sanders caught 24 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns. The two drew similar attention in the system — Stepherson was simply more of a down-field threat.

If Boykin returns to the ways of his past, McKinley certainly has all the tools to take his spot in the lineup, or St. Brown could move back to the boundary position, presenting more of an opportunity in the field for Stepherson.

Such back-and-forth among the receivers needs to be remembered. In Long’s up-tempo system, Boykin is expected to know the duties at all three positions so as to minimize the time spent racing back-and-forth across the field to reach proper alignment. For that matter, St. Brown is expected to, as well. If Boykin stumbles, there will be options to fill in for him.

DOWN THE ROAD
Boykin’s size alone makes him a piece of intrigue in Long’s offense. Whether 2017 is the season that leads to production or not, Boykin will have chances each offseason to make it happen. His ceiling may not be as high as St. Brown’s after last season’s outburst, but Boykin should fit well as a complement to his classmate.

It is not inconceivable St. Brown could excel again this year and then head to the NFL. If that were to occur, it would probably be partly due to Boykin preventing teams from focusing all their coverage energies on St. Brown. In this scenario, Boykin would have a chance to headline in 2018.

If St. Brown is still around in 2018, that should simply lead to a strong one-two punch among the receiving corps, even if it reduces Boykins’ claim to top-dog status.


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 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84 (theoretically): Michael Young, receiver
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 82 Nic Weishar, tight end

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Editor’s Note: Below the usual 99-to-2 post regarding No. 82 Nic Weishar, you can find a quick Notre Dame story once spun by the great sportswriter Frank Deford. Deford died Sunday at the age of 78.

Listed Measurements: 6-foot-4 ½, 242 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Senior with two seasons of eligibility remaining including the 2017 season
Depth chart: Weishar currently sits third among the tight ends, behind fifth-year senior Durham Smythe and junior Alizé Mack, though early enrolled-freshman Brock Wright may pass Weishar soon, if he didn’t in spring practice, among the receiving options at the position.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit and U.S. Army All-American, rivals.com rated Weishar as the No. 7 tight end in his class. He chose Notre Dame over offers from Michigan, Ohio State and Oklahoma, among others.

CAREER TO DATE
Wieshar has made three catches in each of the last two seasons and after spending 2014 on the sidelines preserving a year of eligibility. As frustrating as last year’s passing game de-emphasis on the tight ends was for Irish fans and Smythe, in particular, it also deprived Weishar of a prime chance to establish himself as a viable option while Mack sat out the season due to academic issues.

2015: 12 games, three receptions, 19 yards
2016: 12 games, three receptions, 47 yards

QUOTE(S)
If you go back a few years, there are a bounty of quotes raving about Weishar, including Irish coach Brian Kelly calling him “the finest pass catching tight end we saw” on 2014’s National Signing Day. In the last number of months — if granting the premise more recent quotes are also more pertinent — mention of Weishar has often included mention of Wright in the same breath, hence the presumption Wright may be moving up the depth chart quicker than expected, to Weishar’s detriment.

“We can play four of those tight ends as receivers,” Kelly said in March. “We think there’s great versatility. You know Durham Smythe has really made great strides. He’s been very impressive. I think Alizé and Nic Weishar and Brock Wright and all of those guys can be on the field. You can detach them and you can’t say I’m not going to cover them. They have the ability to impact what we’re doing.”

It should be noted somewhere, and here seems as good a place as any, Weishar finished the Blue-Gold Game with two catches for 25 yards with two other targets. Meanwhile, Wright received no targets.

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
I’m setting the ceiling at 10 catches this season, though I’d be happy to be wrong. While Weishar is again the No. 2 tight end, and there’s a better argument to be made for sharing the ball with tight ends this season than last, it’s still an offense with a handful of playmakers to incorporate before working our way down to TE2.

“I could be underrating Weishar, who has earned more than his share of raves for his hands and reliability as a red zone target. But if you’re picking favorites behind Hunter and trying to find a place in the pecking order for Weishar, I have him below guys like [now-junior receiver] Equanimeous St. Brown and even [now-junior receiver] Miles Boykin before figuring out what Durham Smythe’s production will be.

“The staff will find a way to use Weishar to best accentuate his skills. As of right now, I just think that’s going to be as a guy who gets one or two targets a game, though some of those should come in the red zone.”

2017 OUTLOOK
Keith’s point from a year ago regarding “a handful of playmakers to incorporate before working our way down to TE2” rings even truer when that final position is the No. 3 or possibly even No. 4 tight end. Weishar may have the talent to contribute at Notre Dame, but the chances of learning that become less and less likely with the continued emergence of other options.

St. Brown’s breakout campaign last year, Boykin’s strong spring showing, sophomore receiver Chase Claypool’s intriguing potential and Mack’s return all diminish Weishar’s role in the Irish offense.

If Mack were to flash the inconsistency or immaturity that cost him the 2016 season, suddenly Weishar would be back in the conversation. Offensive coordinator Chip Long has a history of using two tight ends. That makes the third spot on the tight end depth chart less the figurative imprisonment sentence it usually would be. Provided Smythe and Mack both stay healthy and in good graces, though, Weishar’s path to significant playing time in 2017 may have closed.

DOWN THE ROAD
Weishar will have another year of college eligibility after this season. If Mack were to excel in 2017 and then declare for the NFL, there would be reason to offer Weishar a fifth year at Notre Dame. If Mack returns, along with Wright and incoming freshman Cole Kmet, such an offer would seem very unlikely, especially in light of the coming scholarship crunch.

Given Weishar’s oft-praised natural talents, a graduate transfer elsewhere makes the most sense, perhaps to a mid-major in search of a tight end who can contribute in the passing game. Maybe a MAC school will be looking for a tight end after its current senior with 10 career scores to date graduates following the 2017 season. Conceivably, that team could even be coached by someone familiar with Weishar and what he could offer.

Just a thought, nothing more.


ON FRANK DEFORD
In the spring of 2010, toward the end of this scribe’s sophomore year at Notre Dame, Frank Deford delivered the Red Smith Lecture in Journalism. Even an ignorant 20-year-old knew not to miss a chance to hear from a man often referred to as “the world’s greatest sportswriter.” Deford’s lecture bore the title, “Sportswriter is One Word.”

Thanks to the wonders of technology and external hard drives, a seven-year-old transcript was found quickly upon learning of Deford’s death Sunday. Since he was delivering a speech at Notre Dame, he dutifully wove in an Irish story, quoted in full below. The quick, nearly off-handed, tale showcased what set Deford apart. In 1962 he went to South Bend to do a story on the basketball team. He left with a quintessentially-Notre Dame quip about a priest. In the telling of the interim, Deford described the head coach, made a reader/listener laugh and did so without wasting time.

Johnny Dee was the coach, a wonderful guy. I walked into Johnny’s house and, without asking, he immediately mixed up a batch of martinis. He called them martoonis. He insisted on calling me Francis, which I’m not, but after a couple of martoonis, I let it go.

I traveled with the team to Evansville. Also along was the team chaplain, Fr. Tom Brennan, who according to campus legend, rivaled St. Thomas Aquinas in the marks he received for graduate study in Rome. Fr. Brennan described to me fascinating conversations that he reported he had with the devil.

Then, when the game began, almost immediately he started getting onto the officials. Understand, it’s a good cop-bad cop arrangement with Johnny Dee, and the priest is the bad cop.

Finally, the lead ref came over to the bench and threatened to give a technical to the priest. “Father,” he said, wagging a finger at him. “I call the game. You call the Mass.”

I always had a fond spot in my heart for Notre Dame after that.


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 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84 (theoretically): Michael Young, receiver
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 83 Chase Claypool, receiver

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-4 ½, 224 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Sophomore with three seasons of eligibility remaining including the 2017 season
Depth chart: Claypool shot up the depth chart to be the No. 1 slot, or Z, receiver this spring, partly due to new offensive coordinator Chip Long’s preference for bigger targets and partly due to speculation surrounding sophomore Kevin Stepherson. Junior C.J. Sanders and Stepherson back up Claypool, with incoming freshman Michael Young likely to join their ranks.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit, the intriguing Canadian chose Notre Dame over offers from Michigan, Oregon and Arizona, among others.

CAREER TO DATE
Claypool’s first impact came on special teams, making two tackles against Nevada in 2016’s second week. He remained a constant contributor on coverage units, finishing the season with 11 tackles, making appearances in all 12 games.

He also recorded a nine-yard run against Nevada, his only rush of the season. Of course, though, Claypool’s biggest, and most pertinent to his future, impact came in the passing game. He made five catches for 81 yards spread, including a 33-yard reception against Michigan State.

QUOTE(S)
Claypool quickly went from raw high school senior to contributing college player. The good news was he did indeed contribute. The not-so-good news was Claypool still had a lot of fundamentals to work on. Irish coach Brian Kelly said those have come along for Claypool over the last few months.

“It’s been a learning experience for him,” Kelly said with only a few weeks of spring practice remaining. “We threw him right into the fire last year, and he was swimming. He’s such a great kid. …

“Clearly, [Claypool] has definitely benefited from being here over the year and is more consistent.”

With the Irish depth at receiver and Claypool’s success embracing the physical nature of special teams last year, some wondered if he could switch to the defensive side of the ball and perhaps fill a hole at safety or linebacker. Kelly shot that thought down as soon as he heard it.

“We feel like we need his play on offense,” Kelly said. “He’ll continue to contribute on the special teams end of things, but we need his play on offense.”

Instead, Kelly intends to use Claypool’s physicality in an unexpected area at the slot receiver.

“Now he’s not a prototypical inside receiver, but there are some things where as a blocker, as a guy that can come over the middle, there aren’t many teams that can match the size and physicality of that kid,” Kelly said the week of spring practice’s end. “Does that mean he’s on the field for every snap? No, there are some things where we would move him out and put somebody else in there.”

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
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. …

“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 positon.”

2017 OUTLOOK
First of all, two notes to Keith: You are crazy, but your wait-and-see projection for Claypool was not. (Handing the keys to this space to who you did, however, remains highly questionable.) And, don’t think for a second your pun unintended disclaimer fooled anyone.

Now then, to Claypool. Long’s predilection to larger receivers fits in line with his tendencies to utilize two tight ends. In some alternate universe, Long has not arrived at Notre Dame and Claypool’s career could have an entirely different direction.

Sending Claypool’s frame on quick routes across the middle should provide junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush an especially-dynamic safety valve of sorts. Typically the last read is a running back in the flat or a tight end on a delayed release. That is not to say Claypool will be the last read – he won’t be. It is to say envisioning him running a five-yard slant from the slot position is to foresee a can’t-miss target only a few yards away from the quarterback.

The slot obviously does other things, and Claypool will do them. The point here is to illustrate some of why Long may want to try such height and length at a position usually reserved for shifty converted running backs.

This season’s ceiling for Claypool may be about 30 catches and a couple scores. If, however, the more proven Sanders and/or Stepherson emerge as the primary slot receiver, then Claypool could be looking at half those totals, thought that would be nothing to scoff at for a developing second-year contribution.

DOWN THE ROAD
Claypool’s success and fit in Long’s scheme in 2017 should quickly determine how his time at Notre Dame plays out. If Claypool’s size does as Long hopes, then his status as the top slot receiver in 2018 and 2019 would seem assured, and the numbers should only grow with experience and development.

If, however, the Irish switch to a more prototypical slot receiver, then the discussion about moving Claypool to defense will begin anew. As Keith’s outlook a year ago said, that is not exactly an outlandish idea. If Claypool’s career follows that of former Irish linebacker James Onwualu’s, that would be far from a disappointment of any kind.


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 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84 (theoretically): Michael Young, receiver