USC v Notre Dame

Counting down the Irish: Just missed the cut

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As we begin to reveal the top 25 players on Notre Dame’s roster, our raw numbers point to an intriguing amount of depth on this football team. As you consider the returning talent on this football team—only Ben Koyack, Matt Hegarty and Cody Riggs depart from the Music City Bowl’s starting lineup—the depth chart and high end personnel is there, and that proof seems to be in our numbers.

A total of 38 players received votes in our poll, down slightly from 2014. Seven members of our Top 25 fell in rankings. Two stayed in the same place. Eleven made double-digit jumps.

For as interesting as the Top 25 turns out to be, the players just missing the cut are maybe even more unique. They include Notre Dame’s returning sack leader. As well as the team’s all-purpose yardage leader. Two talented freshmen were just left off the ballot as well, along with two key defenders who could be asked to start plenty of games. 

Let’s go through the near-misses as we get ready to start our countdown.

 

JAMES ONWUALU

Onwualu may have played in all 13 games and started eight last season—his first as a linebacker—but he was left off of seven of eleven ballots. Whatever the reason, the Irish’s returning starter at outside linebacker tallied 18 total points, with his highest ranking 19th on a single ballot.

Oklahoma v Notre Dame
Oklahoma v Notre DameJoe Robbins/Getty Images

 

JUSTIN YOON

Arguably the Irish’s most important freshman recruit, Yoon is taking over for Kyle Brindza as the team’s placekicker, all but uncontested. Yoon was on three ballots only, but received a single ninth-place vote. Yoon’s 19 points was good for a two-man tie at 29th.

 

ALIZÉ JONES

Yoon tied with freshman tight end Alizé Jones, viewed by some recruiting services as the finest tight end in the country. At 6-foot-5 and pushing 240 pounds, Jones will have a chance to immediately fight for playing time at a tight end position with exactly one returning catch. Jones was on five ballots, tallying 19 total points.

 

Alize Jones, Cordell Broadus
Alize Jones, Cordell BroadusAP Photo/Isaac Brekken

 

AMIR CARLISLE

Notre Dame’s all-purpose yardage leader finished 28th in our voting, the exact same place he finished in 2014. But this time, Carlisle is coming off his best season in South Bend, a successful transition to slot receiver. The fifth-year player will look to take on a larger role in the passing game with C.J. Prosise’s transition to running back. (Interestingly, Prosise only received two votes last year, good for 32nd.)

Amir Carlisle
Amir CarlisleAP Photo/Matt York

 

ANDREW TRUMBETTI

A promising freshman season wasn’t enough to vault Trumbetti into the Top 25. While he had only one sack, Trumbetti had 5.5 TFLs, good for sixth on the team. He started the Music City Bowl at defensive end, missing only the Purdue game due to injury.

Jarron Jones, Andrew Trumbetti, Devin Gardner
Jarron Jones, Andrew Trumbetti, Devin GardnerAP Photo/Michael Conroy

 

ROMEO OKWARA

Trumbetti’s running mate at defensive end, Okwara finished the poll just two votes shy of the No. 25 spot. Okwara is a polarizing player—he was left off seven ballots, but was 14th on one ballot. Notre Dame’s senior defensive end started 12 games.

 

 

Irish A-to-Z: C.J. Prosise

C. J. Prosise
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Spring hero? Tough to find a bigger one than C.J. Prosise. With numbers low in the backfield this spring, Notre Dame’s emerging slot receiver transitioned to running back—and immediately became an X factor in 2015.

Pushing close to nearly 230 pounds this summer (according to his head coach), Prosise might be the closest thing this team has to a power back. Add in the kind of blazing speed that allowed Prosise to get behind secondaries and run away from LSU in the Music City Bowl, and the latest position switch in Prosise’s career might be a game-changer.

Let’s take a closer look at one of Notre Dame’s most versatile offensive weapons.

 

C.J. PROSISE
6′.5″, 22o lbs.
Senior, No. 20, WR/RB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A three-star prospect out of Woodberry Forrest, the program that also produced Doug Randolph and Greer Martini. Prosise was a three-star prospect, though had some intriguing intangibles, including a second-place finish in the state championships in the 100m dash and seven return touchdowns as a senior.

Notre Dame saw him as a safety with special teams ability when they inked him. He transitioned to offense after his freshman season.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2012): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2013): Played in all 13 games as a wide receiver, making a position switch during the spring. Made seven catches on the season, two coming in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Junior Season (2014): Played in all 13 games and started six. Caught 29 passes for 516 yards, with a per catch average of 17.8 yards, the team’s best. Ran 10 times for 126 yards and a touchdown, a fifty-yarder against LSU. Notre Dame’s special teams player of the year, making 11 special teams tackles.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

It feels like I was pretty dialed in last year when it came to Prosise. I’ve always thought he was a really intriguing football player.

At this point, how Kelly and Mike Denbrock distribute touches at wide receiver will likely dictate how productive Prosise is on Saturdays. Simply doubling his production from last year feels like the baseline expectation, though it shouldn’t be too much to ask of Prosise to improve on the relatively modest 10.3 yards per catch he had in 2013.

(Of course, if the kick returner job is still up for grabs with George Atkinson off to the NFL, Prosise might be able to do some damage from there.)

Ultimately, opening up the playbook could be the one thing that helps Prosise the most. If Notre Dame has the athletes, they need to find a way to get them the touches. At running back, that means finding the right mix for Tarean Folston, Greg Bryant and Cam McDaniel. At receiver, it means getting six or seven guys opportunities.

The slot has always been a spot that had Percy Harvin-like versatility. Outside of a few fly sweeps, we have yet to see that from the Irish. Kelly has the creativity. He’s also got the personnel, with a former running back in Carlisle playing there along with a 220-pounder who would be as the Irish’s biggest running back on the roster.

Let’s see if that’s a way to get Prosise involved in 2014.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

For a guy entering his senior year, Prosise still feels like he’s just scratching the surface. With just 15 career practices at running back, the fact that Prosise felt so comfortable there this spring is a good thing. Even better? His knack for making a big play with the ball in his hands transitioned to running back as well.

Should we believe Brian Kelly when he said that Prosise might have earned himself 10 carries a game? Only Tarean Folston did that last year with 13.5 a game. But as a dangerous receiver, ball carrier and slot receiver, Prosise spent this spring reminding Kelly and Mike Denbrock that he’s one of the team’s top playmakers. So expect Mike Sanford to kick the tires on Prosise during fall camp, and hopefully keep calling his number.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Greg Bryant’s suspension opens the door for Prosise to take major reps at running back to start the season. And if Prosise runs with the opportunity, Bryant’s got his work cut out for him if he thinks he’s going to move back into the No. 2 hole.

But for all the talk about Prosise being a natural at running back, I don’t think he’s at his most valuable as simply a running back. We’ve spent the better part of six seasons talking about the slot receiver and hoping that Kelly would find someone who could be his Percy Harvin. Well, it’s hard to find a better fit than Prosise, who is actually more physically impressive than Harvin, though lacks the extra gear that Harvin had in college.

The more touches the better for Prosise. And if I were calling the shots, he’d get a chance to return kicks for me as well.

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL
Jay Hayes, DL
Mike Heuerman, TE
Kolin Hill, DE
Tristen Hoge, C
Corey Holmes, WR
Chase Hounshell, TE
Torii Hunter, Jr. WR
Alizé Jones, TE
Jarron Jones, DL
DeShone Kizer, QB
Tyler Luatua, TE
Cole Luke, CB
Nick Martin, C
Greer Martini, LB
Jacob Matuska, DL
Mike McGlinchey, OT
Colin McGovern, OL
Peter Mokwuah, DL
John Montelus, OL
Nyles Morgan, LB
Sam Mustipher, OL
Quenton Nelson, OL
Tyler Newsome, P
Romeo Okwara, DE
James Onwualu, LB

Irish A-to-Z: Romeo Okwara

Michigan v Notre Dame
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For most of Romeo Okwara‘s college career, the defender’s young age was mentioned when discussing the intriguing athlete’s upside. With ideal length, more than adequate athleticism and a skill set that fit in both Bob Diaco and Brian VanGorder’s defense, it was always a wait-and-see proposition for the North Carolina native, who simply needed a few years in Paul Longo’s weight room to catch up to his age.

But Okwara’s a senior now. And even if he’s only now about to turn 21, the clock on his collegiate career is nearly done ticking, making 2015 a critical season for a defensive end who very quietly led Notre Dame in sacks last season, all while learning on the fly.

Let’s take a closer look at one of the key unknowns on the defense.

 

ROMEO OKWARA
6’4″, 260 lbs.
Senior, No. 45, DE

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Okwara committed to the Irish the summer before his senior season, an incredibly young prospect who tantalized the Irish staff with his length and speed. He was a three-star prospect, though had offers from Clemson, Miami, Virginia Tech and the major in-state programs.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2012): Played in all 13 games, credited with seven tackles. Made a key tackle-for-loss against Oklahoma. Played mostly outside linebacker.

Sophomore Season (2013): Played in all 13 games, starting against Navy. Made 19 tackles, and 1.5 TFLs. Had season-high five tackles against Navy and Stanford.

Junior Season (2014): Started 12 games, playing in all 13. Led the Irish in sacks with four, made 11 tackles against Purdue, a career-high, leading to a FBS Defensive Player of the Week award. Forced fumble against Michigan.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

I’m going to take a little more than partial credit for this, because Okwara did actually lead the team in sacks, even if 4.0 isn’t a number you’re that enthused about unless it’s a grade-point-average.

At a position that still lacks depth and pure pass rushers, Okwara is one of the keys to the Irish defense, part of a group that looks talented on paper, but needs to translate projection to production. With just about every sack on the roster departed after Prince Shembo and Stephon Tuitt headed to the NFL, Okwara will have every opportunity to start fast and make a name for himself.

If we’re trying to learn something from the spring, Okwara was all over the field in the Blue-Gold game, notching three sacks under rules that should give stats like that zero relevance. But that’s all we have to cling to until we see Okwara take the field against Rice, where he’ll have the first opportunity to put up numbers in VanGorder’s stat-friendly defense.

The coaches believe Okwara can get after the quarterback. If he can’t, there’ll be others getting the opportunity to do it. But after two seasons as a member of the supporting cast, expect Okwara to do a nice job as he steps into the limelight.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

The future is pretty much now, right? So if you’re looking for a time to expect big things out of Okwara, you’re in a push-the-chips-to-the-middle moment. That said, there might be something to this. Okwara passes the eyeball test. At 6-foot-4, 260-pounds, he’s a great looking defensive end, and certainly a guy you want coming off the bus first.

At times, Okwara was incredibly disruptive—see an 11 tackle game against Purdue. At times, he was completely invisible. That might be a great skill for a Marvel character, but it isn’t for a pass rusher in this system.

I like Okwara and he’ll have a full calendar year in the system. But I also wonder if he’s maxed out his potential. So while it’s tough to see him turning into a early-round draft pick, it’s not ridiculous to think a lightbulb could turn on and he’ll be a productive senior.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I don’t expect Okwara to lead the team in sacks again. But I do expect him to improve on his pass rush numbers. I’ve got him penciled in for a half-dozen, which I think will have him in the team’s top five, but behind at least a few defenders.

We’ll see how things shake out on the defensive front, but it’ll be interesting to see if Andrew Trumbetti takes a big step forward after a nice debut freshman season, or if Okwara grows into a starting role after finally settling into one position.

At this point, it’s not worth looking back at the redshirt season that would’ve done Okwara good. It’s only worth looking forward. And I think the future is bright for a rock-solid senior season and then a shot at playing football on Sundays.

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL
Jay Hayes, DL
Mike Heuerman, TE
Kolin Hill, DE
Tristen Hoge, C
Corey Holmes, WR
Chase Hounshell, TE
Torii Hunter, Jr. WR
Alizé Jones, TE
Jarron Jones, DL
DeShone Kizer, QB
Tyler Luatua, TE
Cole Luke, CB
Nick Martin, C
Greer Martini, LB
Jacob Matuska, DL
Mike McGlinchey, OT
Colin McGovern, OL
Peter Mokwuah, DL
John Montelus, OL
Nyles Morgan, LB
Sam Mustipher, OL
Quenton Nelson, OL
Tyler Newsome, P

Coming Soon: Counting Down the Irish, 2015 edition

Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt
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With the start of training camp right around the corner, it’s time for our annual tradition of ranking the Top 25 players on the Notre Dame roster.

As we enter season six of the Brian Kelly era, we find a Notre Dame roster that’s as talent-rich and deep as any we’ve seen. And as we enter our sixth season of this annual exercise, we’ve built a group of pollsters and experts that spend more time watching the Irish practice and play than any group we’ve ever had.

A year after 40 players received a vote and only 12 players made it on every ballot, we’ll see how this year’s roster looks in the eyes of our panelists. With a top-heavy team that features preseason All-Americans in Jaylon Smith and Ronnie Stanley, and standouts like Sheldon Day, KeiVarae Russell, returning Team MVP Joe Schmidt and offensive player of the year Will Fuller, this season’s rankings should also be fascinating.

We’ll start rolling out the results on Monday.  Starting with the near-misses before we name our top five players on Friday. It’ll serve as a wonderful preseason snapshot, even if it’ll also serve as a reminder that even with 20 returning starters, somebody will sneak up on us.

Interested in turning back the clock? Let’s take a quick look at the top five from the past five seasons.

2014 
5. Tarean Folston, RB
4. Everett Golson, QB
3. Sheldon Day, DT
2. KeiVarae Russell, CB
1. Jaylon Smith, LB

2013
5. Prince Shembo, LB
4. Bennett Jackson, CB
3. Zack Martin, LT
2. Stephon Tuitt, DE
1. Louis Nix, DT

2012
5. Stephon Tuitt, DE
4. Zack Martin, LT
3. Cierre Wood, RB
2. Tyler Eifert, TE
1. Manti Te’o, LB

2011
5. Gary Gray, CB
4. Zack Martin, LT
3. Harrison Smith, S
2. Manti Te’o, LB
1. Michael Floyd, WR

2010*
5. Trevor Robinson, OT
4. Chris Stewart, OG
3. Manti Te’o, LB
2. Kyle Rudolph, TE
1. Michael Floyd, WR

 

 

Want proof that Notre Dame’s football program is getting better? Just take a deeper look at these Top 25 lists—especially as players like Will Fuller emerge at No. 25, like he did last season.

I’m excited about our panelists (listed alphabetically, below) from this year and want to thank them in advance for their work. We’ll average out the scores from each ballot over the weekend and start the reveal Monday.

 

Our 2015 Irish Top 25 panel
Keith Arnold, Inside the Irish
Bryan DriskellBlue & Gold
Matt Freeman, Irish Sports Daily
Nick Ironside, Irish 247
Tyler James, South Bend Tribune
Eric Murtaugh, One Foot Down
Pete Sampson, Irish Illustrated
Jude Seymour, Her Loyal Sons
JJ Stankevitz, CSN Chicago
John Vannie, NDNation
John Walters, Newsweek 

 

Irish A-to-Z: Tyler Newsome

247Sports
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With Kyle Brindza gone, sophomore Tyler Newsome takes over the punting duties. And outside of seeing a few not-really live kicks in the Blue-Gold game, what that means remains to be seen.

Newsome has earned solid review from the coaching staff and is a long-levered kid, standing much taller than your average punter. But with he and Justin Yoon taking over the kicking duties, it’s a brave new world on Scott Booker’s special teams units, and we could be looking at four-straight seasons of the same battery—and that’s the best case scenario.

Let’s look closer at Notre Dame’s starting punter.

 

TYLER NEWSOME
6’2.5″, 205 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 85, P

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

No specialist is a highly-touted recruit, but Newsome did garner a three-star ranking by Rivals and was a Semper Fidelis All-American game participant. He also was the No. 4 ranked punter according to Kohl’s Kicking School.

The All-State Georgia performer got offered a scholarship by Notre Dame after camping in South Bend and that was it.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Pretty much exactly what happened.

If Newsome sees the field this year, it’s because something bad happened to Kyle Brindza. It’s most likely that Newsome will save a year of eligibility and then take the field in 2015, where he’ll be competing with incoming freshman kicker Justin Yoon.

My guess? Newsome will be punting and Yoon kicking in 2015, a lot of pressure on two young scholarship specialists.

It’s hard to get too serious about digging into the YouTube clips of high school kickers and punters, but Newsome is exactly what the coaching staff wanted when they decided to offer a scholarship to a specialist. He’s a versatile kicker with high upside who has shown the ability to do multiple jobs at the high school level, but a guy that projects easily as a punter at the very least.

Newsome will have some responsibilities hoisted on his shoulders soon. But it won’t happen in 2014.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

I’d be lying to you if I had some deep-diving analysis here. But I’ll give you the cliff notes:

Newsome’s the punter. There’s nobody else on scholarship that can do the job. So the Irish coaching staff must have a pretty solid belief that they’ve targeted the right guy for the job, especially after getting a season to look at him during practice.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

The best part of this projection? I don’t think Notre Dame’s punter is going to get much work this season. The Irish offense should render Newsome fairly obsolete, though I do hope his ability to directional punt is better than most young kickers.

If you’re looking for something out of Newsome, it’s the hope that he’s consistent. If anything can kill the momentum of a football team, it’s a punter who might send one 45 yards on his first attempt only to mishit one 25 yards a kick later. (Fans might have their suspicions who I’m thinking about here.)

Do I care if Newsome has as strong of a leg as a guy like Brindza? Not really, as long as he catches the snap, kicks the ball consistently, and understands that a punt downed inside the 15 is a lot better than the one that barely rolls into the end zone.

 

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL
Jay Hayes, DL
Mike Heuerman, TE
Kolin Hill, DE
Tristen Hoge, C
Corey Holmes, WR
Chase Hounshell, TE
Torii Hunter, Jr. WR
Alizé Jones, TE
Jarron Jones, DL
DeShone Kizer, QB
Tyler Luatua, TE
Cole Luke, CB
Nick Martin, C
Greer Martini, LB
Jacob Matuska, DL
Mike McGlinchey, OT
Colin McGovern, OL
Peter Mokwuah, DL
John Montelus, OL
Nyles Morgan, LB
Sam Mustipher, OL
Quenton Nelson, OL