Doug Randolph

Irish A-to-Z: Doug Randolph

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Two seasons in and we have yet to see much from linebacker Doug Randolph. But after a shoulder injury slowed him at the beginning of his career and various injuries kept him from contributing more in 2014, perhaps a position change is what gets the rising junior back on track.

A strong athlete and top-notch recruit coming out of the same high school football program that brought the Irish C.J. Prosise and Greer Martini, Randolph will likely look to rejuvenate his career as a defensive end, hoping to get on the field with his former classmates.

With three seasons of eligibility remaining, it’s not do or die time just yet. But with a slew of young talent that could potentially play along the edge of the defense, Randolph will be in a competition with several unproven players, and it’ll be up to him to emerge.

Let’s take a closer look at Doug Randolph.

 

DOUG RANDOLPH
6’2″, 240 lbs.
Junior, No. 44, LB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A Stanford commitment before flipping to Notre Dame, Randolph was a U.S. Army-All American and a Top 150 player. Randolph had offers from Virginia, Maryland and Virginia Tech as well.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2013): Did not see action, recovered from a shoulder injury that he brought into South Bend with him.

Sophomore Season (2014): Played in six games, mostly on special teams. Assisted on a tackle against Louisville.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

He played special teams, though you can’t really call a half-tackle an impact.

A perfect fit to make his impact on special teams, Randolph is the type of athlete that could thrive on cover units, fast enough to get down the field and big even to wreak havoc. He also showed an ability to get after the quarterback in high school, so there’s room for him to find the field if he can show the coaching staff he’s productive enough.

It’s worth considering what Stanford saw in Randolph, likely seeing a candidate to play on the edge of their defense as an outside linebacker. If the Irish do indeed show some 3-4 looks, Randolph’s versatility could be helpful.

With question marks on the defensive side of the ball and a lot of young players fighting to answer them, Randolph’s one of a handful of former big-time recruits with an opportunity to be a part of the next generation.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

 

The first two seasons of Randolph’s career have been a bit of a mystery. Miscast as a linebacker last season, Randolph will spend fall camp trying to fit in as a defensive end, a roster deficiency probably the main reason he has a shot to get into the mix.

Injuries seem to have been the ultimate undoing for Randolph, who was the highest-profile player that Notre Dame reeled in out of Woodberry Forrest. Yet Prosise emerged last season and is on track for a big 2015 while Martini made quick work of the depth chart and started games as a freshman.

Make no mistake: Randolph looks the part. Big, strong, athletic and one of the guys who really look good getting off the bus, Randolph needs to jump start his career with this position change, taking advantage of the struggles the Irish have had finding defensive ends or linebackers who can rush the quarterback.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

It’s hard to see Randolph doing more than being a larger staple on special teams, unless his really finds a spark as a pass rusher. And really, that’s not as crazy as it sounds, considering many expected Randolph to be a defensive end when he showed up in South Bend.

Still, there’s plenty of competition for the job Randolph is trying to fill, with Jonathan Bonner, Grant Blankenship, Kolin Hill and Andrew Trumbetti all competing for time. So for Randolph to emerge, he’ll need to find out how to stay healthy and wow new defensive line coach Keith Gilmore with some yet-to-be-seen pass rush ability.

 

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
C.J. Prosise, WR/RB

Counting down the Irish: 25-21

Quenton Nelson Twitter
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As we begin our rankings, we find a cross-section of players that represent just about every type of Brian Kelly recruit. There are blue-chippers. There are “RKGs.” And there are position switches and developmental projects.

If there’s been a most impressive part of Brian Kelly’s six years in South Bend, it’s the roster building. And no subset of five players does a better job of checking the boxes than this group.

Interestingly, while our “Just Missed” included starters in Romeo Okwara, Amir Carlisle, Justin Yoon (a kicker, but still) and James Onwualu, this group has only two projected starters. But the impact expected from this group certainly speaks to a higher ceiling, and all five players should be important performers this season.

Without further ado, let’s get things started.

 

2015 IRISH TOP 25 RANKINGS

 

25. Jerry Tillery (DL, Freshman): There was no bigger story in spring football than the emergence of freshman defensive lineman Jerry Tillery. With Jarron Jones recovering from foot surgery and Sheldon Day taking only limited reps, Tillery emerged as the next man in, a surprising twist considering most expected him to be an offensive tackle.

Brian Kelly raved about his young defensive lineman, and it didn’t just sound like coachspeak. And while we should exercise caution as we set out expectations for one of the Irish’s youngest contributors, Tillery looks like a future star who could make an impact from the get-go, a rarity along the defensive line.

Highest ranking: 19th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (four ballots)

 

Grge Bryant, Austin Larkin
Grge Bryant, Austin LarkinAP Photo/Joe Raymond

24. Greg Bryant  (RB, Sophomore): News broke in July that Bryant would be suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season. That likely played a role in his drop down our lists, with Bryant the biggest “loser” in our poll, falling 15 places from his No. 9 slot last season. The former five-star running back did lead the Irish running backs in yards-per-carry in 2014, but gave way to Tarean Folston down the stretch as his classmate emerged as the closest thing to a feature back the Irish had.

There’s a chance this could be an over-correction by our voters. But if Bryant is going to miss one-third of the regular season, that’s a massive amount of time for a guy who looked to be on the come after a strong spring. But after arriving in South Bend with great expectations, maybe this is the best thing for Bryant. If he returns with fresh legs in October, he’ll be a great option for a ground game that performed well when he shared the backfield with Malik Zaire against USC.

Highest Ranking: 17th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (five ballots).

 

Durham Smythe
Durham SmytheAP Photo/Joe Raymond

23. Durham Smythe (TE, Junior): Notre Dame has produced elite tight ends better than any other program in college football over the past decade. And perhaps that’s why Durham Smythe finds himself on this list, even if he’s only made one catch in his first two seasons in South Bend.

Smythe looks like he’ll be the starter at tight end, the most well-rounded prospect at a position filled with some intriguing pieces. And while there’ll certainly be more mixing and matching at the position after Ben Koyack led the offensive skill players in snaps taken, Smythe has the ability to be just as good as his predecessor (and in all likelihood, better).

At this point, it’s hard to say with certainty what Smythe does well. But he’s got the trust of the Irish coaching staff, and it’s hard to think playing major minutes won’t automatically mean Smythe picks up where Koyack left off.

Highest Ranking: 16th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (Six ballots).

 

Notre Dame v Arizona State
Notre Dame v Arizona StateChristian Petersen/Getty Images

22. Matthias Farley (DB, Grad Student): What a difference a season makes. At this time last year, Farley looked like a bench warmer. One season after a very disappointing sophomore campaign featured Farley played erratically at safety, Brian VanGorder and Brian Kelly moved the veteran to slot cornerback, where he looked to be buried at one of the roster’s deepest positions.

But after KeiVarae Russell was suspended and Cody Riggs slid back outside, Farley emerged as Notre Dame’s best playmaker in the secondary. He filled the stat sheet—tying for the team lead in interceptions, while finishing second in sacks, and tied for second in TFLs. Farley finds his way around the football. And while he’s still prone to the occasional mismatch in coverage, he made enough big plays to make up for it.

Highest Ranking: 12th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (five ballots).

 

21. Quenton Nelson (LG, Sophomore) One year after a redshirt, our panel expects Quenton Nelson to thrive now that he’s in the starting lineup. Penciled in at left guard, Nelson’s emergence ultimately was the reason why Matt Hegarty transferred, with Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand believing that Nelson could plug-in just fine at guard while Nick Martin slides back to center. (Hegarty was told he’d have to compete for the starting job at guard.)

Handing off a job to a young, first-year performer is a risk, especially when it means someone talented like Hegarty is leaving. But after traditionally betting on veterans with time in the program instead of the young player with upside, Nelson must not have given the Irish staff much of a choice.

The physically impressive guard will get his chance to go toe-to-toe with some big-bodied defensive tackles, putting to test the strength and nastiness that has so many excited about his future.

Highest Ranking: 15th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (five ballots).

 

***

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
Michael Bryan, 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: James Onwualu

Purdue v Notre Dame
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As a true freshman, James Onwualu found his way into the starting lineup, an unheralded freshman finding playing time by doing the little things right. As a sophomore, Onwualu made the rather unheard of transition from wideout to linebacker, and once again found himself starting football games.

Now two years into his time as a linebacker, Onwualu’s comfort as a defender may be growing, though his place in the unit may be tougher to figure out. With a linebacking corps that may be at its best with Jaylon Smith starting in Onwualu’s spot, regardless of what’s projected, it’s nearly certain that the versatile football player will find a way to help this team.

Let’s look closer at the St. Paul native.

 

JAMES ONWUALU
6’1″, 220 lbs.
Junior, No. 17, LB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A part of the Cretin-Derham Hall pipeline, Onwualu was a four-star recruit who had offers from Michigan and Ohio State, but ended his recruitment in March, before early enrolling, the first CDH athlete ever to leave the high school early.

A big-bodied wide receiver who didn’t have elite speed, Onwualu projected as a versatile player from the start, with Kelly mentioning a potential switch to defense as early as Signing Day.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2013): Played in all 12 regular season games, making four starts. Caught two passes for 34 yards, while contributing on special teams making six tackles. Served mainly as a blocker at wide receiver, taking Daniel Smith’s job.

Sophomore Season (2014): Played in all 13 games while starting eight at linebacker. Made 24 tackles from his outside linebacker position, including two TFLs. Onwualu had seven stops against Navy, including his two TFLs on the season.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

It’s always good to be right, especially when writing about someone from your high school alma mater:

If Brian Kelly moves you from offense to defense, there’s usually a good reason. And history has shown the results to work quite well. Onwualu is on track to get into the mix immediately at linebacker, and he’s a productive football player, whether on offense, defense or special teams.

While Onwualu started his career at wide receiver for the Irish, he played everywhere in high school, catching passes, carrying the load and doing whatever else was asked of him. While he was his conference’s leading scorer, his high school head coach Mike Scanlan always thought he could be a very versatile weapon on the defensive side of the ball.

After one season as a receiver, we’ll see what VanGorder does with Onwualu, who should be able to find a specific role in the Irish defense and become an important piece of the puzzle in 2014.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

On first glance, there’s nothing extraordinary about Onwualu. He’s an undersized linebacker who doesn’t jump out for his elite athleticism nor for being overly physical. But when you look at the first season he played in a system that he was learning while also learning how to play defense, and it puts into context what a solid debut season Onwualu had.

You’ve got to expect a few growth spurts in Onwualu’s game. And while it’s hard to see him being an everydown linebacker, as the college game spends more time spreading defenses out, a linebacker who used to be a wide receiver—and also likes to crack heads—is a nice asset to have.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I think Jaylon Smith spends a lot of time on the outside of this defense, making me wonder where Onwualu plays. But I also think that the more opponents move quickly and try to spread Notre Dame out, the more likely Onwualu is a piece of the defensive puzzle.

It’s worth noting that Onwualu’s most productive game was against Navy. You don’t expect an undersized linebacker to be great against the option, especially after Brian Kelly and Brian VanGorder talked about utilizing Greer Martini as a jumbo-sized OLB against more rugged opponents.

Still, it’s a telling indicator that Onwualu has the Football IQ to make tackles in the backfield against Navy. And after an unlikely ascent into the starting lineup in each of his first two seasons in South Bend, you’d be wise not to bet against a football player who has shown himself to be a productive piece of the puzzle.

 

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

Counting down the Irish: Just missed the cut

USC v Notre Dame
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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