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Irish A-to-Z: Avery Sebastian

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For Irish safety Avery Sebastian, a sixth season is a rare opportunity to make an impact after a star-crossed career. Sebastian, who came to Notre Dame as a graduate transfer and lasted less than a game before suffering a season-ending foot injury in 2015, now needs to find a way to get through a full season healthy and find a niche as a physical, downhill safety.

That could be in sub-packages. That could be as a building block on special teams.

After spending four years at Cal and another season at Notre Dame, we’re still not quite sure what the Irish have. But as a veteran in a young secondary, Sebastian is an intriguing piece if he’s able to stay on the field.

 

AVERY SEBASTIAN
5’10”, 200 lbs.
Grad Student, No. 8, S

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A four-star recruit, Sebastian was ranked as high as the No. 6 safety in the country by ESPN. An All-State player in the state of Georgia, he was listed at No. 8 on the Rivals national list of “top 10 headhunters,” before picking Cal.

He was a US Army All-American Bowl participant and played for the USA U-19 National team.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2011): Played in 12 games off the bench for Cal, a key special teams cog. Made nine total tackles, with a season-high four against Arizona State.

Sophomore Season (2012): Played in 11 games, making four starts at safety. Honorable Mention All-Pac 12 for his special teams work. Made 56 tackles, fifth on the team, adding 1.5 TFLs.

Junior Season (2013): Started the season opener at safety, making 10 tackles and an interception before a season-ending injury.

Senior Season (2014): Played in seven games with a start. Made 21 tackles on the season, including seven against Stanford.

Fifth Year (2015): Appeared against Texas in the season opener before an injury ended his season. Qualified for a sixth season with a medical redshirt.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

What happens when the insurance policy gets injured?

Consider Sebastian an insurance policy, and I’m guessing he’ll be a fixture on every run team on special teams. Don’t be surprised if he also finds a role in some third down packages, or perhaps as a in-the-box safety against run-heavy opponents.

Sebastian feels like the logical backup to Elijah Shumate, though Tranquill will certainly have something to say about that. But with a gap between the young freshmen who just hit campus and veterans like Shumate and Max Redfield, Sebastian is a perfect plug-in, earning his way to Notre Dame after handling his business at Cal.

Regardless of what happens at the next level, a degree from Berkeley and a masters from Notre Dame? Sebastian will be just fine in the future.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Sebastian isn’t a starter unless something goes wrong with Drue Tranquill. But he also wouldn’t be in South Bend if he didn’t have a specific value, and Brian Kelly and Brian VanGorder keeping him around certainly means he’ll be able to contribute in this system.

Undersized and not a natural in coverage, Sebastian’s game might be a little one-dimensional. But that’s not the worst thing in the world if it’s something that can help fill a deficiency, something this defense currently has.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Predicting a healthy season from Sebastian is difficult at this point. But I liked the idea of adding Sebastian before last season and I still like it now. It’s tough to find snaps for Sebastian right now, though those snaps are currently being allocated to a player with two major knee injuries in his last half-dozen football games.

So he’s a Next Man In candidate who’ll likely be a key contributor on special teams. That’s a very good way to utilize a scholarship, especially from a veteran who is key depth at a position of need.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska
Mike McGlinchey
Colin McGovern
Deon McIntosh
Javon McKinley
Pete Mokwuqh
John Montelus
D.J. Morgan
Nyles Morgan
Sam Mustipher
Quenton Nelson
Tyler Newsome
Adetokunbo Ogundeji
Julian Okwara
James Onwualu
Spencer Perry
Troy Pride Jr.
Max Redfield
Isaac Rochell
Trevor Ruhland
CJ Sanders

Camp highlights: Day three

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Yes, we did this out of order. We’ll take the 5-yard penalty and replay first down.

 

0:08 — Digging the music as CJ Sanders (#3) runs against air on the jet sweep.

0:18 — Nice ball from DeShone Kizer to Kevin (or let’s go with K.J.) Stepherson (#29) on the flag route. I fully expect an ACC officiating crew to spend three minutes overturning that catch.

0:27 — Brian Kelly expects a big season from Jay Hayes. What that looks like remains to be seen, but he’s an impressive looking football player. What a great decision (though probably very difficult) to redshirt him last year.

0:39Max Redfield (#10) breaks up the end zone attempt to CJ Sanders, making a nice late play at the ball after getting slightly out of position. Redfield certainly has the athleticism that allows him to run with athletes like Sanders, though he didn’t necessarily track the ball all that well.

0:50 — If Durham Smythe can hold up at the point of attack against Isaac Rochell (or guys like him), this running game will be very, very good.

0:53Malik Zaire on the move. He’ll likely be at his best once the pocket breaks down, though it’s much easier to shake-and-bake in the open field with a red jersey on. (That said, I think Zaire prefers to run like a sledge-hammer not a tap-dancer.)

1:07 — Hold on to that football, Tony Jones. It’s tough to make out who that is coming off the edge, but it looks like it could be Julian Okwara (#42) or Jamir Jones (#44) making a nice play.

1:16 — Gotta hold on to that one, Tyler Luatua (I think it’s Luatua). Great closing speed by Nyles Morgan, who I’m expecting to be sneaky good against the pass.

Camp highlights: Day Four

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With Notre Dame’s time in Culver winding down, our friends at UND.com gave us another morsel from training camp. Let’s over-analyze it!

 

0:10 — Need a young receiver to step up? Equanimeous St. Brown would like to throw his hat in the ring. The 6-foot-4 speedster, who opened up plenty of eyes in training camp last year, connects with DeShone Kizer on a well-thrown, back-shoulder deep ball.

For every positive there’s a not-so-positive, and in this case it’s freshman Julian Love (#27) getting beat. Stick with it kid. Love has been good thus far in camp, with all reports from those who had a look at Notre Dame’s open practice saying he was running as the No. 2 nickel back.

0:18Andrew Trumbetti seems to get the better of Alex Bars coming around the edge. The junior seems to have lost the starting job to Jay Hayes, but might be the closest thing to a pass rusher this defensive front has until Daelin Hayes can get up to speed.

0:25 — That’s CB1 vs. WR1 and it looks like Torii Hunter got the better of Cole Luke. After some jostling, Hunter hit the breaks as Luke flies by, snatching DeShone Kizer’s pass from his shoe tops, just as it nearly hit the turf.

0:35 — I’m a sucker for the pass-coming-straight-at-the-camera-into-the-net-shot. Here’s Malik Zaire throwing a bullseye.

0:39 — Time to give it up for Mark Harrell (#75). He hasn’t gotten a lot of ink around these parts, but he certainly earned the praise of his head coach during the opening press conference.

“Without Harrell, we’re in trouble. That guy is, he’s worth his weight in gold for us, because he can play almost every position on the offensive line,” Kelly said. “So he gives us the flexibility to virtually do everything. He’s our utility guy that can play guard, center, tackle, a little bit of everything. He’s invaluable to us on the offensive line right now.”

Harrell does a nice job standing his ground against Jarron Jones, who is still working his way into game shape. One thing is certain: Jones is a big man.

0:44 — On the move, Malik Zaire delivers a strike to CJ Sanders, who breaks away from Shaun Crawford (#20) on a 2nd-and-short conversion. From the looks of it, that was man coverage with Zaire rolling away from Max Redfield coming off the edge in a blitz. Nice throw and conversion.

0:52 — Put Tony Jones Jr. on the “better-than-advertised” list of camp surprises. The freshman has earned the praise of Brian Kelly already, has a nice hop in his step and has been very steady catching the football.

Last video, we saw Dexter Williams look like a thoroughbred running free in the secondary. Using football’s version of the transitive property, Mike Denbrock got Jones mixed up with Williams when the freshman spelled him after some cramping. That’s a good sign that Jones is another good find for a running back depth chart that is sneaky-good.

(I’m not sure my high school geometry teacher approves this usage of the transitive property.)

0:58 — It wouldn’t be state-run TV without equal opportunity for both quarterbacks. After seeing a nice play by Zaire, here’s an in-rhythm strike thrown by Kizer to Chase Claypool (#83), with the freshman getting inside classmate Troy Pride Jr. (#18).

This freshmen trio of wide receivers has a chance to be very, very special.

1:07 — There’s Shaun Crawford winning a rep against CJ Sanders getting a hand on a quick throw as the slot corner wins a battle with Notre Dame’s starter at Z.

1:11 — Here’s a gratuitous shot of DeShone Kizer doing something cool. Feels eerily similar to the shot of Iceman spinning a volleyball on his finger in Top Gun. This is a definite trailer moment.

(Love that he jogs off like, “Nothing special.” Kinda like never looking back at the explosion in a movie.)

 

 

 

 

Irish A-to-Z: CJ Sanders

C.J. Sanders CJ Sanders
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After a big season as a return specialist, CJ Sanders looks poised to take his talents to slot receiver. Gone is a starting trio of All-American Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle. While Torii Hunter slides into the primary role, Sanders seems custom built to succeed at the Z, where Brian Kelly has yet to coach a guy with Sanders’ physical traits.

Getting past offseason hip surgery was the first step. And early reports out of camp have Sanders operating at full speed—Kelly’s optimistic outlook at Sanders’ rehab (finally) proving true.

With a chance to be a game-breaker as a returner and run-pass threat in the slot, a big season could be on the way for Sanders.

 

CJ SANDERS
5’8″, 185 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 3, WR

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

After a blazing 40-time at placement at the SPARQ finals at The Opening, Sanders vaulted into a national prospect, even with his diminutive size. A four-star recruit, Sanders had offers from Georgia, Tennessee, UCLA, USC and Stanford before picking Notre Dame in the spring.

An offer from Ohio State never came, a school Sanders followed that had family connections. But by the time Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes staff came calling, Sanders was already locked up.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2015): Only the third player in Notre Dame history to return both a punt and kickoff for a touchdown. Appeared in all 13 games, making one catch for no gain.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Special teams star? Got it.

As much as I like Sanders, it’s hard to find a way where he’ll make a sizable impact on this offense, unless an injury limits Carlisle. (Then again, Greg Bryant’s suspension all but completes C.J. Prosise’s transition to running back.) But it’s too soon to tell if Sanders is advanced enough from a football IQ perspective to jump into the lineup.

But where he could shake things up is on special teams, likely serving as an upgrade in the return game, potentially taking over for Greg Bryant on punt return. (I’d kick the tires on Sanders as kickoff returner as well.)

Sanders shouldn’t be looked at like a normal freshman. He had a successful acting career as a child (stop me if you’ve heard this one, but he played a young Ray Charles in the film Ray…), accelerating his maturity process while also building some bulletproof confidence. That’ll help with the big stage that is Notre Dame Stadium.

Realistically, I’m pegging the return game as Sanders’ likely home. That hasn’t been kind to freshmen (we’re still waiting for Davonte Neal to break a return), but Sanders shows better instincts. He’s also a wonderful candidate for the “designated deep ball receiver,” a role dating back to Golden Tate, then passed along to Chris Brown and Will Fuller that usually means you’re destined for good things.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Sanders is a critical piece of a receiving corps that still needs to sort quite a bit out. If he’s a lock for the Z position, it helps everybody else—allowing Hunter to move from side to side and the Irish staff to only focus on who replaces Chris Brown on the boundary.

We’ve seen Sanders do some special things already on the field. But we’ll see if he’s able to scale that playmaking when he’s given more opportunities. At his size, he needs to be blazing fast. He also needs to show the vision and ability to move and operate in tight spaces if he’s going to thrive in the slot.

Getting past the hip hurdle was a big first step. Learning on the job is the next. Sanders is capable of being the best slot receiver of the Kelly era. That’s not all that high of a bar, but with a chance to be a three-year starter, that’s still saying something.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Last year’s slot receivers, Amir Carlisle and Torii Hunter, combined for 10 rushing attempts and 60 catches for just over 700 yards and three touchdowns. I think it’s safe to say that Sanders will surpass those 10 rushes, but won’t touch that catch count.

Still, there’s an explosive receiver waiting to be unleashed in Sanders, who won’t benefit from having Will Fuller pull a safety to the sideline, but should have plenty of room to operate. If he can sneak up the seam and work with the Irish quarterbacks, he’ll have chances to make big plays.

A good season for Sanders is: A) staying healthy B) Catching 40 footballs and C) Getting another return touchdown (or two). I think that’s where he ends up this season.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska
Mike McGlinchey
Colin McGovern
Deon McIntosh
Javon McKinley
Pete Mokwuqh
John Montelus
D.J. Morgan
Nyles Morgan
Sam Mustipher
Quenton Nelson
Tyler Newsome
Adetokunbo Ogundeji
Julian Okwara
James Onwualu
Spencer Perry
Troy Pride Jr.
Max Redfield
Isaac Rochell
Trevor Ruhland

Irish A-to-Z: Trevor Ruhland

Trevor Ruhland 247
Tom Loy / Irish 247
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As a piece of depth at guard, Trevor Ruhland takes his redshirt off and steps into one of the most competitive position groups in America. With talent young and old battling for a job on the interior offensive line, Ruhland’s eligibility clock begins as he tries his best to get into the two-deep behind Quenton Nelson and a crowd at right guard.

An early target, offer and commitment to Harry Hiestand, there’s a lot to like about Ruhland. He competed for a state championship as two-way player and was praised as a whistle-to-whistle mauler who’ll add some toughness in the trenches.

We’ll see how quickly he can fit upstream to get onto the field.

 

TREVOR RUHLAND
6’3.5″, 300 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 57, OL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

More of a regional recruit than a national target, Ruhland shut down his recruitment early, committing to Notre Dame well in advance of his senior season while also staying off the camp circuit. He was a first-team All-State and All-Area player, playing on both the offensive and defensive line a team that came within a field goal of a state title.

 

 

PLAYING CAREER

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

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Do I win something?

There are redshirt candidates and then there are redshirt guarantees. It sure feels like Ruhland is all but guaranteed to spend this season learning and in the weight room, likely one of two seasons where most of the reps he takes are on the practice field.

But as we look forward, Ruhland will be competing with a fairly large group of lineman to replace Steve Elmer after 2016 (and potentially Quenton Nelson if he shifts outside to tackle), and could also be a candidate to try snapping, potentially throwing his name into the hat of a fairly wide-open center battle once Nick Martin heads to the NFL.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

At this point, it’s too early to know if Ruhland is a guy who will slot in behind some really impressive talent up front or if he’ll ascend to the top of the depth chart. With just a few spring practices and the first days of fall camp, Ruhland is still finding out what type of player he can become.

As we look for clues, it’s worth pointing out that both developmental targets and five-star studs are succeeding on Harry Hiestand’s offensive line. For every lock like Quenton Nelson, there’s a Mike McGlinchey. While it’s taken Hunter Bivin four years to get to the starting lineup, a late offer like Nick Martin was a two-time captain.

Patience is the best plan for Ruhland. We’ll stick to that as our evaluation for now.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

With John Montelus back on the offensive line and shifting outside to right tackle in fall camp, Ruhland will be among the depth battling to get into the two-deep at guard. What looks like a three-man race at right guard likely means Colin McGovern could slide over to the left side behind Nelson, keeping Ruhland as a third-stringer, nothing to be upset about at this point.

There are opportunities coming—especially with Nelson capable of heading to the NFL after this season and other pieces coming and going. So I’m capping my expectations for Ruhland’s 2016 at a few mop-up time snaps, and maybe securing some special teams work.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska
Mike McGlinchey
Colin McGovern
Deon McIntosh
Javon McKinley
Pete Mokwuqh
John Montelus
D.J. Morgan
Nyles Morgan
Sam Mustipher
Quenton Nelson
Tyler Newsome
Adetokunbo Ogundeji
Julian Okwara
James Onwualu
Spencer Perry
Troy Pride Jr.
Max Redfield
Isaac Rochell