Northwestern v Notre Dame

Irish A-to-Z: Cole Luke

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Ready or not, Cole Luke was thrown into the deep end in 2014, forced into a starting role after KeiVarae Russell’s August suspension. Paired with Cody Riggs as the team’s field cornerback, Luke more than held his own as a sophomore starter, taking on one of the most challenging schedules in college football, with elite receivers testing the Irish secondary nearly every week.

Luke’s game had high points, with his work against Louisville’s DeVante Parker highlighted by Notre Dame’s staff. But there were tough moments as well, with game tape against USC likely providing motivation for not just Luke, but the rest of the Irish secondary.

Finally paired with Russell, the starting duo in Notre Dame’s secondary has a chance to be special. While we’ll need to let their play on the field dictate terms, Brian VanGorder’s aggressive, man-coverage-schemes have two key assets, with both Luke and Russell capable of playing on an island.

Battle-tested and ready for more, let’s take a closer look at Cole Luke.

 

COLE LUKE
5’11”, 190 lbs.
Junior, No. 36, CB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Top 150 player, offers from both Oklahoma and Texas before choosing Notre Dame. Luke was an early target for Notre Dame, and played at Hamilton under former Irish quarterback Steve Belles.

Luke committed early and then stuck with Notre Dame as some elite programs kept giving chase.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2013): Played in all 13 games, made 15 tackles. Broke up two passes. Made six tackles against Air Force.

Sophomote Season (2014): Played and started all 13 games, finishing sixth on the team with 48 tackles. Tied for team lead with four interceptions. Broke up 11 passes, good for the third most in school history and the most since 1978. Also defended 15 passes, tied for 20th in FBS. Had two interceptions against Stanford.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Luke separated himself from the pack, clearly a step above Devin Butler and Nick Watkins (and if we’re looking at the entire secondary, he played better than Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate, too). With Cody Riggs gone after a vital fifth-year season (one that was short-circuited by injury), we know what’s expected of Luke, and now it’s a matter of if he’s able to consistently deliver it.

Getting a read on the Irish cornerbacks is tricky. After all, we’ve got people talking about KeiVarae Russell as one of the elite corners in college football… and that’s after we all saw him get routinely dusted by Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon last year, a seventh-round draft pick.

Right now the position looks like a strength on the roster, but that’s after seeing this personnel group playing mostly Cover 2 under Diaco, not the most athletically demanding version of the position.

One thing that seems fairly certain right now is that Luke’s going to see the field a lot. Whether it’s starting opposite Russell or playing as a third corner, responsibility will be heaped on Luke’s shoulders after surviving a freshman season without getting exposed.

But he’s going to have to compete. Devin Butler should be healthy after sitting out spring after shoulder surgery. Reports from the summer have freshman corner Nick Watkins looking very ready to contribute. Matthias Farley has shifted to the position, adding some physicality to the position as well.

On paper, this is the type of personnel that exists on championship-level squads. And Luke looks like the type of young talent that embodies that depth.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Luke may not be a burner, but the ball stats he put up last season certainly point to a guy who is tremendously productive. Add in some more seasoning to his game and there’s a really high ceiling for a defensive back only now entering his third season.

Of course, with expectation comes greater responsibility. It won’t be enough for Luke to simply flash moments and play big in bursts. He’ll need to show a baseline consistency that won’t allow teams a good option when they decide to test the outside of the Irish defense.

The ugly moments last season (Syracuse, USC) need to be replaced with games where Luke just isn’t noticed. And now that he’s joined by KeiVarae Russell and coached by Todd Lyght, the expectations won’t be difficult to understand.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

For as productive as Luke was last year, this season might be primed for even better returns. if KeiVarae Russell is as good as expected, opponents won’t want anything to do with him. So that might mean Luke’s number is getting called more often, a great situation for a cornerback who believes in his ability to make plays.

In 2015, we need to find out how competitive Luke really is. Russell will bring that out in his secondary mates — and Lyght will foster it as well. But every great cover man plays with zero memory and a unbendable self-belief that seemed to exist at moments for Luke, but also showed some low-points (I’m thinking of the USC game, specifically).

That’s life as a sophomore. But Luke is an upperclassman now and has the potential to be as good as he wants to be. We’ll find out in 2015 if that’s just a productive college cornerback… or a DB with the chance to be another top draft pick on a roster that looks stacked with pro prospects.

 

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

 

 

Irish A-to-Z: Tyler Luatua

Property of the South Bend Tribune
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Looking for a sledgehammer in an offense that sometimes gets branded finesse? Look no further than tight end Tyler Luatua. The big-bodied thumper may not look like the rest of the tight end depth chart, but certainly will come in handy as the Irish do their best to transform into a run-to-win team in 2015.

Finding the field as a true freshman because of his physicality, Luatua showed very quickly that he’s unafraid to mix it up in the trenches, playing a key role against LSU in a game plan that went power-vs-power and came out the victor. Moving into his sophomore season, Luatua shed some weight and spent the spring proving he can do more, hoping to take advantage of a wide open tight end depth chart.

Let’s look at the Southern California native as we try to make sense of Scott Booker’s position group.

 

TYLER LUATUA
6’2.5″, 250
Sophomore, No. 13, TE

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Notre Dame beat out Alabama for Luatua’s signature, where his brother plays along the offensive line. Luatua’s recruiting ranking seemed to ebb and flow throughout the process, an elite offer list that didn’t quite mesh with a modest three-star ranking.

Still, Notre Dame was excited about landing a prospect who may not have been to their usual positional profile, but was someone they certainly viewed as an elite talent.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Played in 10 games, with the majority of his action coming as a second tight end. His largest contributions came against LSU in the Music City Bowl victory. Capable of serving as a lead blocker and H-back as well.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

No, it doesn’t look like Luatua is moving to linebacker or defense anytime soon. So I missed on that one. But partial credit for nailing the H-back use, and also zeroing in on a true freshman as a designated blocker.

If you’re looking for a player that’s ripe for a position switch, Luatua could be an early candidate. Just about every coach that mentioned Luatua around Signing Day used the “big skill” tag, a compliment that tells you that Notre Dame sees a big, powerful football player who may be a tight end… or could play on the other side of the ball as well.

As the Irish offense continues to evolve, Luatua could turn into a versatile weapon. He has the ability to hold up at the point of attack, while also having the bulk and collision skills to play H-back. And for as good as Notre Dame has been at the position, the Irish haven’t had a tight end that worked well as a motion blocker, and then turned up field as a play action weapon.

Luatua’s career in South Bend might be dependent on his teammates. What the Irish get out of Durham Smythe, Huerman and classmate Nic Weishar will likely dictate Luatua’s role on offense. Just like sophomore James Onwualu, who played early at receiver and on special teams, Luatua could be primed to see the field now and find a position later.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Any worry that Luatua’s lack of traditional size was going to put him in a Mike Heuerman situation was immediately thrown when we saw him early . Then he became a key piece of the offensive puzzle against LSU. Because of that, I think Luatua’s role in the Irish offense is almost assuredly safe.

No, he doesn’t look destined to be a major offensive weapon in the stat sheet. But there’s actually a ton of value in a player like Luatua, who’ll be a beast as a leadblocker and also could be deadly in playaction.

In goal line and 3rd-and-short, Luatua will be on the field. And as the Irish offense evolves with Malik Zaire, there’s only more room for a player like Luatua.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Want a potential touchdown vulture in the red zone? Sound smart and consider Luatua one of your dark horse candidates. When Malik Zaire is bootlegging after a nice play fake, Luatua looks like the perfect candidate to haul in a pass in the flats, rumbling for a score.

As mentioned above, Luatua’s work won’t find the stat sheet all the time. But the fact that he shed some bad weight between the fall and the spring, and the fact that he’ll be working in a slightly different offense makes Luatua one of the offense’s more intriguing under-the-radar contributors.

Notre Dame knew what it wanted when it chased hard after Luatua in recruiting. And a thumping tight end who can punish you at the line of scrimmage and also be a very difficult body to tackle in space already looks like the baseline.

While the tight end depth chart is still mostly a mystery, if Luatua is healthy I’ve got him pegged for 13 games and a ton of good blocking. Throw in a few short catches or some damage in the playaction game and it’ll be fun to see how his career progresses.

 

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

 

 

Irish A-to-Z: DeShone Kizer

Purdue v Notre Dame
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The big news of the spring was supposed to be DeShone Kizer ascending to the job of holder on field goals and PATs. Instead, Kizer is one snap away from being Notre Dame’s starting quarterback, his development kick-started with Everett Golson’s decision to transfer.

Kizer had a hard-luck spring. He was dealing with personal issues while also getting snubbed when it came to live reps, the coaching staff concentrating on the competition between Golson and Malik Zaire.

But Kizer is now making up for lost time, and likely also doing his best to hold off promising freshman Brandon Wimbush, who would be well served by a redshirt season if at all possible.

Ahead of the schedule many had for him, Kizer is one snap away from running Notre Dame’s offense. Now we’ll see if he’s ready for the challenge.

 

DESHONE KIZER
6’4.5″, 230 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 14, QB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Kizer was a four-star prospect, though not near the top of that rating scale if we’re to poll the various recruiting services. But Kizer certainly entertained a slew of impressive offers, none better than one from Alabama, with LSU, Tennessee, Arkansas, Nebraska and Penn State all giving chase.

While Kizer camping in Columbus didn’t lead to an Ohio State offer, Notre Dame accepted Kizer’s commitment after he came to South Bend on the summer circuit. And while Urban Meyer kicked the tires on Kizer after he took over, Kizer was fully committed to Notre Dame.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

There was no chance Kizer was playing, so it didn’t take much to nail this prediction.

As we saw last year with Malik Zaire, Brian Kelly will protect Kizer’s fifth year. (After seeing Andrew Hendrix in the second half against USC, it might be by any means necessary.) So Kizer’s future isn’t in 2014. It probably isn’t 2015, either.

While right now it’s feeling a lot like Blake Barnett is the one that got away, Kizer is no slouch. Tom Lemming ranking him 40th overall in the country, and he certainly had some intriguing options to play college football. His athletic build translates very well to playing not just on Saturday, but Sunday.

While it puts the Irish in a pressure situation if an injury (or other off-the-field incident) occurs, having three quarterbacks should make it easier to avoid a transfer. And with LaFleur on campus to tutor both Zaire and Kizer, the Ohio-native who picks things up the best will likely take the reins of the program in 2016.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Kizer has one thing that Brian Kelly and Mike Sanford can’t teach: NFL size—and at nearly 6-5 and 230 pounds, Kizer looks the part of a big time quarterback. We haven’t seen that performance yet, and the Blue-Gold game was far from Kizer’s best football.

While we assumed that Matt LaFleur’s job was to get young quarterbacks like Kizer and Zaire ready, that job now falls to Mike Sanford. And in Sanford, Kizer has a unique teacher, someone who can hopefully unleash the unique traits in Kizer’s game that separate him from Zaire and Wimbush, two guys that seem better suited for the dual-threat game.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

 

With Golson gone, the development calendar for the quarterback depth chart has just been accelerated. And for Kizer, that might actually be a good thing. The battle between Kizer and Wimbush is one that’ll likely dictate the future of the Irish football program, as the starting job feels firmly in the grasp of Zaire.

But if Notre Dame chooses to punt on recruiting a 2016 quarterback—and that currently looks like the case—this is shaking out to be a battle between Wimbush and Kizer to see who inherits the program from Zaire, potentially three seasons from now.

On paper, Wimbush is the flashier prospect and the odds-on-favorite. But if we’ve learned anything over the past decade watching Notre Dame football, a recruiting ranking and prep status means nothing once a quarterback gets on campus.

So while the preference is to keep a redshirt on Wimbush, it’s Kizer’s job to stay in the No. 2 slot, knowing that future battles will take place from now until after the Zaire era is over.

 

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

Offseason Q&A: Wake Forest

Dave Clawson
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After Jim Grobe presided over the Wake Forest football program for 13 seasons, the school made a change bringing in coach Dave Clawson after five consecutive losing seasons. What followed was ugly, an understandable bottoming out—and a three-win season that may have been one of the least impressive in any Power Five conference.

The Demon Deacons beat just Gardner-Webb and Army before pulling out a statistically improbable 6-3 victory over Virginia Tech in two overtimes, highlighting the offensive ineptitude that plagued Wake Forest all season.

But 2015 is a new year and even if the odds are long and the rebuild far from over, things are looking up for the Deacs. To get us prepared for Notre Dame’s third ever meeting with Wake Forest—and their third of the Brian Kelly era—Robert Reinhard of Blogger So Dear gets us up to speed on the state of the rebuilding efforts in Winston-Salem.

 

After a really nice run atop the Wake program, Jim Grobe gave way to Dave Clawson as the head coach of the Demon Deacons. Year one was ugly, perhaps understandably so. But can you give us an assessment of the hire, the work you saw in season one from Clawson and where things are trending entering 2015?

I was thrilled with the hire when it was made, and I’m still a firm believer that Dave Clawson will be successful at Wake Forest. The best members of the 2014 recruiting class committed after Clawson was hired. The 2015 recruiting class was the best in Wake Forest history, and the 2016 recruiting class has some very solid pieces. Clawson has won conference championships at each of his previous jobs. While I don’t expect him to necessarily win a conference title at Wake Forest, I do believe that he can make Wake Forest perennially bowl eligible.

2015 will probably be a difficult year for Wake fans given the youth of the team as well as the difficult schedule. So while the win total may be very similar to last year, I think fans who take an honest look at the product on the field and the caliber of recruits Wake is landing, that the program is very much headed in the right direction. I judged Clawson last season on improvement and recruiting, and I intend to have the same philosophy this year. If he does not take the team to a bowl game next season, then I will have questions. Until then, I think Wake made an outstanding hire.

 

There are bad offenses and then there’s the offense Wake Forest had last season. At 3.4 yards per play—the worst in the country—and just 14.8 points a game, that feels awful close to the definition of rock bottom. Quarterback John Wolford returns, and showed improvement down the stretch. The line But what’s a realistic expectation for this offense, a group that could start as many as eight underclassmen?

I think this offense will demonstrate flashes of potential, but I still believe the offensive line is too young for Wake Forest to be extremely competitive. Wolford has looked much more in control during spring practice, and freshman slot receiver Tabari Hines is a shifty playmaker. Tight end Cam Serigne, as well as Tyree Harris could be major targets for Wolford. In the backfield, I expect true freshman Rocky Reid to be the starter. He originally committed to Tennessee, and is one of the best recruits Wake Forest has ever landed.

The caveat that I mentioned earlier is the offensive line. The projected starting offensive line will have a combined 40 career starts headed into the season, and all of those come from guards Josh Harris and Dylan Intemann. Wake is expected to start redshirt freshman at left tackle, center, and right tackle, which are probably the three most important positions on the line. The line should be more physical and athletic than it was a year ago, but that youth and inexperience is very concerning for the upcoming season.

 

The good news is that the Wake Forest defense actually had a pretty impressive season in 2014, especially when you consider just how badly the offense struggled. Notre Dame should have one of the tougher attacks that the Demon Deacons face — how will they stack up against Notre Dame’s ground game, and how will they replace first rounder Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel?

I think Wake will match up well against Notre Dame’s rushing attack, as the front seven should be the strength of this defense. Wake Forest has one of ,if not, the best linebacker units in the ACC. The major question mark, which you alluded to, is the secondary. I believe Wake Forest will be fine at the safety position, as both Ryan Janvion and Thomas Brown are experienced.

The problem will be that the corners who were supposed to replace Johnson and Noel have been injured and unable to get practice reps in. Brad Watson will presumably be Wake’s top corner this year, but he injured his wrist and missed spring practice. Transfer Bryant Gross-Armiento was also expected to compete for a starting job, but he recovering from a torn ACL. It’s very probable that at least one of freshmen Dionte Austin and Amari Henderson will see the field this season. They are both talented, but it’s never ideal to be starting a true freshman corner, unless he’s a very elite prospect.

 

Can you give us a quick rundown of who else should be impressive on the Deacs defense?

The most notable person on the defense is linebacker Brandon Chubb, who could potentially be a 1st-team all-ACC player this season. Linebacker Marquel Lee also stands an excellent chance to make an all-conference team. On the defensive line, Josh Banks is Wake’s biggest playmaker.

 

It’s not much of a question, but I wanted to mention that I appreciate the Heisman campaign you guys started for punter Alex Kinal. Help Irish fans understand what they’ve been missing from the “Australian Assassin.”

It’s unfortunate when your punter is on pace to shatter the NCAA record for punt attempts in a career, but that’s where Alex Kinal stands headed into his senior season. In addition to punting a lot, he does have a very strong leg and can punt with accuracy using a rugby style kick. Given Wake’s poor offense, I expect that Notre Dame fans will be very familiar with Alex Kinal’s work.

 

After not playing each other for literally the entirety of each program, Notre Dame and Wake Forest will face off for the third time in five years. Does the game still garner the interest that it did when Notre Dame visited Winston-Salem back in 2011?

It does not for me, and I think that’s directly related to Wake’s decline since that time. Wake was winning the 2011 game 17-10 at halftime, before losing 24-17. There was a great atmosphere at that game because Wake fans thought the team had a legitimate chance to win, which they clearly did.

I went to South Bend in 2012 for the experience, but Wake lost 38-0. I expect another blowout this year, and really have no special interest in this game due to Wake’s very low probability of winning. For that reason, I have a lot more interest in Wake’s winnable games such as Wake’s game at Syracuse.

 

Even in July, this game looks pretty lopsided on paper. A year after winning only against Gardner-Webb, Army—and in one of the more amazing games in modern football history—Virginia Tech, what do you expect in 2015 from the Deacs?

Unfortunately, I believe that 2015 will be another rebuilding year, but it seems clear that the first four games will be very telling. If Wake Forest is going to make a bowl game (big if), then the first four games are critical. Wake’s first four games include Elon, at Syracuse, at Army, and Indiana at home. Wake Forest could go 4-0 during that stretch, but it’s far more likely that the Deacs go 2-2.

In general, I believe that Wake Forest will demonstrate potential this year, but ultimately will be too young to win many games. Last season, Wake had a few older players who were talented, namely Johnson and Merrill Noel, but not much else. There are only a handful of seniors on this year’s roster, and many underclassmen are projected to be starters. I expect the team to improve throughout the season, show flashes of potential, but ultimately not win more than 3 or 4 games.

Irish A-to-Z: Jarron Jones

Notre Dame v Syracuse
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After struggling to find his way in the program as a defensive end, Jarron Jones saw a lightbulb come on after filling in for Louis Nix at nose guard. With no other options available, the Irish defensive staff called on Jones to fill Nix’s sizeable void, and Jones responded—turning the trajectory of his career around in the process.

While his 2014 season was ended early because of injuries, Jones continued to make progress as a defensive tackle, showing dominant moments in Brian VanGorder’s system while still learning to refine his technique. And with NFL hopes for the future, Jones has a chance to parlay one great senior season into a career on Sundays, all while earning his degree in the process.

Early in his career, a fifth-year didn’t seem likely, but because Jones wasn’t fulfilling his obligations to the team. If all goes according to plan in 2015, a fifth-year won’t be necessary.

Let’s take a look at Jarron Jones.

 

JARRON JONES
6’5.5″, 315 lbs.
Senior, No. 94, DL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Jones had elite offers out of high school, and was viewed as a Top 200 player by Rivals and a US Army All-American. Earlier in the recruiting cycle, Jones was close to a five-star ranking, though his struggles in San Antonio dropped his ceiling.

But offers from Alabama, Ohio State, Auburn, Florida, Michigan and Florida State all point to a very high ceiling.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2012): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2013): Appeared in 12 games, making one start against Stanford. Had 20 total tackles on the season, including a sack against Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl. Played his best game against BYU, where he made seven tackles and blocked a fourth quarter field goal, one of two kicks Jones blocked in 2013.

Junior Season (2014): Played and started in Notre Dame’s first 11 games before a foot injury ended his season. His 40 tackles tied Sheldon Day for most tackles from a defensive lineman. He finished tied for second on the team with 7.5 TFLs.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Nailed it.

I’m expecting a big season from Jones, who will still be learning on the go, but has all the physical traits you’d want in a front-line defensive line starter. If there’s one thing that has me most excited about Jones is the maturity that seems to have found him. A conversation I had with him after the BYU game had Jones taking responsibility for the lack of impact he’d made so far in his college career.

“Just me being young and not focused,” Jones said last November. “It was all over the place. It was in the classroom, it was also just me in general, I kinda saw myself like, ‘Where’s my life going?’ That’s when I kind of realized I needed to tighten the screw a lot.”

Maturity helps. So does an advantageous scheme. Jones is a better fit playing in the A-gap as opposed to having to play the traditional nose guard position that Nix did. And he’ll have a big responsibility in the Irish defense, wreaking havoc up front and freeing up Joe Schmidt, Nyles Morgan or Jarrett Grace to make tackles from the Mike linebacker spot.

When Kelly and the Irish coaching staff landed Jones as a recruit, he looked like the next in line as the Irish successfully reeled in blue-chip defensive linemen after a decade of struggles. It may have taken a little bit longer for the lightbulb to go on, but Jones seems back on the right track.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

The sky is the limit. Jones would do wise to note the final seasons of Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt if he’s considering this his last year in South Bend. Neither of those two put together solid seasons on tape and they entered the NFL on the wrong foot, leading to draft day slides and largely invisible rookie campaigns.

When Jones is engaged and at his best, he’s blowing up the line of scrimmage and making things tough on opponents. When he’s not? He’s a big body that gets out of position and struggles with fundamentals.

Jones’ recovery from foot surgery is one of the biggest questions of the offseason. Coming back in shape and healthy is critical if the Irish want to be as good as they think they can be, and Jones as dominant as he expects.

The NFL will always be there. And a fifth-year would allow Jones to play a season with his brother. But a great 2015 season needs to come first. And then the hard decisions—neither a bad one—can follow.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Keith Gilmore has a very moldable piece of clay in Jones, and he’s likely spent a lot of this summer getting to know one of his star pupils. I think there’s more Notre Dame can get out of Jones as a pass rusher, and hopefully Gilmore does a good job of unlocking that.

Jones has an interesting first seven weeks, including two dates against option, cut-blocking offenses. At nearly 6-foot-6, if he’s capable of keeping his lower body healthy, he’s also primed to put up very big numbers, with a double-digit TFL season on the horizon.

That’s the baseline of my expectations, and I think Jones will also make an impact with another blocked kick (or two) in 2015, adding to the four career blocks he already has. But the duo of Jones and Sheldon Day has the potential to be one of the most dominant tackle pairings in college football, and could bring the Irish back to the glory days of the Holtz era when you think about wreaking havoc on the inside.

I’m all in on Jones, but he’s got to prove that he’s healthy to unlock the potential just about everybody sees.

 

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