Dallas Morning News

Irish A-to-Z: Jalen Guyton

3 Comments

(Editor’s note: Our first five-yard penalty for alphabetizing mistake. Carry on.) 

 

Notre Dame’s wide receiving depth chart is fast becoming one of the toughest two-deeps to crack. And that was before the freshman class stepped on campus. Among that new group is Jalen Guyton, the most electric playmaker on the top team in the state of Texas.

Guyton comes to South Bend from Allen, Texas, where he put up video game numbers as a high school senior. So while the road to the field might be backed up with guys like Will Fuller, Corey Robinson and Chris Brown, Guyton will be given every opportunity to fight for his chance.

Let’s take a look at the native Texan.

 

JALEN GUYTON
6’0″, 180 lbs.
Freshman, No. 83, WR

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Three-star recruit who was No. 39 on the Dallas Morning News’ Top 100. USA Football U-18 participant. State Champion at Allen.

Guyton had offers from Arizona State, Baylor, Ole Miss, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Stanford and Texas A&M.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Without getting a look at him with the Irish, Guyton reminds me of a prep-version of Will Fuller, the type of high school player who just explodes off the highlight reel. Sure, Guyton was buoyed by playing with 5-star QB prospect Kyler Murray. But Guyton made Murray look good, too.

Guyton won’t jump off the screen by his sheer physicality, but if he can run—and it sure looks like he can—he’ll be able to get behind defenses and make them pay vertically. Brian Kelly praised his versatility on Signing Day, talking about the ability to move Guyton around to all three positions, just like Allen did during a senior season where Guyton scored a ridiculous 22 touchdowns and had 1,700 receiving yards.

A statistically dominant incoming freshman who just did so at the highest level of high school football in the country? Not a bad place to start.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

While I think Guyton might be one of Notre Dame’s most under-the-radar recruits, I also wonder how he’s going to find his way onto the field. On the outside, Guyton needs to find snaps behind Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Corey Robinson. In the slot, there’s Amir Carlisle, C.J. Prosise (he’s still going to play some receiver) and guys like Torii Hunter, Corey Holmes and Justin Brent that’ll likely be in front of him.

That said, if Guyton is good enough to see the field, he’ll likely do so. Possibly in a “designated deep threat” role that we saw from Fuller and Brown as freshmen, if only to get his feet wet. He also could be a candidate for a late-start redshirt, seeing the field in the first few weeks before shutting it down for the season, just for a taste.

There’s no obvious fit for Guyton, who has nice size but hardly is a human mismatch. But that doesn’t mean the future’s not bright for a well-developed high school player who enters Notre Dame with probably the most impressive senior season of any recruit.

 

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

Mailbag: Hard Knocks, Navy hangover and OSU envy

150608_MalikZaire
27 Comments

 

Thanks for a nice batch of mailbag questions. Other than the usual trolling (new usernames and IP addresses, clever!), it’s fun to see what’s on everybody’s mind in the final weeks before camp gets started.

(I am not ready for that. Are you guys?)

Anyway, we’ll split these up with a few answers coming over the weekend.

 

@qsvdoan: If there was a “Hard Knocks: Notre Dame”, what player/coach is the breakout star?

I love this question. And I’d love to see a Hard Knocks: ND, because I’ve seen enough team-building rope swing exercises from Culver Academy to last me a lifetime.

I can’t go with just one person, so here’s how I’d be producing Hard Knocks, and these are the three breakout stars that I’d focus my attention on.

MALIK ZAIRE: This is a no-brainer. There’s charisma and then there’s Zaire’s charisma. This kid just oozes confidence and just about any Hard Knocks deserves to have an episode or two focused on the quarterback that’s ascending to the top of the depth chart. (Wasn’t this like two entire seasons of Friday Night Lights and the entire plot of Varsity Blues and The Program?)

Can’t you just picture the episode where the camera crew goes in tight on Zaire, with new QB coach Mike Sanford watching closely, hands on his knees, behind him, as Zaire rips off a perfect spiral — sweat flying off his forehead in slo-mo — as the ball splashes into the catching net?

JERRY TILLERY: This kid had me when he talked about starting Yoga and Yogurt in his dorm. Talk about moxie from an early-enrollee freshman, who likely was surrounded by co-eds wearing Lululemon while his buddies were all scoffing at the idea, only to be secretly jealous and unfortunately unable to touch their toes. (If I had a Delorean, you can bet that Stanford Hall circa 1999 would have Yoga and Yogurt…not just Keystone Light and Nintendo games.)

And as interesting as Tillery is off the field, his place on the field is even more intriguing. I fully expect him to be the biggest impact freshman on the team, crazy when you consider he’ll be playing behind Jarron Jones and Sheldon Day.

AUTRY DENSON: I toyed with picking Todd Lyght, but Denson was “my running back” while I was a student at Notre Dame, and I always appreciated the work he put in off the field and the style of runner that he was on it.

Denson might not be the operator on the recruiting trail that Tony Alford is, but for as vital as Alford was on the Irish coaching staff, I think there’s an argument to be made that the new blood with be helpful to the running back depth chart.

With Greg Bryant’s reported suspension, two new young running backs, C.J. Prosise transitioning between two positions and Tarean Folston ready to launch, keeping the focus on Denson and his work with the backs would be fascinating.

 

@drewbrennan: 2007-2014, ND’s record week after NAVY is 2-6. This yr we play USC. Why do we do this to ourselves? Will this yr be different?

I get it. And I actually think there’s something to the “Navy Hangover effect,” a phenomenon I believe coined by buddy Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports. Sure, the game is physically taxing and the cut-blocks tend to probably do more damage to your defensive line than a standard blocking scheme. But I think the mental energy that comes with facing off against the Midshipmen is just as big of an issue — and the let down comes after the toughest mental challenge of the season.

That said, you really can’t complain much about Notre Dame’s scheduling for 2016. Consider that they had to take a stick of dynamite to plans that had been laid for close to a decade and figure a way out of some seriously sticky situations when Jack Swarbrick and Father Jenkins decided to join the ACC in all sports but football. (It was easily the best move for the university and Notre Dame sports, all while preserving independence in football.)

The first seven weeks of the season are tough ones, and they’ll likely power training camp and summer workouts, as getting out of the gate quickly will be vital. But stopping the option game this season will be the difference between a great year and a good one, considering Navy, Georgia Tech and Boston College all have power running attacks.

 

goirish0112: Can you give further insight/analysis to your comment in the last mailbag that ND’s offense has been too QB reliant in the recent past, perhaps in comparison to the Ohio State offense which you mentioned is not so much.

I’m not sure this will give you exactly what you want, but my point was a fairly simple one. Ohio State managed to win a national title playing their third quarterback. They did so relying on a very strong running game and a defense that held firm against some of the country’s top competition in the CFB Playoffs.

There’s been a lot of Ohio State envy among Notre Dame fans these past two seasons. That comes with the still-lingering lust for Urban Meyer from a certain part of the Irish fanbase, but also from the results—Meyer gets more out of less than any coach in college football.

That’s not to say that Brian Kelly is an underachiever. This is a head coach who won at a very good clip at every stop he’s been. And he’s slowly rebuilt Notre Dame’s program depth to match-up with other elite programs, not the easiest after following the trio of Davie-Willingham-Weis.

But there’s a frustration after watching the Irish last year. Notre Dame’s offense was feast or famine, reliant on the performance of Everett Golson. Of course, the offense was fully leveraged after the defense lost some key contributors from a unit with zero margin for error. And once the defense failed to stop anybody for the final six games of the season after injuries took hold, it only put more pressure on Golson to perform. And he couldn’t do it.

In 2012, Notre Dame pulled off a near perfect mix/match of offense and defense, utilizing a stout defense and a conservative ground game to make sure that the Irish won football games, in any manner necessary. In 2014, the calculus of an offense that was Kelly’s most explosive–but also one of its most mistake-prone—and a defense that started strong and aggressive but failed to hold its own in either the red zone (or any zone after injuries took hold), made the formula to winning games very quarterback reliant. And as the turnovers on offense took hold and the floodgates opened on defense, Golson just couldn’t shake the mistakes.

Brian Kelly and his staff aren’t idiots. They ham-and-egged their way to a national title appearance just two seasons ago with a first-year starter at quarterback. So with the addition of Mike Sanford and new blood on Brian VanGorder’s defensive staff, expect a different recipe for victory in 2015. And it’ll likely be less about putting the game on Malik Zaire’s throwing arm and more about utilizing the best parts of the offense, some very strong playmaking personnel and a veteran and powerful offensive line.

 

 

 

 

Irish A-to-Z: Mark Harrell

Mark Harrell
6 Comments

As a versatile senior along the offensive line, senior Mark Harrell is something we haven’t seen around Notre Dame in quite some time: Veteran Depth. No, we haven’t seen much from Harrell in his three seasons in South Bend. But he’s among the elder statesmen in Harry Hiestand’s position group, and a piece of the puzzle that can shift inside and out.

Harrell’s only seen action in two games, but has moved around the depth chart—spending some time as a backup center last spring, and now seemingly working at both tackle and guard to provide depth. While it’ll take some injuries to move Harrell into the starting lineup, the senior from Charlotte enters his fourth year looking to make an impact both on and off the field.

 

MARK HARRELL
6’4″, 306 lbs.
Senior, No. 75, OL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

The first-team All-State performer had offers from Michigan, Auburn, Clemson, North Carolina, South Carolina, Stanford and Tennessee. He also was a four-star prospect according to some services.

Harrell also got an “RKG” blast during Brian Kelly’s Signing Day press conference, giving you a look at the student-athlete off the field as well.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2012): Did not see action, saving a year of eligibility.

Sophomore Season (2013): Did not see action.

Junior Season (2014): Played in two games, seeing action against Rice and Michigan. Served as a backup at center, with the ability to also play guard and tackle.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Pretty much nailed it:

If we end up seeing Harrell in regular duty, it’s likely because something went wrong with injuries. If Harrell’s at center, it means Nick Martin and Matt Hegarty are down. If he’s in at guard, it’ll be because of an injury to Christian Lombard, Steve Elmer or Conor Hanratty.

Playing on special teams seems to be the most likely scenario for Harrell this season. It’ll give him an opportunity to provide depth, see live action after two seasons of practicing and add experienced depth to the roster. In years past, Harrell was the type of guy who would be starting by his junior season. It says quite a bit about the depth that he’s just fighting to stay relevant.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Put frankly, not everybody can be a starter. And that’s the path Harrell is on—a reserve along one of the better offensive lines we’ve seen at Notre Dame in a long, long time.

From the looks of it, Harrell is making the most of his college experience. He was one of Notre Dame’s student-athletes that took advantage of the study abroad opportunities that took place this summer, touring South Africa with a group of Irish athletes.

Harrell will also likely have an opportunity to pursue opportunities after this season if he wants to, with the potential to graduate and transfer to a lower-tier program to play as a fifth-year graduate transfer.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Harrell has the type of positional versatility you want in a backup. He served as a reserve center last year during the Blue-Gold game, and while he’s no longer on the depth chart behind Nick Martin, he’d likely be called upon in a pinch rather than burning Tristen Hoge’s redshirt. What happens if Ronnie Stanley or Mike McGlinchey go down at tackle is largely a mystery as well, so there’s likely playing opportunities, but again, only if things start to go awry.

Harrell will likely spend some time on special teams in 2015, capable of taking some snaps on field goal and punt teams. But the depth chart is packed and one of the toughest spots to get on the field, and Harrell’s lack of opportunity is largely because of the talent in front of him.

 

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

DE Adetokunbo Ogundeji commits to Notre Dame

Adetokunbo Ogundeji
38 Comments

In their search for a pass rusher, Notre Dame added an intriguing piece to the puzzle in Michigan defensive end Adetokunbo Ogundeji. The 6-foot-5, 225-pounder picked the Irish over offers from Rutgers, Oregon, Cal and Toledo in a ceremony on Thursday evening. Ogundeji was an early commitment to Western Michigan until he reopened his recruitment as his game tape spread across college football.

While his name will likely force some spelling lessons across ND Nation, Ogundeji is everything you want in a developmental prospect at defensive end. He camped at Notre Dame in late June, earning strong reviews from the Irish staff and defensive line coach Keith Gilmore. Less than a month later, Ogundeji decided to shut down his recruitment, all but sold on Notre Dame.

While space is limited in the 2016 recruiting class, the Irish staff is out to a quick start recruiting the edge of the defense. Ogundeji joins Julian Okwara as a pass rushing defensive end recruit. Jamir Jones also could slide to defensive end as well, though he’s currently an outside linebacker. None of the three are considered elite prospects, but they were early targets and lands for the coaching staff.

Ogundeji makes recruit No. 13 in a class that’s quickly doubled in size over the past month. With some big names hitting campus in the next few weeks, a usually quiet time is turning into premium recruiting season for the Irish staff, before the focus turns to training camp.

 

 

 

Irish A-to-Z: Jarrett Grace

Temple v Notre Dame
9 Comments

His long road back after a catastrophic injury has been well-discussed. Now Jarrett Grace gets to the fun part—finding his way back to the middle of the Irish defense.

The fifth-year linebacker looked primed to be the heir apparent to Manti Te’o entering 2013. But a shattered leg and Joe Schmidt’s ascent made that impossible. Now Grace will play a critical role in the Irish defense, regardless of if he’s on the field or off.

The Cincinnati product injected immediate enthusiasm into spring practice, his first work with the team after multiple surgeries and a grueling rehabilitation process. Now Grace is in the middle of a packed linebacker depth chart, with the veteran still working his way back to the new normal, running on a leg that should be attached to the Terminator, not a college linebacker.

When he takes the field against Texas, Grace will be proving so many wrong who thought his career ended that fateful evening against Arizona State in 2013. (And it very well should have.) But there’s more to accomplish for one of Notre Dame’s most impressive student-athletes.

Let’s dig in.

 

JARRETT GRACE
6’2.5″, 253 lbs.
Grad Student, No. 59, LB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Grace picked Notre Dame over Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Alabama and Stanford, a victory for a coach who desperately needed a big-bodied athlete like Grace to man the interior of Bob Diaco’s 3-4 system.

Grace may not have been a true blue-chipper by recruiting analysts’ standards, but his offer list certainly was elite.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2011): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2012): Played in all 13 games, serving as Manti Te’o’s backup while anchoring Notre Dame’s special teams. He made 12 tackles, 10 on special teams, including eight on kickoff coverage.

Junior Season (2013): Played in the season’s first six games, leading the team in tackles at the time of his injury against Arizona State. Had split starting duties with Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese.  Notre Dame’s Rockne Scholar Athlete.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Last spring, Grace underwent another surgery to help his leg—swapping out a steel rod that wasn’t quite taking. That all but meant the 2014 season was a goner, even if the official word out of Brian Kelly was hopeful.

Still, give credit to the athletic training staff that Grace is able to complete this comeback. I hinted at their role in this recovery last season, and Grace has publicly talked about the support he’s received as well.

There’s no player you should root for more to come back from injury than Grace. The team’s Rockne scholar-athlete of the year in 2013, Grace has all the leadership traits you could ask for in a football player, and has immense respect in the team’s locker room, earned while waiting his turn to play behind Manti Te’o for two seasons.

If this was five years ago, I suspect Grace would already be facing a medical hardship waiver and his football career in South Bend would be over. But the team’s enhanced medical staff and willingness to go above and beyond for its student-athletes with cutting edge rehabilitation techniques gives Grace the best chance he could possibly ask for to return from this injury.

While a return for the season opener against Rice is the goal, giving Grace a full calendar year to return isn’t unreasonable. If that means getting him back for the stretch run, it’s better than most should have expected. Notre Dame has a good experience on their side in the return of Torii Hunter from a freak bone break. But even that came after a setback in recovery, necessitating a redshirt 2013 season.

Grace is a senior with two years of competition remaining. So while the timing for the injury is unfortunate, getting anything out of the linebacker this season would be a huge bonus for Grace and the Irish.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

At this point, we just need to see how Grace looks when he’s back on the field. We’ve heard repeatedly from Brian Kelly how well Grace’s recovery is going, but at the same time we’ve also heard that there’s still work to be done before Grace is back to his full explosiveness.

It’s hard not to think of former Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich when you talk about Grace. Herzlich heroically returned from bone cancer in his leg and just recently signed a new two-year deal with the New York Giants.

Grace wasn’t the standout that Herzlich was when he got injured, but he had the potential to be that good. If Grace can fully recover and salvage an NFL career after some dark, dark days, it’d be a tremendous story and a credit to a very impressive kid.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Are you going to doubt Grace? Because I sure don’t want to. That being said, how he fits into the puzzle remains to be seen.

You have to assume Joe Schmidt returns to the middle of the Irish defense. He was the mental hub of the unit in 2014, and his departure all but coincided with the demise of the unit. Throw in a promising young linebacker in Nyles Morgan, and Grace is competing for playing time with two very good linebackers.

Setting aside Grace’s recovery—which is the ultimate barometer—where Notre Dame uses Jaylon Smith will likely dictate how much time Grace gets in packages. If Smith is shifting in and out and being utilized in the pass rush, Grace can play in the middle. And if Schmidt can cross-train at will, Grace and his size/reach advantage can hold ground at the mike spot.

Even if Grace plays a role similar to the one Cam McDaniel did as a senior captain, he’ll help the defense improve by just being in uniform and filling a leadership role. But if he’s healthy, Grace’s ceiling is so much higher than just spot duty, so here’s hoping that he gets some of the spoils that he richly deserves.

 

 

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