Cleveland Plain Dealer

Irish A-to-Z: Shaun Crawford

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Great football players come in all shapes and sizes. Incoming freshman Shaun Crawford will likely prove that. The diminutive cornerback comes to South Bend looking to make a big impact.

But for as impressive as Crawford looks to be coming in, at one time the a 5-foot-9 cover man didn’t seem destined for Notre Dame. He didn’t fit into Bob Diaco’s plans when he was still coordinating the Irish defense. But Brian VanGorder’s takeover led to an immediate offer to Crawford. And an early Michigan commitment didn’t last through the summer before Crawford flipped to the Irish.

A versatile playmaker who could also have an impact on special teams, let’s take a look at the Ohio native.

 

SHAUN CRAWFORD
5’9″, 170 lbs.
Freshman, No. 14, DB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Under Armour All-American. Four-star prospect. No. 84 overall player by Rivals. Ohio State champion. First-team All-State. Offers from Florida State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Miami and several others.

Crawford’s another “grow 2.5 inches and he’s a five-star” prospect. He actually got pretty close to that ranking at 5-foot-9.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

As we try and get into the heads of Notre Dame’s evolving recruiting priorities, something Brian Kelly said months ago gives you an idea as to why this staff coveted Crawford the way that they did. Kelly mentioned the importance of slot cornerbacks and in his growing friendship with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, Kelly talked about the importance of not just lock-down cover men, but corners who can defend inside receivers. That’s pretty much Crawford to a tee, so much so that I think he might be playing from Day One in the slot against Texas.

From there, Crawford’s career likely grows once KeiVarae Russell departs. There’s just too much talent for him not to see the field as a freshman, and I think he’s one of the true impact players in a recruiting class that’s going to end up being a very, very good one.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Greg Bryant’s reported four-game suspension likely opens a door for Crawford to get a shot at returning punts for the Irish in addition to battling for snaps in nickel and dime coverage packages.

Crawford’s instincts are part of what makes him such a dynamic football player. While physically there’s not much he’s going to be able to do about getting matched up with a 6-4 receiver, Crawford could also be part of the solution at safety, especially if something goes wrong with Plan A and Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate.

Throwing too much on the shoulders of a freshman defensive back is never wise. But it would be smart to give Crawford a specific assignment—like the Irish did with Elijah Shumate during the 2012 title run—and let him go to work.

 

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

 

 

 

 

Offseason Q&A: Clemson

South Carolina v Clemson
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When you look at Notre Dame’s 2015 schedule, it’s hard to skip past the Irish’s trip to Clemson. Returning to Death Valley for the first time since Joe Montana led a comeback victory in 1977, Brian Kelly’s squad will take on Dabo Swinney’s impressive team, the makings of a football game with College Football Playoff implications.

There’s a rising star at quarterback, but a new offensive brain trust. A year after putting together the finest statistical defense in the country, there’s a renovation taking place there as well.

To get us up to speed on the offseason comings and goings of the Tigers is Shakin the Southland‘s Brian Lewis.

Hope you enjoy.

 

 

Perhaps one best parts of the move into the ACC was the chance to play a program like Clemson. This will only be the third time the two programs have played, with Joe Montana pulling out a comeback victory in Death Valley during their 1977 national title season and the Tigers winning in South Bend two years later.

What should Notre Dame expect from the home crowd in early October? Is this game a special one on the schedule for Clemson fans as well?

While it isn’t an ACC game, this is easily one of the biggest games on Clemson’s schedule this year. Though there isn’t a lot of history between both schools, Clemson fans always enjoy playing the bigger names in college football, and this will be an excellent opportunity for a statement win. As for the crowd, Clemson fans will definitely be up for this one. Even if the Tigers are not undefeated they will be excited to get a victory against what could be a top 10 team by that point. If things fall right this will hopefully be a night game adding a special intensity to it like the Clemson – UGA game in 2013.

 

On paper, there seem to be two gigantic departures from the Clemson program. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris and… basically the majority of the nation’s top statistical defense.

Let’s start with Morris. Will the Clemson offense look any different? And how will a two-headed co-coordinator approach work in replacing a guy many think is one of the top minds in college football?

The assumption right now is the Clemson offense is going to be pretty similar under Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott. Both continued Morris’ HUNH offense in our Russell Athletic Bowl victory over Oklahoma, and spring practice indicates they will keep that HUNH approach as well. The one area I’m going to be interested in seeing is playcalling.

While we all love Morris and what he did here, his playcalling could be a little suspect at times. There were several games where Clemson got behind by 7-10 points and Morris stopped running the ball. This led to Tajh Boyd, in previous seasons, to press throws and feel like he had to make plays. Unsurprisingly this led to turnovers and the game falling further out of reach. Despite a lackluster OL I home both coordinators will stick with the running game to keep defenses honest.

 

Not watching a ton of Clemson last year, the stat that sticks out to me about the defense was the fact that six guys from the unit were invited to the NFL Combine. That’s a lot of talent. Brent Venables was pretty candid with SI.com when talking about rebuilding his defense, saying, “It wasn’t odd, it was depressing.”

How big of a step back do you expect this unit to take? And is it more of a reload than a rebuild?

Early on this is definitely going to be a rebuilding year for the defense. Clemson had the #1 ranked defense in the country last year and we lost too much talent. I’m not even sure an Alabama or LSU would be able to reload after what we lost. That said, there is definitely some potential. We have one of the top cornerbacks in college returning in Mackenzie Alexander, and enough pieces in spots to have a solid starting XI.

The problem is going to be depth. Last year on the DL we had 8 guys that would start at most schools, now we are down to a starting 4 that has potential but not a lot of experience. I think the defense gets better as the year goes on, but it might be frustrating for Clemson fans. The 2 early season cupcake games are going to be crucial here to build confidence and ability.

 

Let’s talk about Dabo Swinney. He didn’t get out to the quickest start after taking over the program, but Clemson has won at least 10 games in four straight seasons. He seems like a guy that players love and he certainly has recruited well.

Help Notre Dame fans understand who Swinney is as a coach, and why he’s had the success he’s had at Clemson.

I liken Dabo to the loveable but slightly nuts uncle every family has. He’s a lot of fun to be around despite some of the odd things he does. Dabo has done pretty well at Clemson because he is first and foremost a recruiter. Kids want to come play at Clemson and Dabo has done a tremendous job of selling Clemson as well as the family atmosphere around the team.

Coach Swinney is never going to be a big X’s and O’s nut like other coaches, but he’s done a good job of learning from his mistakes and bringing in talented coordinators. Clemson is experiencing its most successful stretch of results since the 1980’s and it is hard to argue with what Dabo’s done. But there are questions about if he can take the next step and deliver a national title to Clemson. If he does that he will easily be considered one of the two best coaches in Clemson history alongside Danny Ford.

 

Deshaun Watson sure seems like a star in the making. A tremendous freshman season seems to have been derailed by injuries, the most serious an ACL tear late in the year.

How is his recovery coming along? And with the supporting cast surrounding him, just how good do you expect him to be in 2015?

Everything points to Deshaun Watson being ready for the start of the season and hopefully the start of Fall Camp. It is not an exaggeration to say that Clemson’s season lives and dies based on the health of Watson. Behind Watson we have Nick Schuessler, originally a walk on, and two freshman in Tucker Israel and Kelly Bryant. Needless to say I’m not exactly excited about what happens if Watson gets hurt.

Around Watson there is a lot of talent at the skill positions. We have a nice group of RBs that while lacking a breakout star should provide some relief in the running game. At wide receiver Clemson is loaded once again with Mike Williams and Artavis Scott. Really almost all of Clemson’s top 6 receivers can play and do some damage to opposing defenses. The real problem comes on the OL. The unit can pass block to a decent level, but the run blocking is atrocious. If our OL can approach competent then this could be a special year for Clemson

As for Watson’s season, if he stays healthy I think he becomes a darkhorse Heisman candidate. He has excellent poise in the pocket and has shown an ability to make some beautiful throws. He is also a threat when he’s running the ball. There will definitely be some times he’ll struggle during the season, but I think he’s going to be fine and emerge as one of the top QBs in the nation. Of course all of this comes with the qualifier of staying healthy. He’s had 3 significant injuries in the past 12 months and durability is definitely a question.

 

News broke last week that Clemson’s starting left tackle Isaiah Battle would be leaving the program and going into the Supplemental Draft. What does that departure do to the offensive line? 

It definitely doesn’t help Clemson. While Battle has never reached the first round potential he showed his freshman year, he was an experienced OL that was at least average in the passing game. With his departure Clemson is likely to start freshman Mitch Hyatt at LT.

Thankfully Hyatt enrolled early and had an excellent spring, but it is always a big ask when you need a freshman to play a critical role on the OL, especially with the injury woes Deshaun Watson has. At this point any injury, suspension, or dismissal along the OL is going to be critical to Clemson.

 

What’s the best case / worst case scenario for Clemson in 2015? Is this a game that you expect the Tigers to win?

I think this year’s Clemson team is not as talented as last year’s team, but could have a better record. Clemson finished last year 9-3 and with how our schedule sets up the team could easily be 10-2. Games against Florida State, South Carolina, and Notre Dame are the big three and we should win at least 1 of those three if not 2. Helping us is the fact that we have Notre Dame and FSU at home this year, same with Georgia Tech who always gives us trouble.

A Thursday night visit to Louisville is also a concern, but Clemson should win that one and FSU-Clemson in Novemeber will likely determine the ACC Atlantic Division Champion once again. Of course if Deshaun Watson gets hurt I’m going to just sit in the corner and cry.

Irish A-to-Z: Te’von Coney

Courtesy of Notre Dame Media Relations
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While Jerry Tillery stole the headlines, fellow classmate Te’von Coney more than held his own this spring. The linebacker may have entered a packed depth chart at linebacker, but he solidified his place as a key cog in the future plans of Notre Dame’s defense.

Coney arrived on campus looking like a readymade player, with the type of athleticism and physique that hardly resembled a kid who should’ve spent the spring in high school. While he’s a few inches shorter than ideal, the future is bright for the Florida native, especially after regulars Joe Schmidt and Jaylon Smith depart.

Let’s take a closer look at Te’von Coney.

 

TE’VON CONEY
6’0″, 230 lbs.
Freshman, No. 4, LB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

An Under Armour All-American, Coney was a consensus four-star prospect. Coney chose Notre Dame over Florida, Miami, Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State and dozens more.

Coney was at the top of Notre Dame’s linebacking board and attended the Irish Invasion summer camp. Thanks to Will Muschamp’s demise in Gainesville, it was even easier for Coney to make the tough decision to pack his things and move north, leaving behind the comfort of the Gators to make a go of it in South Bend.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

While it’s mighty difficult to be a “plug-and-play” linebacker in Brian VanGorder’s system, Coney’s closer to that than even Nyles Morgan was. This might be a bold statement, but if Jerry Tillery is the top prospect in the 2015 recruiting class, he’s only ahead of Coney when it comes to upside potential.

Coney has everything you want in a linebacker, especially one playing in the Irish system. Whether he’s a mike or will, he’ll be a playmaker, and after 15 practices with this staff they believe there’s a future standout in Coney.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I’m not sure how Coney makes his impact this season, but I expect him to play. He’ll be a regular on special teams, and will likely fight his way into the rotation, especially if Jaylon Smith plays on the edge of the defense.

There’s an argument for redshirting Coney, saving a year of eligibility and then allowing him to plug in with Nyles Morgan in 2016. But I just think there’s too much talent here to assume Coney will stay in South Bend for five seasons, so might as well make the most out of the talented rookie.

Bold prediction: Blue-chipper Justin Hilliard may have been the linebacker Irish fans thought was the must-have prospect in the class. But when all is said and done, I expect Coney to be the more productive college player.

 

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

Irish A-to-Z: Nick Coleman

Nick Coleman
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Hailing from the same high school that brought the Irish Malik Zaire, incoming freshman Nick Coleman looks to infuse the same type of unlikely toughness to the secondary that Zaire brings to the quarterback position. The early Irish commitment will enter as a cornerback, though starred as an All-State running back at Alter.

A projection at the position though a capable athlete who should fit in nicely, the Irish staff took an early shot at Coleman when he was mostly garnering mid-level offers. But that three-star ranking disappears now that he’s on campus.

Let’s look closer at incoming freshman Nick Coleman.

 

NICK COLEMAN
6’0″, 180 lbs.
Freshman, No. 24, DB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

An offer from Michigan State sticks out, but Coleman did most of his work in high school as a running back. The three-star prospect certainly shows better than average athleticism, but he was an early target, developmental-type of recruit that didn’t win many accolades from the recruiting services.

But Coleman was a first-team All-State running back, no small feat in the football crazy state. So while his transition to college will likely depend on how quickly he and Todd Lyght sync up, he’s the type of player that Kelly and his staff have done well developing.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Physicality is what sticks out for Coleman, and he’s got the length and strength that you want from a cornerback. He also looks like a versatile cover guy who can hold his own in the slot as well.

Again, there’s more projection than usual in this evaluation because most of the highlights you see from Coleman are him running away from defenders as a running back. That ability to be a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands should come in handy when it’s time to stop the guy with the football.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

He might not be highly rated, but I love the type of football player Coleman was in high school. So while I could see him redshirting and saving a year of eligibility, I could also see him becoming a sponge and contributing in the secondary and on special teams this year.

If Drue Tranquill found a niche in this secondary as safety in sub-packages, it’s worth considering that Coleman could do something similar in a coverage capacity. While classmate Shaun Crawford looks the better bet for that assignment, Crawford’s an intriguing and versatile athlete worth keeping an eye on.

 

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

Irish A-to-Z: Amir Carlisle

Amir Carlisle
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Entering his fifth year, Amir Carlisle has had quite a collegiate journey. Starting as a playmaking running back at USC, he came to Notre Dame and became a hard-luck, injury-plagued runner. A lingering ankle injury cost him 2012 and then a collarbone break robbed him of his next spring.

While his days at running back didn’t stick, Carlisle’s reinvention at wide receiver may be the best part of his story. As a slot receiver he’s created a niche, and one that could expand if C.J. Prosise spends extended time in the backfield.

The end of a whirlwind journey ends as the fifth-year senior tries to accomplish big things for the Irish in 2015. Let’s take a closer look at Amir Carlisle.

 

AMIR CARLISLE
5’10”, 192 lbs.
Grad Student, No. 3, WR

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Carlisle was a Top-100 player coming out of high school, originally committed to Jim Harbaugh before the Stanford coach left for the NFL. That shifted Carlisle down state to USC, with the Irish bridesmaid for the dual-threat running back.

Carlisle always looked like the type of smaller back that’d need to depend on his hands and shiftiness in space to excel — something he didn’t do as the team’s opening day starter in 2013. But that didn’t mean some of the top programs in the country weren’t after him, especially after he dazzled on the camp scene.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2011): Played in eight games for USC, carrying the ball 19 times for 118 yards. Ran for 90 yards on ten carries against Colorado. An injury ended his season early.

Sophomore Season (2012): Even though he was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA, Carlisle missed the entire season after lingering nerve damage from an ankle break before spring practice kept him off the field.

Junior Season (2013): Started four games at running back while appearing in all 13 for the Irish. Averaged 4.3 yards a carry on 47 attempts. Against Temple saw Carlisle gain 68 yards on seven carries in the season opening victory.

Senior Season (2014): Started six games at wide receiver while playing in 12 for the Irish last year. Had 23 catches for 309 yards and three touchdowns. Also had seven carries for 46 yards. Had a career-best game against Michigan, catching seven passes for 61 yards and scoring two touchdowns. Had three catches for 92 yards and a touchdown against Arizona State.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

I’m not sure I could’ve done much better than this prediction.

I’ve gone out on a ledge before on Carlisle, putting him among my ten best players on the Irish roster heading into last season. I was wrong then, though I don’t think I’d be wrong now to think he’ll contribute something to the Irish offense as a full-time receiver.

But projecting a guy who couldn’t crack five-yards a touch to all of a sudden become the next Lache Seastrunk is a pipe-dream as well. The reality is usually somewhere in the middle, so let’s just assume that’s what happens with Carlisle. And while it’s tempting to think that Carlisle will finally be the running back/hybrid that Irish fans crave a la Percy Harvin, we might get to see one or two jet sweeps or runs like TJ Jones had last season, but it’ll never be enough.

Carlisle is a talented skill player. He’s got speed and ability that didn’t often exist on this roster before Kelly came to town. A fast track in Notre Dame Stadium will help. So will the scar tissue that comes from a disappointing debut seasonat ND. But Carlisle will either make an early move next season or be surpassed by C.J. Prosise, a 220-pounder with a different physicality at the position.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

I think I overrated Carlisle in the past because I mistook his excellent lateral movement skills and his above-average speed for elite athleticism. I just don’t think he’s that good of an athlete, though he’s certainly better than most.

To that point, I think Carlisle’s going to be a very productive football player. So does the coaching staff if they moved C.J. Prosise into the backfield, leaving Carlisle to mostly man the slot.

Saying all that, there’s only so many footballs to go around. And if the Irish are going to run the football more with Malik Zaire, I’m struggling to figure out how Carlisle improves on his numbers from last season, though I certainly think he will if only because he’ll be more consistent.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Ultimately, Carlisle is going to be a handful in the slot just because of the other weapons around him. With Will Fuller on the outside, running back Tarean Folston in the backfield and Malik Zaire forcing defenses to account for him as a runner, Carlisle should have a lot of 1-on-1 opportunities in the slot.

So while I spent the past few paragraphs complaining about his athleticism, we did see a ton of big plays from Carlisle last season in his first year as a receiver. And there’s reason to believe Mike Sanford and the Irish power-trio of offensive minds will figure out how to isolate Carlisle on a safety and make a defense pay. That happened at times last season, so expect it to happen a few more in 2015.

 

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