Sanders

Irish A-to-Z: CJ Sanders

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One of the eye-opening performers on last year’s camp circuit, freshman wide receiver CJ Sanders flashed elite speed at The Opening, running one of the fastest 40-yard dashes of any player in attendance. Now on Notre Dame’s campus, it’s up to Sanders to keep running fast, especially if he wants to find his way into the mix of a crowded wide receiver depth chart.

A diminutive bolt of lightning who profiles perfectly as a slot receiver, Sanders is one of the likely beneficiaries of CJ Prosise’s cross-training at running back, competing with Torii Hunter and starter Amir Carlisle for snaps. With return abilities that up his value, Sanders looks to open some eyes at training camp, a true freshman to watch in the coming days.

 

CJ SANDERS
5’10”, 185 lbs.
Freshman, No. 9, WR

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Sanders’ performance at The Opening helped vault him to a national prospect, erasing any worry that his lack of size would make it difficult for him to compete at the highest level. A four-star prospect, Sanders had offers from Georgia, Tennessee, UCLA, USC, Stanford and others before committing to Notre Dame after a spring visit.

An offer from Ohio State—a school Sanders grew up following—never came, though it was reported that Urban Meyer and company were kicking the tires on Sanders, but after it was too late.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

It’s hard not to love what Sanders could bring to this offense. If he’s as electric in space as he appears on his highlight tape, the Irish could have a super-charged Robby Toma on their hands. (And really, that feels like the floor of his abilities.)

That comparison might be underselling what Sanders is capable of doing, especially if you consider his return skills, where he could potentially make an early impact. And Sanders has elite speed—running in the 4.3s in Oregon and setting the 100m record as a junior at Brentwood Academy, running a 10.64. That’s really fast. (For reference, Florida State All-American Jalen Ramsey didn’t beat that time at Brentwood.)

Expect Sanders to come into camp and be among the fastest on the roster from day one. And that kind of speed usually gets you onto the field.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

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.

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL
Jay Hayes, DL
Mike Heuerman, TE
Kolin Hill, DE
Tristen Hoge, C
Corey Holmes, WR
Chase Hounshell, TE
Torii Hunter, Jr. WR
Alizé Jones, TE
Jarron Jones, DL
DeShone Kizer, QB
Tyler Luatua, TE
Cole Luke, CB
Nick Martin, C
Greer Martini, LB
Jacob Matuska, DL
Mike McGlinchey, OT
Colin McGovern, OL
Peter Mokwuah, DL
John Montelus, OL
Nyles Morgan, LB
Sam Mustipher, OL
Quenton Nelson, OL
Tyler Newsome, P
Romeo Okwara, DE
James Onwualu, LB
C.J. Prosise, WR/RB
Doug Randolph, LB/DE
Max Redfield, S
Corey Robinson, WR
Trevor Ruhland, OL

 

 

Notre Dame lands California QB recruit Ian Book

Rivals
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Washington State’s loss is Notre Dame’s gain, as the Irish accepted a commitment from California quarterback Ian Book on Tuesday. A former Mike Leach commitment who pledged to the Cougars back in April, the six-footer visited South Bend two weeks and gave his commitment to offensive coordinator and area recruiter Mike Sanford Tuesday evening.

Book gives the Irish a much-needed quarterback in the 2016 class, and with the departure of Everett Golson this offseason keeps Notre Dame’s roster “on schedule” at a position that is prone to attrition. And while Book’s three-star ranking and regional offer list has him lower on most recruiting service boards than quarterbacks the Irish usually recruit, one look at his game tape and you’ll see quickly why Sanford coveted him.

The commitment comes out of the blue, as most Irish fans were focusing on coveted 2017 recruit Hunter Johnson. Notre Dame looks to be in the final running for one of the elite junior prospects in the country, with the Irish locked in a battle with Tennessee for his pledge. Book joining the 2016 recruiting class does nothing to change Notre Dame’s interest in Johnson, nor should a quarterback in this recruiting class do anything to sway the mind of a five-star blue-chipper. (Per multiple reports, it won’t effect Notre Dame’s recruitment nor Johnson’s decision.)

In many ways, Book’s commitment is a fascinating look at Mike Sanford and how he envisions the quarterback position. While the Irish have chased high-ceiling prospects like Blake Barnett, Book’s game is already worlds more refined than the former five-star recruit, though his physical stature significantly lowers his overall ceiling. But if you’re looking for a quarterback who can run, shows the ability to throw timing routes in the framework of the offense and seems very accurate with the football, you should like the Irish’s future quarterback.

Book is Notre Dame’s 14th commitment in the 2016 class. He had interest from ASU, an offer from Boise State and UNLV as well.

***

 

Counting down the Irish: 15-11

Rice v Notre Dame
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For those getting caught up, start here. Then, check out the players who just missed the cut. Our rankings start with No. 25-21

 

What a difference a day makes. Just 48 hours into our rollout and Notre Dame announces it’ll be without our No. 24 player on the list, running back Greg Bryant. Already lost for the first third of the season, Bryant’s inability to handle his business in the classroom adds another detour to a promising football career that may never get back on course.

But for as important as Bryant may be on paper, he was essentially Notre Dame’s No. 3 running back. So for all the five-star hopes, if this is “the big preseason story” that usually collides with Brian Kelly’s team in its opening days, the Irish should feel lucky.

Now back to the players eligible in 2015…

After looking at five experienced players who’ll help make up the core of the Irish, our next five players found ways to either play very good football, or at least show the ability to be able to do that.

There’s a multi-year starter. One of the team’s most impressive breakout defenders. A preseason All-American and a defender who—if healthy—has the same ceiling. And oh yeah, the team’s returning MVP.

 

2015 IRISH TOP 25 RANKINGS

25. Jerry Tillery, DL
24. Greg Bryant, RB
23. Durham Smythe, TE
22. Matthias Farley, DB
21. Quenton Nelson, LG
20. Nyles Morgan, LB

19. Chris Brown, WR
18. Elijah Shumate, S
17. Corey Robinson, WR
16. Mike McGlinchey, OT

 

Purdue v Notre Dame
Purdue v Notre DameMichael Hickey/Getty Images

15. Steve Elmer (RG, Junior): Elmer started last season at right tackle, a tough fit for a young player who had just learned how to play guard on the fly. While he’s certainly got the size to play on the edge, Elmer’s body control sometimes let him down, lunging his way out of position and missing—sometimes badly—on blocks.

But after three games, Elmer slid back inside to guard and his play almost immediately improved. And while there were still some high-profile rough patches, by season’s end Elmer had put together an impressive sophomore season, and found a permanent home at guard.

With NFL size and above-average athleticism, Elmer seems primed to have an elite season. He’s a high IQ played and with the chance to play two-straight seasons next to Mike McGlinchey, the right side of the Irish offensive line has really nice upside.

Highest Ranking: 8th. Lowest Ranking: 18th.

 

Keenan Reynolds, Isaac Rochell
Keenan Reynolds, Isaac RochellAP Photo/Alex Brandon

14. Isaac Rochell (DE, Junior): It looked like Notre Dame was going to have a huge question mark at defensive end last season when Rochell stepped into the starting lineup. While Brian Kelly sounded confident with his praise during preseason that Rochell could capably replace Ishaq Williams, it was hard to project greatness for Rochell after a mostly anonymous freshman season where he filled in sparingly.

But Rochell’s play up front was probably the best surprise on the defense. He held up well against the run. He made plays behind the line of scrimmage—with 7.5 TFLs and 10 quarterback hurries. But most important? He stayed healthy. On a defense that seemed to lose a body every game down the stretch, Rochell started all 13.

Where’s the pass rush going to come from in 2015? Why not Rochell? A three-down player who can kick inside on third down if Brian VanGorder wants to put some speed on the edge, Rochell has already shown the productivity of his more heralded teammate Sheldon Day, and he’s still just scratching the surface.

Highest Ranking: 8th. Lowest Ranking: 22nd.

 

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

13. Max Redfield (S, Junior): As you can see from the variance in ballots, the jury is still out on Redfield. When Notre Dame’s junior safety was named to Phil Steele’s All-American team, a few Irish fans chuckled. That certainly wasn’t the safety who got benched for a one-armed Austin Collinsworth and true freshman Drue Tranquill.

But Redfield salvaged last season against LSU. After hurting his ribs against USC, Redfield came back and played a productive football game, notching 14 tackles for a defense that badly needed support from its safeties.

One of the best athletes on the team, we heard this spring that the lightbulb turned on for the former five-star recruit. Checking in at No. 13, it’s pretty clear that this is still very much a wait-and-see proposition for this group, though it shouldn’t be a huge surprise if Redfield takes a big leap forward in his second season playing in VanGorder’s system. For the sake of the defense, they need Redfield to do it.

Highest Ranking: 8th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (one ballot).

 

Joe Schmidt
Joe SchmidtAP Photo/Joe Raymond, File

12. Joe Schmidt (LB, Grad Student): Again, our panel had a big difference of opinion on Notre Dame’s returning Team MVP. Some (me included) had him among the team’s top players. That was based on both above-average productivity as well as the mental part of Schmidt’s game that kept the defense on the same page.

Yet others see Schmidt for what he is: An undersized veteran who is surrounded by athletes at his position that look and fit the role of a middle linebacker better. Add in a more-serious-than-discussed ankle and leg injury, and Schmidt’s road back to the starting lineup may not be as difficult as the one that got him there to begin with, but it’s no easy stroll.

Ultimately, Schmidt’s production tipped the scales to allow him to sneak into the top half of our 25-man list. But as the personnel on this roster continues to improve, Schmidt’s ceiling may not match with the best players on this team, so he’ll have to continue to find a way to maximize his performance.

Highest Ranking: 5th. Lowest Ranking: 25th.

 

North Carolina v Notre Dame
North Carolina v Notre DameJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

 

11. Jarron Jones (DL, Senior): If Jones wasn’t coming off a late-season foot injury, you could probably expect him to be closer to top-five than just outside the top ten. But then again, we’re still at a point in Jones’ career where the sample size is still relatively small.

For as dominant as Jones was against Florida State, Notre Dame’s senior defensive tackle is still learning the tricks of the trade. That stems from a slow start after a redshirt season spent at defensive end and a sophomore season only saved by an emergency Senior Day performance at nose tackle after Louis Nix and Kona Schwenke went down.

By nature, Jones is a productive player. While his body is sometimes doing the wrong thing, he has a knack for making plays. He’s dangerous as a kick blocker (it helps to be nearly 6-foot-6). He’s also shown an ability to wreak havoc in the backfield. But at No. 11, it feels like there’s still some worry about his healthy before our panel is assured that Jones is the type of talent who could emerge on the national stage.

Highest Ranking: 7th. Lowest Ranking: 17th.

 

***

Our 2015 Irish Top 25 panel
Keith Arnold, Inside the Irish
Bryan DriskellBlue & Gold
Matt Freeman, Irish Sports Daily
Nick Ironside, Irish 247
Tyler James, South Bend Tribune
Michael Bryan, One Foot Down
Pete Sampson, Irish Illustrated
Jude Seymour, Her Loyal Sons
JJ Stankevitz, CSN Chicago
John Vannie, NDNation
John Walters, Newsweek 

Irish A-to-Z: Trevor Ruhland

Ruhland
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An early offer and commitment, offensive lineman Trevor Ruhland begins his Notre Dame career on a developmental track that requires patience. A two-way high school player, Ruhland will focus on life on the interior of the Irish offensive line, learning from an established depth chart that’s quickly become a war chest of talent.

Far from the highest-ranked offensive lineman, Ruhland projects as a scrappy mauler on the interior. And while his best days may be a season or two away, he’s another piece of the puzzle for Harry Hiestand to make fit.

 

TREVOR RUHLAND
6’4″, 285 lbs.
Freshman, No. 57, OL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

More of a regional recruit than a national target, Ruhland likely had limited offers due to the fact that he committed to Notre Dame well in advance of his senior season and stayed off the camp circuit.

A first-team All-State and All-Area player, Ruhland also chipped in on the defensive line of a program that finished runner-up for the 7A state title in Illinois.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Get back to me this spring.

In Ruhland, it’s tough to know what you have until you see him in pads and stack him up against the rest of the offensive line. His high school tape showcases a guy who isn’t afraid to battle in the trenches, but then again, Notre Dame’s entire depth chart does the same.

That said, if you’re looking for something that could set Ruhland apart, take a gander at his Signing Day video, where Tom Lemming compared him to Chris Watt and Harry Hiestand talked about his physicality and demeanor during Notre Dame’s one-day lineman camp. Sounds like a good start.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

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.

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL
Jay Hayes, DL
Mike Heuerman, TE
Kolin Hill, DE
Tristen Hoge, C
Corey Holmes, WR
Chase Hounshell, TE
Torii Hunter, Jr. WR
Alizé Jones, TE
Jarron Jones, DL
DeShone Kizer, QB
Tyler Luatua, TE
Cole Luke, CB
Nick Martin, C
Greer Martini, LB
Jacob Matuska, DL
Mike McGlinchey, OT
Colin McGovern, OL
Peter Mokwuah, DL
John Montelus, OL
Nyles Morgan, LB
Sam Mustipher, OL
Quenton Nelson, OL
Tyler Newsome, P
Romeo Okwara, DE
James Onwualu, LB
C.J. Prosise, WR/RB
Doug Randolph, LB/DE
Max Redfield, S
Corey Robinson, WR

 

 

Medical redshirts announced for Michael Deeb, Mike Heuerman

Heuerman
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Two veterans on the Notre Dame football team will be permanently hanging up their cleats. Linebacker Michael Deeb and tight end Mike Heuerman have both been medically disqualified, the university announced today. Both will remain at Notre Dame, staying on scholarship while working towards their respective degrees.

The roster move officially clears up two scholarships on a crowded 85-man roster that is quickly coming into context. Neither Deeb nor Heuerman were expected to play much of a role on the team in 2015, even before injuries were considered.

The loss of Deeb ends the linebacker’s career after two mostly anonymous seasons. After not seeing any action as a freshman, Deeb saw the field against USC and LSU, though only briefly. Deeb was cross-training with defensive ends during spring practice, hoping to make a transition to a pass rushing position with the linebacking depth chart crowded in front of him.

Heuerman did not see the field in either of his two seasons on the roster. He redshirted as a true freshman and got off to a slow start in 2014 after a summer hernia surgery. He was largely buried on the depth chart this spring, behind even transitioning defensive lineman Chase Hounshell.

Due to privacy laws, Notre Dame did not release any additional medical information on either player.