Alize Jones

Alizé Jones declared ineligible for the season

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One of Notre Dame’s candidates for a breakout season won’t see the field this year. Rising sophomore Alizé Jones has been declared ineligible, an assumed academic casualty just days before training camp is set to begin.

The news comes from Notre Dame’s sports information department, who released the following via social media:

Jones released the following statement via Twitter:

“Notre Dame is a special place and playing football for the Irish is a privilege. With this opportunity comes academic responsibility, and unfortunately, I didn’t meet that responsibility.

“I love Notre Dame and everything about it. Obviously, I’m disappointed at myself, but I’m going to make the best of this situation. I’m going to remain a student at Notre Dame and work even harder. I’m going to grow from this. I’m going to be a better student, teammate, player and man. While I won’t be able to help my brothers on Saturdays, I’ll do whatever I can to help this team achieve its goal of winning a national championship.

It’s a surprising jolt to a very ho-hum offseason, especially after Brian Kelly’s last update stated that all seemed quiet on the academic front. But the loss of Jones forces the staff to pivot and look for a replacement to the sophomore presumed productivity, either at tight end or the boundary receiver position.

Brian Kelly will address the media on Friday to kick off fall camp, when we’ll likely hear more about Jones’ suspension. The Irish welcome back tight end Tyler Luatua to go along with Durham Smythe and Nic Weishar and newly converted tight end Jacob Matuska, but cross-trained Jones at Corey Robinson‘s spot at the boundary receiver position after Robinson retired due to concussions.

Jones led all of Notre Dame’s returning pass catchers in yards per reception in 2015, catching 13 passes for 190 yards. He was one of the nation’s top tight end recruits when he picked Notre Dame after being committed to UCLA.

Counting Down the Irish: 15-11

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As we continue our ascent to the top of Notre Dame’s roster, our next five members of the Top 25 play unique roles—all indicative of the talent on Brian Kelly’s seventh team.

Two young players capable of emerging as stars. Two once-heralded recruits stepping into critical roles. And a likely team captain fully transformed after an early-career position switch.

As has been the case with the list so far, there’s little from an on-field performance perspective to validate what we anticipate. But the talent in this group is undeniable, making these projections less about speculation than finally earning an opportunity.

 

2016 Irish Top 25 Rankings
25. Equanimeous St. Brown (WR, Soph.)
24. Durham Smythe (TE, Sr.
23. Justin Yoon, (K, Soph.)
22. Tyler Newsome (P, Jr.)
21. Daniel Cage (DT, Jr.)
20. Sam Mustipher (C, Jr.)
19. Jerry Tillery (DT, Soph.)
18. Max Redfield (S, Sr.)
17. CJ Sanders (WR, Soph.)
16. Drue Tranquill (S, Jr.)

 

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 26: Blake Frohnapfel #7 of the Massachusetts Minutemen is sacked by James Onwualu #17 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on September 26, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

15. James Onwualu (OLB, Senior): After spending last season playing the majority of snaps in a platoon with Greer Martini, our panel believes that Onwualu’s final season in South Bend will be his best. The former wide receiver has fully transformed his body into that of a linebacker, but still retains the athleticism that should allow him to be excellent in space and in coverage.

Onwualu was Notre Dame’s fourth-best defensive player according to PFF College, grading out at +7.4. With Martini capable of spending time at Will linebacker, Onwualu’s production could go up along with his snap total.

Highest Rank: 12th. Lowest Rank: Unranked (two ballots).

 

South Bend Tribune

14. Alex Bars (RT, Junior): There’s a lot of belief in Bars, who’ll fill left tackle Mike McGlinchey’s shoes on the right side. It’s a move that took more of spring to finalize than some expected, mostly because Bars was still recovering from a broken ankle he suffered against USC.

Brian Kelly has raved about Bars in the past. He certainly looks the part of a high-level offensive tackle, a former elite recruit entering his third season in the program. But this is clearly a projection. He’s played roughly 150 snaps in his college career—all at right guard.

Notre Dame’s depth chart requires Bars to play on the edge. Our panel thinks he’s ready. We’ll see soon enough.

Highest Rank: 9th. Lowest Rank: Unranked (one ballot).

Alize Jones Temple

 

 

     

13. Alizé Jones (TE, Sophomore): Jones led all Irish pass catchers not named Will Fuller in yards per catch, a very nice datapoint for those expecting the former blue-chip recruit to take a giant leap forward in 2016. Add to that his cross-training at receiver as a replacement on the boundary side of the formation, and Jones is poised for a huge breakout.

Jones isn’t the physical mismatch that Tyler Eifert was. But he very well could be used like Eifert was in 2012, strategically moved around and mostly detached to get a mismatch down the field. If that’s the case, expect Jones’ numbers to more than multiply, with some red zone targets also a certainty with Corey Robinson gone as well.

Highest Rank: 4th. Lowest Rank: Unranked (one ballot).

 

Shaun Crawford Josh Adams

12. Shaun Crawford (DB, Sophomore): After an ACL injury ended his freshman season in training camp, Crawford returned this spring dead set on making up for lost time. He looked like the same player who was penciled into the starting nickel job, and might be too good to take off the field, possibly lining up opposite Cole Luke.

Even with a non-contact jersey on in the Blue-Gold game, Crawford was making plays everywhere. He’s undersized, but plays with a physicality that makes you ignore his height. With speed and athleticism to cover slot receivers and the confidence to play on the outside, that our panel pegs him as one of the back-seven’s best playmakers certainly says something.

Highest Rank: 7th. Lowest Rank: Unranked (one ballot).

 

TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 08: Quarterback Taylor Kelly #10 of the Arizona State Sun Devils throws a pass under pressure from linebacker Nyles Morgan #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the fourth quarter of the college football game at Sun Devil Stadium on November 8, 2014 in Tempe, Arizona. The Sun Devils defeated the Fighting Irish 55-31. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

11. Nyles Morgan (MLB, Junior): For a linebacker who couldn’t get on the field last year, this panel was certainly bullish when evaluating Nyles Morgan. The Chicagoland product steps into Joe Schmidt’s middle linebacker job ranked no lower than 17th on any ballot, with the expectation being Morgan won’t miss a beat in 2016.

From a productivity standpoint, it feels like a lock that Morgan will be one of the team’s leaders. But after watching Morgan understandably struggle with the mental demands of the position as a true freshman, we’ll find out if last season’s watch-and-learn approach pays dividends.

Highest Rank: 8th. Lowest Rank: 17th.

 

***

Our 2016 Irish Top 25 panel:
Keith Arnold, Inside the Irish
Bryan Driskell, Blue & Gold
Matt Freeman, Irish Sports Daily
Nick Ironside, Irish 247
Tyler James, South Bend Tribune
Eric Murtaugh, 18 Stripes
Pete Sampson, Irish Illustrated
Jude Seymour, Her Loyal Sons
JJ Stankevitz, CSN Chicago
John VannieNDNation
Joshua Vowles, One Foot Down
John Walters, Newsweek 

Irish A-Z: Alizé Jones

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Notre Dame’s next great tight end might be their next starting boundary wide receiver. With the retirement of Corey Robinson and a lack of outside receivers ready to contribute, Alizé Jones spent spring transitioning to receiver, a position he was probably built to play in the first place.

Jones came to Notre Dame as a blue-chip tight end prospect, but his skill-set was custom-built for catching passes not throwing blocks. With the goal of getting the team’s best 11 on the field, finding a role for Jones on the outside allows the depth at tight end to pick up the slack in the trenches, with the hope that Jones will thrive as he matches up against cornerbacks.

 

ALIZÉ JONES
6’4.5″, 240 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 10, TE/WR

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A U.S. Army All-American, a first-team USA Today All-American and the No. 1 tight end in the country, per 247 Sports. Jones picked Notre Dame over UCLA—where he was long committed, and had offers from USC, Georgia, Auburn and plenty of other top programs.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2015): Played in all 13 games, starting five. Jones led all tight ends with 13 catches for 190 yards. His 14.6 yards per catch was the most of any receiver not named Will Fuller.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

I feel pretty spot on about this one, even with Durham Smythe‘s season ending after the Virginia game.

All the glowing praise above doesn’t necessarily mean I think Jones is a breakout star. He’ll likely be used situationally, capable of being a jumbo slot receiver (like Troy Niklas and Tyler Eifert were used on occasion), and potentially as a red zone mismatch. (Though we’re still waiting for jump balls to Corey Robinson, so why would Jones hop the line?)

Playing at Bishop Gorman, arguably the top high school program in the country, will work both ways for Jones. He’s played national competition, but he’s also played in an offense that scored points by the bushel. So while he was used mostly as a jumbo receiver during a 41 catch, 900+ yard senior season, that’s not what’ll be needed to be successful at the next level.

Jones will play. But as we’ve seen with Kelly, he wants to trust his tight ends to hold the point of attack, making Smythe the candidate for most snaps. But behind that, I think Jones finds a way to impact the Irish offense, especially if Mike Sanford is as creative as we’re told.

This is a very, very exciting prospect, and perhaps the most readymade offensive player in the freshman class. But before he can be a star, he needs to be able to do everything that makes the tight end position the most versatile in the Irish offense.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Jones maybe isn’t the freak that the Irish had in Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert and Troy Niklas. But at 6-foot-4.5 and 240 pounds, he’s certainly a load. While his freshman season may not have been the breakout some expected, he did average a hefty 14.6 yards per catch, a number that lets you know that he’s capable of wreaking havoc when he gets his chance.

Opportunity plays a big part in projecting a future, and there’s no more open window than the one Jones now looks through. Jones very well may have switched to boundary receiver even if Robinson decided to play, but there will certainly be more reps available without Robinson.

Is Jones primed to be a star? He could be. I don’t necessarily think it’s fair to compare him to three tight ends that came off the board in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, but nothing Jones did last year should deter you from thinking he could be that type of impact player.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Jones could turn into Notre Dame’s No. 2 receiver in 2016 if he takes this opportunity and runs with it. That could mean a huge uptick in numbers, with 40 to 50 catches not out of the realm of possibility.

While size and match-up issues haven’t necessarily turned Irish receivers into targets, Jones could also pick up some of the slack in the red zone, knowing that the Irish offense desperately needs to improve their efficiency in the scoring zones, especially without quick-strike scorers Will Fuller and C.J. Prosise. Matching Chris Brown’s four touchdown catches seems like a logical next step for Jones.

In many ways, Jones is one of several unknown quantities that’ll help determine whether or not the Irish are a playoff contender or just a team with some nice young talent. While much of his productivity will likely be determined by the team’s offensive identity and philosophy, he’s another key piece to an offensive puzzle that doesn’t have a lot of experience but has plenty going for it.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.

 

Last looks: Tight ends

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After a long line of starters with plenty of experience, Notre Dame’s tight ends all but start over in 2015. Scott Booker’s position group comes in with all sorts of intriguing traits. Unfortunately, none of those are experience.

The closest to filling that role is junior Durham Smythe. Serving as the No. 2 tight end in an offense that didn’t often use one, Smythe made just one catch last season while Ben Koyack led the offense in snaps played.

But a lack of experience isn’t to say the position group isn’t talented. Whether it’s freshman phenom Alizé Jones, Nic Weishar off his redshirt, bowling ball Tyler Luatua or fifth-year converted defensive lineman Chase Hounshell, the ability to mix and match is certainly there if nobody takes hold of the job.

Let’s take our last looks at an intriguing piece of the offense.

 

TIGHT ENDS
Position Coach: Scott Booker

 

DEPTH CHART

TE1: Durham Smythe, Jr.*
TE2: Tyler Luatua, Soph.
TE3: Alizé Jones, Fr.
TE4: Nic Weishar, Soph.*
TE5: Chase Hounshell, Grad Student*

*Denotes additional year of eligibility

 

LEADING MAN

Alizé Jones. Yes, I realize I have him listed as third on the depth chart. But when you look at this position group, there are a lot of intriguing supporting pieces and only one guy who feels like a star in the making. So while Jones is going to have to learn how to block, get a better feel for the system and become a complete tight end before he can truly ascend to this spot, he’s the guy who will eventually be the next great Notre Dame tight end.

 

NEED A BIG SEASON

Durham Smythe Tyler Luatua. I list both of these guys because I think they both have a chance to do very important things for this offense. In Smythe, the Irish have probably the closest thing to a two-way tight end as there is on the roster. He’s the veteran of the group and should have the best knowledge of the system. But after thinking he was ready to make an impact in 2014, Smythe caught just one pass. After being banged up a bit during camp, Smythe didn’t get off to the quickest start, but hopefully he’ll be ready come Texas.

In Luatua, the Irish have a blocker who could be a physical force. He’s also capable of rumbling for some yardage if he’s out in the flat as Malik Zaire’s safety valve. At 255 pounds, he’s a physical presence who can attach to the offensive line or play—gasp!—fullback.

 

THREE BIGGEST FACTORS…

Can anybody establish a rhythm? Brian Kelly mentioned a mix-and-match approach to the position, a logical choice with this type of personnel. But often times the Irish offense gets predictable when they utilize certain players in certain formations, and that feels like almost an inevitability for the tight ends. (Not that I expect to see Jones next to the left tackle on 3rd and 1, but still.)

But beyond giving the defense a tell, it might also hinder someone from breaking out. If that’s Smythe, great. If it’s Jones, wonderful. It could also be Nic Weishar, who has had an excellent camp. When the offense tried to juggle four running backs, you couldn’t help but feel like they lost something. That’s the big worry at a position this deep, too.

 

Can this offense utilize two tight end sets? As a power running team, putting two tight ends on the field could be a formation that really helps power the offense. But as we worry about finding some experience in this group, is it too much to ask to find two guys who can play?

Grad student Chase Hounshell is miraculously still a part of the football program, and might be Notre Dame’s best attached blocker. After using two tight ends against LSU, can this position group develop two fast enough?

 

Who can Brian Kelly trust? There might be all the skill in the world in true freshman Alizé Jones, but if Kelly can’t trust him to do his job, it’ll be hard for him to play. Same with any of the young players in this position group. Last year, Koyack took all the snaps, even if he was limited in space and not the best blocker. But he knew what he was doing and Kelly relied on that experience in the offense. Developing that trust will be key for whoever steps forward.

 

RANDOM THOUGHTS

Can Nic Weishar look as good on the field as he does in practice? When Jones and Smythe were out Weishar put on a show, a difficult receiver to cover, especially in the red zone. Will that translate to the playing field and can the Chicagoland native get into the mix and be a dangerous part of the passing attack?

 

Will Chase Hounshell really find his home at tight end? When you looked at fifth-year senior candidates, heading into spring Hounshell was at the bottom of the list. But give credit to the hard-luck Ohio native who willed his way back onto the team and reinvented himself as a block-first tight end. It’d be quite a miraculous finish to his Notre Dame career if he was able to contribute this season—and that’s without considering he’ll likely be eligible for a sixth year.

 

Are there enough footballs for the tight ends? Everybody expects the running game to play a bigger role this season. Notre Dame’s receiving corps is as deep and talented as it’s ever been. Assuming guys like Smythe, Weishar and Jones have the skills to get involved in the passing game, how exactly are they going to find footballs for them?

 

Counting down the Irish: Just missed the cut

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As we begin to reveal the top 25 players on Notre Dame’s roster, our raw numbers point to an intriguing amount of depth on this football team. As you consider the returning talent on this football team—only Ben Koyack, Matt Hegarty and Cody Riggs depart from the Music City Bowl’s starting lineup—the depth chart and high end personnel is there, and that proof seems to be in our numbers.

A total of 38 players received votes in our poll, down slightly from 2014. Seven members of our Top 25 fell in rankings. Two stayed in the same place. Eleven made double-digit jumps.

For as interesting as the Top 25 turns out to be, the players just missing the cut are maybe even more unique. They include Notre Dame’s returning sack leader. As well as the team’s all-purpose yardage leader. Two talented freshmen were just left off the ballot as well, along with two key defenders who could be asked to start plenty of games. 

Let’s go through the near-misses as we get ready to start our countdown.

 

JAMES ONWUALU

Onwualu may have played in all 13 games and started eight last season—his first as a linebacker—but he was left off of seven of eleven ballots. Whatever the reason, the Irish’s returning starter at outside linebacker tallied 18 total points, with his highest ranking 19th on a single ballot.

Oklahoma v Notre Dame
Oklahoma v Notre DameJoe Robbins/Getty Images

 

JUSTIN YOON

Arguably the Irish’s most important freshman recruit, Yoon is taking over for Kyle Brindza as the team’s placekicker, all but uncontested. Yoon was on three ballots only, but received a single ninth-place vote. Yoon’s 19 points was good for a two-man tie at 29th.

 

ALIZÉ JONES

Yoon tied with freshman tight end Alizé Jones, viewed by some recruiting services as the finest tight end in the country. At 6-foot-5 and pushing 240 pounds, Jones will have a chance to immediately fight for playing time at a tight end position with exactly one returning catch. Jones was on five ballots, tallying 19 total points.

 

Alize Jones, Cordell Broadus
Alize Jones, Cordell BroadusAP Photo/Isaac Brekken

 

AMIR CARLISLE

Notre Dame’s all-purpose yardage leader finished 28th in our voting, the exact same place he finished in 2014. But this time, Carlisle is coming off his best season in South Bend, a successful transition to slot receiver. The fifth-year player will look to take on a larger role in the passing game with C.J. Prosise’s transition to running back. (Interestingly, Prosise only received two votes last year, good for 32nd.)

Amir Carlisle
Amir CarlisleAP Photo/Matt York

 

ANDREW TRUMBETTI

A promising freshman season wasn’t enough to vault Trumbetti into the Top 25. While he had only one sack, Trumbetti had 5.5 TFLs, good for sixth on the team. He started the Music City Bowl at defensive end, missing only the Purdue game due to injury.

Jarron Jones, Andrew Trumbetti, Devin Gardner
Jarron Jones, Andrew Trumbetti, Devin GardnerAP Photo/Michael Conroy

 

ROMEO OKWARA

Trumbetti’s running mate at defensive end, Okwara finished the poll just two votes shy of the No. 25 spot. Okwara is a polarizing player—he was left off seven ballots, but was 14th on one ballot. Notre Dame’s senior defensive end started 12 games.