Tag: Jalen Brown

Jarrett Grace

Tracking fifth-year spots and the bumpy road to 85 scholarships


With Notre Dame on break, the campus is quiet one week before spring practice gets started. But the work inside the Gug is still likely underway, with recruiting efforts for the 2016 cycle pushing forward and discussions about the 2015 roster taking center stage.

While Matt Hegarty’s transfer announcement was the first big move, there are other very difficult conversations likely happening in the near future. With the 24-man recruiting class set to hit campus this June—along with graduate transfer Avery Sebastian—we will get a closer look at how Brian Kelly plans on dealing with the very first roster crunch of his tenure in South Bend.

As we look at the fifth-year senior candidates, it’ll be very interesting how the Irish coaching staff—not to mention the players who will all likely have immediate transfer opportunities after earning their degrees in May—let this play out.

There’s a chance Notre Dame could have players practicing this spring that aren’t a part of the roster come summer and fall. And that’s before taking into consideration the very likely return of KeiVarae Russell and the intention of bringing back Ishaq Williams as well.

Here are the fifth-year candidates currently on the roster:

Josh Atkinson
Jalen Brown
Amir Carlisle
Ben Councell
Matthias Farley
Everett Golson
Jarrett Grace
Conor Hanratty (Kelly already announced)
Matt Hegarty (Hegarty announced intent to transfer)
Chase Hounshell
Nick Martin
Anthony Rabasa
Joe Schmidt
Ishaq Williams


Let’s make some assumptions:

We have seen the last of Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown. The veteran cornerback duo didn’t even travel to most away games last season and will be given every opportunity to catch on at a different program, but their time at Notre Dame is finished.

Staying on the defensive side of the ball, you can make the same assumption for Chase Hounshell. Multiple shoulder injuries took Hounshell’s career off course, and he’ll likely have to go to a smaller school to find a home.

Anthony Rabasa played a small role on last year’s defense, serving as a pass rusher in a defense in desperate need. If I were managing the roster, I’m not sure there’s room for him as a player, though what he does off the field and in the locker room (things we don’t know) could be the bigger determining factor.

On the flip side of these decisions, starters Nick Martin and Joe Schmidt are locks to return. The same for Matthias Farley and Everett Golson, with Golson holding the eject button if he feels the quarterback job won’t be his. (I don’t see this happening.)

Jarrett Grace needs to be healthy. We’ve heard Kelly nearly will him back to health with his frequent updates, but after a catastrophic injury that stayed far more under the radar than it should have, Grace seems to be back to playing shape this spring.

If he can play, he’ll be back. If not, it’ll make for a very difficult loss to the team, even if his shoes have been filled capably by Joe Schmidt on the field.

Because Amir Carlisle started the season opener in 2013 at tailback and had a successful first season as a slot receiver, he’s a good bet to return in my mind. Again, more opinion more than confirmed truth, but Carlisle is a high-character kid who can play a position of need on the roster, making him valuable.

Ben Councell might be a different story. Recovering from an ACL injury suffered in 2013 wasn’t easy . He’s also a tough fit in Brian VanGorder’s defense. We heard early last season that Councell would be a versatile piece of the Irish defense. That didn’t happen. So if he doesn’t feel like he’ll have a large role in the defense—or doesn’t feel like he can compete because of the injuries that have piled up—Councell might be on the bubble.

As Pete Sampson reported a few weeks ago, Williams needs to reapply to the university. From there, it’ll be very interesting how it all shakes out, as numbers seem to be tight. But Williams is a veteran body up front, something we saw a need for last season.

Fun With Numbers

Let’s look at how the Irish will get to 85 scholarships by the fall:


24 incoming recruits
22 second-year players
22 third-year juniors
11 seniors
graduate transfer (Avery Sebastian)
re-enrollment (KeiVarae Russell)
12 remaining fifth-year candidates
92 scholarship players

We’ve already basically subtracted four or five members from the fifth-year group if we’re to believe our assumptions. So that makes the seven subtractions look much more manageable than two or three scholarships.

And this is when we get used to the law of averages. Last year, Nile Sykes never made it to the season. From the 2013 recruiting class, we never saw Eddie Vanderdoes in South Bend and Rashad Kinlaw was dismissed as well.

Attrition hit the 2012 recruiting class even harder. Gone are Justin Ferguson, Gunner Kiel, Will Mahone, Davonte Neal and Tee Shepard.

So before we sound the alarm, there’s likely a very strong grasp on what is going on inside this program when the staff decided to expand their signing class to 24, and very good reason why Kelly sounded bullish on accepting a few graduate transfers as well.

Notre Dame doesn’t officially recognize redshirts. One of the benefits of forcing students to earn a degree in four years before being accepted into the graduate program is that it allows both the coaching staff and student-athlete to have full flexibility.

So while it certainly makes for some uncertainty as we try our best to track the roster, after five years of program building, we’re finally experiencing the first champagne roster problem of the past decade.

Irish A-to-Z: Jalen Brown

Jalen Brown Carlo Calabrese

Signed out of one of the premiere high school football conferences in Texas, Notre Dame thought they had found a below-the-radar talent when they inked Jalen Brown. He had the length Brian Kelly and Bob Diaco coveted at cornerback. He ran a 10.8 100-meter dash, bringing in speed that the Irish desperately needed.

But entering his senior season, Brown has yet to make much of an impact for the Irish. Faced with a secondary filled with younger players that have passed him on the depth chart, Brown is a senior with a fifth year of eligibility remaining, though if he remains in the background it won’t happen in South Bend.

Let’s take a closer look at Jalen Brown:


6’0.5″, 202 lbs.
Senior, No. 21



Brown certainly garnered some impressive offers, with the Irish beating out Arizona, Kansas State, Nebraska and Texas A&M for his services. But Brown didn’t have offers from Oklahoma, Texas or TCU, maybe a predictor that he wasn’t quite as good as the Irish staff hoped.

But the Irish staff saw Brown as a terrific developmental prospect, and listening to their rationale it’s difficult to disagree.

Here’s Brian Kelly from Signing Day 2011:

“We love his length at the corner position,” Kelly said. “We believe he’s the guy that’s just going to continue to develop and grow and be stronger. He’s a 10.8 100 guy right now. And he really has not engaged in the weight room yet.
So a couple of things that are unique. We believe that this guy is destined for great things. And if you want to put a tag on anybody in a class, here’s a steal in our opinion.”

Kelly specifically mentioned Brown’s ability to be a Cover 2 corner, something the Irish were trying to collect to play in Diaco’s system. For a staff that recruited to a specific profile, Brown certainly checked a lot of the right boxes.



Freshman Season (2011): Did not see game action, redshirted.

Sophomore Season (2012): Saw the field in seven games. Made three total tackles, two unassisted. Chipped in one pass defended against Wake Forest.

Junior Season (2013): Played in two games, against Michigan and Air Force. Did not contribute statistically.



It’s hard to see much of it for Brown, with KeiVarae Russell, Cody Riggs, Cole Luke and Devin Butler all working ahead of him in the rotation. The shift of Matthias Farley to slot cornerback also doesn’t bode well for playing time either.

But Brown has been given a blank slate with the hiring of Brian VanGorder, and he spent spring practice working at a position that was missing two major contributors with Riggs still at Florida and Butler healing from shoulder surgery.

Brown joins Josh Atkinson as seniors just outside the two deep. It’s an enviable situation for the health of a program, and shows that a staff is recruiting better and better personnel.



There’s nothing that points to Brown being more than a reserve in his senior season at Notre Dame. And with a roster filled with fifth year dilemmas, I’d expect the Irish to recruit aggressively and take another commitment instead of keeping Brown as a fifth year backup (unless he makes an unseen leap forward).

Brown’s road to the field looks difficult, especially if he was recruited to play a Cover 2 scheme. It’s hard to project him as a special teams option, otherwise he’d have been one of the bodies helping a unit that badly needed it last year. I expect Brown to move on from Notre Dame after 2014, whether it be with his degree and into the real world or to a program like Chuck Martin’s at Miami (Ohio).

In our limited viewings of Brown, it’s tough to say what his ceiling is as a football player. But with one of the most talented cornerback depth charts we’ve seen in decades at Notre Dame, I doubt we’ll get to see much of it this fall.



The Irish A-to-Z
Josh Atkinson
Nicky Baratti
Alex Bars
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Justin Brent
Kyle Brindza
Chris Brown

Offseason cheat sheet: Defensive backs

Carlo Calabrese, KeiVarae Russell, Bennett Jackson

When Brian Kelly took over the Notre Dame program, he was tasked with not just rebuilding the secondary, but reloading it. While he was lucky to inherit a front line of talented players, he was left with a depth chart that was frighteningly thin. No position better illustrated that than safety. When Jamoris Slaughter was injured in Kelly’s opening game, the depth chart didn’t go two deep with scholarship players.

My how things have changed. First Kelly reloaded at safety, filling the depth chart with quality prospects. Last cycle he took dead aim at cornerback, adding three talented youngsters. After making it through last season with three first-year starters, all converted offensive players, the secondary should be an equal to the front seven.


Kerry Cooks and Bob Elliott had their hands full last season, forced to get KeiVarae Russell up to speed after spending all summer as a running back-in-training and Bennett Jackson through the season with a bum shoulder. They also had to make the safety position work after losing key reserve Austin Collinsworth before the season started and top shelf starter Jamoris Slaughter in the season’s first month by plugging in Matthias Farley.

The growing pains that we never even saw will pay dividends this season, with Russell, Jackson and Farley all expected to be high level contributors. Fighting for time are returning players expected to play big roles in ’12, like Lo Wood, now back from an achilles injury, and Collinsworth, healthy after back and shoulder ailments.

Youth will immediately challenge to get on the field, namely elite recruits Cole Luke and Max Redfield. Both have already passed veterans on the depth chart, which contributed to the transfer of safety Chris Badger and Josh Atkinson’s move to wide receiver. But even with the attrition, and a season ending injury to Nicky Baratti, depth should be the strength of this group.


Here’s an breakdown of the cornerback and safety personnel:

Bennett Jackson, Sr. #2
KeiVarae Russell, Soph. #6
Lo Wood, Sr. #23
Cole Luke, Fr. #3 (or #36)
Jalen Brown, Jr. #21
Devin Butler, Fr. #12
Josh Atkinson, Jr. #24
Rashad Kinlaw, Fr. #26
Connor Cavalaris, Jr. #47
Joe Romano, Sr. #35
Jesse Bongiovi, Fr. #34

Matthias Farley, Jr. #41
Austin Collinsworth, Sr. #28
Elijah Shumate, Soph. #22
Eilar Hardy, Jr. #4
Max Redfield, Fr. #10
Nicky Baratti, Soph. #29
John Turner, Soph. #31
Eamon McOsker, Soph. #46
Drew Recker, Fr. #39
Ernie Soto, Jr. #43


The two deep in the secondary was probably one of the big surprises of week one. That Cole Luke worked his way into the rotation this early in the season shows you what type of talent the Arizona native brings to South Bend. Kelly plans on using Luke in nickel and dime packages, and likely special teams, as he’ll be wearing No. 36 this Saturday so as not to run into eligibility issues when he and Amir Carlisle are on the field together.

Perhaps also surprising is Eilar Hardy’s ascension into the two-deep at safety. Hardy is listed, not five-star recruit Max Redfield, as a key back-up, perhaps a surprise nearly bigger than Austin Collinsworth beating out Elijah Shumate for the starting safety job opposite Matthias Farley.

Kelly expects Collinsworth and Shumate to both play, calling them 1A and 1B. And while Redfield isn’t in the two deep, that might not be for long, as the Southern California native is too dynamic of a football player to stay off the field for long, but needs to know all the responsibilities heaped on the last line of defense.

With a front seven that’s as dynamic as Notre Dame’s, it’ll be interesting to see what Bob Diaco and Kerry Cooks have in store for the secondary. After last year’s mostly vanilla offerings, there’s every reason to believe that the Irish can mix coverages and feel confident putting their cornerbacks on an island, adding more to an already potent pass rush.

After filling front seven, Irish looking for DBs

Getty Images - Jonathan Daniel

Brian Kelly essentially called his shot back on his first Signing Day, identifying defensive end and the edge of the defense as areas his staff needed to target and fill in the upcoming recruiting class.

Last Saturday’s Blue-Gold game already showed us the early returns, with Aaron Lynch and Ishaq Williams immediately competing for playing time. Stephon Tuitt, Ben Councell, Tony Springmann, Chase Hounshell and Troy Niklas are right behind them, heading to town this summer. Sure, not everybody will end up along the defensive line (early-enrollee Brad Carrico has already made the shift to offensive line), but adding big bodies like these players, not to mention guys like Anthony Rabasa and Ben Councell, and you immediately see the implementation of a recruiting plan happen quickly.

When Brian Kelly announced the 23 signees in the 2011 recruiting class, he pointed the focus at the back-end of the defense, where he’ll need to replenish a secondary that’ll see Gary Gray, Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton exit at season’s end.

To that point, the Irish have already gotten three big commitments in the secondary with cornerbacks Tee Shepard and Ronald Darby joined by safety Nicky Baratti. But according to Christian McCollum at IrishSportsDaily.com, the Irish are still charging hard after Geno Smith, one of the top cornerbacks in the country.

Smith raised a few eyebrows when he took to Twitter after Ronald Darby gave his commitment to ND:

“Shoot… That’s two db’s for Notre Dame. I was liking them,” Smith tweeted.

Smith was informed by recruiting coordinator Chuck Martin that there was plenty of room left.

From IrishSportsDaily.com:

“I ended up talking to Coach Martin later that day and he was just explaining the situation and saying don’t worry about it at all,” Smith said. “He said they’re just trying to build a championship defense. He said last year they signed the defensive linemen and this year they’re trying to get the fab five defensive backs. I’m buying into what they’re saying. They’re just trying to build a national championship team.”

Smith has Alabama as his leader, but Martin and Co. have shown that there’s little fear going into the South and trying to pull top players, like they did last year with Tuitt and Lynch. Getting Smith on campus this summer and for an official visit will be critical, but knowing that the game plan is to bring five more bodies into the secondary should have Irish fans resting easier.

The Irish brought in defensive backs Josh Atkinson, Jalen Brown, Eilar Hardy, and likely Matthias Farley last season, so the influx of young players on the Irish roster won’t be limited to the 2012 class.

Still, with limited scholarships available for the 2012 class, and a number of fifth-year decisions that’ll likely be made after the season, knowing the Irish plan on taking five players in the secondary — in a class that could be limited to 20 players — shows that the coaching staff understands the importance of bringing in talented players on the back-end of the defense.

Reports: CB Bennett Okotcha flips pledge to Irish

Courtesy of Dallas Morning News

The Brian Kelly recruiting machine is on a roll, and the Irish just picked up a much needed commitment from defensive back Bennett Okotcha. Okotcha, high school teammates with recent Irish pledge Cam McDaniel, has been committed to Wisconsin since August before flipping his commitment to Notre Dame, the South Bend Tribune and IrishSportsDaily.com report.

Okotcha is a big-bodied cornerback with offers from Wisconsin, Baylor, Minnesota and Wake Forest, and was only recently targeted by Kelly and his staff. All reports say he’ll enter college as a cornerback, a position that’s thin on the depth chart and losing senior Darrin Walls to graduation.

Last week, McDaniel had this to say about Okotcha to IrishSportsDaily.com:

“Bennett and I are tremendous friends and ever since our freshman year when I moved to Coppell we worked out together,” McDaniel told ISD. “I think he is one of the top corners in the nation, if not the top corner. I know that is kind of biased coming from my stand point but nobody will throw the ball in his direction. He literally gets bored during games because people are scared to throw it in his direction, it’s amazing.”

While McDaniel might be prone to hyperbole when talking about his high school teammate, the sentiment that Okotcha was an elite recruit was likely shared by Kelly and his defensive staff, and his recruitment by Kelly and outside linebackers coach Kerry Cooks sheds some light on the emphasis the Irish will have on targeting the state of Texas.

Cooks is a Texas native and also spent the past four years at Wisconsin, coaching the secondary for Bret Bielema’s Badgers, the team where Okotcha had been committed. While Wisconsin is obviously having a historic season, it isn’t hard to see the draw to Notre Dame, where the depth chart has plenty of room for a guy like Okotcha.

The cornerback is the 19th commitment to the Irish for this recruiting class and third in the past week. Okotcha joins recruits Josh Atkinson, Jalen Brown, Eilar Hardy and potentially Matthias Farley as defensive backs in the 2011 class.