247 Sports

Weekend notes: Recruiting, position battles, and more

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It’s not all that surprising that a little snippet from Chuck Martin on the state of the quarterback depth chart would get the comments section churning. There’s no question that Tommy Rees is one of the more polarizing players we’ve ever discussed on this site. Love him, hate him, he’s the guy that’s going to start for the Irish. Call me a Rees apologist, and it’s certainly something I’ve been called in the past, but I don’t think there’s any question that a veteran quarterback with a ton of experience can get better — and play smarter — during his senior season.

Criticism for the way Rees has played in certain big games and against certain defenses is completely valid, though you get the feeling that a Chuck Martin led offense will be a bit different than the one that Charley Molnar implemented. Needless to say, we’ve got around 50 days to beat that topic into the ground, and then we’ll see what happens when things start counting for real.

***

Onward to a few notes of interest, and the first one being some moves up the board for some Notre Dame recruits that did some damage on the camp circuit. 247Sports.com updated their big board and it’s filled with Irish recruits who had impressive summer seasons.

Two of the biggest movers were offensive lineman Quenton Nelson and wide receiver Justin Brent. Nelson’s rating shot up over 100 spots, catapulting him into the nation’s elite, with a ranking of 74th overall and the 6th highest rated offensive lineman in the country.

Nelson did plenty of impressing while at both the Rivals series camps and at The Opening in Oregon, and while he’s not going to get confused for a guy that’ll run past you (he clocked a 5.6 forty), he’s getting rave reviews for his physical nature and athletic ability.

Probably more impressive than Nelson’s jump was the coming out party for long-time Irish commitment Justin Brent. After impressing everywhere he went this summer, Brent is now the 63rd ranked player in the country according to 247. To put that into context, that’s a higher ranking than high profile targets like Sony Michel, Michiah Quick, and Allen Lazard, skill players coveted by Irish fans everywhere.

Lastly, while Rivals has always seen him as one of the elite players in the recruiting class, 247 has now seen the light on Elijah Hood as well. After blazing a 4.48 in the 40 at The Opening, and weighing a stout 222 pounds, it’s pretty clear that the Irish have a physical specimen coming in at running back next year. Passing camps and 7-on-7 tournaments aren’t the best place for a runner like Hood to impress, but matching his prodigious highlight tape with that type of speed answers some questions.

Quarterback DeShone Kizer, offensive tackle Alex Bars and tight end Nic Weishar are also listed in the Top 247.

***

ESPN’s Mark Schlabach took a look at some of the most high profile position battles in college football and focused on the running back race in South Bend.

Here’s his take:

Running back: George Atkinson III vs. Amir Carlisle vs. Cam McDaniel vs. Will Mahone vs. Greg Bryant vs. Tarean Folston

Notre Dame’s running game took a lot of pressure off quarterback Everett Golson last season, but now the Irish will have to play without Golson, who is ineligible for the 2013 season, and leading rushers Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, who have departed. Atkinson, who ran for 361 yards and five touchdowns last season, seems to be next in line to start. He has good speed, but struggled with blocking and patience last season. Carlisle, a USC transfer, can’t stay healthy; he missed last season with an ankle injury and then broke his collarbone in the spring. Bryant, an incoming freshman, was ranked the No. 2 running back in the country by ESPN Recruiting Nation and had scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, FSU, Georgia and dozens of other schools.

Obviously, we’ve spent a few thousand more words talking about this, so we can understand the simplification of the scenario by Schlabach, one of the better guys out there covering the national beat.

That said, seeing patience and blocking being tagged to George Atkinson‘s name and injury concerns following a now healthy Amir Carlisle shouldn’t be surprising, especially when you’re looking at the program from afar. A breakout year for both players — and both doing a lot to prove the skeptics wrong — would be a huge step forward for this offense.

(Not mentioning Cam McDaniel should be some additional fuel for the Texas junior, who I think might be the best natural running back on the roster.)

***

If you were to read the tea leaves, the Irish might be close to getting another verbal commitment in the ’14 recruiting class. Fort Lauderdale wide receiver Corey Holmes has already visited South Bend four times and just got back from a trip to Los Angeles where he took a look at UCLA.

Just about every major recruiting service expects Notre Dame to be the pick when Holmes announces next week. If he does pick the Irish, they’ll be getting a long and lean wideout with good speed and the ability to go catch the football.

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 78 Tommy Kraemer, right guard

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-5 5/8, 315 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Junior with three seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018.
Depth chart: After moving all around the offensive line this spring, Kraemer has settled in at right guard, where he will start with one of a trio of sophomores (Josh Lugg, Aaron Banks, Dillan Gibbons) as his backup.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit, rivals.com listed Kraemer as the No. 4 tackle in the country and the top recruit in Ohio, where he was named Gatorade Player of the Year. The Under Armour All-American spurned Big Ten offers from Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin to commit to Notre Dame early in a recruitment devoid of drama.

CAREER TO DATE
Kraemer played in all 13 games last season, listed as the starter in 12 of those according to Irish stats, but throughout the year Kraemer split time with then-freshman Robert Hainsey at right tackle.

Kraemer did see action at right guard against North Carolina when Alex Bars suffered a second-half injury. Rather than find a seventh offensive lineman, Notre Dame moved Kraemer inward one spot and he clicked well playing alongside Hainsey.

QUOTE(S)
Before he settled in at right guard, Kraemer had springtime chances at both tackle spots — always opposite Hainsey — and at left guard, next to both Hainsey and junior Liam Eichenberg. When Irish offensive line coach Jeff Quinn opted to move fifth-year guard Alex Bars to left guard from right, placing him next to first-year starter Eichenberg, that meant Kraemer’s slid to right guard, at least for the coming season.

“[Kraemer] was out at tackle in the beginning and then I wanted to see him down inside and just give him enough reps to give him a fair evaluation,” Quinn said in mid-April. “He’s a big powerful kid inside there. He takes up some space. It’s hard for those three-technique [tackles] and those nose guards to maneuver with that size inside.

“With his experience and to be able to do it next to [Hainsey], they can see things together. Certainly that’s a big bonus from that standpoint. We’re putting two very good players next to each other on that side.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Kraemer will likely start [at right tackle] against Temple. He will need to earn that gig all over again in fall practice.

“From there, if Kraemer can deliver 99 percent of the time, it will be a good sign. That one blown play a game will upset Notre Dame fans, but such the plight of an offensive lineman. Kraemer’s workload will not be too steep as the Irish will likely favor running to the left side of the line behind stalwarts fifth-year senior Mike McGlinchey and senior left guard Quenton Nelson, both potential NFL draft first-rounders come the spring of 2018.

“That could give Kraemer a chance to ease into the season. At some point, however, offensive coordinator Chip Long, [former Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry] Hiestand and [Irish head coach Brian] Kelly will need to know they can rely on their right tackle.”

2018 OUTLOOK
Moving Kraemer to guard solidifies his career trajectory. The hole in Kraemer’s game at right tackle was as a pass protector and edge setter. While he will still need to slow the defensive line, the tasks at guard hinge more on power than on length and immediate quickness. Of course, length and quickness help, in which case Kraemer’s time and habits developed at tackle only aid the hopes of the position switch.

The season will be considered a success at right guard if Kraemer starts every game he is healthy for, rather than getting bypassed by one of the sophomores, and manages to keep most defensive tackles at bay. At some point, he will get beat for a tackle or two for loss. Such is the nature of a 13-game season, particularly one beginning against Michigan and its touted defense.

Looking at the season as a whole, though, Kraemer should excel as an interior run blocker. Forming a dominant interior trio with Bars and fifth-year center Sam Mustipher would set up the Irish in any short-yardage situations, as well as force defensive coordinators to adjust their blitzes toward the outside, allowing junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush space to step forward to evade pressure without immediately tucking the ball and running.

DOWN THE ROAD
Notre Dame’s offensive line future hinges more on Eichenberg digging his feet in at left tackle than on Kraemer’s development at right guard. The latter is much more of a known commodity than the former. If Eichenberg struggles, it remains possible Kraemer gets another shot at tackle, but the likes of Lugg and Banks make that less likely.

That stability should only aid Kraemer. Focusing on one position for a few years will give him a chance to best capitalize on his natural power in the running game. If Eichenberg progresses at left tackle, then Kraemer, Hainsey and Eichenberg will be well-situated to take over the Irish offensive line tradition from Mustipher and Bars. Kraemer and Hainsey could essentially become four-year starters, while Eichenberg has three years of potential starting duties ahead of him.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 93 (theoretically) Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 90 (theoretically) Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
No. 85 Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 84 Cole Kmet, tight end, sophomore
No. 83 Chase Claypool, receiver, junior
No. 82 Nic Weishar, tight end, fifth-year senior
No. 81 Miles Boykin, receiver, senior
No. 80 Micah Jones, receiver, early-enrolled freshman
No. 79 (theoretically) Cole Mabry, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 11 Freddy Canteen, receiver, outgoing transfer

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 79 Cole Mabry, offensive tackle, incoming freshman

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-6, 275 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Incoming freshman with four years of eligibility remaining, including the 2018 season.
Depth chart: Largely due to signing four offensive linemen a cycle ago, Notre Dame’s line reserves are well-stocked. Junior Liam Eichenberg will start at left tackle with sophomore Robert Hainsey at right tackle, and some combination of those now-sophomores backing them up. Thus, Mabry is a ways down the depth chart presently.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star prospect, Mabry chose the Irish over offers from Cincinnati, Indiana and Memphis when he committed a year before he expected to sign. If he had not been so firm in his commitment, it is conceivable he would have been chased by the likes of Arkansas, where his grandfather played and his uncle was an All-American offensive tackle.

QUOTE(S)
If Mabry has slipped below anyone’s radar, it is only because December’s early signing period feels so long ago already. Back then, recruiting coordinator Brian Polian spoke of the development awaiting Mabry in a collegiate weight program.

“I think Mabry and [fellow early-signee John Dirksen] in terms of their length and their size [are underrated],” Polian said. “These are going to be really big men that can move their feet. He weighs 270 right now, is he going to get big enough? We have a great strength staff — the world is filled with big guys. Big and can move their feet and bend with athleticism. You recruit that and hand them over to [strength coordinator Matt] Balis and his staff and let nature take its course.”

WHAT WAS SAID WHEN MABRY’S NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
“Bringing in Mabry helps counteract the effects of losing two linemen to transfer in the 2017 offseason. He may not be a contributor from the outset, but the practice depth he provides is a value on its own, let alone the future possibilities he offers.

“… Mabry would enhance his future possibilities by becoming a utility knife of a lineman, a la Hunter Bivin. At some point, one of those can then become his specialty.”

2018 OUTLOOK
The only non-injury-related way for Mabry to find himself playing time this season would be to make an unexpected jump a la Hainsey a year ago, perhaps combined with Eichenberg regressing in preseason practice. Even then, Irish offensive line coach Jeff Quinn would likely be inclined to give Eichenberg time to improve before then turning to sophomore Josh Lugg.

Hainsey will stand as this generation’s exception to the rule of Notre Dame not starting freshmen offensive linemen. Not even Quenton Nelson saw playing time as a freshman, after all.

DOWN THE ROAD
Mabry joins the Irish a year after two touted tackles arrived, meaning he will have to outright impress Quinn and Kelly to earn a first-team role in the next few seasons. Just in discussing who might be the next man in along the offensive line in 2018, Quinn praised all three sophomores not named Hainsey.

“I would say the next group coming in would be [senior] Trevor Ruhland, Josh Lugg, another young man who has really gained a lot of confidence,” Quinn said in mid-April. “You look at guys like Aaron Banks and Dillan Gibbons, all those guys are in the mix. As their development continues to improve, their opportunities will come.”

Even if/when Mabry moves past those sophomores, Eichenberg and Hainsey each have three years of eligibility remaining, meaning Mabry will need to wait until 2021 to have a clean shot at starting at tackle, barring an early departure for the NFL from one of the current starters.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 93 (theoretically) Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 90 (theoretically) Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
No. 85 Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 84 Cole Kmet, tight end, sophomore
No. 83 Chase Claypool, receiver, junior
No. 82 Nic Weishar, tight end, fifth-year senior
No. 81 Miles Boykin, receiver, senior
No. 80 Micah Jones, receiver, early-enrolled freshman
No. 11 Freddy Canteen, receiver, outgoing transfer

Freddy Canteen announces another transfer, leaving Notre Dame at 86 scholarships

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The hook when receiver Freddy Canteen transferred to Notre Dame was he would get a chance to face his former school to open the 2018 season with Michigan visiting Sept. 1. That storyline will go unfulfilled after Canteen announced another transfer Friday afternoon.

Canteen graduated from Michigan in only three years, leaving him two seasons of eligibility when he joined the Irish. A torn labrum ended his 2017 season after only three games, meaning he could have hopes for a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA and retain that year of eligibility wherever he lands. He finishes his time at Notre Dame with one catch for seven yards.

A shoulder injury also truncated Canteen’s 2015 season and eliminated his 2016 while with the Wolverines. The former consensus four-star prospect hoped to be healthy enough with the Irish to showcase his speed, the primary allure he immediately brought to the roster.

His most-recent injury allowed the likes of Chase Claypool and Michael Young to move well past Canteen on the depth chart, while senior Chris Finke’s reliability served as a direct foil to Canteen’s injury history. Without this newest transfer, it is unlikely Canteen would have seen much competitive action in 2018.

Notre Dame now has 86 projected scholarships for the fall, one above the NCAA maximum allowed.

Irish Illustrated’s Pete Sampson first reported Canteen’s pending transfer.

FREDDY CANTEEN 99-TO-2
No. 11
Listed Measurements:
6-foot, 192 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Fifth-year graduate with two possible seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018, depending on the NCAA’s view of his injury history.
Depth chart: Currently a second-stringer behind sophomore Michael Young, Canteen could have fallen further down the depth chart quickly this summer with the arrival of four highly-touted freshmen receivers.
Recruiting: Canteen first chose Michigan over offers from Maryland and Tennessee, among others, back in 2014, as the No. 47 receiver in the class, per rivals.com.

CAREER TO DATE
2014: 10 games, two starts; five receptions for 22 yards and one touchdown.
2015: Five games, one start before an injury ended his season; one reception for no gain.
2016: No action.
2017: Three games, one start; one catch for seven yards. Again, injury-shortened.

QUOTE(S)
Canteen’s if-healthy speed and experience made him an easy player to praise for receivers coach Del Alexander this spring.

“Freddy is playing fast,” Alexander said in late March. “He’s coming off an injury, but at the same time, he knows what to do. Freddy is also the guy that had limited mistakes when you count them over the last couple practices. He knows what to do, it’s just a matter of where he is and how he uses his strength and the strength to keep separation. … We’ve got to do something to use our hands and our arms to create separation because there is some hesitation there because he is still recovering.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“He should fit right into Kelly’s long-standing preference to have a deep threat available to take the top off the secondary. (Think of former Irish receiver Chris Brown’s role, even if he wasn’t frequently targeted.) [Former Notre Dame receivers Kevin] Stepherson or [Cam] Smith could also offer that top-end speed, but Canteen’s acceleration in the first 10 yards should set him apart.

“That particular skill will also likely be seen on special teams. Special teams coordinator Brian Polian has hoped for more options on his coverage and return units. Canteen was not around the team in the spring to aid in that regard — he only graduated from Michigan in April, despite the February transfer announcement — but this fall could earn some notice by shining on Polian’s coverage units.”

2018 OUTLOOK
Canteen’s future depends more on his health than on where he opts to transfer. No matter where that is, the last line of his announcement rings loudly. “My primary focus will be to prepare for a career that expands beyond football.” Perhaps Canteen realizes there will not be much waiting for him at the next level of the sport.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 93 (theoretically) Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 90 (theoretically) Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end, sophomore
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver, junior
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end, fifth-year senior
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver, senior
No. 80: Micah Jones, receiver, early-enrolled freshman

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 80 Micah Jones, receiver, early-enrolled freshman

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-4 ½, 208 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Early-enrolled freshman with four years of eligibility remaining, including the 2018 season.
Depth chart: It would be quite a reach for Jones to crack the receiver rotation this season. It is not necessarily a deep position group, but there are four somewhat-established options in seniors Miles Boykin and Chris Finke, junior Chase Claypool and sophomore Michael Young. Rather than give Jones spot minutes behind them along with junior Javon McKinley and sophomore Jafar Armstrong, it is more likely the Notre Dame coaches opt to preserve a year of Jones’ eligibility.
Recruiting: A rivals.com four-star recruit and No. 36 receiver in the country, Jones committed to the Irish in February of 2017, a full year before he expected to be able to sign. That choice included looking past offers from half the Big Ten and both participants in the Egg Bowl.

QUOTE(S)
Enrolling early gives any player a head start, but that does not mean adjusting to the demands of college football is inherently easy, especially considering the somewhat isolating nature of being one of only seven freshmen rather than one of 27 and the sole receiver instead of one of four.

“When you come in as a freshman and you have the numbers in your favor as far as a group, we’re probably going 100 miles an hour,” Notre Dame receivers coach Del Alexander said in late March. “Right now it’s going at 1,000 miles an hour for Micah. His advantage won’t show up until we get to [preseason] camp.

“So for him, we’re not going to slow down, because we have a veteran group. He’s chasing his tail and trying to chase everybody out in front of him.”

WHAT WAS SAID WHEN JONES’ NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
“Jones’ size and strong hands made him a priority for Notre Dame. In today’s version of football, no team can have enough receivers, but Jones is more than simply a fill-in.

“… One of [Jones or fellow-signee Kevin Austin] is likely to spend 2018 preserving a year of eligibility, just given Irish coach Brian Kelly’s track record. Looking at Boykin and Claypool as comparable to Jones, at least in size, it seems likely he spends the year on the sideline.”

2018 OUTLOOK
The best chance for Jones to find playing time this fall is to earn it on special teams. He is not much of a speed threat yet, but he is far from slow and has the size to serve a role on the kickoff coverage unit.

If Jones does see competitive time at receiver, that will almost assuredly be the result of injuries further up the depth chart. Otherwise, if he is partaking in special teams, he may as well also get some work in mop-up duties and perhaps notch a handful of catches for a few dozen yards.

DOWN THE ROAD
Jones arrives as part of a stellar receiver class, one of four who cover every angle of the position from size to speed. While Boykin, Finke and Claypool each will have only one more year of eligibility after this fall, a bit of an eligibility and experience gap exists between them and this freshman class. Only McKinley, Young and hybrid-running back Armstrong fill out that interim, a byproduct of former Irish receiver Kevin Stepherson’s exit.

Thus, Jones will be competing with Austin and, to some extent, Lenzy to become the next sideline and red-zone threat. Even in 2019, one of the trio should emerge as the primary back-up to Boykin and/or Claypool, if both in fact return to Notre Dame for their final years of eligibility.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 93 (theoretically) Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 90 (theoretically) Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end, sophomore
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver, junior
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end, fifth-year senior
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver, senior