The Blue-Gold game is done and spring’s 15 practices are complete. With Easter break around the corner and summer workouts still a few months away, let’s take a look at the moves and shakes on the Irish offensive depth chart.
1. Everett Golson, Sr.
2. Malik Zaire, Soph.
3. Charlie Fiessenger, Sr.
Trending: It’s a two man race, with all respect to Fiessenger. After seeing Zaire perform admirably during the Blue-Gold game, it’s also a depth chart that’s tightening.
Reading too much into the spring game is a dangerous thing, but if there’s a disappointment it was Golson’s early accuracy. He missed an easy touchdown read and throw when he air-mailed Amir Carlisle. He was slow to diagnose a few pressures and didn’t look overly comfortable in the pocket either.
Zaire wasn’t perfect. In the NBC broadcast, you could hear Brian Kelly coaching up Zaire on maintaining his “fastball” when checking down to running backs. A few times Zaire floated a ball to an underneath throw. That lack of velocity could be the difference in a linebacker closing in or a back getting loose.
1. Tarean Folston, Soph.
2. Greg Bryant, Soph.
3. Cam McDaniel, Sr.
Trending: This might be controversial, but to me it’s a no-brainer. Cam McDaniel is the third most talented back on the roster, and if Folston and Bryant can mentally handle everything in the playbook, McDaniel’s value just isn’t the same to the offense.
We’ve seen Kelly value reliability in his running backs, picking Theo Riddick over Cierre Wood and giving touches to McDaniel over more explosive options last season. But I fully expect Folston to have a breakthrough season, and he and Bryant are just too dynamic to not get the lion’s share of touches.
Incorporating the backs into the passing game will help with McDaniel’s value. But after hearing and seeing glimpses of Bryant’s work as a receiver, and Folston’s five catches in the Blue-Gold game, this is a talented depth chart that’ll be one of the most competitive spots on the roster.
1. Ben Koyack, Sr.
2. Durham Smythe, Soph.
3. Mike Heuerman, Soph.
Trending: Expect Koyack to match or surpass the production Troy Niklas put up last year, easing the pain in the passing game, though incapable of providing the in-line protecting that Niklas brought to the table. From there, it looks like Durham Smythe might be the next best option in two tight end sets, with Heuerman mostly a split wide option.
Tim Prister at Irish Illustrated caught up with Heuerman, who is physically stronger than his 225 pounds indicate. He’ll need to get to around 240 to provide the Irish passing game with a receiving tight end that could be a mismatch against linebackers. But this trio should be good enough to let one and probably both of the incoming freshmen redshirt.
1. Corey Robinson
2. Will Fuller
3. Amir Carlisle
4. Chris Brown
5. CJ Prosise
6. Torii Hunter, Jr.
7. Justin Brent
Trending: Another position that’s going to be highly competitive, especially when DaVaris Daniels returns. While Chris Brown led the team in yardage during the Blue-Gold game, I’m not sure he’s a better outside option than Robinson or Fuller, who look like a pretty good complementary combo.
I’m slotting Amir Carlisle in as the No. 1 receiver at the Z (see what I did there?), but Prosise is too good of an athlete not to play. Behind that group is Hunter and Brent, who I think will end up redshirting next season.
This is the most talented depth chart Kelly has had, and top to bottom as good as I can remember.
LT — Ronnie Stanley, Jr.
LG — Steve Elmer, Soph.
C — Nick Martin, Sr.
RG — Christian Lombard, Grad Student
RT — Mike McGlinchey, Soph.
LT — Hunter Bivin, Soph.
LG — Mark Harrell, Jr.
C — Matt Hegarty, Sr.
RG — Conor Hanratty, Sr.
RT — Colin McGovern, Soph.
Trending: While things still need sorting, I get the hunch that this is the starting offensive line we’ll see against Rice, assuming no injuries occur over the offseason. If we’re looking for a next man in, it’s probably between Hegarty and Hanratty on the interior of the line, with tackle being a little bit harder to decipher, though likely a shift of Elmer outside.
This has quickly become one of the deepest parts of the Irish roster, with a starting five that should do more than fine, even replacing Chris Watt and four-year MVP Zack Martin. Ronnie Stanley looks at home at left tackle, and an offseason of development in the weight room will only help. McGlinchey is the one wild card of it all, but he looks to be ready to move into the starting lineup as well.