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Monday’s Leftovers and Links: Notre Dame lands a punter; adds (another) late kickoff

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Notre Dame has its punter for 2018 in fifth-year captain Tyler Newsome. The Irish now also have their punter for the following four years with the Wednesday commitment from Jay Bramblett (Tuscaloosa Hillcrest High School; Tuscaloosa, Ala.). Bramblett became the 11th commitment in Notre Dame’s class of 2019 with an announcement on Twitter.

Recruiting punters can be tricky. The Irish coaching staff rarely wants to devote more than one scholarship to the position at a time, so a new punter is sought only every four or five years. This just happens to be that spot in the cycle.

Bramblett receives quite strong praise from Chris Sailer of Chris Sailer Kicking, the preeminent specialists training group in the country.

“Jay is a big-time high school punting prospect,” Sailer said to Blue & Gold Illustrated. “A great looking athlete with an explosive leg. He has an ideal frame for a D1 college punter. Jay punts for outstanding distance and big hang time.”

5 p.m. PT … meaning a very early return to Notre Dame
CBS announced the Notre Dame vs. Navy game in San Diego on Oct. 27 will kick off at 8 p.m. ET and be broadcast on CBS. That sounds great: On national broadcast television at evening local time, the sun will set as the game ends.

And the Irish will not get home until 5 or 6 a.m. ET. Figuring the game ends shortly before midnight ET, Notre Dame will be in the air no earlier than 1 a.m. and the direct flight takes at least four hours. By the time the Irish make the 20-minute drive to campus from the South Bend International Airport, it will be pushing 5:30 a.m. ET in a best-case scenario.

The CBS decision guarantees Notre Dame has a minimum of four primetime games this season, with 7:30 p.m. ET kicks set for the three home games against Michigan (Sept. 1), Stanford (Sept. 29) and Florida State (Nov. 10). It is overwhelmingly likely at least one of the trips to Virginia Tech (Oct. 6) and USC (Nov. 24) adds another late kickoff, if not both.

Kelly remains vague re: running backs
The South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen spoke with Irish head coach Brian Kelly on Monday before a round of golf at the Kelly Cares Foundation Golf Invitational in southwestern Michigan. In discussing rumors regarding the eligibility of senior Dexter Williams, junior Deon McIntosh and sophomore C.J. Holmes, Kelly did not offer much clarity.

Summary: Williams may or may not miss much of September. McIntosh and Holmes remain off the team, but the figurative door might be open a crack, although it is not open wide enough for both to get through it.

On the need for a balanced roster
In a mailbag last week, The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel pondered why USC has been blown out consistently against top-flight opponents during head coach Clay Helton’s two years at the helm, including last season’s 49-14 loss to Notre Dame.

Irish fans could quickly ask a similar question of Kelly’s last few seasons. In a logical manner, Notre Dame’s shortcoming may be the exact inverse of what Mandel diagnoses as the Trojans’ issue.

“USC is not lacking for skill-position talent, but against those elite intersectional opponents, it’s often been exposed on the line of scrimmage,” Mandel wrote. “… USC, a program we generally think of as teeming with NFL talent, has produced 10 first- or second-round draft picks since 2013. Of those, six were offensive players. Another was all-purpose weapon Adoree’ Jackson. The only guy on the list who played on either line of scrimmage was star DT Leonard Williams.”

In that same time span, a dozen Irish players have been drafted in the first two rounds. Five of those were offensive linemen and two more were tight ends. Only one was a defensive lineman (Stephon Tuitt, 2014). The list also includes two generational linebackers (Jaylon Smith, 2016; Manti Te’o, 2013), but it lacks any other defensive presence.

While the Trojans manage to trot out the speedy receivers, a couple linebackers and the likes of Jackson, they don’t find success in recruiting and/or developing offensive linemen. Notre Dame, meanwhile, can only count Will Fuller as that type of a high-end receiver and struggles to come across impact defensive linemen. Those types of holes keep both programs from finishing the season in the top-five more than once apiece in the decade.

INSIDE THE IRISH READING
The Heisman odds of Brandon Wimbush & Notre Dame’s opponents
No. 76 Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman
No. 75 Josh Lugg, offensive lineman
No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, starting left tackle
No. 73 Luke Jones, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 72 Robert Hainsey, starting right tackle
No. 71 Alex Bars, left guard and captain
No. 70 John Dirksen, incoming freshman, offensive lineman

OUTSIDE READING
Kirk Cousins likes throwing the ball to Kyle Rudolph
How West Virginia is preparing its stars for the biggest year of their lives
While waiting for football, how about a little hockey?
A father-son rivalry disguised by a never-ending trip across the country

Notre Dame’s Opponents: Early NFL departures hit Georgia, Michigan and Stanford hardest

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A sign of a strong program is one that loses players to the NFL before they exhaust eligibility. In that vein, Notre Dame lost a consensus first-team All-American cornerback, its leading receiver and a long-time tease of a tight end. The last of those (Alizé Mack) was never expected back for a fifth season; replacing Miles Boykin’s production is certainly within reason; and a consensus first-team All-American should be expected to take the route junior Julian Love has.

Even with that expectation, losing Love — and to a lesser extent, Boykin — alters the natural roster cycle, the inherent design intended during recruiting. Reloading is always the hope, the next intention, but very rarely is the young backup comparable to the near professional, even by the end of the coming season.

Nonetheless, the Irish got off easy this cycle compared to four of their 2019 opponents …

GEORGIA: Junior running back Elijah Holyfield, the Bulldogs’ second-leading rusher, departs after gaining 1,018 rushing yards with seven touchdowns on 6.4 yards per carry this season. Frankly, that is the least of Georgia’s losses. Three of quarterback Jake Fromm’s four favorite targets will leave eligibility on the figurative table:

— Junior receiver Riley Ridley: 44 catches for 570 yards and nine touchdowns in 2018.
— Junior receiver Mecole Hardman: 34 catches for 532 yards and seven touchdowns.
— Junior tight end Isaac Nauta: 30 catches for 430 yards and three touchdowns.

Without running back Karan Higdon, Michigan will presumably rely on its passing game more in 2019, quarterback Shea Patterson’s second season as a Wolverine. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

MICHIGAN: The Wolverines got good news when quarterback Shea Patterson opted to return for 2019, but losing leading-rusher Karan Higdon (1,178 yards, 10 touchdowns, 5.3 average) will be an issue head coach Jim Harbaugh undoubtedly hoped to avoid. Junior tight end Zach Gentry, Patterson’s third-most prolific target with 32 catches for 514 yards and two scores, will also head to the next level.

On the flip side, Harbaugh could have hoped linebacker Devin Bush (team-leading 80 tackles with 9.5 for loss including five sacks), defensive end Rashan Gary (44 tackles with seven for loss including 3.5 sacks) or linebacker David Long (17 tackles with one interception) might return, but no such luck for Michigan.

Duke junior quarterback Daniel Jones will head to the NFL after his third season as a starter, immediately lowering the Blue Devils’ 2019 expectations. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

DUKE: Junior linebacker Joe Giles-Harris paced the Blue Devils with 81 tackles, including seven for loss with one sack, doing so in only nine games. But losing Giles-Harris is hardly the concern for Duke. The decision to turn pro from quarterback Daniel Jones is.

In his third year as a starter, the junior fought through a broken collarbone to still play in 11 games in 2018, completing 60.5 percent of his passes for 2,674 yards and 22 touchdowns with nine interceptions. He added 319 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

Jones’ decision may come as a surprise, but it is one that should work out well for both him and Notre Dame. Some mock drafts project him as a top-10 pick. In a draft light on quarterbacks — partly because Oregon’s Justin Herbert returned for another season, yet already somewhat counteracted by the Monday draft entry from Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray — Jones could end up being the third or fourth passer picked.

BOSTON COLLEGE: The Eagles will say farewell to junior cornerback Hemp Cheevers after he notched seven interceptions this season, returning one for a touchdown, to go along with 39 tackles.

STANFORD: This will seem like the Cardinal lost a lot to the NFL draft, but it could have been worse: As the departures mounted, so did speculation junior quarterback K.J. Costello might follow them. He opted not to.

Stanford will be without running back Bryce Love after his prodigious two seasons as the starter. Consider that a loss akin to the Irish Love, the inevitable price of enjoying the success in the first place.

Junior receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside will capitalize on his breakout season of 1,059 yards and 14 touchdowns, depriving Costello of his favorite jump-ball threat.

Junior tight end Kaden Smith will also head to the next level, in large part thanks to his 47 catches for 635 yards and two touchdowns this past season.

Louisville, New Mexico, Virginia, Bowling Green, USC, Virginia Tech and Navy all did not lose anyone early or pseudo-early to the NFL draft.

Autry Denson leaves Notre Dame to take over at Charleston Southern

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Notre Dame’s all-time leading rusher will no longer coach its current running backs. After four seasons at his alma mater, Autry Denson has been named the head coach at Charleston Southern, an FCS-level program, per a release Monday afternoon.

The second-longest tenured coach on Brian Kelly’s staff (behind only defensive line coach Mike Elston; tied with cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght), Denson had produced quality Irish backs, peaking with Josh Adams’ 1,430 rushing yards in 2017, leading an offense that averaged 269.5 rushing yards per game.

“I am so excited for Autry as he embarks on the next step of his coaching career as the new head coach at Charleston Southern,” Kelly said in a statement. “He has done a tremendous job for us during his time at Notre Dame.

“He not only developed our running backs to produce at a high level on the field, but he was also instrumental in their growth as young men.”

Only Adams and C.J. Prosise broke 1,000 rushing yards in a season under Denson, though Dexter Williams gained 995 in only nine games this past season. A third-round pick in 2016, Prosise has spent his entire career with the Seattle Seahawks, while Adams rushed for 511 yards and three touchdowns in his rookie season with the Philadelphia Eagles. Williams should join them in the NFL in April’s draft.

All of them paled in comparison to Denson’s college days, a career that saw him gain 4,318 rushing yards, 43 touchdowns and three seasons of more than 1,000 rushing yards. A 1998 All-American, Denson then spent five years in the NFL.

Denson began his coaching career at the FCS level at Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach, Fla., a couple hundred miles up the coast from his hometown outside of Miami.

“I was drawn to Charleston Southern by the vision of this great Christian university of integrating faith in learning, leading and serving,” Denson said. “As a result, I knew this could be a place where I could build and lead a program to honor Christ by operating with character, integrity, transparency, accountability and community.”

Charleston Southern went 5-6 in 2018 under Mark Tucker, who went 11-11 in two seasons before resigning last month.

Program-record 10 early enrollees mark the beginning of Notre Dame’s 2019

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With the early enrollment of 10 freshmen, Notre Dame’s 2019 has begun. Usually this sparks a debate among outsiders pitting the advantages of early enrollment against the high school experiences lost. Not only is that an argument held by those far from both the program and high school, but it is also one missing the team-wide edge gained.

With 10 additional scholarship bodies this spring, the Irish will have 77 on hand, as of now. A total of 16 of those will be offensive linemen, including four mid-year arrivals. Whereas there are some springs in which Notre Dame struggles to field a second unit on its offensive line, this March and April will feature three complete units with a body to spare.

There will be just as many defensive lines, with three early enrollees bringing the total up to 14 scholarship players knocking around this spring, though the health of rising sophomore Ja’Mion Franklin (quad) may drop that a notch.

Either way, the Irish will have more depth on hand this spring than usual. The 10 freshmen spurning a semester of high school will still have their chance at added weight room time, meaningful spring repetitions and theoretical development, but those rewards can end up as much hypothetical as realized. It is nearly impossible to predict if running back Kyren Williams (pictured above) will be tangibly more developed in September because he got to South Bend in January. Linebacker Jack Kiser is unlikely to play much as a freshman in either scenario; punter Jay Bramblett is certainly going to no matter what. However, the opportunity to have thorough practices with up-front depth should only enhance the effects of this spring.

None of this will ever become exactly normal, even if Notre Dame has increased its early enrollee numbers from beginning in 2006 to seven last season and now these 10. Of this grouping, some are the first to make this exact leap in their high school’s history. Many private schools do not make such possible. For that matter, this influx speaks to this group in particular, not an overall trend.

It is, nonetheless, a group receiving many of the same praises Irish head coach Brian Kelly has offered in years past and will undoubtedly offer as long as he remains in this post.

“These guys are serious about what they are doing,” Kelly said in December’s early signing period. “They are signing up for getting a degree and winning a national championship. These are not silly guys. These are guys that are really focused on coming here to win a national championship.”

Of course, that is always Kelly’s stated goal. The national championship game may be 364 days from now, but that process has already begun anew.

The 10 early enrollees:
Offensive tackles Quinn Carroll and Andrew Kristofic
Offensive guard John Olmstead
Center Zeke Correll
Running back Kyren Williams
Defensive tackles Jacob Lacey and Hunter Spears
Defensive end NaNa Osafo-Mensah
Linebacker Jack Kiser
Punter Jay Bramblett

Claypool’s return welcome news for Notre Dame

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Notre Dame will need to replace only one receiver next season. Chase Claypool announced he will return for his senior season Thursday evening. This may have been long presumed, but less qualified players have entered the NFL draft with eligibility remaining in years past.

With the departure of Miles Boykin, Claypool will become the leading Irish target, the prime candidate to replace Boykin’s 59 catches for 872 yards and eight touchdowns. A year ago, asking Claypool to put up numbers like that would have been a leap beyond reason, but after a 2018 season in which he accounted for 50 catches, 639 yards and four touchdowns, Claypool becoming an offense’s best playmaker is fathomable beyond just pinning those hopes on the Canadian native’s athleticism.

Claypool’s career began as a special teams star, making 11 tackles in 2016, while catching only five passes for 81 yards. An inconsistent sophomore season followed, managing 29 catches for 402 yards and two touchdowns. Those may sound like solid numbers, but they include only five catches in the season’s final four games and only one game with more than four catches all season.

Claypool had at least four catches in seven games this season, all started by junior quarterback Ian Book. With Book throwing, Claypool averaged 4.67 catches and 58.56 yards per game, highlighted by eight for 130 at Northwestern.

Claypool and current senior Chris Finke will presumably both start again, while one of a number of rising sophomores could step in either for Boykin on the boundary or for Claypool on the field side with Claypool possibly taking over boundary duties.

With five catches for 90 yards in his freshman campaign and a skill set similar to Boykin’s, Kevin Austin may be the front-runner for that starting role.