Re-stocking the roster: Quarterbacks


That Notre Dame’s quarterback play in 2015 created another “good problem” is a credit to the depth Brian Kelly and his coaching staff have recruited. Because heading into the season, that depth looked, once again, under attack.

That’s what happens when your fifth-year quarterback skips town after spring practice, with Everett Golson deciding to play out his eligibility in Tallahassee. That left Notre Dame with Malik Zaire at the helm and the still-anonymous DeShone Kizer as a backup.

Things don’t seem all that bleak now—not with Kizer’s huge debut season and Zaire healthy and ready for spring. But the last we had seen Kizer he was getting outplayed by walk-on Montgomery VanGorder in the spring game, putting together a performance he described as “rock bottom.” There were worries if Kizer could “fit” an offense that Zaire looked perfect for (he did quite nicely). Or if he was even good enough to hold off freshman Brandon Wimbush, an elite recruit who had a perfect skill-set for Notre Dame’s offense.

Kizer’s impressive 2015 changed the trajectory of the program, turning this spring practice into another session where all eyes will be on the quarterbacks. So let’s take a look at the position as we update the last two recruiting cycles, with the Irish adding two promising pieces to the roster.




Brandon Wimbush (3 of 5, 17 yards; 7 carries, 96 yards, 1 TD)
Ian Book


Malik Zaire*, Sr.
DeShone Kizer*, Jr.
Brandon Wimbush, Soph.

*Fifth-year of eligibility available. 


It’s another all-out quarterback battle this spring, with a national spotlight focused on Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer. We’ll get back to that part in a second, but the staff’s plans with Brandon Wimbush are quite interesting as well.

Kelly acknowledged the plan to redshirt Wimbush in 2016, getting back the year of eligibility he was forced to use last season after Zaire went down in week two. That forces incoming freshman Ian Book into a unique spot, with the freshman just one hit away from being in the same place Wimbush was last season. Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford thinks Book is ready for that challenge, an important distinction that at least counterbalances the skepticism that might have people viewing a year of the incoming 3-star recruit’s eligibility at a lesser value than Wimbush’s. (Book can earn back that year as a sophomore as well.)

Back to the main event: It’s too early to know how the Irish staff will handle things, other than to say they won’t do it like they did when it was Golson vs. Zaire. Not that there’s a worry that the loser announces his departure before the summer—neither quarterback gains anything leaving South Bend until after the 2016 season.

But there’s no incentive to name a starter any sooner than August. Especially when Notre Dame’s offensive identity will likely go through quite a makeover—tweaked offensive line, finding a replacement for Will Fuller (and C.J. Prosise) and a new set of receivers.

In many ways, a two-quarterback platoon may be a better option with this duo than the one that had so many of us (me included) excited. So whether you think Kizer or Zaire is the better candidate for the job, there’s a lot of time between now and the 2016 season opener. And the only thing that this staff knows for sure is that everybody on the roster needs to get better.

Restocking the roster: Running Backs

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Notre Dame’s running back depth chart was tested to its max less than 10 minutes into the season opener. The projected two-deep, Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, were both lost for the year—Bryant out of school as an academic and disciplinary casualty by the start of fall camp and Folston because of a knee injury suffered on his third carry of the season.

Welcome back to Notre Dame, Autry Denson.

The school’s all-time leading rusher in his first season as a running back coach had to be feeling a little woozy. He had a converted wide receiver taking featured-back carries and a true freshman a little over a year removed from his own major knee injury serving as his primary backup.

That the Irish had their most prolific running season under Brian Kelly says quite a bit about the job that Denson did. It’s also a credit to the offensive line blocking, the adjusted scheme that also protected two new starting quarterbacks, and the talent that remained at the position.

Spring presents new challenges. Tarean Folston should be a little over seven months removed from ACL surgery, making him doubtful to do anything more than wear a red jersey. With C.J. Prosise‘s departure, Adams goes from record-setting rookie to spring starter, with Williams likely carrying a large load as well.

Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh arrive this summer, reinforcements on the way. But before we get there, let’s take a look at the pre-spring roster at running back.


C.J. Prosise (156 carries 1,032 yards, 11 TDs)
Greg Bryant (lost preseason 2015)


Josh Adams (117 carries, 835 yards, 6 TDs)
Dexter Williams (21 carries, 81 yards, 3 TDs)
Tony Jones Jr.
Deon McIntosh 


Tarean Folston,* Sr.
Josh Adams, Soph.
Dexter Williams, Soph.
Justin Brent,* Junior

*Additional year of eligibility remaining.


ANALYSIS: This might be a position battle deferred to fall camp, especially if Folston is still in recovery mode. At this point, it doesn’t make sense to rush back from an ACL tear for 15 practices, so while the rising senior may be chomping at the bit to return, it’s better to save it until August.

Folston will likely be the team’s most versatile back, but keeping Adams off the field will be a hard chore. His breakaway speed was on display multiple times in 2015, with his record-setting run against Wake Forest the team’s longest play from scrimmage. Adams also likely added some mass and physicality to his game in the offseason weigh-training program, giving the Irish someone capable of hitting the big play and also moving the sticks in short yardage situations.

The staff believes that Dexter Williams is a talented back, so with three solid contributors on the roster before Jones or McIntosh hit campus, it’ll be fun to see how snaps get sorted. (From that perspective, you can only wonder how they’d have dealt with the champagne problem of having Prosise around…) Justin Brent remains an option as well, though the attrition from the receiving corps makes you think he’ll be back at receiver.

The wildcard in all of this is Folston. He’s a unique talent with natural ability you just can’t teach. If he’s fully recovered and ready to engage in a position battle, there won’t likely be a drop off even with the early departure of Prosise.


Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

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Notre Dame will send ten former players to the NFL Scouting Combine. The annual event in Indianapolis serves as the unofficial apex of draft season, a meat-market where the best professional prospects are poked, prodded, questioned and tested in a variety of on- and off-field drills.

Heading to the festivities from Notre Dame are:

Chris Brown, WR
Sheldon Day, DT
Will Fuller, WR
Nick Martin, C
Romeo Okwara, DE
C.J. Prosise, RB
KeiVarae Russell, CB
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, OLB
Ronnie Stanley, OT

For a prospect like Smith, it’ll be teams first opportunity to talk to the elite prospect and check his progress medically as he returns from a Fiesta Bowl knee injury. Russell will also be a non-participant in physical drills, waiting until Notre Dame’s Pro Day to go through testing.

Invites to Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Elijah Shumate are crucial in finding their way into the draft, as the three former Irish starters participated in the Shrine Bowl, where scouts had an early look at them. Likewise, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day continue their ascent, both coming off strong Senior Bowl weeks.

For Irish fans, it’ll be fun to watch early-enrollees Fuller and Prosise test. Both are expected to be some of the fastest players at their position. Brown may also have the ability to surprise teams, with his track background and leaping ability capable of earning him an extended look. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will look to impress as well, hoping to check out as one of the draft’s most impressive athletes at offensive tackle.

Ohio State led all schools with 14 invites. National Champion Alabama had nine former players invited.


WR Corey Robinson named Notre Dame student body president


On Wednesday, wide receiver Corey Robinson added another impressive title to his resume as a student-athlete at Notre Dame: Student Body President.

The junior, paired with classmate Becca Blais as his vice presidential running mate, won a majority of the votes cast by his fellow students, a runaway winner with 59.4% of the votes, nearly triple the next highest vote getter.

Robinson posted the following on Twitter, thankful for the opportunity to serve his fellow students:

Robinson’s time at Notre Dame has been filled with accomplishments both on and off the field. He was named an Academic All-American as a sophomore. He’s a six-time Dean’s List member in the prestigious Program of Liberal Studies and is also pursuing a sustainability minor. He’s won the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award as well.

That’s quite a bit on the plate of Notre Dame’s lone senior wide receiver. But as you might expect, Robinson is well prepared for the next challenge ahead.

“I’ve planned ahead, gotten all of my hard work out of the way this semester, and I’m finishing up my senior thesis,” Robinson told The Observer. “I’m doing all the hard stuff now so in the fall and the spring, I just have to take two classes pretty much.”

Robinson’s other contributions as a student-athlete at Notre Dame include One Shirt one Body, an opportunity for college athletes to donate their athletic apparel to local communities. Robinson has presented the plan to the ACC as well as the NCAA, earning immediate support from both organizations.


Mailbag: Now Open (scheduling input requested)

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Okay folks, we’ve had enough semi-positive encouragement to keep the video mailbag going for another week. With that said, I’ll need some reader participation to keep this thing rolling on.

As always, submit your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold. You can also ask your questions live via Facebook. You’ll need to LIKE THIS PAGE first, and then at the appropriate time, head on over to watch and participate.

To that point, let’s pick a time that works for everyone. Right now, here are the options that work at Inside the Irish HQ.  Weigh in and the best time wins. (How’s that for a democracy?)