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Irish A-to-Z: Josh Adams

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Nobody predicted Josh Adams to have a record-breaking debut season in South Bend. But after the two-deep depth chart was plundered before halftime of the season opener, the Pennsylvania native stepped in and turned in one of the most surprising performance of 2015.

Now for an encore. With Tarean Folston back and C.J. Prosise gone, Adams has a similar opportunity in front of him. He also has a year of football under his belt. With his blend of size, speed and power, Adams could serve as the unheralded leading man of a young and talented Irish team intent on surprising people this fall.

Let’s kick off our annual Irish A-to-Z series with a playmaker who could make take a big step forward after a record-setting freshman campaign.

 

JOSH ADAMS
6’1.5″, 219 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 33, RB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Still managed a four-star ranking by 247Sports’s composite, impressive considering he missed his junior season while recovering from an ACL injury. He returned as a 4A All-State running back, with a 1,600-yard bounce back season that ended after 10 games with an ankle sprain.

Adams had offers from Penn State, Pitt, Rutgers and Stanford (though never visited Palo Alto). But he picked Notre Dame in late June, with the Irish showing faith in his recovery from injury and being immediately rewarded for it last fall.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2015): Led Irish running backs with a 7.1 yards-per-carry average, running for a school record 835 yards from scrimmage, breaking Darius Walker’s 2004 record. His 98-yard touchdown run against Wake Forest set a Notre Dame Stadium record. Broke 100 yards against UMass, Wake Forest, Pitt and Stanford. Averaged 5.6 yards per carry against Ohio State, scoring his sixth touchdown of the season.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Who saw what happened last year coming? Not me. But the snaps were there for the young backs and Adams responded.

(Needless to say, Adams isn’t becoming a safety any time soon—especially as the Irish rebuild the running back depth chart with Adams as the potential star.)

There doesn’t seem to be any snaps for a young ball carrier on this roster, unless one of these guys does something mighty special during fall camp. And while the Irish staff feels like they found a special football player in Adams, there’s no hurry to get him on the field.

While Tony Alford was the one who recruited Adams, it’s worth noting that it’ll be Autry Denson who’ll develop him. And Denson’s career at Notre Dame, not to mention his DNA as a player who maxed out his ability, will serve Adams well, especially as the lesser heralded prospect of the two backs in the 2015 recruiting class.

By all reports, Adams fits the bill of an “RKG.” Here’s what his coach Tom Hetrick said after Signing Day.

“This is a special day because Josh is a special kind of kid,” Hetrick said. “He always does the right thing. He’s a great ambassador for our program.”

With the depth chart at running back a veteran group, that mental makeup will pay dividends if it takes a few years to see the field. But with size and speed, Adams could find his way onto the field via special teams, and sure shares the profile of a safety if we’re looking at position switch candidates.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Sky high. Adams has all the ingredients you want to see in a prolific back, including opportunity. While Tarean Folston might return to the starting lineup, Adams’ ability to hit the home run, as well as be powerful on the interior, is too much to ignore.

One quote that’s striking to me still stands out from Brian Kelly’s Signing Day press conference. And it’s more apparent now than ever before.

“He has not played a lot of football,” Kelly said. “With the speed that he possesses, we think he can be whatever he wants to be.  We can’t wait to develop him.”

So far, so good.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Pencil me in for a ho-hum 1,000 yard season and 10 touchdowns. And that’s assuming that Tarean Folston has a nice year and Dexter Williams finds a role in this offense as well.

Of course, Adams has to stay healthy, and if we’ve seen anything these past few years, it’s that one Notre Dame running back is going to get bitten by the injury bug. But with a full calendar year in the strength program, and maturity and confidence that position coach Autry Denson praised this spring, Adams is going to be one of the faces of the offense this season, especially as the Irish look for answers in the passing game to replace Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle.

Depending on how optimistic you want to be, it’s not inconceivable to think that Adams could find himself in elite company next season. While he won’t likely climb into the Fournette, McCaffery conversation at the top of the heap, he’s got potential that’s not far off that.

Not sure of that? Just go back and look at the numbers and game tape. A freshman season averaging over seven-yards a carry and with speed to take a 98-yarder to the house? Adams could turn in a work horse season and explode statistically—especially if the Irish offense turns to the ground to move the unit.

Irish A-to-Z: Mike Heuerman

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When Notre Dame recruited Mike Heuerman, they were chasing a tight end unlike any other on their roster. Undersized but highly-touted, Heuerman didn’t look like Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert or Ben Koyack, but he certainly came with a similar recruiting pedigree.

Fast-forward to his third year in the program and the Irish are still waiting for Heuerman to break loose. Still undersized and not looking capable of adding weight to a shorter-than-ideal frame for a tight end, Heuerman looks and feels like an H-back in an offense that doesn’t feature one.

With a young depth chart that seems to be passing him by, let’s take a look at where Heuerman stands in the Irish offense.

 

MIKE HEUERMAN
6’3.5″, 225 lbs.
Junior, No. 84, TE

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Notre Dame out-dueled Ohio State for Heuerman’s signature, noteworthy considering his brother was playing for Urban Meyer at the time. There was a long line of suitors for Heuerman, who counted offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Michigan, Oregon and others.

There was a lot of projecting when teams looked at Heuerman, who did most of his work as a defensive end as a senior. His high school switched to a Wing-T system, limiting Heuerman’s ability to do much as a pass catcher.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2013): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2014): Underwent hernia surgery prior to the start of the season. Did not see action.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Heuerman’s injury during camp made it impossible for him to get a jump start on freshman Tyler Luatua and sophomore Durham Smythe. But it’s unclear whether even a healthy Heuerman would’ve found a place in Notre Dame’s offense.

Having just committed a few paragraphs to ways the Irish offense could use Heuerman, I’m still skeptical that we’ll see that many new wrinkles in Kelly and Mike Denbrock’s system. And while I don’t think Heuerman’s lack of prototypical size is going to be a death blow, I still think he’s a work in progress that will need to prove he can block before he gets the opportunity to catch the football.

One place I think Heuerman will help immediately is special teams. With the Irish struggling to cover kicks in 2013, Heuerman is the perfect combination of power and speed that can run down the field and make a tackle.

The depth chart at the position certainly works in Heuerman’s favor… for now. Ben Koyack will most likely have every down duties. Smythe has drawn some rave reviews this summer and Kelly spoke highly of him during bowl prep as well. But before freshmen Tyler Luatua (another undersized blocker) and Nic Weishar (still a string bean) begin competing, Heuerman will have a chance to establish a niche in the offense.

So for a redshirt freshman will four years of competition remaining, 2014 could be an important year.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

It’s not necessarily a good sign when your number gets handed over to a freshman. And Heuerman will be wearing No. 84 moving forward, with freshman slot receiver CJ Sanders donning No. 9.

(Of course, numbers aren’t official until the season—and Sanders isn’t guaranteed that jersey, just ask Cole Luke.)

But finding a place for Heuerman in this offense is difficult, even as it likely undergoes some changes as Mike Denbrock, Mike Sanford and Brian Kelly retool things for Malik Zaire. Spring practice came and went, with Heuerman mostly anonymous. And the tight end depth chart will welcome in Alizé Jones, a stretch tight end who already looks like a supersized Heuerman as an incoming freshman.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Not playing in his first two seasons isn’t necessarily a death blow, but Heuerman’s inability to gain weight or stay healthy are two major ingredients when you’re trying to project the football future of a tight end. Heuerman is a very good athlete who has hands and an ability to run well. But so does the rest of Scott Booker’s depth chart.

I won’t be the first one to suggest that Notre Dame’s staff should kick the tires on Heuerman the defensive end, a position he was dominant at as a senior in high school. Without too many natural pass rushers on the roster, a 230-pounder coming flying off the edge could be a complimentary part of the Irish defense—something that’s hard to see if Heuerman stays at either tight end or jumbo receiver.

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL
Jay Hayes, DL

 

 

Irish A-to-Z: Jalen Guyton

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(Editor’s note: Our first five-yard penalty for alphabetizing mistake. Carry on.) 

 

Notre Dame’s wide receiving depth chart is fast becoming one of the toughest two-deeps to crack. And that was before the freshman class stepped on campus. Among that new group is Jalen Guyton, the most electric playmaker on the top team in the state of Texas.

Guyton comes to South Bend from Allen, Texas, where he put up video game numbers as a high school senior. So while the road to the field might be backed up with guys like Will Fuller, Corey Robinson and Chris Brown, Guyton will be given every opportunity to fight for his chance.

Let’s take a look at the native Texan.

 

JALEN GUYTON
6’0″, 180 lbs.
Freshman, No. 83, WR

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Three-star recruit who was No. 39 on the Dallas Morning News’ Top 100. USA Football U-18 participant. State Champion at Allen.

Guyton had offers from Arizona State, Baylor, Ole Miss, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Stanford and Texas A&M.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Without getting a look at him with the Irish, Guyton reminds me of a prep-version of Will Fuller, the type of high school player who just explodes off the highlight reel. Sure, Guyton was buoyed by playing with 5-star QB prospect Kyler Murray. But Guyton made Murray look good, too.

Guyton won’t jump off the screen by his sheer physicality, but if he can run—and it sure looks like he can—he’ll be able to get behind defenses and make them pay vertically. Brian Kelly praised his versatility on Signing Day, talking about the ability to move Guyton around to all three positions, just like Allen did during a senior season where Guyton scored a ridiculous 22 touchdowns and had 1,700 receiving yards.

A statistically dominant incoming freshman who just did so at the highest level of high school football in the country? Not a bad place to start.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

While I think Guyton might be one of Notre Dame’s most under-the-radar recruits, I also wonder how he’s going to find his way onto the field. On the outside, Guyton needs to find snaps behind Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Corey Robinson. In the slot, there’s Amir Carlisle, C.J. Prosise (he’s still going to play some receiver) and guys like Torii Hunter, Corey Holmes and Justin Brent that’ll likely be in front of him.

That said, if Guyton is good enough to see the field, he’ll likely do so. Possibly in a “designated deep threat” role that we saw from Fuller and Brown as freshmen, if only to get his feet wet. He also could be a candidate for a late-start redshirt, seeing the field in the first few weeks before shutting it down for the season, just for a taste.

There’s no obvious fit for Guyton, who has nice size but hardly is a human mismatch. But that doesn’t mean the future’s not bright for a well-developed high school player who enters Notre Dame with probably the most impressive senior season of any recruit.

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB

Irish A-to-Z: Mark Harrell

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As a versatile senior along the offensive line, senior Mark Harrell is something we haven’t seen around Notre Dame in quite some time: Veteran Depth. No, we haven’t seen much from Harrell in his three seasons in South Bend. But he’s among the elder statesmen in Harry Hiestand’s position group, and a piece of the puzzle that can shift inside and out.

Harrell’s only seen action in two games, but has moved around the depth chart—spending some time as a backup center last spring, and now seemingly working at both tackle and guard to provide depth. While it’ll take some injuries to move Harrell into the starting lineup, the senior from Charlotte enters his fourth year looking to make an impact both on and off the field.

 

MARK HARRELL
6’4″, 306 lbs.
Senior, No. 75, OL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

The first-team All-State performer had offers from Michigan, Auburn, Clemson, North Carolina, South Carolina, Stanford and Tennessee. He also was a four-star prospect according to some services.

Harrell also got an “RKG” blast during Brian Kelly’s Signing Day press conference, giving you a look at the student-athlete off the field as well.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2012): Did not see action, saving a year of eligibility.

Sophomore Season (2013): Did not see action.

Junior Season (2014): Played in two games, seeing action against Rice and Michigan. Served as a backup at center, with the ability to also play guard and tackle.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Pretty much nailed it:

If we end up seeing Harrell in regular duty, it’s likely because something went wrong with injuries. If Harrell’s at center, it means Nick Martin and Matt Hegarty are down. If he’s in at guard, it’ll be because of an injury to Christian Lombard, Steve Elmer or Conor Hanratty.

Playing on special teams seems to be the most likely scenario for Harrell this season. It’ll give him an opportunity to provide depth, see live action after two seasons of practicing and add experienced depth to the roster. In years past, Harrell was the type of guy who would be starting by his junior season. It says quite a bit about the depth that he’s just fighting to stay relevant.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Put frankly, not everybody can be a starter. And that’s the path Harrell is on—a reserve along one of the better offensive lines we’ve seen at Notre Dame in a long, long time.

From the looks of it, Harrell is making the most of his college experience. He was one of Notre Dame’s student-athletes that took advantage of the study abroad opportunities that took place this summer, touring South Africa with a group of Irish athletes.

Harrell will also likely have an opportunity to pursue opportunities after this season if he wants to, with the potential to graduate and transfer to a lower-tier program to play as a fifth-year graduate transfer.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Harrell has the type of positional versatility you want in a backup. He served as a reserve center last year during the Blue-Gold game, and while he’s no longer on the depth chart behind Nick Martin, he’d likely be called upon in a pinch rather than burning Tristen Hoge’s redshirt. What happens if Ronnie Stanley or Mike McGlinchey go down at tackle is largely a mystery as well, so there’s likely playing opportunities, but again, only if things start to go awry.

Harrell will likely spend some time on special teams in 2015, capable of taking some snaps on field goal and punt teams. But the depth chart is packed and one of the toughest spots to get on the field, and Harrell’s lack of opportunity is largely because of the talent in front of him.

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR

Irish A-to-Z: Jarrett Grace

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His long road back after a catastrophic injury has been well-discussed. Now Jarrett Grace gets to the fun part—finding his way back to the middle of the Irish defense.

The fifth-year linebacker looked primed to be the heir apparent to Manti Te’o entering 2013. But a shattered leg and Joe Schmidt’s ascent made that impossible. Now Grace will play a critical role in the Irish defense, regardless of if he’s on the field or off.

The Cincinnati product injected immediate enthusiasm into spring practice, his first work with the team after multiple surgeries and a grueling rehabilitation process. Now Grace is in the middle of a packed linebacker depth chart, with the veteran still working his way back to the new normal, running on a leg that should be attached to the Terminator, not a college linebacker.

When he takes the field against Texas, Grace will be proving so many wrong who thought his career ended that fateful evening against Arizona State in 2013. (And it very well should have.) But there’s more to accomplish for one of Notre Dame’s most impressive student-athletes.

Let’s dig in.

 

JARRETT GRACE
6’2.5″, 253 lbs.
Grad Student, No. 59, LB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Grace picked Notre Dame over Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Alabama and Stanford, a victory for a coach who desperately needed a big-bodied athlete like Grace to man the interior of Bob Diaco’s 3-4 system.

Grace may not have been a true blue-chipper by recruiting analysts’ standards, but his offer list certainly was elite.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2011): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2012): Played in all 13 games, serving as Manti Te’o’s backup while anchoring Notre Dame’s special teams. He made 12 tackles, 10 on special teams, including eight on kickoff coverage.

Junior Season (2013): Played in the season’s first six games, leading the team in tackles at the time of his injury against Arizona State. Had split starting duties with Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese.  Notre Dame’s Rockne Scholar Athlete.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Last spring, Grace underwent another surgery to help his leg—swapping out a steel rod that wasn’t quite taking. That all but meant the 2014 season was a goner, even if the official word out of Brian Kelly was hopeful.

Still, give credit to the athletic training staff that Grace is able to complete this comeback. I hinted at their role in this recovery last season, and Grace has publicly talked about the support he’s received as well.

There’s no player you should root for more to come back from injury than Grace. The team’s Rockne scholar-athlete of the year in 2013, Grace has all the leadership traits you could ask for in a football player, and has immense respect in the team’s locker room, earned while waiting his turn to play behind Manti Te’o for two seasons.

If this was five years ago, I suspect Grace would already be facing a medical hardship waiver and his football career in South Bend would be over. But the team’s enhanced medical staff and willingness to go above and beyond for its student-athletes with cutting edge rehabilitation techniques gives Grace the best chance he could possibly ask for to return from this injury.

While a return for the season opener against Rice is the goal, giving Grace a full calendar year to return isn’t unreasonable. If that means getting him back for the stretch run, it’s better than most should have expected. Notre Dame has a good experience on their side in the return of Torii Hunter from a freak bone break. But even that came after a setback in recovery, necessitating a redshirt 2013 season.

Grace is a senior with two years of competition remaining. So while the timing for the injury is unfortunate, getting anything out of the linebacker this season would be a huge bonus for Grace and the Irish.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

At this point, we just need to see how Grace looks when he’s back on the field. We’ve heard repeatedly from Brian Kelly how well Grace’s recovery is going, but at the same time we’ve also heard that there’s still work to be done before Grace is back to his full explosiveness.

It’s hard not to think of former Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich when you talk about Grace. Herzlich heroically returned from bone cancer in his leg and just recently signed a new two-year deal with the New York Giants.

Grace wasn’t the standout that Herzlich was when he got injured, but he had the potential to be that good. If Grace can fully recover and salvage an NFL career after some dark, dark days, it’d be a tremendous story and a credit to a very impressive kid.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Are you going to doubt Grace? Because I sure don’t want to. That being said, how he fits into the puzzle remains to be seen.

You have to assume Joe Schmidt returns to the middle of the Irish defense. He was the mental hub of the unit in 2014, and his departure all but coincided with the demise of the unit. Throw in a promising young linebacker in Nyles Morgan, and Grace is competing for playing time with two very good linebackers.

Setting aside Grace’s recovery—which is the ultimate barometer—where Notre Dame uses Jaylon Smith will likely dictate how much time Grace gets in packages. If Smith is shifting in and out and being utilized in the pass rush, Grace can play in the middle. And if Schmidt can cross-train at will, Grace and his size/reach advantage can hold ground at the mike spot.

Even if Grace plays a role similar to the one Cam McDaniel did as a senior captain, he’ll help the defense improve by just being in uniform and filling a leadership role. But if he’s healthy, Grace’s ceiling is so much higher than just spot duty, so here’s hoping that he gets some of the spoils that he richly deserves.

 

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR