With the 2013 in the books, it is officially time to look ahead to 2014 as the Irish look to move back into the national spotlight following this year’s 9-4 campaign. With an eye on 2014, here is a look at six freshmen who either played sparingly or hardly at all this season to keep an eye on this off-season.
Malik Zaire (QB) – This one is obvious, but with Tommy Rees out of eligibility and Andrew Hendrix looking to transfer for his 5th year, Zaire heads into the off-season as at worst the backup quarterback. Everett Golson will need to win the starting quarterback position back officially, but it would be a shocker if he didn’t do just that. Many Notre Dame fans were clamoring for Zaire’s redshirt to be burned throughout the season and will finally get their chance to see Zaire in some extended action this spring. Even if Zaire can’t wrestle away the starting quarterback position, it is imperative for Notre Dame that Zaire develops this spring to the point that he can play meaningful downs for the Irish. It has been far too long since Notre Dame has had depth at the quarterback position. Zaire has the talent and ability to provide that if he develops this spring.
Greg Bryant (RB) – Bryant ended up taking a back-burner to fellow freshman running back Tarean Folston this year while he battled through a knee injury that cost him his freshman season. Brian Kelly raved about Bryant during Pinstripe Bowl practices and Bryant will enter the off-season poised to challenge for the starting tailback position with Folston, George Atkinson, and Cam McDaniel. At a minimum, Bryant should be able to provide a heck of a 1-2 punch at running back with Folston just like Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood in 2011 and then Theo Riddick and Wood in 2012. Bryant was a 5-star recruit for a reason a year ago and we could start to see that this spring.
Max Redfield (S) – After not seeing much action on defense throughout the 2013 regular season, Redfield saw some extensive action in the Pinstripe Bowl. Redfield started the game, but only ended up collecting one tackle in the contest. Just seeing Redfield on the field was a welcomed sign for Notre Dame fans though given the struggles of Notre Dame’s safeties in 2013. It took Redfield some time to get comfortable enough in the defense to make the necessary calls but the extra month of bowl practice allowed him to gain that level of comfort. Notre Dame hasn’t had an impact safety the last two seasons since Harrison Smith was drafted in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. For Notre Dame to make a playoff run next year, they will need a safety like Redfield to step up.
Torii Hunter, Jr (WR) – Of all of the freshmen wide receivers, Hunter had me the most excited this time last year. Then he broke his leg during the practices for the US Army All-American Bowl and suffered a setback in the summer that cost him his freshman season. Hunter started to practice with the team over the last few weeks though and is a potential big play threat for the Irish. Hunter will have some competition on the depth chart with the likes of fellow freshman Will Fuller and junior Chris Brown who played the best game of his career in the Pinstripe Bowl to be one of Notre Dame’s deep threats in 2014. It’s not a given that Hunter will be able to fully bounce back next season already, but it will be interesting to watch how he comes back from the injury over the spring and fall.
Mike Heuerman (TE) – Heuerman didn’t play as a true freshman this year. He needed some time in the weight room before he was ready for playing time, but he could be called upon in 2014 should the Irish suffer an injury to either Troy Niklas or Ben Koyack who emerged during his junior year after two very quiet years to start his career. If all goes well for Notre Dame, Heuerman won’t be called upon too much in 2014, but his development this off-season will be very important down the road for Notre Dame with Niklas and Koyack both out of eligibility after the 2014 season. Now, if Troy Niklas were to surprise most and declare for the draft early, Heuerman’s off-season becomes even more important for Notre Dame.
Michael Deeb (ILB) - Notre Dame loses both of it’s starting inside linebackers with Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox both exhausting their eligibility this season and Jarrett Grace will likely miss spring practice as he covers from a fractured tibia and fibula suffered against Arizona State. Freshman Doug Randolph is likely out of all contact drills this spring as well leaving just Deeb and possibly Kendal Moore if he is back for a 5th year as inside linebackers currently on the roster who will be available this spring. Joe Schmidt could potentially be back as well if a scholarship is available once the Irish wrap up this year’s recruiting class. Deeb didn’t play this year, but he is going to get a lot of playing time this spring which could propel him to starting role for 2014.