We’re still over a month away from the start of fall camp, but with freshman reporting to Notre Dame in the near future, it’s a good time to start looking at which incoming frosh may see the field for the Irish this fall.
Notre Dame landed one of it’s strongest, most well rounded recruiting classes in recent years this past February so there are no shortages of potential instant impact freshman. In fact, it would be in many ways surprising if more than a couple logged significant, meaningful minutes for the Irish from very early on.
Here’s a look at eight players we may be hearing from sooner rather than later.
1. Aaron Lynch - This one should come as no surprise to anyone. Even before Lynch grabbed everyone’s attention in the Blue Gold game, he was already on everyone’s short of potential impact freshman for Notre Dame. What was most surprising about Lynch’s performance in April was his plays against the run. Most felt Lynch would be more of a pass rush specialist early on, but his strong play against the run could earn him a lot of playing time early on.
2. Ishaq Williams – Williams didn’t put on quite the same show that Lynch did in the Blue Gold game, but he was more than solid and could find his way on the field early as a pass rushing specialist. Notre Dame doesn’t have many pure pass rushers right now. Darius Fleming has shown the potential to be a pass rusher and Prince Shembo certainly show that potential as well, but outside of them, the Irish are short on pass rushers. If Williams can build on what he learned in the spring, he should be in the mix at OLB early on.
3. George Atkinson - Before the injury to Cameron Roberson I thought Atkinson would have the chance to play early as a return man. With Roberson’s injury status very much up in the air for 2011, Atkinson could get on the field at the running back position. He was originally recruited as a wide receiver, but he has played running back in high school and could get more than just a look at the position this fall. Notre Dame will have just four running backs on scholarship in the fall if Roberson isn’t able to play so either Atkinson or fellow incoming freshman Cam McDaniel will likely see some carries.
4. Jalen Brown - This one may comes as a little bit of a surprise because Brown didn’t generate too much hype during the recruiting process, but one of the incoming freshman defensive backs is likely going to have to see the field early and my money is on Brown. At a minimum, I think we’ll see Brown on special teams. Even with the move of Bennett Jackson to corner, Notre Dame will have just 4 scholarship corners on the roster for the fall making getting Brown, or one of the other freshman defensive backs, ready for playing time will be important.
5. Stephon Tuitt - Tuitt was ranked higher than Lynch by most recruiting services, but Lynch’s early start definitely gives him the leg up in terms of seeing the field. Tuitt will report to Notre Dame with the size needed for early playing time and once he picks up the defense it will surprise no one if he gets on the field quickly. Outside of Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore, none of the current defensive ends have really established themselves enough to feel comfortable enough about holding off Lynch and Tuitt in fall camp.
6. Davaris Daniels – Even if Michael Floyd ends up playing in every game for Notre Dame this year, there will still be a great opportunity for Daniels to see the field. Outside of Floyd, the only other Irish wide receivers to establish themselves so far are Theo Riddick and TJ Jones. Robby Toma started to emerge down the stretch last year as well, but outside of that handful, no one else has stepped up. Bennett Jackson and Austin Collinsworth have both moved to defense and Atkinson will be getting reps at running back.
7. Ben Councell – Councell will take some time to learn the defense, but like Williams, he has the opportunity to push some of the older outside linebackers on the roster. Councell won’t have the benefit of a full spring practice under his belt like Williams though so his impact on defense might not be as substantial this year. He could, however, very well be a candidate for early playing time on special teams.
8. Everett Golson - This is a tough call here. Golson is a very exciting prospect who showed us all a glimpse of his athleticism in the spring game, but at the same time he also showed us just how much work he needs to do. It will be tempting for Brian Kelly to create a package of plays for Golson, but it may be equally tempting to preserve a year of eligibility by not throwing him to the wolves too early. If Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees, or Andrew Hendrix grab a firm grasp of the starting spot and don’t give Kelly a reason to make any quarterback changes, Golson very well could red-shirt. At the same time, none of the three possesses the running ability of Golson.