Notre Dame has not had much production out of the slot, or “Z”, wide receiver position during the first four years of the Brian Kelly era. Like the offense as a hole, the Z position just hasn’t fully hit it’s stride for Notre Dame under Kelly. Like the rest of the offense though, that could be about to change.
During the Blue and Gold game last weekend Notre Dame fans got a glimpse at what Notre Dame’s latest tandem at the Z position – Cj Prosise and Amir Carlisle – are capable of. After disappointing 2013 seasons, both converted receivers are looking to bounce back in 2014. If the Blue Gold game is any indication – it looks like they might do just that this fall.
The highlight of the Blue and Gold game was delivered by Prosise with his 39 yard second quarter touchdown from Malik Zaire. On the play Prosise caught a simple 5 yard in, spun around, turned on the afterburners and ran away from both Austin Collinswoth and Eilar Hardy. You could argue that Collinsworth looked slow and that Hardy took a bad angle, but that doesn’t change the fact that Prosise was flat moving for a 220 lbs wide receiver.
Prosise looked good last spring after moving over from safety following his freshman season, but caught just 7 passes for 72 yards as a sophomore in 2013. Up until the Blue Gold game, he wasn’t exactly having a great spring either. ”C.J. Prosise was not in my opinion having great practices and today he showed. He flashed today.” said head coach Brian Kelly following last weekend’s spring finale.
Will those flashes, which also included a 22 yard reception in the first quarter, carry over to the fall? That remains to be seen, but the idea of a 220 lbs target that can run and make plays after the catch would be a huge addition to an offense that hasn’t packed much punch from the Z position
If Prosise can’t carry over his spring performance, and we’ve seen plenty of players in the past have big springs and then not materialize the following season, his partner in crime Amir Carlisle showed signs that he could be ready to bounce back from a disappointing 2013 campaign as well.
Carlisle missed all of spring football in 2013, but had Notre Dame beat writers buzzing with an impressive fall camp. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, Carlisle was never able to turn all of those big plays in practice into much game production outside of his 45 yard scamper on the first play from scrimmage against Temple. On the season Carlisle gained just 204 rushing yards total (including the 45 yarder against Temple) and caught just seven passes for 30 yards.
With a loaded backfield for 2014 featuring the three headed monster of Tarean Folston, Greg Bryant, and Cam McDaniel; playing time looked like it would be hard to come by for Carlisle. A move to wide receiver this spring, however, has opened up a huge window of opportunity for Carlisle as the Irish enter the unofficial “OTA’s” and look towards the fall.
Despite having problems catching the football out of the backfield last season, Carlisle appears to have settled in at the slot position. Carlisle’s hands were on full display when he hauled in a laser from Zaire for a second quarter touchdown in the Blue Gold game – the only other receiving touchdown other than Prosise’s 39 yard catch and run.
Both Prosise and Carlisle are looking for rebound seasons in 2014 and with two seasons of eligibility remaining for each, there is still plenty of time for the two of them to make their impact on the Notre Dame offense. Notre Dame simply has not had an impact player at the Z position the last four seasons. Outside receivers like TJ Jones and Davaris Daniels played well the last two seasons, but no one has really stepped up and consistently made plays from the slot position.
If either CJ Prosise or Amir Carlisle are able to do that in 2014, the Notre Dame offense will have a weapon it hasn’t had under Brian Kelly – a weapon that could help the Irish finally have the type of offensive success that Kelly has had every where else he’s been. The type of offensive success that has simply eluded him and the Irish the last four years.