January 13, 2014 // Notre Dame Football

Duranko’s Digest: Ranking Notre Dame’s 2014 Units – Winter Eval

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Notre Dame - 2014 Units Rankings

Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Tarean Folston (25) scores a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in the Pinstripe Bowl game at Yankee Stadium. Notre Dame won 29-16. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

We’ll take an early glimpse at the component units of the 2014 Irish. Obviously, such predictions are perilous:

(1) injuries occur
(2) departures occur
(3) players develop, sprout and regress at different paces
(4) projecting freshmen before the LOI Date or, vanderdoesingly, after the LOI date, has risks

We’ll rate the units projecting them from Strongest to Weakest for 2014.

(1) Offensive Line

Stanley, Elmer, Lombard and Nick Martin have had multiple starts.  Hanratty and Hegarty were blooded against BYU, Stanford and Rutgers. Mark Harrell is a swingman.  It is some time since we have had six players return with multiple starts.  It has been some time since we have had 11 scholarship offensive linemen available for the Spring.  It has been some time since we will have had 15 scholarship offensive linemen available for Fall practice.

2013 frosh like McGlinchey, Montelus, McGovern and Bivin do not want to “wait their turn.” Remember, these four and Elmer were the first “handpicked” by Harry Hiestand.  Quenton Nelson and Alex Bars may be as ready for action as Stanley was in 2012 and Elmer was in 2013. It is not a given that either or both will redshirt.  After 2012′s problems on the O-line, the OL may be the team’s anchor in 2014 and beyond. Big, mean, unified and well-coached.

This year they will have a more nimble quarterback, or two or three, to block for. Their sack protection credentials in 2013 were astounding. As in the nation’s leader, according to one quantitative analysis, all while guarding winged Mercury.  We may be on the brink, soon, of being known for our offensive line pipeline.

(2) Outside Linebacker

Experienced, tall, athletic. Williams and Councell are in their fourth year, Romeo Okwara is in his third, and Jaylon Smith is Jaylon Smith. We wait yet for Ishaq Williams to “arrive” at the level of his confreres Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch; perhaps Van Gorder can solve the puzzle. Jaylon Smith was the best freshman linebacker in the post-Leahy era. Neither he nor we yet know his ceiling. Councell and Okwara are the kind of depth you need to see on a contending team.

(3) Quarterback

Ranked here only because of the lack of an experienced backup.  In 2012, the Everett Golson of Oklahoma and beyond was far more settled and effective than the Golson of the first 6 games. Kelly was emphatic that the Golson of the Spring of 2013 had taken another leap forward, fully grasping the offense for the first time. The Whitfield continuing QB education should help. A relevant case study may be Browner and Bradley. They left as precocious kids after ’73 and returned as bigger, tougher, more impactful MEN in ’75 and beyond. If Golson can achieve 50% of the maturational development that Browner and Bradley achieved in their year away, then he will be a sight to behold. Zaire was an early entrant and showed glimpses last Spring.  He should be ready for the backup position and he and Kizer will be brought along. Somewhere, in California, Blake Barnett dreams and throws passes. Just four years ago, in January 2010, the depth chart at QB was Dayne Christ on crutches, and a fresh-faced, freshly arrived Tommy Rees. That is in the rear view mirror.

(4)Running Back

A year ago, there was a vacuum after Riddick and Wood departed. Folston and McDaniel each proved capable of being the lead back or a co-lead back. McDaniel had 742 yards, Folston 494. Bryant is bristling with potential, and would be expected to deliver in 2014 at least what Folston did in 2013. Amir Carlisle is puzzling, but he is too talented-and too fast- to ignore. He will have his day in court in the Spring. Will Mahone switch back to a full time RB?

(5) Cornerback

KeiVarae Russell is in the All-American conversation. It was laughable to hear commentators call Jackson Notree Dame’s best cover corner. Cole Luke and Devin Butler played CB in High school, and were more ready, knowledgeable and capable than Russell was when he arrived. Luke and Butler(Surgery recovery?) will battle in the spring for the starting job opposite Russell, with a nickel-plated consolation prize. Nick Watkins is the most accomplished CB recruit since Tee Shepard. OY! Rashad Kinlaw is the 5th CB, having retired as the prep team QB.

(6) Wide Receiver

121 career receptions, 1923 yards,10 TDS and Daniels, Fuller, Brown and Robinson have all caught TD passes. Brimming with potential more than accomplishment, but this is an area where player development has produced tangible results. Daniels is still spotty, but this could be his “Money” year. Fuller accomplished more as a frosh than either Daniels or Brown.  Fuller and Brown have elite speed, Prosise is close. Corey Robinson has elite hands. Onwualu is athletic and can block. Coaches and players each rave about Torii Hunter, Jr. We know this much: Daniel Smith and Robby Toma are not walking through that wide receiver door. Brent and Holmes, highly rated, experienced and successful, may just have to wait a year.

This group could be the team’s best weapon if the tumblers click for several of the prospects. We have this rating at #6, which may be curious to some, only because only Brown and Daniels have double digit reception totals. Daniels being out for the Spring only provides more time for the Magnificent Seven: Fuller, Brown, Prosise, Hunter, Robinson, Onwualu, and Brent, to compete, progress and get coached up by Mike Denbrock.

One other thing; Golson’s most dangerous skill is scrambling, looking down field, resetting and hitting a receiver.  Occasionally, chaos is your friend. There is a lot of explosive potential with the above listed running around enemy secondaries while Golson Tarkentons about. Explosive potential. Ka-Boom!

NOTE; THIS COULD BE THE STRONGEST AREA OF THE TEAM BY MID-OCTOBER. This crew is bristling with athleticism and skill.

(7) Safety

A frustrating area this past year. Farley made his bones as a tackler in 2012, but had HUGE misses against Michigan, Oklahoma, Pitt and BYU. Baratti was missed, Shumate did not take a big step forward, Collinsworth was consistent but limited and Redfield took the full season to acclimate. Farley and Collinsowrth got the most time, but Baratti, Shumate, Redfield, and perhaps Hardy have more athleticism. It is conceivable that Collinsworth and Farley might each be more effective if they played fewer snaps and were used situationally. The potential is there, and Van Gorder will need to be decisive about the priorities at SAFETY. The first order of business for a “SAFETY” seems to be to be to “SAVE” the team from big plays. This could be the pivot area for the defense in 2014. This is a puzzling area, because there is talent and athleticism. 2013 level performance just won’t do.

(8) Tight End

Ben Koyack has now settled in and is in the top 10 of TES in America. He scored three touchdowns in 2013 (did you know that?) and his now 261 lbs has helped him as an in-line-blocker. Durham Smythe has been identified by Kelly as the “Next thing,” but Kelly was specifically focusing on Smythe’s downfield receiving skills. Heuerman was an early entrant last Winter, and has a full year under his belt. The question is whether Smythe or Heuerman, who came in at 235 and 225 respectfully, can gain enough bulk to be used in the power phase of the two TE alignment. Nic Weishar may be the “next” “next thing.” Luatua is an intriguing, but not riskless prospect.

Here is the import of being “Tight End U.” In 2012 Tyler Eifert was spectacular as a de jure TE and de facto WR. When he left there was weeping and gnashing of teeth about “replacing” (sic) Eifert. But when you have the pipeline that Tight End U has, you don’t replace you just move up the next stud or two. In 2012, Notre Dame, at the TE position, generated 58 catches for 809 yards and 5 touchdowns.  In 2013, Niklas and Koyack generated 42 catches for 669 yards and 8 touchdowns. TD production was up and catches were down a mere 1.2 per game with 10 fewer yards per game from the position. Tight End U. It’s an empirical description, not false labeling.

(9) Inside Linebacker

The 2012 ILB logjam has been cleared. There are bodies and potential, but only Jarrett Grace has successful experience. He will not have contact in the Spring. Moore showed promise against Air Force and later in the year. He will get the fifth year. Deeb was successful as a redshirt and will get a lot of work in the Spring. Joe Schmidt showed against USC that he is worth his scholarship. Doug Randolph will bring an OLB’s speed to the inside, but he may not be able to take contact in the Spring. Nyles Morgan, Nile Sykes and Greer Martini arrive this Summer. The group is faster, quicker, more athletic than the predecessors. Van Gorder will coordinate the defense, and he made his bones as a linebacker coach. Don’t be shocked if they pull in another player or two from another position for the Spring. Remember, only Moore leaves after 2014.

(10) Defensive Line

THE TEAM’S ACHILLES HEEL-there are plausible solutions in the other areas, and we may well be pleasantly surprised at S and ILB. At DL, there are just not enough experienced, healthy bodies. Sheldon Day should be ready to take the next step forward, having put the nagging high ankle sprain incurred against Purdue behind him. Jarron Jones came on late and STRONG and will be more than adequate at nose guard.  He finished with ten tackles. ten assisted tackles and two blocked kicks. Tony Springmann was a second team NT on a national championship contender. If Tony returns to full health, Springmann and Jones are a nice duo at Nose. The end opposite Day is the rub. Rochell showed flashes as a frosh, but got fewer snaps than you’d think with all the available playing time from the injuries to Tuitt, Nix, Day and Schwenke. He was credited with 5 solo tackles and 5 assists. Hounshell had a nice frosh campaign in 2011, playing in seven games, credited with 1 tackle and three assists. While out with surgery, he has done all he can to build his body with lean mass. If he and Rochell can split the position, disaster MAY be averted.. Matuska, Rabasa, and a couple of frosh (Trumbetti is in for Spring) will have to generate a vaible alternative as Day’s backup and then populate the third string.

Remember this is the DL. Having nine ready to go seems a minimum requirement, not a luxury. This area will be in crisis throughout the Spring and in pre-Fall. Solutions best be found by the end of September. October begins with Stanford, North Carolina and Florida State, three successive unforgiving moments. Stanford, North Carolina and FSU each know how to attack good defensive lines, and anything less. This is the fulcrum, the tipping point of the 2014 D and the 2014 Fighting Irish team.

Overall, at all positions other than DL, this roster is deeper and more talented throughout the full range of the depth chart, than in years past. If we can whistle past the potential graveyard at DL, then the talent may well show on the field.


Go Irish!

Comments to this Article

  • cc72 commented on January 13th, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    Any chance that one of the OLs switches to DL?


  • Mike Sullivan commented on January 13th, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    Thank you,Duranko.

    Great article. So what are we worrying about the perceived step-back on the part of many. Notta!

    Loved your quote, “brimming with potential more than accomplishment.” Fifty years ago, those probably were the words of my mother-in-law. Things worked out for her, I think, and will for the Irish.

    Thanks for your research and commitment to this task.



  • R Rodriguez commented on January 13th, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    Any chance Montelus moves to NT?


  • HJ Prendergast commented on January 13th, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    Really liked your take on positions, only the “D” line assessment might be a little understated in your article . My glass is always half full, concerning the pass protection the D line always knew where he was going to be so the blocking schemes on pass plays could always be a constant. Would also like to take back my calling you a PIA.


  • Dan Newcomer commented on January 13th, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    Good read, like & agree with just bout all you said. What about Ishaq Williams also playing DE? I think he could be real good down there & with the depth we have at OLB he would help DE depth. I think next year Jarron jones will be a monster at NG. Do you think we could pick up anther DL in recruiting with these guys decommitting from coaching changes, seems with possable early playing that may help land 1 or 2 more.


  • westcoastirishfan commented on January 13th, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    Ishaq was given that 5th star in HS because of his frame. He’s largely disappointed and will never play OLB at the next level. A move to DE will be good for him and the team.

    If it’s about putting speed on the field and the best 11 athletes as Ara did his first year, the new DC may need to explore some exotic fronts and coverages.


  • Jack commented on January 13th, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    I see them running more of a 3-4 / 4-3 hybrid. This way you don’t need a space eating nose tackle and you can use Isaq as a pass rushing D-end. I think you have several freshman coming in that can play second line and you will also be able to go two deep at each d-lineman position. The problem with next year is the MLB. You need this position to understand the calls and read offenses. This unit is more of a concern that the D-line. It will be interesting to see of Springman and Hounsell come back from injury. If that is the case you can utilize oversized OLB’s as defensive ends.


  • Ron Burgundy commented on January 13th, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    VanGorder officially named DC today and Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn rumored to be the next OC.

    In a related story, bj’s head exploded and JC is translating how to say purple faced in Latin.


    JC replied on January 13th, 2014 at 11:55 pm



    I’m glad to see you’re not letting your camfire girls education get in the way of your ignorance.


    JC replied on January 14th, 2014 at 1:01 am

    Ooops: campfire girls


  • Michael the Archangel commented on January 13th, 2014 at 9:06 pm

    Good post, duranko.

    Farley and Collinsworth looked like the least talented of the returning safeties,
    yet they easily logged the most minutes.
    They have more experience but
    seemingly less star potential than Redfield, Shumate, Baratti and perhaps, even Hardy.
    How the new DC sees the role of safeties in his D’ scheme will dictate who gets more playing time.
    I agree that better situational use of this year’s starting safeties
    might maximize their efficiency and improve the
    potential/contributions of the safety position.

    At any level, you win or lose in the trenches. Whereas the OL has the makings of an impressive unit,
    I feel less than hopeful that’s what’s left of the DL can be a dominant difference maker, which is just as
    necessary to be an elite team. Isn’t it time to move Ishaq to a down DL?
    I’m hoping this year’s RBs youth and/or inexperience might have been what was the problem, as all had their moments. Too often they didn’t run to daylight or break tackles.

    A healthy play-making EG and some gifted WRs, a more productive TD scoring offense, and what appears
    to be some awesome potential at OLB and CB will have to carry the day early. The early schedule isn’t as
    demanding as October, so there will be time for development of the DL and ILBs.

    Go Irish!


  • Fxm commented on January 13th, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    Great job. Clearly we need someone to do for our D line what Hiestand has done for the the O line. Go out and find the stock, measure it, chisel it and deliver the finished product. This isn’t just about Vander-don’t, we need a lot more high quality bodies. It’s a bad weakness for us, because next year you want to run on us and keep our O on the sideline. I have a lot of confidence that we can score like we haven’t seen in a long time.


  • Jerry Seppanen commented on January 14th, 2014 at 11:38 am

    Excellent preview. We will have to win alot of shootouts with the DL but
    should be an exciting year.


  • duranko commented on January 14th, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    to respond to the commenters and their “lucid” comments:

    For cc72. There was some conjecture that if Braden Smith committed, that Sam Mustipher, who a number of the recruiting analysts like more as a DL than an OL, would shift to the DL. Really, with all the scholarship OL
    we could afford to shift Sam if it’s not a breach of an implied covenant.
    Montelus has the frame. And Kelly mentioned several times that Montelus arrives with a nasty disposition and enjoys knocking people down. That’s the right profile. (latter for Rodriguez).

    To Prendergast’s comment, HJ, I would love to be eating crow this time next year on the DL, and watching Day shock the world going off to the NFL, and Jarron Jones, getting a second round evaluation and deciding to return in 2015. HJ, I might be overreacting to this year’s injuries and the mind-boggling fact that Day, NIx and Tuitt were on the field for 27 snaps (or 23, or some absurd number.) Good point on the OL, but I believe that this area is on the verge of exploding. Preview:I am guessing, surmising, speculating that McGlinchey will surprise people *(but not Kelly and Hiestand) and start at tackle.

    To Dan Newcomer, the FULL-TIME shift of Williams runs the risk of undermining the solid chart at OLB. But both Ishaq and Okwara have demonstrated some ability to function with their hand on the ground.
    And my best surmise-guess is that we will sign TWO more DLS in this class. They have really widened the net.

    To westcoast, I share your puzzlement at Ishaq’s tantalizing but unrealized potential. He’s a tad light for DL, and I haven’t seen enough
    to believe he’s the strongest alternative at DE.

    To westcoast and Jack, Van Gorder, who might be a coordinator upgrade (have they finally loosened up on pay and perks?????) he wasn’t hired to do a Diaco imitation. I expect he’ll shake up personnel a good bit
    and scheme somewhat. This past year we were in the 4-3 a lot. Van Gorder was a stud DC at Georgia, and even working for Ryan, he ought of picked up some additional defensive tricks. A BIG benefit is that a lot of the players lurking down the depth chart will now get a chance to reboot and preen themselves. Brian may be more likely to tell Elston, Cooks and Elliott who to play.

    To Jack again, the key here is Grace at ILB. It’s his fourth year and he’s a “leader” He was on the rise before the fibula fracture against ASU.

    To the Archangel, I too am mystified by the safety depth chart of 2013.
    If it’s Redfield and Shumate starting, Baratti and Hardy second, and Collinsworth and Farley third, I’d be pleased.

    On Dls, and to FXM, I think this year’s crop of DL recruits is the
    foundation on the DL as the Elmer/McGlinchey was on the OL. Bonner may
    be a huge diamond in the rough, and there’s not a reach in the bunch.

    To Jerry, yeah, in 2012 I lamented that the D always bailed out the O.
    And it never truly flipped the script in 2013. But this offense
    has a lot of explosive potential, and I would be surprised, with a healthy Golson, if we don’t average well into the 30s. Not the way we won in ’12, but a W is a W.


  • duranko commented on January 14th, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    Keep an eye on Jhonny Williams, he claims he’s already taller than 6’5″
    and weighs north of 240 already. Playing hoop this Winter, so his weight
    will be suppressed until he ceases hope and is put on the Longo plan in the Summer.


  • oldschoollyons commented on January 14th, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    When you say that ND will have “a more nimble quarterback” next season, presumably you mean Golson will be more nimble in his footwork or in his quick athleticism. As for Golson’s having “fully grasped the offense” last Spring before he was expelled, unfortunately, Kelly’s puffery notwithstanding, the facts did not bear that out. Neither Golson’s performance in practice (the videos tell the tale) nor his play in the Spring game (We all saw thatJ) was as good as the play of Tommy Rees. The one time in his career that Golson changed a play (It happened in the Spring game), he threw an interception.

    We all hope that Golson does well next season. But is it necessary to try to put Tommy Rees down every time you say something positive about Golson? After all, Tommy saved Notre Dame’s season for four straight years.

    If all the other safeties have more “athleticism” than Farley and Collinsworth, why do you think they had the most playing time? What quality did they have that the others lacked? It’s a puzzlement, isn’t it?


  • duranko commented on January 14th, 2014 at 7:08 pm


    And, as they say you can look it up. But Golson is more nimble than Rees, by inspection. I do NOT think that Golson is at all a ‘dual threat’ as likely to harm you with the run as the pass. He does not run at the speed and escapability level of Hundley, Miller, Manziel, Mariota, Kelly or Mauk. But he is certainly mobile in the pocket. And highly skilled
    in scrambling resetting and hitting a receiver.

    My empirical observation over some 1400 days is that Kelly is honest and not given to puffery. The biggest subterfuge from the coaching staff (I played high school football for the prince of subterfuge; Dom never allowed us to take our helmets off because he did not want the opponent to see who we really were!) was Hiestand’s argumentative question last Spring about Lombard “Why would you move somebody from tackle to guard if he’s already a successful tackle.”

    On the Golson progress, it was visible and measurable when you looked at the block of games from Oklahoma on compared to the first several, when Rees was our Mariano Rivera.

    But Kelly is not given to subterfuge. He was honest about limiting Golson’s audible play calls to solely from a called run to a run audible and from a called pass to a pass audible. That loosened up in November.
    Kelly’s blurts are revealing. He reveals much in few words.

    And between your film analysis and Kelly’s statements (the Spring games are a lark, cf Nix, Louis) I choose Kelly. He’s been more trustworthy and may the devil take the hindmost.

    The safety rule has been to play those who have mastered the “complexities” of the safety play calls. Or tail wagging dog.
    I first notice Farley making open field tackles against Navy in Dublin (and you can look that up too) but something happened in 2013.

    The coaches have to change some call responsibilities to get the more “SAFE” safeties on the field. Like the way they helped Martin (Nick) by offloading some of the OL line calls in 2012.


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