As Notre Dame heads into the second quarter of the 2014 season, the Irish are 3-0 in part because of the play of its freshman class. Though not as heralded as some of their predecessors, this year’s freshman class has still been able to provide immediate impact at positions of need from day one.
After seeing the frosh in practice all summer and through three weeks of the season, the Notre Dame coaching staff has a pretty good idea of what they have to work with this year and who can and can’t help them this year. Here’s a run down of all the freshmen who’ve had an impact, who’ve played, who might play still, and who likely won’t see the field until 2015 at the earliest.
Regular Roles (4)
Notre Dame is already counting on four true freshmen heavily this year – all on the defensive side of the ball. Notre Dame has been able to withstand the loss of the academic five in large part because of a couple of the players listed below.
- Andrew Trumbetti – Missed the Purdue game due to an injury suffered against Michigan, but will be back in the lineup next weekend against Syracuse. Trumbetti hs 5 tackles and 1 QB hurry but could return behind Romeo Okwara after Okwara’s breakout performance against Purdue.
- Drue Tranquill – Was a special teams player before being thrust into a prominent role following the ejection of Max Redfield and subsequent injury to Nicky Baratti. Tranquill earned himself some more playing time in the base defense and will continue to be a special teams stalwart. Has 9 tackles and 0.5 sacks already.
- Daniel Cage – Pressed into action early in his career because of some depth problems up front, Cage has been holding his own so far as a reserve nose tackle behind Jarron Jones. His work volume now is still relatively low, but as he builds his conditioning more and more that volume should increase. Cage has the looks of a future beast at NT.
- Kolin Hill – Playing a specialist role right now, but he’s playing it damn well. Hill is a pass rush specialist right now and through three games, he already has 2.5 tackles for loss – 2 of which were sacks. When Hill’s been in the game, he has gotten to the quarterback. It’s going to be interesting to see where Hill fits in long term, but we are already seeing why Texas made such a late charge for him. Biggest question is though, why the heck didn’t they offer him sooner? Thanks Mack!
Backup & Special Teams Duty (5)
While not playing regular roles just yet, these five players are playing back up and special teams roles thus far. Their roles should be seen as fluid considering they are already either int he two deep or have played in some capacity. How much more they play this season will depend on how much more they develop in practices. The extra week of practice with the bye week is likely most important for these give players.
- Nyles Morgan – Was pegged to be the most impactful frosh by many – including me – but so far he has played a limited role. He’s playing a tough position where he can’t just be a specialist ala Hill so don’t count out Morgan yet from playing a more prominent role by the end of the season. For now though, he is still Joe Schmidt’s backup.
- Nick Watkins – Has played sparingly as the 4th corner behind Cody Riggs, Cole Luke, and Devin Butler so far this year. Not sure if his role on defense will expand much more if Keivarae Russell is ever able to return following the academic investigation.
- Greer Martini – Has primarily been playing special teams after being listed as Jaylon Smith’s backup. Given how great Smith has been, if Martini sees much more of a role on defense outside of mop up duty, Notre Dame could be in trouble.
- Grant Blankenship – Was pressed into a bigger role against Purdue because of the injury to Trumbetti.
- Tyler Luatua – It seemed like Luatua was going to have a big role as a blocking tight end, but so far Notre Dame hasn’t been going with two tight ends very often which has limited the California native to special teams.
Have Seen the Field (2)
Our next group of frosh have seen the field this year, but pretty sparingly to date. Since they’ve played already it would be a shame if their roles didn’t grow over the rest of the season, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens.
- Justin Brent & Corey Holmes – Both freshman wide receivers have seen the field, but haven’t carved out a role in the Notre Dame offense yet. With Torii Hunter coming back for Syracuse and the uncertain status of Davaris Daniels, it’s unclear if either will be able to do so this year. As the wide receivers continue to struggle with their blocking though, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Brent is able to carve out that niche as a blocking receiver like James Onwualu did a year ago.
Could still see the field this year (4)
The next four players here haven’t played yet – and might not – but playing time could be in the cards for them at some point this year depending on injuries and the development of some other players currently ahead of them right now.
- Jonathan Bonner & Jhonny Williams – Both drew some rave reviews from Brian Kelly during the summer, but both supposedly hit a wall during camp and now playing time doesn’t seem as sure. At one point Kelly listed Bonner as the backup to Sheldon Day. Perhaps Kelly was just lighting a fire under some upperclassmen or perhaps the freshman did really hit a wall. Either way, it’s unclear if either will play this year. Williams was an injury away from playing against Purdue with Trumbetti out, but with Trumbetti back and perhaps a return of Ishaq Williams at some point his chances are dwindling.
- Pete Mokwuah – We knew either Mokwuah or Cage would be pressed into action because of Notre Dame’s depth. Cage is ahead of Mohwuah mainly because of how raw Mokwuah was coming in right now so baring more injuries look for Mokwuah to redshirt.
- Quenton Nelson – There hasn’t been any indication that Nelson will play this year so far, but if the offensive line continues to struggle, Brian Kelly is going to continue to look for answers and one of those potential answers could be the most talented lineman in last year’s class. Completely speculative on my part here but I wouldn’t be shocked if Nelson saw the field at some point if the line doesn’t start progressing.
Redshirt Road (7)
These seven players pretty much always were destined to redshirt this season as they adjust to the college game and put in some time in the weight room. Things can always change over the next two and a half weeks, but a year on the scout team is in the cards for these players and that’s a good thing. All of these players will benefit from the year of learning and adjusting before being thrust into playing time.
- Deshone Kizer – No surprise here as the plan has been to redshirt Kizer unless forced not to. Golson redshirted. Zaire redshirted. Look for Kizer to do the same baring an absolute catastrophe at the position.
- Tyler Newsome – There was a chance Newsome could have handled the punting duties this year but Kyle Brindza is doing just fine handling all kicking jobs so far and will continue to do so.
- Nic Weishar – Another case that isn’t a surprise. Weishar has a HIGH ceiling as a receiving tight end, but needs to hit the weight room before he’s ready.
- Sam Mustipher, Jimmy Byrne, Alex Bars – It’s a good thing when you can redshirt your blue chip offensive linemen and these three are almost certain to go down that path.
- Jay Hayes – With Trumbetti enrolling early and getting a head start it’s not surprising that Hayes hasn’t played. He didn’t play against great competition in high school and could use a year on the scout team.