Brian Kelly’s options at the slot wide receiver postion have taken a serious his so far this spring. Injuries and transfers have left Notre Dame’s head coach with few options for a position that figures to pivotal in 2013 without having the luxury of flexing Tyler Eifert out as a wide receiver.
Notre Dame lost Amir Carlisle for the spring for the second straight year – this time with a broken collarbone – after the first full contact practice. A few days later, promising sophomore Davonte Neal decided to transfer reportedly to move back west to be closer to his 6 week old son.
Neal and Carlisle were considered the leading candidates for the position heading in to the spring and while Brian Kelly seemed optimistic about Carlisle’s long term prognosis and availability for fall camp, his history of injuries in the short time he’s been at Notre Dame is at the very least cause for concern.
Assuming Carlisle returns to the form that had Kelly raving about him before his injury, he will likely get a long look at the position – especially if George Atkinson keeps impressing at running back and locks down the top spot on the depth chart heading out of spring ball. If the oft-injured USC transfer suffers any setbacks or comes down with any other injuries in fall camp, however, the Irish don’t have a lot of options on the roster for the position.
Chris Brown – The sophomore speedster showed that he can get behind a defense in 2012 and came down with a couple of long bombs, but so far all we’ve seen him have the ability to do in a game is run a go route. That doesn’t mean that the South Carolina native isn’t capable of making big strides this off-season though. I seem to remember another freshman wide receiver a few years ago who could only run a go route as a freshman.
Golden Tate had just 6 receptions as a true freshman in 2007 and then exploded for over 1,000 yards as a sophomore. No one is predicting a 1,000 yard season for Brown right now, but he does have the raw talent to produce for the Irish. Is his speed better suited on the outside though? And is he capable of making defenders miss in the open field? Those are questions no one outside of possibly the Irish staff has answers to right now.
CJ Prosise – The Florida native came to Notre Dame as a safety, moved to linebacker in a pinch last fall, switched back to safety during the season, and then was slated to be cross trained at receiver this spring. In the wake of Carlisle’s injury and Neal’s transfer though look for the sophomore to spend the majority, if not all, of his time on the offensive side of the ball this spring.
Prosise is a very interesting option for Notre Dame in the slot. Physically he would be a huge target at the position at 210 lbs, but will he be able to make the plays in the open field necessary from a slot a receiver? Prosise would pose some match-up problems for opposing defenses but can he take a quick pass from Everett Golson and turn it into a big play? Possibly. We just don’t know right now because no one has seen him at receiver outside of the staff.
James Onwualu – The early enrollee freshman is physically capable of playing in the fall and Kelly went to so far as to say last week that Onwualu is almost assured a spot on the special teams units. Will the Minnesota native be ready to see time with the offense though? Like Prosise, Onwualu would be a huge target at the slot position, but he will likely get a look here given the depth at the position right now. Long term, Onwualu is probably better suited on the outside where he can use his strength and physicality to overpower smaller corners, but until then we’ll likely see what the frosh has out of the slot.
Cam McDaniel - Texas native Cam McDaniel has built a bit of a cult following among Notre Dame fans who have seen him run tough are physical in mop of duty last fall. The running back could see some reps out of the slot now too given the numbers the Irish have. Long term, McDaniel isn’t the answer for Notre Dame at the position, but for the Spring he’ll likely get a chance to show what he has here and is already my candidate for Blue-Gold Game “Out of Nowhere” MVP winner.
One more player who could provide some punch to the Irish offense out of the slot won’t be on campus for another couple months. Incoming freshman Tarean Folston is built in the mold of Amir Carlisle and could very well challenge for playing time if he reports to camp in shape and ready for action. Folston showed some great play making ability in the open field throughout his high school career and could find his quickest path to playing time is through the slot.
Not having an ideal slot receiver is not something that is really new to Brian Kelly and Notre Dame. The Irish have lacked a prototypical player for the position the last few years. Having Tyler Eifert though helped Kelly negated this because he split his athletically gifted tight end out wide so often. Without that luxury, Brian Kelly’s job of improving an Irish that was asked to not lose games more so than to win them on their own in 2012 just got a lot harder thanks to the early developments in spring practice 2013.