Frosh Neal, Russell Earn Starting Jobs

Everett Golson wasn’t the only Irish underclassman to be named a starter for the 2012 season on Thursday night.  Freshmen Davonte Neal and KeiVarae Russell also earned starting gigs at punt returner and cornerback respectively.

Ever since signing with Notre Dame in February, it was clear that Davonte Neal would be making an instant impact for Notre Dame this fall.  Neal possess the type of game breaking speed and athleticism that Notre Dame has been lacking on its roster for some time and it was going to be impossible to keep him off the of the field this fall.  He’ll get his first chance at making his mark as Notre Dame’s #1 punt returner.

Punt returning was a nightmare for Notre Dame last fall.  Fair catches and gains of a yard or two were the norm while any semblance of an actual return would have been more surprising than making it through an entire Notre Dame game in the stands without being told to sit down at least once.  Having Neal’s dynamic skills back there fielding punts this year will hopefully change that.

KeiVarae Russell meanwhile essentially came out of nowhere to lock up the starting cornerback position opposite Bennett Jackson in the wake of Lo Wood’s season ending injury earlier this week.  Russell moved to the defensive side of the ball upon reporting to camp after being originally recruited as a running back and has quickly ascended the depth chart by passing sophomores Jalen Brown and Josh Atkinson in the process.

It’s rare for a freshman to win a starting job at corner – especially when said particular freshman was originally scheduled to play on the offensive side of the ball.  Hopefully this is a sign that Russell is a natural at the position and not an indication that Notre Dame is just severely lacking playmakers at corner.

Some other notes from Kelly’s media session:

  • Romeo Okwara is the #2 DROP backer right now and is going to “be a star” according to Brian Kelly.  I still say Okwara grows into a defensive end eventually, but its clear he will see the field early.
  • Both Chris Brown and DaVaris Daniels are going to see the field a lot this fall although neither are considered starters at this point.

And here is the full video of Kelly’s talk with the media.

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