6 Young Players Notre Dame Needs to Step Up in ’14

Steve Elmer - Notre Dame OT
Steve Elmer – Notre Dame OT (Photo: Charles LeClaire / USA TODAY Sports)

Notre Dame’s 2013 season may have been disappointing but the emergence of many young players was a bright spot. The likes of super-talented Jaylon Smith and Tarean Folston shone and a solid group of young receivers and defensive backs makes the future look bright for Notre Dame. However, the need for young players to step up will be magnified this upcoming season with key contributors Louis Nix III, Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas, as well as George Atkinson III leaving early for the NFL. Here is a list of youngsters that will need to step up and fill the void left by the graduating players and early departures from the Irish:

Steve Elmer

With the graduations of Zack Martin and Chris Watt the Irish have holes to fill on the offensive line. In his freshman season Steve Elmer showed his versatility and skill which will make him a prime candidate to be the Irish’s new left tackle if Ronnie Stanley is not moved there. Elmer played in 10 games last season, starting in four and regardless of the position he is put in he will be expected to be one of the best offensive linemen for the Irish.

Isaac Rochell

Georgia Native Isaac Rochell saw action in 11 of Notre Dame’s 13 games in the 2013 season. The defensive end recorded 10 tackles on the season while sitting behind Stephon Tuitt. He will now be expected to be a part of the group effort to replace Tuitt’s pass rushing impact as well as be stout against the run as the Irish’s front seven will be a question mark going into the season. If Rochell can’t get after the quarterback on a consistent basis the Irish could be in trouble.

Jarron Jones

Defensive tackle Jarron Jones began to show what he is capable of late last season with an excellent effort versus BYU. Jones will be counted on to replace Louis Nix III as a dominant force in the middle of the Irish defensive line. Jones is solid against the run and can take on double teams. The New York native had 20 tackles, one sack and two blocked field goals for the Irish in 2013.

Durham Smythe and Mike Heuerman

When Troy Niklas surprised many by declaring for the NFL draft Durham Smythe and Mike Heuerman immediately became instrumental to the Irish’s success in 2014. Both Smythe and Heuerman will likely find themselves behind Ben Koyack on the depth chart and will face competition from incoming talent at the position but are capable of being key contributors to the offense especially in the red zone. Both Smythe and Heuerman are prototypical tight-ends as each is over 6’3’’ and 225 pounds with solid strength and speed, yet neither played in 2013.

Cole Luke

With Irish captain Bennett Jackson graduating there is an opening that must be filled at corner for the Irish. It will likely be filled by to-be sophomore Cole Luke. The Irish pass defense struggled at times last season, especially Jackson in man-to-man coverage, something Luke will have to be much better at. With the questions around the strength of the front seven the secondary will need to be strong and if Luke can excel along with KeiVarae Russell the Irish will be in good shape. Luke totalled 15 tackles and two pass defenses while playing in all 13 games last season.

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  1. Unrelated, but I got a kick out of this.

    Graduated Notre Dame seniors Andrew Hendrix, Alex Welch and Lo Wood all join former Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin at Miami, Ohio, for the 2014 season.

    I think it is good for them as a group and maybe demonstrates we have a healthy “clubhouse.”

  2. Michael, think about the implications of what you are saying.

    One interpretation is that 6 is not nearly big enough to list the number of players we have rising. We had a right of passage this year, with Tuitt and Niklas leaving early for the NFL, and Atkinson leavin for something. So there will be more oopportunities for younger players.

    Michael, further Van Gorder has talked about evaluating the personnel first and then adjusting the scheme accordingly. I’m hoping the starters at safety are two of these three:Redfield, Shumate, Baratti, with Hardy the fourth and Collinsworth and Farley filling in.

    We’ll know a lot by the end of Spring practice. A lot!

  3. The D-line has to be rebuilt. Day, Jones, and Rochell should provide a solid foundation. Springmann and Hounshell will be coming off injury. Matuska has not played.

    At least two freshmen will have to supply substantial minutes – Trumbetti, Jay Hayes, Grant Blankenship, Jon Bonner, or Jhonathan Williams.

    This will be a young unproven line backed by young unproven linebackers and safeties. A challenge for the incoming DC.

  4. I am very surprised that Elijah Shumate and/or Max Redfield didn’t make your list. Safety was a glaring weakness in 2013 due in large part to the Farley’s poor tackling and Collinsworth’s lack of speed. We need the high level guys recruited at that position to step up. Redfield was the #2 overall commit and last year’s class and Shumate was #3 overall in the previous class, according to the 247Composite rankings. We need production out of the safety position with guys that highly rated. That kind of talent shouldn’t be riding the pine behind Farley, an undersized low 3-star converted WR, and Collinsworth, an slow, borderline 2-star converted WR.

    1. Good additions to Pierce’s excellent list. In order for Shumate and Redfield (and Baratti and Hardy as well) to be counted on, the new DC will have to give them ample minutes. Diaco felt more secure w/ Farley & Collinsworth obviously; but isn’t the idea to get your safeties with the most potential/ability on the field, and shape your defense to their strengths rather than settling for less because they’re a “better fit” for your D’ scheme? But what do I know?

      1. I think we will see some position shakeups with our starters on D next year. Makes sense with a new D coordinator, one who has a reputation for being very aggressive. He seems to me to be the type to play the best players, not necessarily the most experienced ones. Obviously you want a guy like the 2012 version of Manti at every position. One who is not only a 4 year starter but also a 5 star player and the best defensive player in the country his recruiting season. But that isn’t realistic so I always say when you have to choose between experience and talent, go with talent. You can’t teach talent. You either have it or you don’t and players who are very talented can make up for lack of experience by just flying around making plays. Someone who is experienced can’t change the fact they do not have much talent and really can not compensate for that through experience. The ones I think remain starters are Russell, Smith, possibly Grace, and Day. There are no other starters on the roster that I think will be starters come September. If Redfield and Shumate can not beat out Farley and Collinsworth then there is a problem. And we do not have any returning starters to any other positions in the front 7 or the 2nd CB position, either.

  5. nice group,Pierce. We certainly got pleasing glimpses from Luke, Jones and Elmer. Elmer and Stanley may both be NFL players, and there are more to come.

    Smythe and Heuerman will get plenty of opportunities in the Spring, and they have plenty of incentive to “Longo up.” Kelly will want to go in the season with the capacity to play two TE sets if needed.

    Rochell is certainly a “pivot” player. He’ll have his shot in the spring.

    What’s encouraging is that this staff has been first rate on
    player development.

    1. Agree with you on all fronts but I think Jones will prove to be an NFL player too. Unless he was a flash in the pan – which I doubt – he could be leaving the fold early as well. I hope not for the sake of the Irish.

    2. In 2013 Ben Koyack displayed the skills that made him a top recruit. He looked like another NFL-ready Notre Dame tight end.

      The Irish may need another TE beyond Smythe and Heuerman. They may not want to burn Weishar’s redshirt. What if BK’s comment about McGlinchey’s athleticism – that he could play tight end if we needed him to – was more than throwaway praise? The O-line is deep for 2014. It would be interesting to see 6’8 300-lb MM as a blocking TE or red zone receiver.

      1. Interesting, ARMAC, about Koyack and McGlinchey.
        One reason that Kelly may be hesitant to play Weishar is that it would put three TES in the same-run-out-of-eligibility year.

        But consider what Stanford did this year with Josh Garnett. In goal line and third and fourth and 1, just stick in another OL and put a TE number on him. Could be McGlinchey, but if he were to start, it could be Nelson or Bars. Nelson seems to play with the darkness in his heart that is an asset near the goal line.

  6. Don’t worry, they will eventually do the right thing. There is simply too much money at stake. The Pope wants to right many of the recent Catholic debacles, maybe the idea of generosity toward those who need a little will rub-off.

  7. Based on the announced 3 year schedule intentionally designed to qualify for one of the play-off slots; the writing is on the wall. It will be a long shot over the next 3 years for BK to win a title. Obviously, the deck is stacked against him. Is it his fault? No, he is already a highly successful football coach on paper. The real question now becomes: Do we now have a ‘Mike Brey’ HC Football position unfolding here? Seriously, what’s not to like about Mike Brey after upsetting Duke? Further, BK has had his share of upset wins too. The point is the administration is more interested in catering to ‘international students,’ than the Chris Zorich’s of the world to level the playing field. BK needs the same tools that Lou continuously had to fight for. The Stanford argument is admirable but how many titles has it produced? After the Pope’s ubiquitous comments on materalism, you would think ND would take heed! By offering bordline ‘American’ student/athletes a special opportunity to be highly successful at ND as demonstrated in the past! Fact is the administration wants its cake and eat it too! Yes I don’t care for BK’s coaching style, and the program is indeed mediocre base on the top competition with the adminstration standing in the way for 26 years. So do not tell me, ND, cannot get off their high horse and design a student/athlete program that will level the playing field with superior results. Maybe ND’s board of trutees needs to fall in behind the Pope washing and kissing feet for a better perspective on what their real mission is all about!


    1. Good commentary. The pomposity of ND’s administration is a travesty when you consider the quality kids that Holtz and Co put out during his tenure.

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