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:
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.
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.
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.
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.