When you look at the 2015 version of the Fighting Irish football program, it’s easy to gravitate towards players that everyone should be excited about who can help the Notre Dame achieve the ultimate goal – reaching the college football playoffs. Players like Everett Golson, Malik Zaire, Tarean Folston, Jaylon Smith, and Will Fuller are just a few of the names that media and fans alike will talk about leading up to fall practice, but there are plenty of talented young athletes that look at this upcoming season who will have a chance to make their mark on the Notre Dame program.
There is not much that Justin Brent isn’t good at, but unless you followed the recruiting of Brent out of high school, you wouldn’t really know. Not having had a single catch so far in his Irish career, the wide receiver is looking to have an impact in 2015. He has all the tangible assets that any coach would look for, size, speed, route running, versatility, and above all else, confidence. Speaking of versatility, in his junior year at Speedway(IN), Brent caught 54 passes for 922 yards, and in his senior year, rushed the ball 157 times for 1,315 yards, and 18 touchdowns.
It’s Brent’s ability to do so many things well that could allow him to see the field often in 2015 – maybe more than some expect. That’s the good news for Brent. The bad news is the Irish are seemingly stacked at the wide receiver position in 2015, and it will be a true battle to see consistent playing time. Brent will battle the likes of Will Fuller, Corey Robinson, Chris Brown, and Torii Hunter Jr. for playing time so the young wide receiver will need to make the most of spring practice in order to have a chance to make a real impact in the upcoming year.
Jay Hayes is young man who was sold on the Irish program from the start, and handled his recruiting as professionally as possible. The Irish were early favorites, and he wasn’t shy about letting it be known. Before Sheldon Day announced his intent to return, Hays was looking to be thrown into the fire on the defensive line, but now with the return of Day, Hayes now has the opportunity to learn from the senior defensive linemen. We talked to Jay about what that means for him. “ My expectations are to stay under Sheldon Day’s wing and learn the defensive system” Hayes said. He also talked about what he needs to do personally to grow as a player “I need to become more consistent, more productive, and more accountable” For anyone else this may sound like typical coach talk, but Jay truly believes this, which should excite Irish fans and coaching staff alike.
The skill-set is there for Jay Hayes, but as he readily admits, he needs to learn how to apply those skills on a consistent basis. In order for him to have a true impact on the Irish defense in 2015, Hayes will the need the game to slow down, and acquire a true understanding of the complex defensive system that Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has in place. There is no doubt that Hayes will struggle to see a lot of playing time in the upcoming year, as he battles Sheldon Day and Micah Dew-Treadway for playing time, but make no mistake, the talent, drive, and mental make-up is all there for him to leave a true mark on the Irish football program, hopefully starting in 2015.
Over the last decade the Irish have rightfully earned the nickname, Tight End U. Consistently recruiting and developing NFL caliber tight ends, the Notre coaching staff utilizes the tight end position as well as any program in the country. With senior Ben Koyack leaving for the NFL draft, 2015 will be the first time in awhile that the Irish do not have an heir apparent waiting in the wings. That’s not to say the Irish have no talent or depth, just not a lot of experience.
This is where Durham Smythe enters the picture, and while he saw extremely limited playing time last year, many believe the Texas native has talent to fill the big shoes left by his predecessors, both literally and figuratively. Coming in at 6’5” 245lbs, Smythe definitely has the size, reach, and talent to make his mark, and conveniently(for him) has a bit of an easier path than the previous two players we’ve mentioned. Make no mistake though, Smythe will have to prove his worthiness during spring practice, as he has Nic Weishar, Mike Heuerman, and Tyler Luatua, that will be pushing for the same playing time that Smythe wants. Then there’s incoming freshman Alize Jones who was considered the top prep tight end in the country by many this past year.
These are just three of the players that will need to take advantage of spring practice in order to see consistent time on the field in 2015, but there will be many more. Unlike last year, the Irish seem to have a solid foundation of both talent and depth at multiple positions, and it will require any young player to prove themselves in all facets of the game in order to see the field on a consistent basis. It’s a fair assessment to say this the 2015 spring game will be one of the more interesting ones for fans to watch, as there will be multiple storylines that will play out right in front of their eyes.