With spring practice complete and Notre Dame ready for OTA’s, we have a somewhat better idea now of what the Irish have to work with and work on between now and September 5. Based on what we learned this spring, here are some players who saw their stocks rise and fall over the course of the 15 practices the Irish held.
A lot can change between now and the fall so this list could be vastly different once the bullets start to fly in September, but for now, here’s what we learned this spring.
- CJ Prosise – Clearly the star on the offensive side of the ball this spring, Prosise started the spring making headlines by moving to running back out of necessity. By the end of the spring, Brian Kelly was talking about Prosise challenging Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant for the starting running back position. Where Prosise lines up this fall remains unclear, but one things is very clear – Prosise will be a big weapon for the Irish offense in 2015.
- Jerry Tillery – The clear star on the defensive side the ball, early enrollee Jerry Tillery made headlines by changing positions as well. Originally recruited as an offensive tackle by everyone, Tillery moved to defense and soared up the Notre Dame depth chart to the point where it would be a surprise if he didn’t see the field this fall. Kelly has raved about Tillery’s use of his hands for a freshman and right now it looks like Tillery will be Jarron Jones’ backup.
- Max Redfield & Elijah Shumate – The play of the Notre Dame safeties was a major concern in 2014, but the early returns after spring practice suggest that might not be the case in 2015. Redfield led the Irish with 6 tackles on Saturday and picked off Everett Golson on the ill-fated fan designed play. Both Redfield and Shumate drew the praise of Kelly and the defensive coaches. They are trending up now and hopefully that continues this fall.
- Nick Watkins – Rising sophomore Nick Watkins made some moves up the depth chart this spring passing Devin Butler on his way to becoming the top reserve and challenger for the nickel role this fall. Watkins got beat deep by Will Fuller in the Blue & Gold game but a lot of really good corners are going to be beat deep by Will Fuller this year.
- Notre Dame Quarterbacks – Both Everett Golson and Malik Zaire had their moments on Saturday and throughout the spring, but neither has separated themselves in the race for the starting quarterback position. The two will continue their battle throughout the summer and into the fall so for now we are holding steady with both since neither was head and shoulders above the other on Saturday. Golson showed improved footwork on the read option but still needs improvement while Zaire showed he can make big plays but still needs to show much more consistency throwing the football.
- Durham Smythe – The rising junior tight end is the likely heir apparent at Tight End U and drew praise from Brian Kelly throughout spring, but he see much action come his way in the Blue and Gold game. Had Smythe not been impressive in camp, Kelly likely wouldn’t have given him as much praise. It’s been Kelly’s MO in the past to challenge players who aren’t living up to expectations in his comments and that wasn’t the case with Smythe. Still, until we see the Texan making plays in the passing game we’ll have him holding steady.
- Amir Carlisle – Kelly said that Carlisle was the most consistent wide receiver in spring ball this year, but in the Blue & Gold game, Carlisle was fairly quiet. He did see some action in the backfield and times and was a surprisingly good blocker, but in terms of plays from the slot, Carlisle was quiet. Torii Hunter will challenge Carlisle through fall camp and freshman CJ Sanders arrives this summer as well.
- Quenton Nelson & Alex Bars – Like the quarterbacks, neither sophomore was able to separate themselves in their bid for the starting left guard position. Both will likely play and it’s entirely possible that Bars could be the top reserve tackle as well, but until one locks down a starting position we’ll leave them both steady.
Disclaimer: before anyone freaks out about players listed here, just remember this is based on the Blue & Gold game and spring practice videos and is in no way a indictment on any of these players.
- Kolin Hill – In just his second collegiate game, Kolin Hill looked like he could be the pass rush specialist Notre Dame needed, but after that he wasn’t heard from much. Throughout the spring Hill’s name was barely mentioned by any of the coaches and on Saturday he wasn’t a major factor. It’s still very early in his career, but given how fast his career started it would have been great to see Hill flash that pass rush potential this spring.
- Jhonny Williams – Williams came to Notre Dame as a raw prospect in need of adding a lot of weight to a lanky frame. After a year Williams has bulked up but has had some trouble adjusting to the increase in weight. Kelly did say he was trying hard, but did not offer a very ringing endorsement of Williams following the Blue & Gold game. Kelly has in the past, including in his opening presser this spring, spoke much more glowingly of Williams so perhaps Kelly’s lukewarm statements after the Blue & Gold Game were a challenge to the rising sophomore as he enters OTA’s.
- Notre Dame Pass Rushers – In general, no one stood out from a pass rush perspective for the Notre Dame defense on Saturday and that was one of the more concerning storylines of the spring. When asked about the pass rush a few weeks ago Brian Kelly said that Notre Dame simply didn’t have a single dominant pass rusher capable of a 15 sack season. Instead he said the pass rush would need to come from a number of players. Right now, who those players are is still unknown. Between Romeo Okwara, Andrew Trumbetti, Doug Randolph, Jhonny Williams, and Grant Blankenship, they will need to find someone who can get at the quarterback. Moving Jaylon Smith around and unleashing him on opposing quarterbacks could be an option as well. Heading out of spring practice though the pass rush ranks as one of the biggest concerns for Notre Dame.