Ample talent vs...lack of opportunity?A separate category to highlight two of the class's most talented freshmen, but a pair that are nonetheless likely to endure red-shirt seasons…
Ben Koyack (TE): In mid-August 2010, Brian Kelly singled out freshman tight end Alex Welch as a first-year player threatening to take the field. He proceeded to compete with, but sit behind, quality tight ends Kyle Rudolph, Mike Ragone, and Tyler Eifert for the duration.
Expect an identical situation in August 2011, with Koyack pressing, but not beating out, No. 3 tight end (Welch or Ragone).
Quick summer prediction: An Eifert, Welch, Koyack trio will rank as the most-productive pass-catching group at the position in ND history in 2013…and maybe in late 2012. Koyack likely needs a nagging injury to someone ahead of him on the depth chart to earn a legitimate shot at playing time in the fall. (Then again, at this point last summer, I didn't think Tyler Eifert would rank among the 2010 team's best newcomers, and he benefited from unfortunate injuries to Rudolph and Ragone last August.)
Troy Niklas (OT, TE, DE): I have no idea…but I'm anxious to find out. I'll assume Paul Longo (see concluding section) will play a bigger role in his 2011 season than head coach Brian Kelly, or position coaches Ed Warinner, Mike Denbrock, or Mike Elston, but Niklas might be too talented not to find a spot on the field.
Consider Niklas the "Prince Shembo" of 2010 – not in terms of eventual playing time, but as the freshman that best applies to this 2010 quote by Kelly, regarding Shembo:
Question: Where do you like Shembo?
Kelly's Answer: On the field…
They'll coach; I'll write…I have no idea if the pair below have a penchant for full-speed, special teams contact. If they crave it, if they shy away, if they play faster or slower than listed in the always dubious high school 40-yard-dash times…so I'll let the staff figure it out in August.
Josh Atkinson (CB and Jalen Brown (CB): It's relevant that both enter August in a battle vs. a converted wide receiver, Bennett Jackson, for a two-deep spot at cornerback. Jackson impressed the staff in the spring, but his spot shouldn't be considered secure through August.
(Unique situation: Jackson is one of the few players on the squad who's both pushing for a key role, nickel corner, and also fighting to stay on his position's two-deep.)
With classmates Matthias Farley beginning his evaluation at WR, and Eilar Hardy at safety (both previewed in Part I), Atkinson and Brown will have ample August reps to show their wares on the perimeter. But barring injuries at the position, one of the cornerback pair will doubtless red-shirt next fall, as the Irish special teams will feature more sophomores than freshmen in 2011.
Longo-nian development, imminentStrength & Conditioning coach Paul Longo's newest crop of line recruits are unlikely to find the field in 2011…2012 is a different matter.
Regarding the quartet of offensive linemen below: if 2010 recruit and promising redshirt freshman Christian Lombard couldn't see the field last year, I have no reason to believe any of this class will burn a season of eligibility as the team's No. 10 offensive lineman this fall – even if several could arguably be considered the 9th or 10th best OL exiting August camp or at some point during the season.
Snaps by Irish OL last season:
- Braxston Cave: 836
- Zack Martin: 831
- Trevor Robinson: 812
- Chris Stewart: 756
- Taylor Dever: 593
- Matt Romine: 250
- Chris Watt: 117
- Andrew Nuss: 51
- Mike Golic, Jr.: 25
- Alex Bullard: 10
Brad Carrico (OG/OT): Enters August with a mild advantage as an early enrollee and will likely face-off vs. senior Lane Clelland for the No. 4 guard role at camp's outset.
Matt Hegarty (OT): Has two returning starters and two promising redshirt-freshmen ahead of him entering August, one of which (Lombard), is a near-lock as the No. 3 OT. Hegarty vs. Tate Nichols ranks as a top frosh/soph camp battle.
Conor Hanratty (OG): Would have to beat out Clelland and Carrico to earn field time inside, though that path is enviable compared to Hegarty's tall task. Also standing in Hanratty's way: senior Mike Golic, technically a backup center but with ample guard experience in practice last season.
Nick Martin (OT): Martin and (Zack) Martin in 2013? Lombard, Nichols and Hegarty will have their say, but it's a goal of the brothers from Bishop Chatard.
Tony Springmann (DE): Early assumption: ranks behind Ethan Johnson, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Kona Schwenke and Aaron Lynch at defensive end, with the nod going to fellow freshman Stephon Tuitt ahead of Springmann as well, though that's speculation based on soon-to-be meaningless high school performance/projections.
Quick Camp Prediction: Springmann's name is one of the first five(freshmen) mentioned by the head coach in post-practice interviews.
Chase Hounshell (DE): Like Springmann, could easily be evaluated along the offensive line at some point in his first season. Like Springmann and most O-Line or interior D-Line recruits in the forthcoming Kelly era, Hounshell should use his true freshman season to gain strength, size, and quickness in a scout team role.
Anthony Rabasa (LB): If Rabasa remains at CAT as originally projected, it's "hello scout team," because the defense has OLB five competitors (Filer, Fleming, Shembo, Spond, Williams) entrenched ahead of him entering August, with two seniors locked into the CAT role. Should he move inside for 2011 (then back to CAT in 2012)…all bets are off, though Fox, Moore, the senior pair (McDonald and Posluszny) and even natural ILB, Jarrett Grace, would enter with a leg up for backup MIKE and WILL (inside) duty.
Quick thought on Rabasa: Regarding CAT/DOG – there's simply No Room at the Inn – the outside linebacker position is stacked with developed, developing, and undeveloped, promising talent; ILB is clouded as well, but there's a reason none of the backups (Fox the possible exception) has earned the staff's trust. Additionally, Rabasa could challenge for a special teams spot along with the host of those mentioned above and in Part I.
Somewhat Educated Guess for those above: Two of the 11 listed in Part II will earn playing time as true freshmen, bringing 2011's total to 11 of 23 freshmen seeing the field in Year One.
Note: For a look at impact freshmen over the last 30 years at the program, click the links below.