Filling out the Freshmen

Notre Dame's football team adds 18 members this weekend when the remainder of head coach Brian Kelly's 23-player recruiting haul enrolls in summer school. With no (more) surprises expected, we peak ahead at the potential impact of each newcomer for 2013, in this, the second of a two-part series.

Click here for Part I and the eight most likely freshmen to make their collegiate debuts this fall.

9.) Running Back/Slot/ST Tarean Folston

At first blush, I had Folston in Part I, but with three veteran running backs assured of playing time, and with Folston's fellow frosh Greg Bryant one of my top four freshmen of impact for 2013, something in the rankings had to give.

"You're always hoping they're as good as you think they are," said offensive coordinator Chuck Martin Bryant and Folston as an incoming tandem. "We think physically they're going to be more ready with the speed of the college game. Their strength level is ahead of a lot of kids coming out of high school. Then you have the whole mental aspect of college football. We don't know what jobs they'll be good at and what they won't be good at. We'll start to give them some of the easier jobs and if they can show some aptitude and master those, we'll probably keep expanding the package."

My Quick Take: Though he needs to impress early to be in the running for September playing time, the Irish backfield is a fully unknown quantity entering the season. Any of the six could contribute, but its unlikely more than five will, and just four on a regular basis. Folston will get a shot against unproven veterans as a slot receiver, as a return man, and as player that could help as part of an already-crowded backfield…

10.) Defensive Back/ST Devin Butler: Do both Kinlaw and Butler burn a season of eligibility on special teams? Kelly-era freshmen such as Lo Wood, Danny Spond, and Justin Ferguson did just that -- each was deemed a special teams starter but none seemed wholly necessary or effective in the role. (How good would a fifth year look for Spond right now?) If Butler (or Kinlaw) proves superior to second- and third-year defensive backs such as Eilar Hardy, John Turner, or Chris Badger, then both should play. But if its close, preserving a fifth season for a defensive back with serious potential such as Butler seems prudent. It seems unlikely either Butler or the raw Kinlaw would crack the two-deep from scrimmage in 2013.

11.) Tight End/ST Mike Heuerman: Does a fourth tight end need to play this season? That's the question for Heuerman, and as an early enrollee, he'll be prepared as such by the staff. With his tenacity and quick feet, Heuerman could prove valuable as a kickoff or punt squad blocker, and if any of the veteran trio of tight ends in front of him (Alex Welch, Troy Niklas, and Ben Koyack) is injured, you can bet Heuerman will see scrimmage time the following week.

Recently redshirted tight ends for the program include Tyler Eifert (first-round pick), John Carlson (second-round pick), and Anthony Fasano (second-round pick).

12.) Wide Receiver Will Fuller: If the 6'1" Fuller's ball skills prove superior as a chief asset to anything fellow freshmen Corey Robinson and James Onwualu possess, the Philadelphia product could earn a monogram as a true freshman, as Notre Dame's perimeter rotation is far from determined. Robinson and Onwualu though have a leg up on Fuller -- 15 spring practices. Fuller will have to bring it from the outset to join a varsity corps that includes T.J. Jones, DaVaris Daniels, Daniel Smith, Chris Brown, and spring star C.J. Prosise.

There's likely room for one freshman on game day, maybe two for practice week.

13.) Inside Linebacker/ST Michael Deeb: Ask Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox how happy they are not to have received spot duty as true freshmen inside. Or current senior Kendall Moore. Or past graduates of the decade such as Corey Mays (a 5th-year star and late-bloomer), Brandon Hoyte (a 5th-year captain), and Courtney Watson (a second-round pick).

Deeb might be pressed into action if Calabrese, Fox, Moore or junior Jarrett Grace (a 2011 redshirt) is injured. If not, let newly minted scholarship junior Joe Schmidt do the heavy lifting on special teams and as a scrimmage backup, because Deeb the four-year starter from 2014-2017 seems an enticing option.

14.) Offensive Tackle Steven Elmer: Spring 2013 likely cemented Elmer as the team's No. 4 offensive tackle behind starters Zack Martin and Christian Lombard and sophomore backup Ronnie Stanley. In other words, if the position is blessed with good health, Elmer need not play -- the plan for every enrolling freshman offensive lineman at a quality program.

Stanley though might not be fully recovered from off-season elbow surgery, and his progress was doubtless delayed this spring as he battled through it. There's a chance Elmer will be pressed into action early as Stanley was last fall (the latter appeared vs. both Navy and Michigan before injury). Kelly's plan is to withhold all true freshmen OL from action -- the same will hold true with Elmer, but circumstances will dictate his first-year participation.

15.) Defensive End Isaac Rochell: A window for two-deep action exists for Rochell, who'll report to the University at about 6'5" 270 pounds. With Tony Springmann holding down one backup defensive end spot, the crucial second spot -- or "No. 4" defensive end in our parlance -- is there for the taking, and since the defection of five-star Eddie Vanderdoes from the class, coupled with season-ending surgery for junior Chase Hounshell, Rochell appears part of a three-man competition for playing time. (We're still slating 5th-year Tyler Stockton as a nose guard/nose tackle for 2013.)

Redshirt-freshman Jarron Jones has nearly 30 pounds and a season of scout team experience on Rochell while senior Justin Utupo is 10-15 pounds heavier, no doubt far stronger. Neither is as quick as Rochell, who could carve a niche with an impressive camp.

Regardless -- here's hoping he's not needed as an 18-year-old up front, and both Jones and Utupo can handle the load.

Season of Seasoning?

Barring a rash of injuries or a unforeseen ascent in August, each of the true freshmen below could benefit down the road from a frustrating season on the sidelines this fall.

16.) Wide Receiver Torii Hunter, Jr.: Like his classmate Will Fuller, Hunter would have joined the group above if not for a January all-star practice that resulted in a broken femur. Even if ahead of schedule in his recovery, and despite a fervent desire to prove critics wrong, a season of recovery seems prudent as Hunter, a future slot competitor, regains his explosiveness and burst.

17.) Tight End/ST Durham Smythe: Enters August camp 15 practices behind classmate Mike Heuerman and like Heuerman, with three veterans in front of him on the depth chart. Unless Smythe proves dominant on special teams, first-season playing time seems unlikely. (See note under Heuerman regarding recently redshirted tight ends for Notre Dame.)

18.) Linebacker/ST Doug Randolph: Boundary LB competitors include senior Prince Shembo, junior Ishaq Williams, and sophomore Romeo Okwara. Field LB competitors: senior Danny Spond, junior and the spring's most improved player per his position coach Ben Councell, and incoming five-star freshman Jaylon Smith. Even if moved inside for his initial evaluation, the explosive Randolph's best bet to play in 2013 is on special teams. That insertion seems pointless unless he's an absolute demon as a coverage competitor.

19.) Offensive Guard John Montelus: Was one of my potential backups of impact at first blush, but an off-season spent recovering from a shoulder injury puts him behind the eight-ball in terms of camp competition.

20.) Offensive Tackle Mike McGlinchey: Has the athleticism to challenge for a No. 2 tackle role, but Elmer's early assimilation into the program is a major advantage.

21.) Offensive Guard/Center Hunter Bivin: Enters the program as a competitor at two positions that house but one proven veteran among the three-deep (left guard Chris Watt). Bivin thus could fight to a No. 2 spot at guard and a spot with the varsity in practice…but barring injuries, he shouldn't play.

22.) Defensive End Jacob Matuska: Notre Dame needs a fourth defensive end -- Matuska should fight for the spot in 2014 as he learns the position at the college level.

23.) Offensive Guard Colin McGovern: Knee surgery at the conclusion of his high school career basically locked in a redshirt-season for the four-star prospect.


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