Early Impressions?

Today's Stream of Consciousness collection examines a quartet of players whose summer and August camp performance could be crucial to playing time in the months that follow.

Click the links below for previously previewed players in our Stream of Consciousness series:

10 in the Trenches: Both sides of scrimmage

Sunday Sampler

Five Freshmen

Six on the Spot

The Returnees (Injured Irish from 2012)

Three Key Juniors

The Quarterbacks: Three to Make One?

Senior Trio

Through the Ranks

Defensive Lineman Tyler Stockton

Four recruiting stars, a different scheme, a different staff, multiple injuries, and four years later, the undersized Stockton enters his fifth August camp with a final chance to make an impression…A respected locker room voice, Stockton won't begin camp No. 2 on the depth chart at any position, but after a 2012 season spent as a scout team nose guard, defensive end, and offensive lineman, Stockton coukd carve out a role, with one defensive end spot available to the most impressive camper...Candidates include Stockton, fellow upperclassmen and unproven, undersized end Justin Utupo (previewed in our "Ten in the Trenches" link), redshirt-freshman Jarron Jones, and promising true freshman Isaac Rochell…In other words, I'm saying there's a chance…

Stockton is quick enough to make a difference in a series or two per half, the question is, can he hold his gap at 6'0" 285 pounds…Ranked as the No. 3 defensive tackle nationally by one recruiting service (he was the 121st ranked player overall by Scout.com), Stockton hasn't played since a reserve role in 2010 -- head coach Brian Kelly's first with the program -- shoulder and knee injuries, plus the apparent lack of desire to recover adequately from them the chief cause. Now due to a talent drain at defensive end from transfer (Aaron Lynch), injury (Chase Hounshell) and defection (Eddie Vanderdoes), a final opportunity has presented -- the guess here is that the re-dedicated Stockton will take advantage of it…Look for a handful of first and second-half snaps as part of the No. 2 defensive line against Temple, a chance earned last spring and this August, and one Stockton must capitalize on as the opponents get stronger through September.

Safety Eilar Hardy

Another former four-star prospect, Hardy was dealt a blow of bad luck in the form of an August 2011 ACL tear -- one from which he's only recently fully recovered…Was nowhere near the field last fall, a full season removed from the injury, but has put himself into the conversation after a decent spring -- that conversation, however, involves at least five more safeties vying for three spots…

Said defensive coordinator Bob Diaco of Hardy at the conclusion of spring ball 2013: "We're really pleased with Eilar Hardy, but in saying that, don't put in your mind that you're looking at on-the-field production. You're talking about a player whose (previous) evaluation was very, very low. That's just a fact of the matter. And now his evaluation is higher than that.

"To what extent in terms of production for fall 2013, who knows? But he's really focused his energy and life and intensity and effort and he really wants to be a good player, you can see it. He worked at that this winter, and he worked at that this spring. And I'm really pleased with Eilar Hardy."

In other words, he better bring it in August, because Elijah Shumate, Austin Collinsworth, Nicky Baratti and Max Redfield, will.

Special teams is the fastest route to the field fir the bulk of them.

Cornerback Josh Atkinson

Notre Dame had four scholarship cornerbacks available for most of 2012, Atkinson comprised part of that quartet as a sophomore who played a good part of the end of his freshman season (2011) on special teams…Its telling that neither Atkinson nor fellow backup corner Jalen Brown was used in a nickel role, one instead that was won by a former high school outside linebacker (Elijah Shumate)…

Atkinson was given the lion's share of late-spring reps at cornerback as the staff rested Lo Wood (sore Achilles) and Bennett Jackson (shoulder surgery)…The junior speedster mixed it up downfield far better than in season's past, but he remains a target when facing taller receivers, as Atkinson plays smaller than his 5'11" listing…

Notes from consecutive practice observations regarding Atkinson, both of which included scrimmage and heavy 1-on-1 or 7-on-7 work: "Nice break on an out-cut with a pass defended…Ball taken off the top of JA's helmet by (DaVaris) Daniels…High-pointed again by Koyack, bad matchup…Better downfield coverage but great throw to Jones…All over Daniels to breakup fade…Incredible catch by (Corey) Robinson with decent JA coverage, Robinson appears injured…Competitive play to break-up pass to (James) Onwualu but terrible pass…High-pointed again on fade to Daniels…Good downfield coverage vs. Jones but catch made again…Looks better when not matched on sideline throws/go routes…Speed has to be harnessed this year somehow: Kick and punt coverage?"

In short, Notre Dame needs a fourth cornerback to complete its two-deep and either Atkinson or Jalen Brown must hold off talented freshman Cole Luke in August to ensure a spot through September.

Running Back Will Mahone

It was a telling quote by his head coach on what, at least relative to the rest of the sloppy affair, appeared to be a promising play by a redshirt-freshman runner: "I think Will made a nice catch on a seam throw…he's got to make that play. I thought that was a positive for him and just got to continue to develop."

Mahone's full-speed snare of a 20-plus yard pass in traffic was a play that frankly, most Irish running backs of recent years would not execute (aside from Theo Riddick, name one that has…) -- but Kelly's luke warm offering in its wake suggests Mahone doesn't regularly make such magic in practice…Tough to gauge Mahone in practice as he ran often behind the second-team (including walk-ons) O-Line in our viewings…Of all Irish players that can't afford to fumble in August, its Mahone (and the incoming freshmen backfield tandem)…

Mahone's a power guy, but he ran from the spread in high school, too…Like his athleticism, balance, hands, and confidence; patience will need to be an additional quality because the 2013 backfield is a crowded house of unproven but capable talent…Running with low pad level would give him a chance to earn a role, because no one has proven capable of consistent north-south four-yard gains in a college contest to date -- playmaking skills take over for the best thereafter.

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