In Bloom?

Our summer Stream of Consciousness series examines a pair of battle-tested sophomores ready for bigger roles in 2013.

Note: For Stream of Consciousness thoughts on 67 previously previewed Irish players entering 2013, click the links below.

10 in the Trenches: Both sides of scrimmage

Sunday Sampler (Hodgepodge)

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: one per class

Early Impressions? Four in need of a strong summer/August camp.

Three Sophomores Ready for Impact

Relative Rookies: Redshirt-Freshmen Debuts

Rookie of the Year: The Prime Candidates

The Insiders (Linebackers)

Two Fast Freshmen (Luke and Folston)

Sophomore Safety Nicky Baratti

Most remember Baratti's goal line interception vs. Michigan as the best play of his true freshman season but for me, it's rather a tackle not listed among anyone's top plays of 2012 that ranks at the top: his open-field tackle of USC weapon Robert Woods on a second quarter punt return in Los Angeles was as important as any first-half tackle in Notre Dame's run to 12-0…The true freshman's diving ankle take down of Woods stymied the superstar receiver for no gain at the USC 25-yard line, Notre Dame clinging to a 13-10 advantage at the time. Keivarae Russell intercepted the next pass thrown deep down field, the Irish added a field goal to end the half up 16-10 rather than potentially tied or behind…It was a small play, but one that turns seasons special for true champions…

Whether Baratti beats out classmate Elijah Shumate for the starting field safety spot is likely immaterial: both will play plenty in a three-man safety scheme alongside Matthias Farley…Baratti's post-season shoulder surgery put him behind the eight-ball in spring competition with Shumate, but defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said this of his injured pupil: "Nicky is a guy that's been detached from participation in practice. But he's a guy that really hasn't lost much weight. His body composition, to me he looks a little better, a little leaner, more muscled-up, he's really starting to mature. So he hasn't hit the pause button and taken the time off.

"Clearly he's done the necessary things, for when he is cleared to participate, he's going to have the strength, size, speed, and conditioning to not have those things inhibit in any way. What Nicky adds is a pretty bright football-intelligent player. He showed that a year ago. He picks things up quickly. He was a young guy so he really wasn't a demonstrative communicator, but you could see his comfortability even now, that he's so much more vocal, so much more communicative, and those are necessities for the safety now.

"Just as important as the physical traits we might see: speed, change of direction, size. The intangible traits are just as important for our safeties. So football intelligence and the ability to communicate clearly and articulate and think quickly are critical components to success at safety."

Winning the job will be easier than keeping it for either of the pair through the season's opening month.

Sophomore Wide Receiver Chris Brown

Responsible for one of the team's top five plays of the 2012 season when he hauled in a 50-yard post-pattern from quarterback Everett Golson in Norman. The reception -- his career first, -- moved the Irish from Notre Dame's 35-yard line to the Oklahoma 15 and five plays later, the Irish took a 20-13 lead, one which they never relinquished…

For a speedster as highly touted by his fan base as is Brown, the rest of the season was an excercise in disappointments: one more (meaningless) reception, two drops, just 11 total pass targets…He'll one day be more than a one-trick pony, but if improvement as an all-around player doesn't come to fruition during his second season, Brown will at least have to be a bit more successful in that aforementioned "one trick" -- catching one meaningful post pattern thrown his direction won't cut it…

His impact on the 2013 passing game might have taken a major blow with the loss of Golson, as Rees' arm strength repertoire does not include 45-plus yard throws or throws late and deep when coverages break down due to a scrambling quarterback…

Looked the part of a future all-around player when he led senior Cierre Wood down the sidelines on a 68-yard Senior Day touchdown jaunt vs. Wake Forest…Looked the part of a future star in August camp 2012, at least from my non-coaching perspective -- I believe Brian Kelly's self-proclaimed "third-round draft pick steal" from the 2012 recruiting class will become a star, but his arrival might be delayed until 2014…I sense "fourth receiver" status for the lanky sophomore…

Can he make an impact in more than half of the team's games next fall? Or in those that matter? Brown's season will likely be defined by a few key receptions -- better they occur vs. the likes of Michigan, Oklahoma, USC and Stanford than Temple, Air Force, and Navy.


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