Spring Wrap: Irish wide receivers

Who took a step forward? Who might have fallen back? Irisheyes.com examines what we know now, what we think we know, and what questions remain.

What We Know

The 2014 receiving corps might be lacking in star power but it's likewise the deepest unit -- at least in terms of viable options that are starter-worthy over the next two seasons -- at the program since perhaps the Lou Holtz era when Parade All Americans littered the practice field.

(But that's an assessment made relative to the unit's potential and overall number of intriguing competitors, not their accomplishments or top-heavy starters such as the Stovall/Samardzija/McKnight/Shelton season of 2005.)

The spring session did not include the unit's best player, potential breakout star DaVaris Daniels, but all reports indicate he'll return to the fray -- and the University -- this summer after a grades-related suspension.

That gives Irish quarterbacks six targets with 2013 experience: Daniels, senior Amir Carlisle, juniors Chris Brown and C.J. Prosise (a redshirt-sophomore), and true sophomores Corey Robinson and Will Fuller. Add to that redshirt-freshman Torii Hunter, Jr., and early enrollee Justin Brent and it's evident discussing any ceiling for the group is premature. (Freshman Corey Holmes and injured junior Will Mahone join/rejoin the action in August.)

That's the good news. The reality is, the unit fell short of head coach Brian Kelly's expectations as a whole this spring: "I just want more out of all of them," he noted.

What we think we know

Player-by-player status exiting spring ball:

-- Brown's experience and growth as a two-trick pony (he started catching hitch passes late last season to compliment his deep-ball potential), plus his understanding of the scheme and willingness to block downfield likely affords him a toehold for a starting role.

Couple that with his initial skill -- running past the defense -- and the arm strength of Irish quarterbacks relative to last season and it's difficult to see Brown not playing more snaps than any of his spring competitors in the season opener…

-- Robinson remains a matchup problem for the majority of collegiate cornerbacks due to his ridiculous wingspan, leaping ability, and consistency catching the football. College defenses on the other hand, are capable of taking him out of segments of the game as he's yet to prove himself as a receiver inside the numbers. When he stresses a defense inside rather than only on at the perimeter, he'll be a much tougher cover. Robinson is nearly impossible to defend on a well-thrown ball to the back shoulder (fade/stop fade)...

-- Fuller, who earned surprising playing time from the outset last season, can take the top off most defenses and appears a step ahead of Robinson as a route runner, but the still-slightly-built speedster showed a maddening propensity to drop and/or juggle catchable passes this spring. A case of the dropsies in September will result in far fewer reps thereafter considering the talent that exists within the unit. ..

-- Prosise is oft-referenced by Kelly as a player that could do more, and I take that as a sign the head coach believes he could be a standout, either by season's end or (more likely) 2015. Built like a defensive back, Prosise has impressive, real-world football speed and the power to run through tackles. His understanding of the big picture and route concepts was an issue late last season (Tommy Rees seam pass that was intercepted at Stanford was Prosise's fault) and it's likely still a cause for concern for Kelly.

-- Carlisle's transition from running back to the slot appears complete. If the season started tomorrow I'm certain he'd be 1A to Prosise's 1B, with Carlisle earning crunch time reps. Spring 2014 offered Carlisle a second chance after he failed to capitalize on the golden opportunity he was offered last September when he was the focal point of the Irish running game and short passing game. He made good on his spring opportunity and I'd be surprised if he doesn't play a crucial role in the 2014 season. Then again, I said that a year ago today about 2013.

Carlisle has much to prove entering his senior (redshirt-junior) campaign…

-- Most media practice viewings included Hunter as a perimeter player rather than in the slot as anticipated. He entered spring ball a few ticks behind his competitors after nearly a season away from contact due to a broken femur (New Year's 2013) and likely ended it that way. Including Daniels, Hunter's the seventh man in right now -- that equates to varsity action for game week, but he has ground to make up this summer.

Nevertheless, as a natural pass-catcher and athlete, he has the all-around skill set to make an impact over the next two seasons.

Lingering question

Can Daniels be great?

He was an X-factor in 2012 as the team's No. 4 option. He was very good last season as its No. 2 -- though most often against lesser defenses. Notre Dame needs him to be at the 2013 level of graduated senior T.J. Jones this fall because a reliable, consistent Daniels equates to defensive coordinators drawing up game plans to account for him.

Notre Dame's youth-filled receiving corps could then shine as his supporting cast.

If Daniels is merely slightly better in 2014 than he was last season, Notre Dame will need multiple receivers to take a major step forward. He's the final piece to an intriguing offensive puzzle.

Spring Riser -- Carlisle

"Spring Star" would be inaccurate, but Carlisle doubtless took advantage of his opportunity after being left for dead by Irish fans when they learned of his move to receiver. (He did, after all, drop crucial passes last season, then disappeared from the passing attack thereafter.)

Carlisle caught everything thrown to him this spring and he remains a threat in the open field after the catch.

Stop me if you've heard this before...

Steps Back -- None

But too many targets treaded water, at least for Kelly's taste.

Daniels lackadaisical approach in the classroom is maddening. Prosise showed flashes but he's no better than neck-and-neck with Carlisle. Brown apparently looked better in media viewings than over the entire slate of practices. Fuller was inconsistent. Hunter didn't rise to the level of his counterparts as forecasted by many. As an early enrollee, Brent was (not unexpectedly) "breathing through a fire hose" according to offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock.

Robinson solidified his standing as the ideal pupil, but that won't matter if he can't beat press coverage to operate inside the hash marks and make the tough, chain-moving catch in traffic.

Potential and promise exist. Now they have to produce.


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