What We've SeenRising players through the ranks include freshman tight end Tyler Luatua, redshirt-freshman running back Greg Bryant, sophomore wide receiver Will Fuller, junior wide receiver Chris Brown, and senior cornerback Josh Atkinson.
Atkinson's inclusion is relative to three previous seasons that proved inconsequential, but I'll be floored if secondary coach Kerry Cooks doesn't offer that his senior speedster is a greatly improved football player.
Bryant was the media (and fan-base) darling of the spring and that hasn't changed over the summer. Head coach Brian Kelly warned the media horde that Bryant still had much to learn in terms of running with patience on every play, but it's apparent Bryant's immense talent will not be denied. I offered his name for inclusion among national breakout rookie's last April, and would not hesitate to do so again.
(Watch Bryant run here in 11-on-11 action courtesy UND.com. The 3:00 mark begins the zone read portion of the highlight reel.)
Fuller has run by everyone they put in front of him during the media's practice viewings -- he'll be a vertical threat at worst this fall. Brown has not only looked the part of No. 1 wide receiver, but was dubbed as such by his head coach after one week of camp.
Luatua carved an immediate niche thanks to his penchant for the physical as run blocker. He'll play (per Kelly), but his usage depends on how dedicated Notre Dame is to running the football this fall. Ben Koyack remains the no-doubt starter and redshirt-freshman Durham Smythe is entrenched as the oft-used No. 2.
Early Punt Return Look: We've only seen one segment, but three Florida prep stars seem to have a leg up: Bryant, fellow second-year runner Tarean Folston, and 5th-year transfer Cody Riggs. Riggs was also a running back during his high school days at St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale).
Top Position Group: No change as of yet from my pre-camp projections: No. 1 is the team's cornerback crew and No. 2 is the offensive front.
O-Line in Flux -- But not for long. Kelly noted Saturday that this week is the ideal time to settle on a starting five. Logic dictates it's (left to right): Ronnie Stanley, Matt Hegarty spelled intermittently by Conor Hanratty, Nick Martin, Christian Lombard, Steve Elmer. Look for Hanratty to be the first guard off the bench, both left and right, and for redshirt-freshman Mike McGlinchey to do the same at tackle (Kelly noted the latter, Saturday). Hegarty would slide to center should Martin go down, briefly or for the long haul.
Quick Thoughts: A (Baker's) DozenBased on camp to date, logic, and a lot of film review…
-- Riggs will win the crucial nickel role by the time Michigan rolls out of town, ideally prior. I'd be surprised if he doesn't start 10+ games on the corner through Thanksgiving Saturday.
-- Freshman Justin Brent will be in a seven-man rotation at WR vs. Rice. The days of hoping to include a viable sixth on Saturdays is a thing of the past in South Bend.
-- Redshirt-freshman Durham Smythe will continue the legacy of Tight End U. The Irish won't miss a beat at the position in 2015. And Ben Koyack's projected receptions total rises for me every day...
-- The competition between Notre Dame's defensive back seven and skill position players is fierce, and between the lines, contentious. It's a welcomed change and reminiscent of a certain 1987-88 collection of Holtz-ian youngsters that "didn't know their place."
-- I'd be surprised if all three running backs (Bryant, Folston, Cam McDaniel) don't each lead Notre Dame in rushing in one game each month of the regular season.
-- I hinted at it last spring, repeated it this summer, and am reiterating today: Elijah Shumate should get a shot at the SLB position. Kelly is already on record stating that should starter Austin Collinsworth go down, Matthias Farley would take over the role of "quarterback" in the Irish secondary. Shumate's talent can help Notre Dame win -- perhaps the defense's most challenging position isn't ideal for him in 2014?
-- Notre Dame's running game would be better with Hanratty at left guard. They aren't, however, primarily a power running team. Not with these two quarterbacks and embarrassment of perimeter riches. Hegarty has the feet to pass protect.
-- Time to start monitoring DE Ishaq Williams. I've heard good things from colleagues but admit I've not yet focused on the mercurial senior…
-- Sheldon Day simply does not stay blocked. His line mates, however, do.
-- If Ben Councell isn't near full strength soon (November knee surgery; camp concussion) perhaps Nyles Morgan could help at SLB?
-- It'll be Golson, but you knew that already…
-- Bet the over. Often.