Spring Questions: Wide Receivers

A quartet of questions regarding Notre Dame's wide receivers heading into spring ball 2015.

Below is the second of 11 such columns previewing head coach Brian Kelly's sixth spring session in South Bend.

The questions are pertinent. The initial answers? Well, they're one man's opinion -- One man using logic and recent history as his guide.

The breakout sophomore star led the Irish in touchdowns scored (15), receptions (76), yards from scrimmage 1,094), pass interference calls drawn (8), third- and fourth-down conversions (18), 40-yard receptions (4), 30-yard receptions (5 more), 20-yard receptions (another 10), pass targets (119)…and drops (12).

He can obviously improve upon the latter, but can Fuller likewise ascend to the role of on field leader? In other words, in two games, Fuller mentally checked out, either according to his coach (Navy) or his own admission (USC). The mentality of a young player doesn't have to reappear in his junior season repertoire.

No opposing cornerback was able to cover Fuller last season (he left approximately 175 receiving yards on three failed receptions on the turf at USC, either by the fault of his quarterback's errant pair of throws or Fuller's egregious dropped would-be 75-yard touchdown.)

Fuller's a national title level difference maker, and at some point midway through spring ball 2015, his head coach's comments will indicate how much Fuller has or hasn't grown since last fall.

The first two months of the 2014 campaign saw the rise of then-sophomore Corey Robinson, as the relative neophyte a the position emerged as Fuller's chief compliment, catching a quartet of touchdowns over the first seven games along with 359 yards. Robinson's final six outings produced just one score (Louisville on a tipped ball) and 180 yards.

Conversely, soon-to-be senior Chris Brown struggled to find a rhythm early, collecting two or fewer receptions in four of the seasons first six games. His final seven outings included four separate games with at least four catches to his credit with a healthy dose of improved downfield blocking to boot.

If both are markedly better than last season, the Irish offense will produce more points than any in the history of the school. If improvement between the outside pair is instead minor, the passing game won't likely operate at a championship level.

Speaking of tandems…

It's assumed 5th-year senior Amir Carlisle will be a fifth-year senior in South Bend, and if true, the Irish have a comfortable situation in the slot for the first time since 2012 when Theo Riddick and Robby Toma combined to make weekly contributions -- not to mention game-changing plays vs. Purdue (Toma), Stanford (Riddick), and Pittsburgh (both).

C.J. Prosise ranks second to Fuller as the unit's most improved player from Spring 2014 to the conclusion of the season. If he takes a similar step forward, the accepted 1A (likely Carlisle, when healthy) and 1B (Prosise) situation could be a definitive 1-2 punch (Prosise-Carlisle).

Which leaves slot target #3, Torii Hunter, Jr. Will he work inside at what would be a crowded slot position, or focus on the perimeter where four, perhaps players can rotate at two spots? (Rather than three sharing one.)

Hunter's potential swingman role is invaluable to the squad and coaching staff. It's not, however, ideal for playing time.

Fuller, Robinson, Brown, Prosise, Carlisle -- that's a tough quintet to crack.

But room exists for at least seven active game day receivers with perhaps an eighth sticking with the "varsity" during practice week.

The logical addition (No. 6 and No. 7) are Hunter and Justin Brent, with Corey Holmes a tick behind the latter entering their true sophomore seasons (Brent's size/blocking ability, coupled with spring 2014 assimilation gives him a leg up).

But Holmes was lauded for his efforts last August -- not in terms of production, but approach -- by the man throwing him the ball, Everett Golson.

"Corey had a day where he missed a pass and coach got on me and (Holmes) came up to me after practice and told me, 'Hey, that's on me, I got you. I'm going to be better for you.' It said a lot about him, to say that as a freshman in his first couple of weeks."

Playing time will be decided next August and through September, but it's reasonable to suggest a pecking order will be established this spring as eight pass-catchers compete for roles with the offense.

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