Irish in Search of Solid Second Banana

Consistency, not key catches or crucial blocks, the only thing holding back senior wide receiver Chris Brown to date.

It took nearly three months of big plays, third-down conversion grabs and electrifying touchdown's but Will Fuller's head coach finally relented.

Asked repeatedly if Notre Dame's breakout star of 2014 was his "go-to" receiver, Brian Kelly would not allow the words to pass his lips, this despite near-weekly dominance over the season's first 11 outings. Finally, Kelly saw enough in Fuller to officially praise the team's No. 1 target and playmaker.

"He's a factor in every game we've played," said Kelly. "Louisville had probably two of the better corners in the country, and he ran by them at will. He has obviously put himself in a position to be considered one of Notre Dame's finest receivers -- and he's done it in very short order. "

Short as in, six catches and one score as a freshman in 2013 to a program record-tying 15 touchdowns and 76 receptions as a sophomore in 2014.

On tap for 2015? How about some consistent help?

Pending your preference or point of view, Notre Dame's "No. 2" pass-catcher last season was either:
-- Chris Brown (72 targets, but with an encouraging 27 over the final four games)
-- Corey Robinson (75, with 22 of them in two separate games, Syracuse and FSU)
-- Tight end Ben Koyack (46, but 13 third- or fourth-down conversions included, second only to Fuller).

Koyack is gone, Robinson has missed a healthy portion of spring ball with a concussion, and Brown is -- wait, Browns is already entering his senior season?

"I think Chris needs to continue to improve, frankly," said new associate head coach and long-time Irish wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock. "He has to get more consistent with his catching. He has had, at times, some opportunities to make some plays for us that haven't gotten made, and nobody knows that more than him. He's a really conscientious kid. Tremendous leadership that he's stepped up to bring to the offense as a whole and especially in the wide receiver room."

Brown's best effort last fall was likely against Louisville, a four-catch, 49-yard effort punctuated by a leaping snare of a 25-yard Everett Golson pass that set up Notre Dame for its first touchdown, cutting the Cardinals lead from 17-6 to 17-13 early in the third quarter.

Entering his final spring and season in the blue and gold, Brown needs more of the same.

"I think he's better in and out of his break. Better as a route-runner, understanding how to break down leverage and run routes," said Denbrock. "His game is really moving. He just needs to get more consistent when the lights are on and when it's time to make a play, you have to help Notre Dame win a football game and go and make the play."

"Making a play" is how Brown initially announced his presence to Irish fans as a freshman, securing a 50-yard post pass that played a crucial role in his team's upset at Oklahoma.

He's since developed as a perimeter blocker and corralled another 55 passes from three Irish quarterbacks, but for the Irish offense to thrive, the best of Brown -- or if not, another secondary pass-catching option -- must be yet to come.

Brown put forth strong efforts early (Purdue and Syracuse), middle (Stanford and North Carolina) and late (Louisville), but needed more consistent contributions between.

-- Top 10 Player Outings: Louisville
-- Honorable Mention: Syracuse
-- Made "a play" of note: Purdue (blocked for a Golson touchdown), Stanford (touchdown scored), North Carolina (diving third-down reception)
-- 40-yard receptions: Two (49, 46)
-- 30-plus yard receptions: Two (36, 34)
-- 20-plus yard receptions: Four (25, 23, 22, 21)
-- Pass Interference Calls Drawn: 5 (second behind Fuller's 8)
-- Third-down conversions: 7 (fourth behind Fuller, Robinson, Koyack)
-- Dropped passes: 3 or 4 pending the harshness of your grade (fourth behind Fuller, C.J. Prosise, and Robinson).
-- End-Season Ranking: Outside the Irish overall Top 10, approximately #16 (We stop splitting hairs after about No. 12…) Top Stories