Irish Perimeter a Crowded House

A trio of spring pass catchers look to earn remaining roles alongside a quintet of proven teammates -- before holding off another incoming quartet next fall.

An overview of Notre Dame's wide receivers unit offers two facts and one logical reality thereafter:

1. Associate head coach Mike Denbrock loses none of the five main contributors from the position group under his charge from 2014, and

2. Four incoming freshmen, two sophomores, and a redshirt-sophomore are poised to mix it up in pursuit of playing time in 2015.

Reality: That's an aggregate 12 potential pass targets -- and it's unlikely more than one will infiltrate the returning quintet as part of the game day rotation this fall.

Supplanting Will Fuller, Chris Brown, Corey Robinson, Amir Carlisle, and cross-trainer C.J. Prosise isn't likely.

Who's best-equipped to join them?

From outside the program's walls, the odds-on favorite is redshirt-sophomore (junior) Torii Hunter, Jr.

"He's got an incredible feel for the game of football, I think that's No. 1," said Denbrock of the program's two-sport spring competitor. "And he's a gifted athlete who can run, he's got really solid hands. Very versatile. Can play him inside, outside, move him around and do some different things.

"It's been exciting to watch him blossom and develop now that he's closer to being as healthy as he's been since he's been on campus."

Now more than 27 months removed from a debilitating leg injury (broken femur) suffered at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Hunter is attempting to carve a nice with head coach Mike Aioki's Irish baseball team while improving his status among his pass-catching position mates.

"It's happened a few times this spring but he's done a great job of balancing it and understanding at this point and time this is where his bread is buttered and he's got a good chance to really seriously contribute to our offense," said Denbrock of the occasional practice overlap.

Joining Hunter as outsiders-looking-in are the sophomore tandem of Justin Brent and Corey Holmes. Neither was targeted for a pass last fall; both played as members of the special teams with Brent logging nine games of action, Holmes only the first two. (He traveled with the squad thereafter.)

"Justin is doing a nice job (and) Corey Holmes is doing a nice job," said Denbrock. "They're doing a lot of good things but with young players a lot of times it's feast or famine. They'll make a spectacular play and we love them, and we can't wait to throw them out there and let them be part of our offense, and then they'll miss a sight adjust or miss an assignment or something built into our offense that they're responsible for, and they didn't see it or it didn't trigger or (they'll offer) 'I missed the signal.'

"Things that young guys go through while they're growing their games. They have to get more consistent with what they do on a day-to-day level and continue to learn the nuances and ins-and-outs so that they have themselves in a position where we have enough confidence in them and they have enough confidence in what they're doing, so they can get out there and contribute to our football team."

NATURAL ORDER OF THINGS
The challenge facing Hunter, Brent and Holmes isn't unique. Denbrock noted that 2014 breakout star Will Fuller went through similar trials last spring and through August camp.

"It's experience. It's being the guy out there doing it and having things happen to you and learning from it and growing because of it as a player," said Denbrock. "A lot of things some of our younger receivers are going through right now (Fuller endured last year.) They don't have those snaps in our index that they can draw experience from. They''re doing the wrong thing at the wrong time right now in some situations because the experience factor isn't there and we're trying to get all those things up to speed.

"Those are the two young guys in particular that are growing and some of that rolodex of information I referred to (applies directly to them)."

Hunter took that crucial first step last season, earning snaps against Syracuse (and scoring a late touchdown) while taking critical reps in later games against Stanford, North Carolina, Florida State, Arizona State and appearing in each of the last 10 contests.

Holmes works at the X position behind Fuller; Brent at the W behind Brown and Robinson. Hunter? He can play both X and Z (slot), but both have clear road blocks to playing time.

"He has the ability to play all three (positions)," said head coach Brian Kelly of Hunter. "I think we would prefer it's two at this time. But he's more unique than any of the others in that he has the ability to play all three if necessary. Slot and more than anything else, the X receiver position (at present)."

Notre Dame's X receiver position produced 15 touchdowns, 76 receptions, and nearly 1,100 yards from its lead dog Fuller last fall. The slot enjoyed a combined five scores, 52 grabs, and 825 yards from Prosise and Carlisle.

And the W? Six touchdowns, 79 catches and almost another 1,100 yards of production by Robinson and Brown.

Twelve receivers, three positions, approximately six, perhaps seven spots available for competitors on Saturdays in the fall.

For the youngsters, no one said it was going to be easy.


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