The running joke from spring practice press conferences was that Brian Kelly couldn’t mention Corey Holmes without Justin Brent and vice versa. And despite the difference in their exploits off the field, Holmes and Brent basically had the same freshman season.
Brent played in nine games. Holmes played in two. Neither made a catch.
But both produced in the Blue-Gold Game, Holmes with three catches for 37 yards while Brent hauled in a 29-yard touchdown. But barring a major move during training camp, it will be hard for either to move their skills from the practice fields to the stadium considering the Notre Dame’s receiver depth.
Holmes breaks free of Brent in terms of discussion with the coaching staff and joins the rotation in full behind Will Fuller. That doesn’t leave him a ton of reps, but Holmes goes from two games played and zero catches to being a regular with 10+ catches this season. While the freshman class looks like a threat on paper, it probably won’t be based on Kelly’s track record here. Take out TJ Jones and the other 13 freshman receivers under Kelly have totaled just 20 catches as first-year players. There’s not a starting job out there for Holmes to win, but there’s an available spot in the two-deep. Grab that and Holmes had a solid sophomore year.
Not only does Holmes fail to pull ahead of Brent, but he can’t hold off some of Notre Dame’s incoming talent of Equanimeous St. Brown, Jalen Guyton, C.J. Sanders and Miles Boykin. In the end, Holmes’ sophomore season looks a lot like his freshman one, few reps and little daylight on the depth chart. It might be another year before Holmes gets a serious shot to join the rotation following the expected clear out after this season.
Finding a top receiver prospect who failed to make a freshman impact isn’t hard. A handful red-shirted (Deion Walker, Ronnie Rodamer and John Goodman). Others found a special teams niche and played every game (Richard Jackson, George West and Davonte’ Neal). Holmes falls in between after seeing action in just two games (Rice and Michigan). In recent history that makes the most serious comparison Robby Toma, who saw the field in just three games as a freshman, although he made three catches in that limited work. Looking back at rosters from the past two decades shows how rare Holmes’ freshman season was. First-year wide outs either sit or soak up special teams reps. Holmes didn’t really do either.
A consensus four-star prospect, Holmes’ ranking still varied by service. Scout tagged Holmes as the nation’s No. 38 receiver and No. 200 overall, but ESPN ranked him at No. 13 at the position and No. 94 overall. Holmes finished his prep career in the Under Armour All-American Game, which elevated his profile further coming out of St. Thomas Aquinas. So was Holmes underrated, overrated or just accurately rated? While zero career catches and two games played doesn’t represent a great debut, the five receivers ranked immediately ahead of Holmes on Scout totaled just 36 catches last season. In other words, even getting shut out doesn’t mean Holmes is far off his contemporaries.
Holmes only saw the field against Rice and Michigan. He wasn’t targeted in either.
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.'” – Mike Denbrock on Holmes and Brent during spring practice