Potential vs. Production: Supporting Cast

Our fifth – but apparently not yet final – installment of camp capsules rounds out the 50 players we’ve pegged as the most likely weekly contributors for Brian Kelly’s 2015 Irish.

August Camp 2015 begins for Notre Dame in two weeks and we’ve thus spent the last four days highlighting 40 players – 20 offense and 20 defense – most likely to contribute to the Irish cause this fall.

Today’s 10-spot includes a sampling from both sides of scrimmage plus a pair of specialists, bringing our projected number of weekly contributors to 50 – and counting – for the upcoming season.

Sophomore LB Greer Martini
-- Current Perception: Up-and-coming and versatile inside ‘backer
-- Production: Posted 14 tackles over two starts (Navy and USC) plus another 12 in a reserve role and member of the Irish special teams.
-- 2015 Projection: Backup Will linebacker but no longer needed at Mike with renewed veteran depth at the position. Full-time starter on special teams as he was last fall.
-- Confidence in that Projection: High
-- Perceived Weakness: The ability to hold up inside over a 13-game slate (not likely necessary in his true sophomore season)
-- The Bottom Line: Martini registered the most instinctive play of Notre Dame’s 2014 season when he read Louisville quarterback Reggie Bonnafon’s play-action fake and shot through the line to corral the Cardinals athletic triggerman for a third-down sack late in the fourth quarter last November. If it’s any indication of his football acumen, Notre Dame’s staff has a keeper on its hands when Martini enters his upperclassmen years at the program.

Until then, he’ll serve in a reserve role, though could receive increased playing time vs. the triple-option offenses of Georgia Tech and Navy.

Junior CB Devin Butler
-- Current Perception: Backup cornerback that struggled when thrown to the fire for late-season starts.
-- Production: Tied for (a distant) second on the squad with five passes defended while recording 23 tackles plus a pick and forced fumble last season.
-- 2015 Projection: The No. 4 cornerback with sophomore Nick Watkins passing him in the pecking order after the two battled in the spring. A full-time special teams starter.
-- Confidence in that Projection: High
-- Perceived Weakness: Speed to cover fleet-footed receivers.
-- The Bottom Line: Is he a corner? Is he a safety? He’s probably a bit of both, but corner is going to be his position at Notre Dame as the defense needs a solid fourth, which he could develop into this fall, and it will need him as a quality No. 3 as a senior in 2016. Butler’s biggest impact will likely be in kickoff and punt coverage this season, roles in which he has a chance to shine.

Sophomore Punter Tyler Newsome
-- Current Perception: The new punter
-- Production: N/A – Newsome spent 2014 on the scout team with Kyle Brindza handling all kicking and punting duties
-- 2015 Projection: Starting punter, potential kickoff man
-- Confidence in that Projection: High
-- Perceived Weakness: We only see in-season practices in August, and Newsome did not punt well. At all. But that was clearly not representative of his talent at the position. According to special teams coordinator Scott Booker, the redshirt-freshman made great strides over the course of the season and through Spring Ball 2015.
-- The Bottom Line: There’s no reason to believe Newsome won’t be a solid first-year punter, but the most important aspect of his job will be punting the offense out of trouble in road outings against Virginia and Clemson, and perhaps a tight home spot or two in September.

A quality start would likely do wonders for the rookie’s confidence as the season progresses.

Sophomore DE Jonathan Bonner
-- Current Perception: Potential pass-rush threat
-- Production: N/A – Bonner redshirted as a freshman though along with Jay Hayes, showed the potential to break through as the staff pondered freshmen contributors through the opening month.
-- 2015 Projection: Backup to Isaac Rochell and occasional pass-rushing threat in the nickel and dime sets.
-- Confidence in that Projection: Low
-- Perceived Weakness: Bonner had late-March turf toe surgery that truncated what had been a promising spring. How he recovers and how that injury holds up during a season’s grind will determine his chances for making an impact on the edge – or better put, coming off the edge.
-- The Bottom Line: Bonner’s late-spring injury could serve as a blow to his early-career development, but with four seasons of eligibility remaining, that’s more of an issue for the present on a line that could use his purported athleticism and natural pass-rush skills. At present, the unit’s depth only minimally because of his classmate, detailed below.

Sophomore DE Grant Blankenship
-- Current Perception: Backup to Rochell at DE; 2014 frosh that could have used a redshirt season.
-- Production: Appeared in 11 games, posting 12 tackles and a sack.
-- 2015 Projection: Regular member of the Irish rotation up front, whether or not Bonner returns (and passes him or joins him in that regard).
-- Confidence in that Projection: Medium – the defensive line should receive weekly contributions from at least nine, ideally 10 competitors in 2015.
-- Perceived Weakness: Ballast at the point and a ticking eligibility clock. Blankenship “should be” a redshirt freshman, not a true sophomore.
-- The Bottom Line: I had advocated for a potential sophomore season redshirt for Blankenship, but that was prior to Bonner’s injury and Blankenship’s revival (a strong late-spring performance/Blue Gold Game). Overall he’s a quality football player in search of a position, but defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s defense creates roles for myriad athletes, and Blankenship should be no exception.

Freshman Nickel Shaun Crawford
-- Current Perception: Nickel competitor; future starter
-- Production: N/A – On he ranks as the best defensive back recruit to the program since Cole Luke and Max Redfield in 2013.
-- 2015 Projection: The No. 2 Nickel defender behind veteran Matthias Farley with a chance to start in certain packages.
-- Confidence in that Projection: High – the sentence above paraphrases the words of an Irish coaching staff member while watching Crawford in a St. Edwards (Lakewood, Ohio)) game last fall.
-- Perceived Weakness: Size. At a shade under 5’9” and sub-180 pounds, Crawford’s weight room work will be ongoing.
-- The Bottom Line: Loves contact, has a nose for the football, shows great lateral quickness, and is ultra-competitive. The latter attribute will serve him well in competition for a part-time role this fall.

Sophomore C Sam Mustipher
-- Current Perception: Will enter a Spring 2016 battle with Tristen Hoge to become Notre Dame’s starter of the future.   
-- Production: N/A – Mustipher lost the early portion of his freshman season to a foot injury. A planned redshirt ensued.
-- 2015 Projection: Backup center
-- Confidence in that Projection: High
-- Perceived Weakness: The shotgun snap  
-- The Bottom Line: Mustipher showed well in the spring, both in space against linebackers and at the point when locked up with an interior defender. (It’s notable that injured starters Jarron Jones and Sheldon Day were not facing him, however.) He has all the makings of a future starter at center once he masters the shotgun snap – and if he can hold off top-tier prospect and 2015 early enrollee, Tristen Hoge.

Sophomore WR Justin Brent
-- Current Perception: Easily distracted youngster
-- Production: Appeared in nine games, mostly on special teams, but was not targeted for a pass.
-- 2015 Projection: A member of what should be at least a six-receiver rotation with seven overall contributors to the cause.
-- Confidence in that Projection: Medium
-- Perceived Weakness: Focus, and in this case, I’m referring to his consistency between the lines and on the sidelines. Brent enrolled early in 2014 but that appears his only leg up inside the helmet in comparison to incoming freshmen and classmate Corey Holmes.
-- The Bottom Line: Brent’s size, strength, and speed should be harnessed into a meaningful role this season, both from scrimmage and as a blocker on the punt return team (he helped spring Greg Bryant for a 61-yard return against Louisville last year). Baby steps forward are essential in 2015 to set him up for a key role as a junior in 2016. 

Junior Rush End Doug Randolph
-- Current Perception: It is to be hoped: Late Bloomer
-- Production: After sporadic playing time early, Randolph broke through in early November to become a starter on three of Notre Dame’s four “Run Teams” kick return, punt return, and kickoff, recording a tackle against Louisville
-- 2015 Projection: Randolph will win an early season role in the dime package as the team’s “Rush End,” one occupied last season first by Kolin Hill, then by Anthony Rabasa, and then by…well, you tell me, because production then ceased.
-- Confidence in that Projection: Low
-- Perceived Weakness: A man without a position. Recruited as a Cat linebacker in former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s scheme, Randolph has toiled at inside ‘backer, defensive end, and Sam linebacker. He seems at home at Rush End in special packages for the new regime.  
-- The Bottom Line: It appears to be Randolph vs. Kolin Hill (to be previewed in a feature of 10 more potential contributors on Monday) for a situational pass-rushing role.

Senior LS Scott Daly
-- Current Perception: He’s um, the long snapper
-- Production: Solid two-year starter but was part (not the biggest culprit, but among them) of the snapper-holder-kicker train wreck against Stanford, Arizona State, Northwestern, and Louisville last season.
-- 2015 Projection: A better season than 2014
-- Confidence in that Projection: High
-- Perceived Weakness: The occasional, and incredibly ill timed high snap on field goals/PAT
-- The Bottom Line: We saw far too many highlights last fall attempting to discern if the long-snapper played a role in shanked field goals. In general, it was the fault of holders Hunter Smith and Malik Zaire, and thereafter, of kicker Kyle Brindza, but Daly was far from flawless when it mattered most.

A potential 5th-year senior for 2016, Daly will have to be impeccable to justify a spot ahead of incoming freshman John Shannon, as two long snappers shouldn’t be part of an 85-man championship roster. 


Note: For the first three editions of our camp capsules, click the links below.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4



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