Camp Capsules: On The Cusp?

Wait, the Irish top 50 wasn’t enough? Our next set of previews features 10 likely contributors to head coach Brian Kelly’s 2015 cause.

The Irish Illustrated roster preview series rolls on, today previewing 10 more reserves slated to play a part, either bit role or much larger, for the 2015 Irish.
(For a look at the 50 that preceded them – the bulk of them starters and projected key reserves – click the links at the bottom of this page.)

Sophomore QB DeShone Kizer
-- Current Perception: QB2
-- Production: Kizer redshirted as a true freshman last fall and was slated for minimal duty following spring ball before Everett Golson took his act to Tallahassee.
-- 2015 Projection: This is where it gets interesting. Logic dictates Kizer will have to help Notre Dame win a football game this fall as starter Malik Zaire will be exposed to contact as a quarterback that must run for the Irish offense to reach its potential.
-- Confidence in that Projection: High
-- Perceived Weakness: Experience, and that reality was exacerbated by a spring session in which a transferred triggerman with little chance of remaining in the fray this fall received far more reps than did the program’s real-world backup.
-- The Bottom Line: In realistic world, Kizer will receiver mop-up work twice in September, once in October, and throughout November, never being placed in a position where Notre Dame’s playoff hopes are pinned on his shoulders. But it’s more likely he’ll have to lend a hand in competitive action, and only then will the Irish staff know what they have in the six-foot-five triggerman going forward.

It’s worth noting that for Kizer’s future with the program, it’s far better that he receive competitive action this fall rather than sit on the bench and enter Spring 2016 on relatively equal ground with incoming freshman Brandon Wimbush (below).

Junior G John Montelus
-- Current Perception: Second unit guard; improving player
-- Production: Very little. Montelus was so far removed from action as a 2013 freshman he often didn’t dress for home games (weight gain following pre-college shoulder surgery). Last season he appeared in two games in September but none thereafter.
-- 2015 Projection: Legitimate backup guard; No. 2 off the bench behind Alex Bars.
-- Confidence in that Projection: High
-- Perceived Weakness: Conditioning, at least to date
-- The Bottom Line: Montelus looked the part in the spring, working with the second unit offensive line as a mauling, road-grading run blocker that finished blocks at the second level. He played with a chip on his shoulder and it would appear enters his third training camp in position – for the first time – to challenge for a major backup role.

Montelus has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

Junior OL Colin McGovern
-- Current Perception: Backup Swingman (T/G)
-- Production: McGovern missed most of his 2013 freshman season due to recovery from November 2012 knee surgery. He was lauded by Kelly for him spring improvements at the conclusion of the 2014 session but appeared in just two games as a sophomore (redshirt-freshman) last fall.
-- 2015 Projection: Member of the two-deep, technically the backup right tackle.
-- Confidence in that Projection: Medium
-- Perceived Weakness: Lacks a true position – is he a guard or tackle?
-- The Bottom Line: In terms of late-August and in-season practice reps, the ideal second unit offensive line would include Hunter Bivin and McGovern at tackle, Alex Bars and John Montelus at guards, and Sam Mustipher at center. Can McGovern position himself in the true pecking order to be the second guard or tackle (after Bars) off the bench should an extended need for duty arise?

McGovern appeared to be on an upward trend after spring ball 2015.

Senior S Nicky Baratti
-- Current Perception: A career killed by injuries
-- Production: Baratti has played in just two games over the last two seasons (Rice and one play vs. Purdue last fall) due to four shoulder injuries (two on both) and three subsequent surgeries. He appeared in 13 games as a true freshman in 2012, highlighted by a goal line interception against Michigan and solo tackle in space vs. certified Irish Killer Robert Woods of USC on a second-half punt return.
-- 2015 Projection: Medical Scholarship
-- Confidence in that Projection: High
-- Perceived Weakness: This isn’t perceived: Baratti’s shoulder injuries have waylaid what was a promising career.  
-- The Bottom Line: Notre Dame’s coaching staff is in a tough spot with Baratti in that balky shoulders plus special teams duties don’t mix, and he’s likely missed too much time to earn a spot among the squad’s three-deep at safety.

The senior was withheld from action in the spring as he recovered from September surgery but that twice-repaired shoulder will be forced into action in the coming weeks. It’s difficult to imagine Baratti making it through the rigors of training camp, although it’s worth noting he did so last August before going down in mid-September.

A mid-camp evaluation and conversation regarding Baratti’s football future is likely on tap if it hasn’t been broached already.

Sophomore Corey Holmes
-- Current Perception: No. 7 of seven returning wide receiver competitors.
-- Production: Appeared in the season’s first two contests but none thereafter, technically protecting a redshirt season down the line.
-- 2015 Projection: A spot in the game day rotation, but a two-deep role seems difficult to attain
-- Confidence in that Projection: High
-- Perceived Weakness: Like most young receivers that come through the program, consistency in his approach. It was something that troubled four-year starter T.J. Jones until he was a junior, Duval Kamara preceding him, and more recently, DaVaris Daniels, Chris Brown, Justin Brent…the list is extensive. Holmes flashed in the spring and Blue Gold Game but also suffered a case of the dropsies during our nine hours of scrimmage viewing in March/April.
-- The Bottom Line: He concluded the spring as Will Fuller’s backup at the X receiver position but it would appear cross-trainer Torii Hunter, Jr. (slot) would man the role should Fuller go down. Regardless, the status should afford Holmes ample practice reps in camp, allowing him a chance to distinguish in what will be a highly competitive, 11-receiver unit in August. (And that number doesn’t include running back C.J. Prosise.)

Junior T Hunter Bivin
-- Current Perception: Struggling backup tackle
-- Production: Appeared in each of the first five games then none thereafter, though an injury was not disclosed.
-- 2015 Projection: Second tackle off the bench, with Alex Bars (previewed in Part 4 linked below) the first.
-- Confidence in that Projection: Low
-- Perceived Weakness: Pass Protection, perhaps caught between guard and tackle as his best position.
-- The Bottom Line: Bivin has three seasons of eligibility remaining, and he’s not starting this season barring major attrition, so he has an entire August camp, a full football season and ensuing off-season to position himself well for competition next spring. But it was clear he didn’t make the headway necessary in Spring Ball 2015 that Kelly had hoped for, and the Irish offensive line recruiting machine never stops.

Sophomore Rush End Kolin Hill
-- Current Perception: Situational pass-rusher
-- Production: Hill exploded onto the scene in Games 2 and 3 (Michigan and Purdue), officially posting two total sacks while being involved in three plus a pair of pressures vs. the Wolverines and another against the Boilers. He did not record a statistic in the remaining 10 contests and didn’t appear in three of them.
-- 2015 Projection: Dime Package Rush End
-- Confidence in that Projection: Low – It appears to be Hill vs. junior Doug Randolph for the role, at least at the season’s outset.
-- Perceived Weakness: The dreaded “tweener” – at present too small for DE and a not-yet developed skill set as an outside linebacker.
-- The Bottom Line: Hill looked the part of pass-rushing demon in mid-September, then curiously disappeared from the proceedings altogether. He worked with the scout team for the bulk of spring ball when VanGorder’s unit worked on its base defense, but we weren’t privy to much of the sub package reps during practice viewings.

It’s a safe bet to say Hill could “start” in the dime package at Rush End while also being completely removed from the mix in the base – it’s not ideal for a sophomore’s development, but it might be ideal for the 2015 defense.

Senior S John Turner
-- Current Perception: Special Teamer
-- Production: Four tackles in both 2013 and 2014 as a member of the kickoff and punt coverage units. One of those stops – a midfield tackle against Navy – likely saved Notre Dame ignominious defeat at the hands of the Midshipmen (2013).
-- 2015 Projection: Turner will start on at least three of the four Irish “Run Teams” (kickoff and punt coverage and return) and begin camp as a third-team safety, a role he’d cede to freshman Mykelti Williams at some point during the season.
-- Confidence in that Projection: High
-- Perceived Weakness: Lacks the quickness to play safety against spread offenses and the size to play Sam linebacker.
-- The Bottom Line: Turner likely needs a standout season on special teams to earn a fifth season of football at the program. Regardless, he’ll conclude 2015 as a three-year starter on special teams, logging more time than most in the roles. Notre Dame needs more consistent play from its abysmal kickoff coverage unit (the punt coverage team was strong last year) and better blocking on both of its return teams, especially the kickoff unit.

Can a fully dedicated Turner perfect his craft and aid that cause?

Junior DT Jacob Matuska
-- Current Perception: Not John “Matuszak,” much to Kelly’s chagrin.
-- Production: Forced into a key reserve, then starting role due to myriad injuries up front, Matuska first showed well (Louisville) then struggled mightily (at USC). Matuska posted five tackles including a sack/TFL vs. the Cardinals before USC had its way with the depleted Irish defense one week later.
-- 2015 Projection: Third-string swingman (NT and DT)
-- Confidence in that Projection: Low
-- Perceived Weakness:
-- The Bottom Line: Matuska has a pair of sophomores, Daniel Cage and Pete Mokwuah, with which to battle for interior playing time behind the accepted four-man rotation of Jarron Jones/Jerry Tillery and Sheldon Day/Jay Hayes. He’s in better shape than Cage (or was to conclude the spring) and played with better leverage than Mokwuah, but both youngsters have the talent to overtake him.

The guess here is he holds one of them off and serves as Notre Dame’s 9th or 10th man up front.

5th-Year Senior TE Chase Hounshell
-- Current Perception: Backup blocking tight end; team-first guy
-- Production: None since 2011, his true freshman season
-- 2015 Projection: A role in the team’s short-yardage package
-- Confidence in that Projection: Medium
-- Perceived Weakness: Route-running, knowledge of the offense in pressure situations
-- The Bottom Line: It’s a brave new world for Hounshell, the former DE turned DT turned practice squad fodder – the latter reality due to a trio of shoulder injuries and subsequent surgeries since the outset of 2012.

Now a tight end, Hounshell impressed Kelly twice since the season’s final gun: first with his “anything you want from me” attitude to be brought back as a fifth-year player, and second with his continual improvement throughout the spring. Hounshell has a chance to serve as a lead blocker for the Irish power game and he’d likely be the next man in should Tyler Luatua, the projected tight end for that specialized role, go down.

Note: Next in the series, a look at 10 rookies with playing time aspirations for 2015.

Part 1 (Defense)

Part 2 (Defense)

Part 3 (Offense)

Part 4 (Offense)

Part 5 (Supporting Cast) Top Stories