Camp Capsules: Rookies At The Ready?

Nine more potential and/or likely contributors to Notre Dame’s game day cause in 2015 have yet to play their first down of college ball.

With 60 likely contributors to the 2015 fray already previewed (and linked below), we turn our attention to a collection of rookies that appear poised for playing time this fall. Not all will enter the mix, but it’s likely no more than three from this group will receive redshirt seasons.

Of note: Freshmen Justin Yoon, Aliz’e Jones, Jerry Tillery, C.J. Sanders, and Shaun Crawford were previewed earlier in the series as crucial, weekly contributors, with each of the series’ previous five parts linked at the bottom of this page.

Freshman RB Dexter Williams
-- Current Perception: Suddenly RB No. 3?
-- Path to Playing Time: The incoming freshman will have a chance to earn the role of No. 3 running back – at least for September – in a head-to-head battle with classmate Josh Adams.
-- 2015 Projection: Spot duty in September and additionally, a chance at special teams action as a rookie, both roles due in large part to the four-game suspension of Greg Bryant.
-- Confidence in that Projection: Low – I could see Adams earning the same roles instead.
-- Perceived Weakness: Former running backs coaching Tony Alford once noted that exactness expected of a running back in head coach Brian Kelly’s offense. Few freshmen will possess such attention to detail from the outset.
-- The Bottom Line: Opportunity has knocked for Williams, the odds-on favorite to earn carries in September to lend respite to the 1-2 punch of Tarean Folston and C.J. Prosise. Thereafter? His redshirt will (likely) be burned, so special teams duty and mop-up time in the backfield should ensue at minimum.

If Williams impresses in his September audition the Irish backfield will rank among the nation’s deepest and likely best.

Freshman LB Josh Barajas
-- Current Perception: Future starter at Will LB
-- Path to Playing Time: His Special Teams efforts in August
-- 2015 Projection: Spot duty at linebacker but a full-time starting role among the Irish kick and punt coverage units
-- Confidence in that Projection: High, though it was notable to hear from colleagues that offered Barajas didn’t look the part (in regular clothes) of ready-made college player during the Irish Invasion in June.
-- Perceived Weakness: Long-term, very few. In the short term, Barajas is tasked with learning a defense that stumped studious rookie linebacker Nyles Morgan last season, though Morgan’s role as the Mike linebacker was far more involved, at least pre-snap.
-- The Bottom Line: He’s Tim Prister’s No. 1 ranked player among the incoming crop and he was my No. 2. There’s very little not to like, but Barajas’s road to 2015 scrimmage action is blocked by veteran, standout football players.

A physical presence among the Irish specialty units would be a welcomed addition in his debut season.

Freshman LB Asmar Bilal
-- Current Perception: Is he a huge safety or remarkably fast, trim linebacker?
-- Path to Playing Time: Running under the kickoffs of Justin Yoon and punts from the leg of Tyler Newsome
-- 2015 Projection:  Full-time special teams role
-- Confidence in that Projection: High
-- Perceived Weakness: Can he add the necessary weight and strength to be a rugged inside ‘backer over the next four seasons? 
-- The Bottom Line: Bilal can run, enough that he could be a top tier safety prospect in a bygone era bereft of the spread offense. As it is, he’s skill set is ideal for tracking athletes in space, but he’ll soon have to prove he can hold up vs. power rushing offenses as well.

He won’t have to prove in 2015, however, and you’ll thus likely see Bilal with the Irish coverage units from the outset.

Freshman LB Te’Von Coney
-- Current Perception: Ah the benefits of early enrollment…
-- Path to Playing Time: Calamity at linebacker. Coney showed well in the spring but if in good health, the Irish are stacked inside for 2015.
-- 2015 Projection: A full-time special teams role and backup duties inside.
-- Confidence in that Projection: Medium
-- Perceived Weakness: Sideline to sideline quickness
-- The Bottom Line: Coney proved to be a quick study and showed the ability to fight through injury, remaining on the field during the spring grind despite an ankle sprain. It’s an oft-overlooked necessity of the sport, especially at his position.

A redshirt season would benefit him in terms of separation from future Mike starter, sophomore Nyles Morgan, but Coney’s early assimilation will give him a leg up on rookie season action.

Sophomore TE Nic Weishar
-- Current Perception: Was he recruited over?
-- Path to Playing Time: An outstanding, epic August camp
-- 2015 Projection: Spot duty as a backup tight end in a detached role (not in-line) and a starting role as a blocker on the Notre Dame kick return unit, the usual course of action for redshirt-freshmen tight ends at the program.
-- Confidence in that Projection: High
-- Perceived Weakness: He’s not Aliz’e Jones? That might be what it comes down to for Weishar, a player with outstanding ball skills but not yet in possession of the ballast to succeed as a full-time tight end. He’s now forced to hold off a younger player with otherworldly receiving skills (though also far from game-ready as a blocker).
-- The Bottom Line: Weishar is a young, talented player, one with a plus-level skillset at one crucial aspect of the position. (In his case, ball skills.) He is, however, competing at a position group stocked with the same. August and likely a good part of September will determine his between-the-lines impact in 2015 – and perhaps establish a positional pecking order beyond.

Freshman S Mykelti Williams
-- Current Perception: 2016 rotation player; 2017 starter
-- Path to Playing Time: Likely special teams contributor and likely a member of the varsity as a three-deep safety prospect.
-- 2015 Projection: Playing time on special teams; late-camp mention of his ascent up the depth chart
-- Confidence in that Projection: Medium
-- Perceived Weakness: Better on film than on paper. Wait, that’s not a weakness, but it likely explains his three-star ranking. Williams can play the game, but seasoned prep players don’t hit the collegiate ground running as finished products. He’ll likely be far better as an upperclassman after adjusting to the speed of the game.
 -- The Bottom Line: Williams is the squad’s free safety of the future and he should earn at least a varsity role at the position this season. The Irish are set in 2015 at strong safety with Elijah Shumate, Avery Sebastian and (in an ideal situation) Drue Tranquill, though Tranquill will likely work as the No. 2 FS for the purpose of reps and cross-training.

Williams has a chance to join that group, plus Nickel Matthias Farley, as a weekly contributor on weekdays and game day special teams performer.

Freshman RB Josh Adams
-- Current Perception: On the Cusp?
-- Path to Playing Time: A head-to-head camp battle with fellow freshman ball carrier Dexter Williams
-- 2015 Projection: A redshirt season
-- Confidence in that Projection: Low – I could see Adams skill set translating better to special teams, thus affording him the role of little-used No. 3 runner in September as well.
-- Perceived Weakness: Needs to fill out his tall frame to last over the season’s long haul
-- The Bottom Line: Adams went from “no shot” to, “let’s see what you got?” in terms of a rookie season road to playing time. If he can beat out a fellow freshman, he’ll likely play in 2015.

Sophomore NT Pete Mokwuah
-- Current Perception: On the outside looking in
-- Path to Playing Time: Continued improvement from the spring, a session in which he made great strides from beginning to end, tough admittedly had a long way to go.
-- 2015 Projection: Third-string nose guard – on the cusp of playing time as a member of the varsity, but not yet a contributor in competitive contests.
-- Confidence in that Projection: Medium
-- Perceived Weakness: Conditioning/Work Volume
-- The Bottom Line: Mokwuah was beaten to a pulp by the first and second unit offensive lines early in Spring Ball 2015 but he began to dole out punishment of his own as the session progressed. He has four seasons of eligibility remaining which makes steady improvement a reasonable goal for this, his redshirt-freshman season.

If Notre Dame were as starved for bodies up front this fall as they were last, Mokwuah would likely play. He’s instead a competitor that could use more time to develop.

Freshman QB Brandon Wimbush
-- Current Perception: QB of the future
-- Path to Playing Time: An injury to either Malik Zaire – in which case, Wimbush will play, along with DeShone Kizer – or an injury to Kizer, in which case, he might be activated on game day.
-- 2015 Projection: A redshirt season. The staff can use Montgomery VanGorder as its quarterback when the game is no longer in question should Zaire or Kizer go down.
-- Confidence in that Projection: Low – Zaire is susceptible to big hits by the nature of the read-option offense and his power-running style.
-- Perceived Weakness: Nothing long-term. But Brian Kelly would have to pare down the playbook to accommodate a true freshman that joined the fray in June rather than as an early enrollee.   
-- The Bottom Line: A redshirt season for Wimbush is essential for the health of the position going forward, not to mention a championship run (read: Zaire is upright) in 2015.


Next in the series: A look at six Irish players at a career crossroads, albeit at disparate stages of their collegiate experience.

Part 1 (Defense)

Part 2 (Defense)

Part 3 (Offense)

Part 4 (Offense)

Part 5 (Supporting Cast)

Part 6 (Carving a Niche)



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