A potential silver lining (and in most cases, plenty of eligibility) exists for each member of the sextet reviewed below, but it’s clear ample work – not to mention stark improvement – is key to that end.
Sophomore NT Daniel Cage
-- Current Perception: A Step Back
-- Production: Appeared in 11 games as a 2014 freshmen including each of the first 10 before suffering a knee injury against Northwestern. His best efforts came early, earning honorable mention in our Eye in the Sky film review against Michigan. Cage was thrust into action last season because Notre Dame had no one else capable of filling a backup role – a redshirt would have aided his career arc.
-- 2015 Projection: Third-string nose tackle
-- Confidence in that Projection: Low
-- The Bottom Line: Appeared to be carrying too much weight in the spring, likely a by-product of his November knee injury. Though not confirmed by the staff, Cage appeared to fall behind classmate Pete Mokwuah and junior Jacob Matuska in the interior pecking order late in the spring session, due in part to undisclosed injuries (his thumb was wrapped in the Blue Gold Game and his elbow appeared to be protected as well).
Could Cage receive the redshirt season he needed in 2014 as a sophomore instead? He’s a talented player that could aid the Irish down the line if his eligibility clock is paused.
Sophomore OG Jimmy Byrne
-- Current Perception: Time for a re-start
-- Production: Did not play last season as a true freshman
-- 2015 Projection: Third-string guard duties; scout team
-- Confidence in that Projection: High
-- The Bottom Line: To my knowledge and through a review of my notes, Byrne is the only offensive linemen not discussed by Kelly during the spring or at any point last fall. He’s not “behind” in terms of an acceptable career arc, but it’s clear he’s behind classmates Sam Mustipher (No. 2 center), and Quenton Nelson (starting guard) and Alex Bars (sixth man). He likewise did not make up ground on class of 2013 offensive linemen Colin McGovern, John Montelus, or Hunter Bivin this spring.
Byrne needs a strong August camp to cement his spot in the pecking order ahead of incoming guard Trevor Ruhland – and more interior talent is on the way for 2016.
Junior LB Michael Deeb
-- Current Perception: Recruited Over
-- Production: Did not make his collegiate debut until late in the first half of the USC loss when the rest of the team’s middle linebackers were injured and/or suspended. Deeb also appeared on special teams vs. LSU as a member of the kickoff coverage unit, a major leap forward considering he sat through the first 24 games of his collegiate eligibility. (Deeb sported a massive elbow brace for the bulk of the 2014 season.)
-- 2015 Projection: Scout team linebacker duties and second team special teams work (the latter equates to playing time).
-- Confidence in that Projection: Certain and high, respectively
-- The Bottom Line: Deeb has been passed by younger ‘backers and his best bet for impact entering his third year in the program is to embrace a special teams role and perfect his craft thereafter. Notre Dame will lose two, perhaps three of its Mike and Will linebackers at season’s end but the 2014 and 2015 classes combined to bring in five candidates for the two positions.
It’s now or never if Deeb is to carve his niche.
Senior OL Mark Harrell
-- Current Perception: Utility Man
-- Production: Harrell has received only spot duty over the last two seasons shuffling between guard and center. He served at right tackle in the spring.
-- 2015 Projection: Work on the Irish punt team as a protector for new punter Tyler Newsome.
-- Confidence in that Projection: Medium
-- The Bottom Line: Harrell’s fifth-year fate next fall rests on Notre Dame’s offensive line allotment for 2016. Should they have just 14 players up front without him and a scholarship open, Harrell has proven a versatile reserve, one that could help wherever asked in spring, summer, and fall 2016.
Senior DE Ishaq Williams
-- Current Perception: On the Outside Looking In
-- Production: Has recorded 45 tackles including six for loss with one sack in three seasons as a contributor. Suspended last season for academic dishonesty.
-- 2015 Projection: Retention of his scholarship and scout team duties with the football team
-- Confidence in that Projection: None whatsoever
-- The Bottom Line: Williams was an impact reserve as a true sophomore in 2012 for Notre Dame’s best defense of the last 20-plus seasons. He regressed as a 2013 junior and lost his 2014 season to suspension.
It’s illogical to expect an impact in 2015 with five younger, talented defensive ends developed in his absence, but if Williams graduates from Notre Dame and makes one meaningful play in a competitive contest this fall it would qualify as a positive conclusion to his time at the University.
Junior TE Mike Heuerman
-- Current Perception: Odd Man Out
-- Production: Heuerman is the only member of the 2013 recruiting class yet to appear in a college contest. He’s been beset by injury including a shoulder injury and hernia.
-- 2015 Projection: Scout Team
-- Confidence in that Projection: High
-- The Bottom Line: An early enrollee (2013), Heuerman is likely ahead of pace in terms of graduation, a reality that could afford him work as a graduate transfer thereafter as Notre Dame’s tight end unit has little room for upward mobility.
Heuerman has three seasons of eligibility remaining, but his ascent must begin in August camp.
On tap: The conclusion of our camp capsules and a look at Notre Dame’s 12 remaining scholarship players – 11 freshmen and one redshirt freshman – on what is, at present, an 87-man roster.