The Improvement Files

Prediction No. 16 in our summer series tackles the superlatives that seem to accompany every Irish training camp.

Is it time to pump the breaks on the 2015 Irish hype machine?

They can’t all be better, right?

Sure Notre Dame can win all of its games or more realistically, 11 of 12 this fall. And yes, there are ample candidates for end-season awards and honors. But have you looked at how many individuals are projected to have “breakout” seasons, around the Irish blogosphere?

Or (are you kidding me?) a Heisman campaign for a career backup?

Considering the reality that every time Will Fuller scores a touchdown, it means that C.J. Prosise or Tarean Folston won’t. And that every time Jaylon Smith records a sack, it means someone else didn’t, I present to you Prediction No. 16 in our summer series:

Nine key players/positions with a crucial, telltale statistic for each from their 2014 campaign. Will they finish better or worse this fall?

Tarean Folston (1,079 yards from scrimmage): More
-- The Skinny: He’ll earn more touches. (Try to find that depth of analysis anywhere else!) Seriously though, Folston was involved in a curious three-runner time-share last season, from the outset through the season’s fifth game (Stanford).

 He’ll be the man for most of 2015 or at the very least, 1A in a 1-2 punch with C.J. Prosise.

The Starting QB (37 Total Touchdowns): Less
-- The Skinny: Because that’s no small feat. Everett Golson threw for 29 scores while running for eight, a combined total I don’t expect Malik Zaire to reach. But he’s got 10+ rushing scores and somewhere in the vicinity of 20 through the air on tap for Irish fans in ’15.

Joe Schmidt (0.5 Tackles For Loss): More
-- The Skinny: Wait, what? How’d he only have a half-tackle for loss? Well part of it was that Schmidt registered a combined 19 tackles for no gain, 1 yard, or 2 yards (known here as “Stuffs”).

Let’s thus re-adjust to include Schmidt’s TFL (0.5) plus “Stuffs” (19). Will he combine for more than 19.5 in 2015? I’ll say yes – Schmidt while continue to patrol the scrimmage line, dropping runners after minimal gains.

Starting Tight End (30 Receptions): Less
-- The Skinny: It’s not a knock on 2014 starter Ben Koyack’s replacement, Durham Smythe, but rather a nod to the collective pass-catching talents of his teammates. With Will Fuller, Corey Robinson, Chris Brown, Amir Carlisle, Torii Hunter, C.J. Prosise, and Tarean Folston – not to mention position-mate Aliz’e Jones – in the fray, Smythe’s opportunities will be sporadic.

Jaylon Smith (15.5 combined “Big Plays”): More
-- The Skinny: What are big plays? For our purposes, it’s the aggregate of tackles-for-loss, sacks, interceptions, passes defended, fumbles forced and recovered, and touchdowns scored. Considering his talent, Smith had a *pedestrian 15.5 total last season. He might double that total in 2015.

(For the sake of reference, Cole Luke led the team with 24 last season while Matthias Farley finished second at 19.5.)

C.J. Prosise (793 Yards, 7 TD): More
-- The Skinny: If those totals don’t seem familiar, it’s because they’re not Prosise’s from 2014. Rather, the combined totals of backup running backs Cam McDaniel and Greg Bryant, including all rushing and receiving yards.

Prosise will exceed the combined total of last year’s pair.

Will Fuller (14.4 yards per catch): More
-- The Skinny: Let’s get one thing out of the way: he won’t score 15 touchdowns again, and that’s okay. He might reach 76 receptions (I’d guess he’ll fall short, in the 65 range) and his yardage total of 1,094 is largely irrelevant, considering yards are often accrued when a team is trailing and needs to pass.

But 14.4 yards per catch – a solid total considering his 76 grabs – is something on which Fuller can improve as he polishes his game as a junior. T.J. Jones averaged 15.8 per reception as the team’s leading receiver (70 catches) in 2013. Fuller can surpass that level of excellence.

The Other “Starting” WRs (131 receptions, 11 TD): Less
-- The Skinny: “Starting,” in this case, refers to the next four in line after Will Fuller as it was largely a five-receiver rotation in 2014 with No. 6, Torii Hunter, Jr., playing far less than his cohorts.

In other words, Corey Robinson, Chris Brown, C.J. Prosise, and Amir Carlisle combined for 131 receptions and 11 receiving TD last season. In 2015, Robinson, Brown, Carlisle, and Hunter – our expected quartet in support of Fuller this fall – will combine for less. Of both.

Why? Increased weaponry coupled with an emphasis on running the rock rather than slinging it haphazardly all over the field.

Defensive Line Sacks (15): More, Yeesh.
-- The Skinny: First of all, that’s an appalling total, and for the sake of reference, the 2012 D-Line finished with 31. (And Charlie Weis’ final, broken defense, matched last year’s D-Line total of 15.)

Look for 22+ from Notre Dame’s defensive line rotation – one that should go nine deep in good health: (Sheldon Day, Isaac Rochell, Jarron Jones, Romeo Okwara, Andrew Trumbetti, Jay Hayes, Jonathan Bonner, Jerry Tillery, and Grant Blankenship.)

The Secondary (21 Turnovers Created): Good Question?
-- The Skinny: Why am I unsure? Last year’s 21 combined interceptions plus fumbles recovered/forced by the secondary marked the highest total of the Kelly era, though the 2010 DBs finished with 20 as a unit, thanks in large part to Harrison Smith.

Assume for 2015 a solid total of 15 aggregate interceptions from KeiVarae Russell, Cole Luke, Max Redfield, Matthias Farley, Elijah Shumate, and the supporting cast. Can the Irish defensive backs force/recover six fumbles? Seven? Will they be the ball-hawking group projected by media and fans alike?

We’ll take this final statistic to the Four Horseman Lounge for further discussion.

Prediction #15 – Penchant for the Pick

Prediction #14 – For Worse?

Prediction #13 – For Better?

Prediction #12 – Road Weary, Wary

Prediction #11 – Avoiding the Double Dip? 

Prediction #10 – Will They Protect This House?

Prediction #9 – Let’s Go Streaking

Prediction #8 – The Annual Slugfest

Prediction #7 – Light It Up:

Prediction #6 – The Stubbed Toe

Prediction #5 – Sophomore Sacker

Prediction #4 – Close and Late

Prediction #3 – When September Ends

Prediction #2 – Where There’s a Will

Prediction #1 – The Playmaker

 


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