Irish Notes: Rookies on the Rise

Though veterans own the vast majority of starting positions and major roles in the team’s rotation, young blood continues to rise to the fore at Notre Dame’s 2015 training camp.

Notre Dame’s eighth day of training camp proved costly as senior nose tackle Jarron Jones was lost for the season due to a torn MCL on Friday, part of the team’s second two-a-day session in a three day span.

Head coach Brian Kelly’s Irish bounced back with a scrimmage-laden session Saturday, and will enjoy their first day of rest since the group embarked on Training Camp 2015 at Culver Academies nine days prior.

The loss of Jones elicited a shuffling of the decks up front where more than one youngster will be called upon to replace the senior’s presence in the middle of the Irish defense. Freshman Jerry Tillery appears poised to start in the middle with a bevy of others called upon to lend a hand.
(For a detailed look at Notre Dame’s options without Jones, click here )

Where the talented rookies are unable to make up for Jones is off the field – as a teammate, in the locker room and beyond.

Fortunately, they won’t have to.

“Well we won’t miss his personality, believe me, he was already there today (at practice) in the huddle, joking it up with the guys,” said Kelly. “He’s a guy that needs to stay around the team. It’s part of who he is, the team is very important to him. He’s somebody that will travel with us, be around the team. We’ll keep that contact with him.”
Jones is expected to return to the field next season as a graduate student. He was redshirted as a true freshman in 2012 and will receive a medical redshirt this fall.

Senior running back C.J. Prosise sat out Saturday’s practice and will miss the next seven days (10 all told) due to a hip flexor injury. Senior Josh Anderson and freshmen Josh Adams and Dexter Williams received ample work in his stead. Anderson at times repped with the first team to spell starter Tarean Folston.

“He knows the offense so well,” said Kelly of his former walk-on. “We felt really good about his run tracks and his ability to know the offense. It affects more than anything else making sure we don’t wear out (Tarean) Folston…That gives us some depth to really protect Folston in that short period of time.”

Tillery’s rise to the front of the depth chart ranks as the most noticeable – albeit necessary – development among the 2015 freshmen ranks.

He’ll by no means be riding solo on the varsity train.

Asked if he’s been surprised by the instant impact of myriad freshmen in August camp, Kelly offered a fitting analogy.

“You come in every year and you unwrap that present and you go, “Alright, I like this one…not so much here…he’s not ready...that (player has) more than I thought. It’s every year,” he said. “Some guy is billed as a superstar and he comes in and he’s not so much. It happens every year.

“We knew (Shaun) Crawford was a football player. When I saw him block three extra points when the game was over, coming off the edge, I said, ‘That guy’s a football player. I don’t care if he’s five-foot-five,” Kelly noted of the team’s smallest player at five-foot-eight, 180 pounds.

“And he’s proven to be that. He knows our defense already. He knows our calls at the nickel position and he’s already helping our safeties in certain situations in terms of overriding calls. The kid’s a smart football player. He gets it in terms of a knack for the game.

“(Nick) Coleman is long, athletic, and he has makeup speed at the cornerback position – a great quality to have because usually corners are making up. He plays the ball very well in the air. He has the ability to adjust when the ball is in the air.”

“Sometimes the wide receivers surprise you,” Kelly continued. “We thought that Equanimeous (St. Brown) was going to be a good receiver for us but we thought, maybe down the road. He’s ready. That kid runs like a deer.

“We’ve put him up against everybody and he can run past you and go up and get the football. But what I like about him the most and the reason I even brought up his name is that twice now he sprained his ankle and has been back in 24 hours. He’s got toughness, too.

“When you get a freshman like that that has that type of toughness early on, you know you have something special there.”

Kelly offered the names of rookies Te’Von Coney, Aliz’e Jones, and starting kicker Justin Yoon as players he expected to lend an immediate hand this fall. He admitted that while he was high on the group, August always includes an element of the unknown.

“You just never know because they have to go play.”

To the house: Freshman slot receiver C.J. Sanders provided Saturday’s top two highlights – a pair of breathtaking runs in which he made several defenders miss in space including a long punt return touchdown.

He can cut at full speed,” said Kelly. “Some of our guys have straight line speed but they don’t have the ability to cut at full speed. He does. We haven’t had that in my time here, it’s something that’s been lacking and he has that ability to cut at full speed.

So he becomes a weapon from that standpoint, whether it be on some of the fly sweep stuff…he’s elusive catching the football in the screen game. Maybe in the return game, we’ll see how that plays out. A guy that can be a weapon for us.”

The following positions are expected to include contributions from freshmen, true and redshirt alike, none of which have appeared in a college contest.

-- Starting nose tackle Jerry Tillery
-- Starting left guard Quenton Nelson (RS)
-- Backup left guard Alex Bars (RS)
-- Starting kicker Justin Yoon
-- Starting punter Tyler Newsome (RS)
-- Backup tight end Nic Weishar (RS)
-- Backup tight end Aliz’e Jones
-- Backup WR Equanimeous St. Brown
-- Backup slot and potential starting punt returner C.J. Sanders
-- Backup quarterback DeShone Kizer (RS)
-- Backup/starting nickel Shaun Crawford
-- Backup cornerback Nick Coleman
-- Backup defensive end Jonathan Bonner (RS)
-- Backup center Sam Mustipher (RS)
-- Special Teams competitors Te’Von Coney and Asmar Bilal

Junior Malik Zaire donned a red jersey during Saturday’s practice, modern football’s omnipresent designation signifying no contact allowed on a team’s starting triggerman.

Not so for his understudies, DeShone Kizer and Brandon Wimbush.

“When you put a red jersey on it’s hard to evaluate them sometimes as to who they are as a quarterback,” said Kelly. “Are they someone that could make plays on the run? How they are physically? Because we want to be able to run the football with our quarterbacks too. We’re still evaluating them in terms of what they can and can’t do.

“We have a good idea what Malik can do in the running game. But those two kids in particular I kind of wanted to see them on the perimeter with our zone read-option. I wanted to give them a fair chance to read it…now I can grade them out fairly.

Kelly added that while he doesn’t necessarily desire separation between his No. 2 and No. 3 quarterback, the act of making them play through contact could make it clear.

“I think the best way to do that is to give them an opportunity to play the game live and play real football.”

The rest of the squad will resume real football on Monday morning with the program’s annual media day set for Tuesday afternoon. Top Stories