Jonas Gray ranks as the Kelly-era gold standard.
Pending your preference of scrimmage sides, either Shane Walton or Reggie Brooks reigns supreme in the modern, mythical but-oh-so-valuable role of “Most Improved Senior” in a given Irish football season.
Which 2016 Notre Dame graduate will etch his name in Irish lore as a breakout performer during his South Bend swan song this fall?
If you take a cue from defensive backs coach Todd Lyght, it might be the spindly senior that first burst on the scene in late-October 2012.
“I tell (the DBs) all the time when we’re going through these drills: if I’m out there, I’m trying to cover Will Fuller and Chris Brown on every play, because it’s not going to get harder than that at the NCAA level.”
Fuller scored 15 touchdowns last season including at least one in 11 of 13 outings.
Brown? He had a nice game against Louisville…executed a few undervalued blocks that led to teammates’ scores.
Why the inclusion of the Irish sprinter alongside the Irish superstar?
“I feel like we have one of the best receiving corps in the country,” said Brown. “We have six-foot-five Corey Robinson, goes up, catches everything. We have blazing fast Will Fuller. And I’m in the middle. I have a little bit of both.
“I had the best off-season since I’ve been here. I trained hard to correct parts of my craft and it paid dividends in my camp (performance).”
His head coach took notice as well.
“I think Chris has been really good the last week,” said Brian Kelly at the tail end of Notre Dame’s training camp. “I thought he had some uneven practices where he was pulling his head off the ball. Not by effort or anything. Then he really locked in the last few days and has been really, really good.”
HIT THE GROUND RUNNING – FASTER
Brown’s camp mirrored his 2014 performance: slow start, improvement thereafter (his first score came on a catch-and-run against Stanford), his best efforts and moments (perhaps Notre Dame’s “Catch of the Year,” a one-hand leaping stab against Louisville), late.
“We put in a lot of hard work this off-season,” said Brown, noting a team-wide effort rather than personal progress. “Getting up at 6am. Malik (Zaire) could tell you. He led us this off-season. We’re going to show some people. Put it that way.”
Irish fans are waiting for Brown to show the skillset he first flashed on a 50-yard post pattern as a freshman in Norman, Oklahoma – raw speed. To a man, Irish teammates list Brown’s name alongside Fuller as the team’s fastest runner. (Fuller concurred.)
What does Brown have to say on the subject?
“Will is my man, but I can never say anyone is faster than me. He can run though. Maybe we’ll have to see.”
In pads, on successive series Saturday night would be a good place to find out.