Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Who’s Next?

A combined nine senior and fifth-year graduate student starters have exhausted their eligibility in South Bend. Who’s set to replace each in 2016 and beyond?

Tuesday Irish Illustrated broke down the impact of a quintet of Irish seniors and juniors, each of whom left eligibility on the table to enter the NFL Draft.

Today we examine the program’s efforts to replace nine graduating starters that exhausted their eligibility following the Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State.

SHELDON DAY
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Day’s senior year ranks as best season by a defensive linemen of the Brian Kelly era. In a season that produced 15.5 tackles-for-loss – the most at the program since Derek Landri in 2006 – his desire to play through injury and illness in his final game was commendable. He is the definition of a program player, a leader, and a five-star prospect that developed into a potential first-round draft pick.

Who’s Next? Sophomore Jerry Tillery, redshirt-sophomore Jay Hayes. Hayes (Jan. 2015) and Tillery (the present) have both been anointed as future stars by head coach Brian Kelly and, subsequently (or is it vice versa?) the Irish fan base. Regardless, Notre Dame has a solid 1-2 punch at its three-technique defensive tackle position for the foreseeable future.

In the pipeline: Redshirt-freshmen Elijah Taylor and Micah Dew-Treadway. Redshirt-junior Jacob Matuska lends veteran depth and could conclude spring ball ahead of one or both of the young tandem.

NICK MARTIN
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A three-year starter inside, Martin, like Day, saved his best for last, playing his best football in his final season in South Bend. Grit, toughness, and the demand for accountability among his line mates rank as his greatest assets but in 2015, Martin became a technically sound, proficient blocker as well.

Who’s Next? Redshirt-sophomore Sam Mustipher and redshirt-freshman Tristen Hoge. Hoge was dubbed Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year in 2015 while Mustipher completed the conversion from guard to center throughout ’15. It’s likely the pair will emerge No. 1 and No. 1A post-spring drills.  

In the pipeline: Look for redshirt-freshman Trevor Ruhland or redshirt-sophomore Jimmy Byrne to move from guard to provide depth. Byrne is the lone member of the 2014 class yet to appear in a collegiate contest.

ROMEO OKWARA
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A 20-year-old senior, Okwara is the poster child for redshirting young defensive linemen as freshman – unfortunately, he was forced to play early and his collegiate eligibility has been exhausted. Posted a career-year in 2015, leading the team with eight sacks while posting 12.5 tackles-for-loss – one less than Stephon Tuitt registered en route to being named a Hendricks Award finalist in 2012.

Who’s Next? Junior Andrew Trumbetti is a near-certain starter with classmate Grant Blankenship his likely backup. Blankenship complements Trumbetti’s speed and quickness with more ballast at the point of attack. 

In the pipeline: The freshmen quartet of Khalid Kareem, Jamir Jones, Ade Ogundeji, and Julian Okwara – Romeo’s younger brother. Kareem is likely to begin at “Big End,” where he would backup senior-to-be Isaac Rochell and redshirt-sophomore Jonathan Bonner.

Jones is the younger brother of expected fifth-year senior Jarron Jones.

Four-star linebacker Daelin Hayes remains an intriguing prospect at defensive end as well.

JOE SCHMIDT
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Two-year starter and the unquestioned director of Notre Dame’s defense – when Kelly noted post spring 2014 that the unit couldn’t function without Schmidt, he wasn’t exaggerating. Two years later, they’ll have to.
 
Who’s Next? Junior Nyles Morgan.

In the pipeline: Junior Greer Martini can serve as the mike ‘backer in a pinch but he’s likely to remain on the strong side as a complement to senior James Onwualu. Redshirt-freshman Josh Barajas is a candidate to move to lend spring depth though he has a chance to earn a role with sophomore weak side ‘backer Te’Von Coney shelved due to a shoulder injury.

CHRIS BROWN

Brian Kelly’s “third-round” steal of the 2012 recruiting cycle, Brown developed into a reliable playmaker as a senior. He was targeted 151 times over the last two seasons, easily the second-most on the squad behind All-America Will Fuller.

Who’s Next? Senior Corey Robinson, redshirt-freshman Miles Boykin. Perhaps redshirt-sophomore Justin Brent. On paper, Robinson and Boykin make a promising, jumbo-sized 1-2 punch for 2016. Robinson regressed in 2015 after a strong 2014 sophomore campaign while Boykin threatened to break in with the varsity as a true freshman among a loaded wide receivers unit last fall.

In the pipeline: Incoming freshman Chase Claypool.

MATTHIAS FARLEY
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A part- or full-time starter for four seasons, Farley joins Tom Zbikowski and Chinedum Ndukwe as the only Notre Dame safeties to start in two major bowl games (in Farley’s case, the national championship included) since Jeff Burris and John Covington did the same in 1992-93.

Farley was also the Special Teams Player of the Year in 2015 – notable in that Notre Dame’s kicker and punter were outstanding.

Who’s Next? Senior Max Redfield, redshirt-sophomore Drue Tranquill (discussed at SS below), redshirt-freshman Mykelti Williams and sophomore Nicco Fertitta. Fifth-year senior candidate Nicky Baratti could also remain with the squad provided an 85th scholarship is available by the time the team hits August training camp.

In an ideal world, Redfield, he of the two seasons as a starter, recent suspension, and previous benching, would make good on his athletic promise and secure the starting free safety job from Day One of spring ball.

We do not live in a perfect world.

Fertitta is likely slated for special teams work in 2016 (so too would be Baratti) while Williams remains an intriguing prospect for the future – ideally the 2017 starter.

In the pipeline: Incoming freshmen Devin Studstill and Jalen Elliott

ELIJAH SHUMATE
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A part or full-time starter of three seasons and four-year contributor, Shumate produced his best season as a senior, finishing with 70 tackles (third on the squad) including 6.5 for loss – the most by an Irish full-time defensive back since Shane Walton recorded 7 in 2001.

Who’s Next? Redshirt-sophomore Drue Tranquill, potential sixth-year senior Avery Sebastian. Between them are two knee surgeries (Tranquill Nov. 2014; Sept. 2015), a broken foot (Sebastian 2015) and a torn Achilles tendon (Sebastian 2013).

In good health, Notre Dame could actually improve upon Shumate’s play at the position in 2016.

In the pipeline: Incoming freshmen Spencer Perry, Donte Vaughn, and D.J. Morgan.

JARRETT GRACE
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The universally respected leader will be missed as a special teams contributor, do-everything backup linebacker, and most important, a special teams voice and the ideal model of how one practices and prepares. Grace’s promising career was cut down by a devastating leg injury suffered as a junior in 2013.

Who’s Next? Able to fill multiple roles including Sam, Mike, and Will ‘backer, plus start on each of the four Irish “Run Teams” (KR/PR/Kickoff/Punt), the aforementioned Greer Martini is an ideal replacement for Grace.

In the pipeline: That’s what the month of January and later the 2017 cycle are for…As noted previously, redshirt-freshman Josh Barajas could get a look in the middle.

AMIR CARLISLE
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Part-time starter in the slot over the last two seasons, Carlisle resurrected his career after scuffling as a running back for the Irish in 2013. The unassuming former USC Trojans transfer finished with 53 receptions and four touchdowns in his two-season stint at slot.

Who’s Next? Redshirt-junior Torii Hunter, Jr., and sophomore C.J. Sanders. The Irish are in great hands inside for both 2016 and 2017.  

In the pipeline: Sanders is the pipeline. Pending the career arcs of youngsters St. Brown and Boykin, incoming freshman Kevin Stepherson could get a look, though his immediate future projects to the perimeter.


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