Isaac Rochell (DE) – Inarguably one of the five best players on the team, perhaps the best, exiting spring ball. Rochell graded as my fourth best Irish player in 2015 behind Sheldon Day, Jaylon Smith, and Will Fuller.
Status: Ascending. A rock on the edge of a defense that needs him to excel as a pass rusher in his senior season.
Andrew Trumbetti (DE) – Was purportedly “tied” by surging classmate Jay Hayes for what could be tag-team work at the Rush End position. Trumbetti is the better pass rusher while Hayes is expected to hold up against the rush. Both have much to prove and as such are X-factors for the 2016 season as both have ample talent.
Status: Stagnant. For the second straight spring, Trumbetti did not win the job as expected.
Jay Hayes (DE) – From a redshirt season as a sophomore defensive tackle to projected part-time starter at Rush End. Hayes has taken advantage of the opportunity presented in recent months and is part of the plan for the 2016 defensive front seven, especially against run-heavy teams such as Michigan State, Stanford, and the triple-option.
Jonathan Bonner (DE) – It’s been a calendar year since Bonner suffered a severe turf toe injury and subsequent surgery. He enters the 2016 off-season where he left off then and again last fall – as Rochell’s backup at Big End. The Irish could use a strong season of support from what the staff considers its most trusted reserve up front.
Daelin Hayes (DE) – Was held out of most contact during the spring as he continued his recovery from November 2015 shoulder surgery. The early enrollee is expected to be ready to compete in August and thus provide playmaking ability coming off the edge. He has to.
Khalid Kareem (DE) – Another semester enrollee up front, Kareem doubtless benefited from his early assimilation to a college strength and conditioning program. Sits comfortably as the No. 3 Big End exiting spring ball and represents the ideal developmental freshman lineman – one that could help if needed but should probably redshirt.
Grant Blankenship (DE) – Was suspended by head coach Brian Kelly at the tail end of spring ball for a violation of team rules – that’s not a good situation for a player already at the bottom of the food chain.
Status: It would be a surprise if Blankenship is in an Irish uniform next fall.
-- Note: Incoming freshmen Julian Okwara and Ade Ogundeji will join the group and compete at Rush End this summer.