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ND A-to-Z: Grant Blankenship

Notre Dame defensive end Grant Blankenship is at a crossroads in his football career entering his junior season.

A four-star prospect and’s No. 91 ranked player overall in the 2014 recruiting class, Grant Blankenship hit the ground running as a true freshman, appearing in Notre Dame’s first seven contests and 11 of 13 that fall.

He added more than 20 pounds to his six-foot five-inch frame prior to spring ball 2015, attempting to carve a niche at the Big End position in defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s scheme.

Blankenship appeared in just three games last fall registering his lone tackle in a 28-7 win over Wake Forest in South Bend. After switching to Rush End midway through spring ball 2016, Blankenship was suspended from the squad by head coach Brian Kelly for a violation of team rules.

Irish Illustrated’s A-to-Z preview of Notre Dame’s roster continues with Blankenship, plus an accompanying look at the struggles – and departures – of the 2014 rush end crop, once five deep, but still bereft of a major pass-rushing threat.

Blankenship is not expected to see the field for Notre Dame in 2016. Staying in school to earn his degree – and perhaps earning a spot on the 2017 squad – is a reasonable goal. The Irish defense can use all the backup help it can get up front, perhaps a dedicated Blankenship could carve a niche.

A transfer, one that would mark the fourth from the 13-player defensive haul among the 23-player Irish recruiting class of 2014. Blankenship was working as a third-string Rush End prior to his still-imposed suspension but had failed to make up ground on classmates Andrew Trumbetti and Jay Hayes in the competition. 

Blankenship’s first two seasons are similar to former defensive lineman John Taliaffero (1991-93).

Like Blankenship, Taliaferro played a much larger role as a rookie (‘91) on a youth-filled defensive front. He posted a combined 13 tackles and two sacks in his true freshman and sophomore seasons for defensive coordinators Gary Darnell and his 1992 replacement, Rick Minter, respectively.

Like Blankenship, the six-foot four-inch, 225-pound Taliaffero was asked to bulk up for the latter portion of his Irish career. He subsequently posted just one tackle as a junior on the potent 1993 squad, playing at 260-plus pounds behind a guy named Bryant Young.

Taliaferro was a victim of multiple shoulder injuries and his playing career ended prior to his senior season in South Bend.

A four-star defensive end prospect per, Blankenship was rated 10th at his position and as the nation’s 91st ranked player overall.

He is grossly behind the curve, though that’s less of a story than Notre Dame’s 2014 class’s Rush End prospects studied in the aggregate.

-- Three-star OLB Nile Sykes (the staff had slated Sykes for ILB duties) transferred to Indiana before he was to enroll in the summer of 2014

-- Three-star OLB prospect Kolin Hill transferred to Texas Tech during August Camp 2015. He had previously posted a productive September as a true freshman in 2014, registering 7 of his 8 career tackles including 2.5 for lost yardage with 1.5 sacks vs. Michigan.

-- Three-star defensive end Jhonny Williams left the university after redshirting as a true freshman in 2014. He is currently enrolled at Toledo.

-- The second highest rated prep player among the squad’s 13 defensive signees in 2014, Blankenship was suspended in his second spring session, his future status not yet announced.

-- Trumbetti and Hayes remain, now in heated competition for the starting role.

Blankenship’s career peaked with a first quarter pass breakup in Tallahassee against No. 2 Florida State – an outside pass rush in which he hit then reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston as the latter attempted to throw deep downfield.

Previously Blankenship posted three solo tackles in a win over Syracuse, finishing with 12 tackles as a rookie including a sack at USC.

He’s yet to broach the two-deep since.

“He has to continue to develop and I think his mental focus is probably his biggest issue. He has athletic ability but to play the game at this level, you have to be able to go every day from a mental standpoint and not make errors.” DL Coach Keith Gilmore on Blankenship

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