What have you done for me lately?
That appears to be the unfortunate but prevailing sentiment from ardent Notre Dame fans regarding St. Brown, the “breakout” rookie of August Training Camp 2015 but one that has since – at least from the outside looking in – stagnated while his peers progressed.
Accurate or overstated, that common belief is rooted largely in St. Brown’s recovery from November shoulder surgery and a resulting unspectacular spring – one that coincided with the ascent of classmate Miles Boykin, incoming freshman Kevin Stepherson, and junior combine wonder, Corey Holmes.
In other words: we have no idea what the future holds for St. Brown, but in the modern football world of instant gratification, he didn’t provide much print fodder in the often meaningless spring.
Irish Illustrated’s A-to-Z preview of Notre Dame’s roster continues with St. Brown, a player who could realistically finish anywhere from No. 3 to No. 8 on the squad in receptions during his sophomore campaign.
If he emerges at some point in 2016 as Notre Dame’s No. 3 or No. 4 target.
Despite his sterling rookie training camp last August, St. Brown’s freshman season was never going to be one highlighted by consistent production, not backing up Will Fuller at the X receiver position and not with returning veterans Chris Brown, Corey Robinson, Amir Carlisle, and Torii Hunter, Jr., in the game day mix.
Only Hunter (35 career receptions) and St. Brown’s classmate, part-time tight end, part-time W receiver Alizé Jones (13 rec. 190 yards) remain to compete one year later. And Brown (1 reception, 8 yards last season) is the only player among seven remaining scholarship receivers to catch a collegiate pass that gained a yard.
In other words, ample playing time is available to the most impressive training camp and September game day performer.
Miles Boykin develops at the W position along with the aforementioned Jones; Corey Holmes and C.J. Sanders lock down the slot; spring star Kevin Stepherson continues his ascent at the X while St. Brown plateaus – that would theoretically leave Brown on the outside looking in.
But though Notre Dame’s wide receiver unit is replete with young talent, the only certainty among the group is Hunter. That means position coach Mike Denbrock is likely to go seven, perhaps eight deep early in the season in search of trusted pairs of hands.
Provided the lanky St. Brown can avoid injury, he’ll get his chance to shine.
His frame is reminiscent of Corey Robinson’s, his strong rookie training camp (followed by minimal scrimmage time on Saturdays) evokes the names Milt Jackson and, more recently, former teammate Chris Brown, while his one-catch freshman season matched the efforts of celebrated return man and 2015 freshman classmate C.J. Sanders.
(Both Sanders and St. Brown would have played more for the early-edition Irish squads coached by Brian Kelly, but there was no room at the Wide Receiver Inn with a quintet of returning vets on hand in ’16.)
Assuming St. Brown starts part of but not all of the 2016 campaign, and assuming further he ranks as the squad’s fourth or fifth most productive pass-catcher by season’s end, St. Brown’s early career arc would be on pace with the likes of 1989 freshman and 1991-92 starter Ray Griggs.
Griggs, like St. Brown, played most of his rookie season (9 games) but caught just one pass. Griggs, like St. Brown, saw his sophomore off-season hampered by injury (thigh for Griggs; shoulder for St. Brown). Thereafter, Griggs emerged to catch 17 passes and two touchdowns for a run-heavy Irish squad in 1992 that finished 10-1-1 and likely as the nation’s second best squad behind champion Alabama.
DEVELOPMENT VS. RECRUITING RANKING
It’s a good sign for St. Brown that the staff wanted him on the field as a freshman, as the number of former redshirted receivers that went on to sterling pass-catching careers in South Bend can be tallied on one hand.
But more about the career arc of Scout.com’s No. 29 ranked receiver (and the 207th ranked prospect overall) in the 2015 class will be made apparent by season’s end. A good start for St. Brown would be just that – a handful of starting assignments in 2016.
ST. BROWN AT HIS BEST
Throw out his one-catch rookie campaign. St. Brown looked the part in August Camp and played extensively on the Irish Run Teams prior to November shoulder surgery.
But the west coaster’s freshman season produced one clear highlight: a blocked punt vs. home state school USC, one that resulted in a tide-turning touchdown by fellow Californian (and former Trojans freshman) Amir Carlisle.
QUOTE TO NOTE
“What I like about EQ is speed and size, and physical traits. And he’s really smart. He picks up the entire offense. He has to be a more consistent ball catcher. That’s what we have to get from him. I think if he attacks the ball a little bit more aggressively he’ll improve. Really like his smarts, his physical conditioning and love his skill set in terms of his size but attacking the football is what we’re working on right now.” – Brian Kelly on St. Brown during the spring