Irish head coach Brian Kelly admitted yesterday that “all” of his wide receivers – senior Torii Hunter not exempt – offer him cause for pause. Youth (everyone else) inexperience (everyone else) and proven consistency on college football’s main stage (everyone including Hunter) ranks as an unknown for the 2016 collection of pass catchers.
But while it’s Kelly’s job to be concerned, it’s likewise his quarterback’s – err, quarterbacks’ – lot in life to tend toward the optimistic.
Enter DeShone Kizer.
“I hate to be so open in my answer, but all of them are stepping up,” Kizer said of his young targets. “From Chase (Claypool) to KJ (Stepherson), to Miles Boykin, to EQ (Equanimeous St. Brown).
“Playing the wide receiver position here, at a high level, is completely different than high school and they figured it out right away in camp. They weren’t doing high school things, they were willing to open up and take the coaching. That receiving corps has been awesome.”
Best among the relative rookies, at least in media practice viewings, is sophomore slot man C.J. Sanders.
“His ability to make plays after he catches the ball is something that we need,” Kizer said. “To have ‘Will Fuller style’ speed, we want to get the ball in his hands and let him ride. To have the ability to be slippery in between the safeties is something a lot of college players don’t have and he’s really good at it. He’s fearless.
“He’s able to run crossing routes behind linebackers who are almost 100 pounds heavier than he is yet he’ll still bring the ball in against them and get rolling. His speed is incomparable. We just want to get the ball into his hands and let him ride.”
HEALTHY, KIND OF…
By this point last season, starting nose tackle Jarron Jones and starting Nickel Shaun Crawford had already been lost for the season. Sans potential starting cornerback Nick Watkins, most 2016 camp and off-season casualties have come from the bottom rung of the roster.
That changed this week in the form of projected starting defensive end Jay Hayes.
“He's grade one, high ankle sprain. Not a severe one,” said Kelly. “Been in the boot now, I think this is his third day, fourth day. That's generally seven to ten days but we'll take it each day. We'll feel good that we'll have him ready for the Texas game.”
In his stead step Andrew Trumbetti and Daelin Hayes – both more traditional “Rush Ends” than is the injured Hayes, but neither brings his ballast at the point of attack.
Said Kelly of Trumbetti: “Andrew has had a good camp. He’s played fast. He’s played with great second effort. It’s always about Andrew’s confidence and making sure he believes in himself. We believe in him. He’s his harshest critic. Sometimes we just have to have him lighten up on himself.
“He works hard, he’s given us the kind of effort we want. And we think he can give us the pass rush we need but sometimes he beats himself up too much.”
Kelly had noted previously that the position would be a job share among the trio, with the opponent often dictating Notre Dame’s plan of attack.
“Daelin (Hayes) can obviously do a little bit more,” said Kelly of his pass-rushing threat. “He’s not as stout, but he’s athletic, and then we can get into our speed package as well. They all will have a role and can complement what our defense will look like depending on the offenses.
“Against Stanford, (Jay Hayes) is going to be in against a big, big tackle, you’ll see lot more of him. When you get into some teams that want to play fast but aren’t as impressive at the point of attack, Daelin gets his share.”
THE CAPTAIN, THE HITTER…AND THE PLUMBER?
Notre Dame’s new-look linebacker corps might not be all that different than last year’s, at least on paper.
-- It’ll still (likely) have a team captain (James Onwualu) among its ranks
-- It will feature a five-star recruit (Nyles Morgan) inside
-- It will (more than likely) include a game-savvy inside ‘backer that recognizes what an opposing offense wants to accomplish.
“Greer has been playing mostly Will linebacker, and he's done a really good job there,” said Kelly of junior Greer Martini. “Will linebacker is in pretty good hands. And Te'von (Coney) is there, as well. But I like where we are with Greer and Nyles and James and Te'von is really a solid guy for us, as well.
“Gives us a lot of flexibility. I like those four guys a lot.”
Also in the mix at Will during practice viewings is redshirt-freshman Asmar Bilal, who generally reps with the first unit in place of Martini and Coney, both of whom endured winter shoulder surgeries and missed spring practice as a result.
As for Morgan, the 2016 squad’s highest rated prep prospect?
“Consistently solid,” said Kelly. “In all the facets that a linebacker will play: Getting your defense lined up, front in particular, communication, accountability; both personal and for other players, physical; both in his run fits and in the passing game.
“Got to come down a little bit, when it's a tag off, he think it's still tackle,” Kelly continued in obvious reference to a blow-up hit Morgan applied to Tarean Folston as the latter crossed the goal line at Wednesday’s practice). Probably a good trait for a middle linebacker. Wouldn't want it the other way. But he's been really good.”
Kelly added that Martini has worked as the backup Mike to Morgan as well as previously stating that the versatile junior received ample reps as the backup Sam ‘backer to Onwualu.
Nicknamed “The Plumber” (because he fills in everywhere) by his classmate Morgan, Martini’s chief charge is to win the Will role.
“He’s got to be good enough to hold off a really good player in Te'von Coney,” said Kelly. “We don't want (Martini) to be a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. We've given him enough work at Will that he can solidify that position first, which he has.
“And then that's what we started to move him around to Mike a little bit and a little bit at Sam, as well.”