Matt Cashore / Irishillustrated.com

Projecting Freshmen Participation

FS-Devin Studstill likely will start against Texas. Other early performers include WR-Kevin Stepherson, DE-Daelin Hayes and physically-gifted CB-Donte Vaughn.

Projecting which members of a freshman football class won’t play, might play and will play is a risky bet this time of year. Injuries have yet to set in. Special teams revelations are hard to come by. A first-year player’s development enters a different phase upon the conclusion of pre-season camp.

Here’s a best-guess scenario with the season-opener against the Texas Longhorns just nine days away.

WON’T PLAY
Matt Cashore / Irishillustrated.com

Unless injuries force Notre Dame to dig several levels deep into its freshman class, these players likely will preserve a year of eligibility:

• QB-Ian Book: A scenario could arise in which Book takes snaps instead of Brandon Wimbush so the Irish can recoup the year of eligibility expended on Wimbush in a 2015 mop-up role. Then again, former walk-on Montgomery VanGorder is more than capable of taking mop-up snaps.
• OT-Liam Eichenberg: A fine-looking prospect, Eichenberg shouldn’t need to use a year of eligibility in ’16. Classmate Tommy Kraemer would be the first rookie offensive lineman off the bench.
• OG-Parker Boudreaux: Lacking ideal offensive lineman height, which is what knocked him down to a three-star, the powerful Boudreaux needs developmental time.
• DE-Adetokunbo Ogundeji: Raw and lacking strength, a year in the Paul Longo incubator will help bring out his pass-rush skills.
• OLB-Jamir Jones: If he’s anything like his brother Jarron, he’ll need some time to physically and emotionally adapt to the big stage.
• LS-John Shannon: Following the Notre Dame pattern, Shannon will save a year while Scott Daly completes his run as long-snapper.

MIGHT PLAY
Matt Cashore / Irishillustrated.com

This is the largest of the three groups and the most unpredictable. It’s difficult to assess which players will be asked to use a year of eligibility. It could go either way for these players.

• WR-Javon McKinley: There are a lot of young receivers, several of which are sophomores who should have the edge over borderline freshman participants. McKinley has good size and has flashed at times, but he’s also had trouble with some drops.
• RB/WR-Deon McIntosh: McIntosh is transitioning from a running back to a receiver, so there’s a sharper learning curve in an already crowded house at both positions. A lean toward preserving a year of eligibility.
• OL-Tommy Kraemer: Other than the cornerbacks, Kraemer is the most likely player on the “might play” list to earn time on the field this fall. Saving a year would be a benefit since the entire projected starting offensive line in ’16 has eligibility beyond this year. He also might be needed to start in ’17 if Mike McGlinchey and/or Quenton Nelson depart for the NFL, so getting his feet wet might be more important than preserving a year.
• DE-Khalid Kareem: The early-entry freshman is third on the depth chart at big end behind Isaac Rochell and Jonathan Bonner. Only an extended injury for one of the two should force him to use a year of eligibility.
• DE-Julian Okwara: The snapshot given to the media in the fourth and final open practice was of Okwara coming off the edge to provide a pass rush. Physically, he obviously could use a year of development.
• MLB-Jonathan Jones: He was getting second-team reps last week ahead of No. 2 Josh Barajas. He’s a heady, savvy football player. Might be a good corps special teams performer.
• S-D.J. Morgan: A quality athlete, but a raw football player. The athleticism makes him a prime special teams candidate. Playing time at safety is doubtful.
• SS-Spencer Perry: Big, good-looking athlete who has really struggled on the back end of the defense. The Irish can use that big body on special teams, or let him grow into an outside linebacker by preserving a year.

WILL PLAY
Matt Cashore / Irishillustrated.com

These players have either been seen participating regularly with the top units or project as talents who will be too impressive to keep off the field this fall.

• RB-Tony Jones, Jr.: Even before the incident last weekend involving sophomore running back Dexter Williams, Jones looked too good to keep on the shelf as a freshman. As the No. 4 running back, he still should see some time for the Irish. Or let’s put it this way: he’s clearly good enough to see some action as an inside runner and receiver out of the backfield.
• WR-Kevin Stepherson: A part of the key receiver mix as an early-entry freshman in the spring. Only the disciplinary situation stemming from last weekend would keep him off the field in 2016.
• WR-Chase Claypool: A tough call because he’s part of a crowded W position with Equanimeous St. Brown and Miles Boykin, a pair of sophomores, figuring prominently into Notre Dame’s plans. Can the Irish afford to keep this stallion of an athlete off the field in 2016? Probably not.
• DE-Daelin Hayes: The Irish need a pass rush. Hayes has that skill in his toolbox. You’ll see him in the first quarter against Texas.
• CB-Donte Vaughn: Never mind that he’s a third-team cornerback as we speak. The kid is big, long, athletic and aggressive. You don’t keep an athlete like that on the sideline. Notre Dame needs talent of his caliber on the field as a core special teams player.
• CB-Troy Pride, Jr.: This kid has been projected as a “player” since he verbally committed to the Irish. Again, like Vaughn, not a great need at cornerback. But he’s a savvy football player who should get his feet wet on special teams.
• CB-Julian Love: If the need were greater, he’d likely be more in the mix at cornerback. But he was running as the No. 2 nickel, which makes him a strong candidate for playing time – at least on special teams – this year.
• FS-Devin Studstill: The projected starter with the dismissal of Max Redfield. Even if Avery Sebastian moves into the lineup with Drue Tranquill bumping to free safety, Studstill is an integral part of Notre Dame’s short- and long-term plans.
• FS-Jalen Elliott: Assuming that Studstill starts, Elliott likely would be the No. 2 man on the depth chart, although his development certainly is not as far along as Studstill’s. If he is indeed the No. 2 free safety, he has to play, right?


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