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An Irish Six-Pack For ’17?

Irish holding open auditions up front while additional playmakers are needed for a refreshed offense.

Incoming freshmen and redshirt-freshmen will dominate fan base conversations over the next few months. But who among Notre Dame’s already tested will rise to the fore?

Though each candidate we’ve listed earned playing time last fall, none among our six competitors have started a college game. Will that change for as many as half of our six-pack as the 2017 Notre Dame Football season unfolds?

(Not listed due to at least one prior start during his career: Alizé Jones, Troy Pride, Donte Vaughn, Nick Watkins and Jonathan Bonner.)

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Seemed poised to produce after earning early time including a notable pass breakup downfield that led to a Devon Studstill interception vs. Michigan State but playing time and impact were sporadic thereafter.

Why Hayes? No pass rush, no picks. No pass rush, no defensive rebirth. No pass rush, no Year No. 9 for Brian Kelly. The pass rush, the pass rush, the pass rush.

Notre Dame’s pass rush was every bit as poor as their paltry total of 14 sacks – tied for 117th out of 128 teams nationally – reflects.

Hayes is a talent ready for launch under new coordinator Mike Elko – the architect of a 41-sack defense (3.15 per game ranked 11th nationally) last season at Wake Forest.

Why Not? I can’t think of a reason. It’s Hayes vs. Andrew Trumbetti for a standup pass-rushing role. Both should play in Elko’s varied scheme, one for which Hayes seems well suited.

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Made his collegiate debut in Game Five against Syracuse last fall and promptly recorded a Stuff. Taylor played in each of the season’s final three outings as well, registering his first career tackle-for-loss at USC to conclude the 2016 campaign.

Why Taylor? Taylor’s late-season playing time was due to a coach’s decision – Mike Elston’s. Last season’s final two-month defensive signal caller was bullish on Taylor and eventually mandated playing time for the then redshirt-freshman.

Elston will coach Taylor and the Irish defensive front in 2017.

Why Not? Assuming good health, Daniel Cage (nose) and Jerry Tillery (three-technique) aren’t likely to cede starting roles. Of course, good health should never be assumed for defensive linemen over the course of the grind of a four-month season.

In competition with Taylor up front are Jonathan Bonner (three-technique/DE), Jay Hayes (same) and Khalid Kareem (DE).
Each should commence spring ball with a wide-open depth chart and clean slate in new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s defense.

Bonner, Hayes and Kareem are as likely to earn a starting spot and/or key rotational roles as is Taylor. In a perfect world – a world that turns a middling 7-5 or 8-4 Notre Dame team into a 10-2 contender – they all will.

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Is he a W receiver? Is he a tight end? Is he a Rush End on defense? I’ll leave the latter for the coach’s – both those on staff and on the 4HL Message Board – to ponder.

An outstanding special teams contributor as a true freshman, Claypool’s curious ongoing lack of impact on an offense in need of his playmaking skills was among the myriad frustrating storylines of 2016. (It ranked about 95th on that list, but it existed nonetheless.)

Why Claypool? Have you seen this cat run and jump? Claypool is above all else an athlete, and Notre Dame needs him on the field.

Why Not? Alizé’ Jones, Equanimeous St. Brown, and Kevin Stepherson are clearly the team’s best returning targets and fifth-year senior Durham Smythe could be enticed to return to partake in new offensive coordinator Chip Long’s tight end-heavy attack.

Starting assignments might be tough to come by, but Claypool should be given ample opportunity to make waves in 2017.

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A regular in late-game, goal line situations, Elliott, classmate Devin Studstill, and technically early enrollee safety Isaiah Robertson start on relatively equal footing as every member of the defense begins to absorb Elko’s new scheme.

The true freshman posted nine tackles in November after accruing just five previously. (Elliott recorded four of his five tackles vs. Syracuse, aka, Everyone Gets a Trophy Day for the Irish defense.)

Why Elliott? While Studstill was the talk of Spring Ball 2016 as an early enrollee, Elliott was the prospect on which defensive backs coach Todd Lyght was bullish entering the college ranks. He’s a physical athlete in need of confidence and seasoning – not a player who lacks the suddenness or skills to play on the back end. 

Why Not? It’s an open competition, but Studstill, Robertson, Nicco Fertitta, and likely a smattering of others in line for a position switch stand in Elliott’s way as they digest a new scheme.

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A sterling training camp performance was washed away by a late-August arrest. Thereafter, Williams played a supporting role behind starter Josh Adams and former starter Tarean Folston.

Why Williams? He’s one of the five fastest players on the team and was lauded repeatedly for his inside running acumen. A fast guy with a natural bent for running north/south…what’s not to like?

Why Not? Williams was afforded limited opportunity last season, but to be fair to the offensive coaching staff, the junior-to-be only looked the part of a lead runner against Nevada, Duke, and Syracuse – foes with Rush Defenses ranked 128th, 66th, and 108th, respectively. 

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Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand admitted last spring that Hoge hadn’t received a fair shake in his competition with Sam Mustipher for the starting pivot spot.

That is, as Hoge bounced between his responsibilities at right guard and center, Mustipher remained in one role – a clear leg up in the duo’s battle for the center starting spot.

Why Hoge? He was recruited as Notre Dame’s center of the future and though Mustipher received too much blame for last year’s inconsistencies, he hardly put the job on lockdown with his 12-game performance.

On a related note: could Hoge work exclusively at right guard this spring (with 2016 starter Alex Bars remaining at right tackle) and thus win the starting role to Mustipher’s right?

Why Not? Continuity is king up front, and Notre Dame is in need of it on Hiestand’s 2017 line. Change isn’t likely welcomed by an offensive line coach that sought but never secured consistency last season.

And let’s be frank: Mustipher made enough errors in the snapping game last fall to elicit change if change was an option, especially on a losing team. Perhaps Hoge wasn’t as close as we were led to believe in terms of wresting the spot away from Mustipher, a player who quietly battled a severe ankle injury throughout 2016. Top Stories