The standouts are established.
Running back Josh Adams, wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, the left side of the offensive line with two other starters returning, the solid linebacker corps, and even sophomore Julian Love, who played himself into a starting role as a rookie.
While a program that finished 4-8 needs progress across the board – even from the above-mentioned established players – others are on the verge of grabbing a bigger slice of the pie, in most instances, for the first time since their arrival to Notre Dame.
In the first of a 10-part series, Irish Illustrated assesses the players on the rise who show the most promise and are on the verge of a more prominent role in the big picture of Notre Dame football 2017.
In most instances, we have selected younger players. But in the case of junior Nick Coleman, and red-shirt seniors Nick Watkins and Jay Hayes, now is their time to rise and stake their claim.
For the record, No. 11 on our list is red-shirt sophomore Rover Asmar Bilal, who should play a more expanded role, but now has veteran Drue Tranquill ahead of him on the depth chart.
NO. 10: S-NICK COLEMAN (Jr.)
• The Journey: Coleman, a 5-foot-11 ½, 195-pounder out of Dayton, Ohio, played in all 13 games as a freshman, predominately on special teams. That spring, Coleman established himself as a player on the rise at cornerback -- particularly once Nick Watkins went down with a broken arm -- and then had a strong pre-season.
Coleman started two of the first three games of the 2016 season and looked like a young player. He was burned in a one-on-one matchup with Texas speedster John Burt early in the second half of Notre Dame’s 50-47 overtime loss to the Longhorns in the season-opener.
Coleman and the rest of the Irish secondary struggled in a shootout with Michigan State and Duke as well. Texas (280 yard yards passing), Michigan State (241) and Duke (290) had field days against the Irish secondary.
By the fifth game of the season against Syracuse – when the Orange passed for 363 yards – Love moved into the starting lineup for the balance of the season opposite Cole Luke. Coleman’s minutes the balance of the season mainly came on special teams.
• The Spring: After discussing a move from cornerback to safety with Brian Kelly during post-season exit interviews, Coleman enthusiastically accepted the move and began developing a relationship with new defensive coordinator/safeties coach Mike Elko.
Coleman took first-team reps with the Irish secondary from the outset of spring practice. He has continued to run with the No. 1 unit at strong safety with Jalen Elliott and Devin Studstill mainly battling for the free safety position, although Kelly said the three safeties would share the two spots.
Coleman brings cornerback athleticism to the safety position. His ability to break on the football in open space is the best among Irish safeties. The concern is tackling in the open field – not exactly a great concern to have with a safety -- but Elko’s fundamental teaching should thoroughly address that aspect of his game.
Is it a matter of Coleman winning the job outright, or by default? That remains to be seen, but he’s had a solid spring. The hope is that if Elko can turn two- and three-star safety prospects into productive players at Wake Forest, he can do the same with Coleman at Notre Dame.
• The Quote: “Our evaluation of Nick Coleman is that he’s going to be a dynamic player at the position. He possesses the athletic ability. We want to see if he can translate the other skills at that safety position, i.e., tackling and picking up the scheme in terms of how you play off the hash.
“We put somebody there to take first-team reps if we feel he can help us win a championship, and Nick Coleman has convinced us he’s there to stay.” – Brian Kelly