Sophomore LB #44 Doug RandolphBegan camp 2014 working with the second unit as a will linebacker -- technically Jaylon Smith's backup at the outset of August practice. Randolph is six-feet-two and 240 pounds without an ounce of apparent fat on his frame, but the position and scheme will doubtless be a challenge for a player most pegged as a Cat linebacker in the former defense run by departed coordinator Bob Diaco.
Randolph's quickest path to playing time as a redshirt-freshman is on the Irish run teams (kickoff and punt coverage). His final slotting as a scrimmage defender (can he play SLB?) is likely to be determined by a season's worth of practices and bowl preparations.
Realistic Ceiling: Special teams action and an impression on the defensive staff as Smith's backup; a potential move to the strong side if another competitor can work inside.
Other side of the coin: Fails to crack the assortment of special teams starters, because there won't be any meaningful snaps in Smith's stead.
Sophomore S #10 Max RedfieldOn the short list of Notre Dame's most improved player candidates for 2014, Redfield has locked down the starting free safety role and his unique athletic gifts will be put to the test on the Irish last line of defense from the outset. Backed at present by senior Matthias Farley, good health and continuous improvement for Redfield is essential as the Irish enter the meat of their schedule in October.
Realistic Ceiling: Top 10 player on the roster at season's end
Other side of the coin: Little impact along the back line and ill-timed mistakes that allow the opponent to strike up the band.
5th-year CB #2 Cody Riggs1B at both starting left cornerback (Cole Luke) and nickel (Luke, Farley). Riggs has the experience, talent, and tenacity to win both jobs. That is: he could start at LCB opposite Keivarae Russell and then shift to the starting nickel (slot) role when the Irish go to their sub packages, allowing Luke a part-time starting role on the perimeter.
Realistic Ceiling: Newcomer of the Year; Top 10 Irish player at season's end.
Other side of the coin: There's a reason he was moved from corner to safety at Florida -- the Gators felt they had better, (younger) cornerbacks. Riggs has to be a bright spot and serious rookie of the year candidate at ND or the defense could struggle mightily.
Sophomore WR #88 Corey RobinsonBegan camp with the second unit but will compete for playing time with DaVaris Daniels, Chris Brown, and Will Fuller on the outside for all of August and most of September (Daniels has likely locked down a starting role). Robinson possesses the best hands on the team and should evolve into a standout player by the conclusion of his Irish career -- can he arrive one year ahead of schedule and become a weekly impact player in Year 2?
Realistic Ceiling: Top three on the team in receptions; team leader in receiving touchdowns; weekly impact.
Other side of the coin: 15-18 receptions, three touchdowns, and intermittent contributions.
Sophomore DE #90 Isaac RochellSlated for second unit duty behind Ishaq Williams as a strong side defensive end. Rochell, who saw brief, intermittent action as a true freshman last season, will be called upon weekly. The pressing question is if he can give coordinator Brian VanGorder 20-plus snaps per game, or if the sophomore will be relegated to a mere 10-12 on the edge.
Realistic Ceiling: A season reminiscent of Tony Springmann as a redshirt-freshman in 2012.
Other side of the coin: A season that illustrates Rochell would have been better served redshirting in 2013. If he's not a reliable player by the end of 2014, his eligibility clock will become an issue entering Year 3 as an unexpected true junior.