It's that time of season when the depth chart slowly begins to shuffle and the cream rises to the top. The Irish are halfway through camp and will begin prepping for the Texas Longhorns. Today we take stock of some of the rising athletes and some who may be in a dog fight to see the field or keep their spots on the depth chart.
Offense Stock Rising
WR C.J. Sanders
So far the 5-8 playmaker is living up to all expectations. Technically, Sanders remains entrenched with the third team offense in the slot but he's getting reps higher up on the depth chart and looking explosive while doing so. As someone who was believed to be more sandlot sparkplug he's shown good route running and an ability to get open in his routes. Plus, when he gets the ball in his hands it helps when he does things like THIS.
Additionally, Sanders is neck and neck with junior Will Fuller to become the lead punt returner. Having already taken back multiple punts for touchdown in practice while flashing perhaps the best full-speed cutting on the team, Sanders is likely too talented to stay off the field for very long.
WR Equanimeous St. Brown
A couple weeks ago in the fall camp positional battles I mentioned that the two freshmen receivers I could see making noise would be Sanders (above) and St. Brown. It took a few practices and now ESB is pushing his way up the depth chart and showing impressive speed for his size.
St. Brown has been nicked up a couple times in camp but Brian Kelly has praised his ability to play through it so far. It's a good sign that the freshman has played well enough that the coach has told the media he's ready and could play immediately.
PK Justin Yoon & P Tyler Newsome
Two-for-one special courtesy of PunterBro:
With the graduation of Kyle Brindza, Notre Dame will feature brand new faces at both specialist positions. Practice reports indicate that Yoon is a perfect 18-18 on kicks in camp, including 9-9 from 30-39 yards, and 4-4 from 40-39 yards. As for Newsome, he has been charted with a 51-yard average, with a 4+ second hangtime. To put those numbers in context, Newsome's punt average would be 10 yards longer than Brindza's last year, and Yoon's success would help him fit in fantastically, following Brindza's graduation.
My only nit with this information is that it does not indicate whether the Yoon/Newsome kicks are in a "game situation," i.e. with an actual snap and rushers, wearing full pads, of if they are in a practice situation. Still, the signs are encouraging, and the stock for both specialists absolutely has to be up, considering their youth, inexperience, and who they had to replace.
TE Nic Weishar
The redshirt freshman wasn't exactly an afterthought heading into camp but it wasn't too far off either. Fast forward to today and thanks to some injuries and strong play, Weishar has quickly raced up the depth chart. Over the last couple practices he's wreaked havoc rumbling through the secondary and is developing into the pass catching specialist that made him so coveted out of high school.
We'll see how things shake out once Durham Smythe and Alize Jones get fully healthy but the physical maturation and production in practice by Weishar has been a bright sign in camp.
WR Torii Hunter
We saw a couple flashes from Hunter last year and now he's among the top 2 or 3 players having the best camp for Notre Dame. Multiple sensational downfield receptions and perhaps 100% health have allowed him to turn heads in practice while working out of the slot.
Hunter is still working primarily with the 2nd-team in the slot but at 6-0, 195 pounds he just that right size that will allow him to play at all of the receiver positions. If he keeps things up he might be the biggest surprise on the whole offense.
Offense Stock Falling
TE Durham Smythe
There were some rumblings early on in camp that the tight ends weren't really standing out and that largely fell on the likely starter Durham Smythe. Recently, he's been not taking contact with an injury and allowing the younger Weishar step up, as well as the veteran Chase Hounshell get his nose dirty as an in-line blocker.
Once he gets healthy Smythe will probably come back and remain the top tight end but he's suffered a little bit of a set back in this camp.
C Sam Mustipher
We talked a lot about the backup center spot prior to camp. For now, Mustipher remains with the 2nd team but this has more to do with Kelly's high praise for true freshman Tristen Hoge. As long as Nick Martin stays healthy this should be a nice season-long positional battle.
WR Amir Carlisle
Carlisle has had a curious fall camp so far. Usually he's the guy making some plays in highlight clips and ready to break out when the media watches. Yet, despite remaining the starter in the slot there's been little talk of his play while the likes of Hunter and Sanders have been on fire. Will he have enough to hold those guys back?
Defense Stock Rising
CB KeiVarae Russell
He's back and looking phenomenal. Nearly every report has been outrageously positive so much so that you wonder if Russell will experience any rust coming back from a year-long suspension. His stock probably can't get any higher at this point (or can it!??) but since he missed so much time he qualifies for the list.
CB Shaun Crawford
The recruiting experts didn't miss on Crawford--he's a 5-star stud stud cornerback stuck in a small body. So far through camp he's letting the world know he's got the goods to play right away. At times, he's staring at nickelback with the first team defense and has impressed onlookers with his quickness, breaking ability, and toughness.
CB Nick Coleman
My sleeper pick from the 2015 class hasn't waited long to make some moves. It's a little premature to think he'll be jumping several other corners on the depth chart but Coleman has been getting some work with the 1st-team in situations where Russell moves to nickel.
Now, you get the sense that the staff is trying to build as much depth in the secondary as possible because they'll probably be used heavily in the blitz game (hence Russell working at nickel) but Coleman even being put in this position right now is a great sign.
DT Jerry Tillery
And to think he would be at offensive tackle right now. Thanks to the crappy season-ending injury to Jarron Jones we'll see Tillery vaulted into the starting position at nose tackle. But that doesn't mean he hasn't earned his keep in practice so far.
There are still some questions about how he'll hold up for the long haul and take on double teams when required. However, he's been praised from all corners for his ability to stay balanced, strike through the line and be disruptive in the backfield. It'll be an interesting contrast with Jones, for sure.
SS Avery Sebastian
With the lack of proven backups at safety we figured Sebastian would jump right into the mix during his first camp with the Irish. Yet, recently he's been getting some work with the 1st-team ahead of Elijah Shumate. Now, that probably is another example of BVG & Co. building as much depth as possible and getting a good long hard look at the two-deep bodies. We're still likely to see Shumate as the starter but Sebastian is proving to be a valuable part of the secondary and is maybe out-playing expectations so far.
Defense Stock Falling
MLB Jarrett Grace
A couple weeks ago I mentioned that Grace probably wouldn't be much of a factor in the middle linebacker competition. After a number of practices that seems to be the case.
Grace has been almost exclusively stuck with the 3rd team defense, and perhaps worse, recently mentioned that his leg was killing him during the spring as he was finally practicing with the team again. Not a great sign, but there's still time for things to change if the pain is truly gone.
DT Pete Mokwuah
We really haven't seen much out of Mokwuah yet. I suppose that's part of the problem but it was completely expected during camp anyway with several bodies ahead of him. Now with Jones out for the season it'll be time to see if this big bodied interior lineman can show something to the staff that will merit some playing time.
DB Matthias Farley
Farley has been a curious player this fall. Ask someone and they'll tell you he's definitely stay at nickel and will play most of the snaps there. Others think we'll see enough snaps between Russell and Crawford at nickel that Farley is best served moving into a reserve role at safety.
The most recent practices have seen Farley mostly at safety. Is that turning into a permanent situation?