We're just over a week from National Signing Day and then we'll be inching closer and closer to spring practice. In my mind it's never a bad time to talk about the depth chart so today join me on this journey, would you? Before we get to the chart just a few points...
- For the first time in a while Notre Dame does not appear to be losing any verbal commits late in the cycle. Let's hope I don't jinx it. The Irish class looks largely in tact minus some fun on National Signing Day where additional players could be joining the cause.
- The scholarship numbers aren't set. The program is heading into spring again going over the 85-man limit by a little bit. If we've been lucky with no last minute losses to the recruiting class you can bet lightning won't strike twice and we will see attrition to the rest of the roster. For now, we're projecting everyone to be on scholarship, including graduate students, with the exception of safety John Turner who we believe will be moving on to another program if he chooses to continue his football career.
- This isn't a wild prediction on the two-deep for Texas so much as it is a general layout of the roster with deferential treatment to veterans and upperclassmen in most cases. We'll take the layout and use it to discuss the impact of spring ball, incoming freshmen in the summer, and current injuries.
- Don't forget about Notre Dame's early enrollees who are already on campus and in the classroom. They include: WR Kevin Stepherson, DE Khalid Kareem, DE/LB Daelin Hayes, S Devin Studstill, and S/LB Spencer Perry.
- Regarding injuries we have the red column below. Sebastian, Crawford, Folston, Zaire, Butler, and St. Brown should all either be cleared for spring or darn close. Tranquill, Bars, and Coney have more recent injuries with recovery times that may stretch into the summer.
All of the attention is going to be on Kizer and Zaire but watch out for Wimbush and his development. The plan is likely to redshirt him in 2016, barring an explosion up the depth chart this spring, and no matter how committed Wimbush may be to the school this is going to be a very hard road to travel.
I think he might be okay once the season begins and an injury immediately vaults him into a backup role (but then we're talking about possibly burning his redshirt again which is a whole other issue) but his patience will be tested in the spring and fall camp when reps might be very, very limited while Kizer/Zaire battle it out. If we remove the affiliation a transfer in the summer would make sense for Wimbush. Remember, in addition to possibly not playing he's staring at a backup role until 2019 if Kizer wins the job. Maybe even worse, Wimbush could be a 3rd stringer for the next 25 months if Zaire sticks around for a grad year.
Obviously, that's a very neat worst-case scenario for Wimbush. And as we've seen time and again things rarely stay so neat at the QB position. So maybe stick around!
Without Prosise back there's now some breathing room. Can you imagine a Brian Kelly roster with 7 scholarship running backs?
The continued travels of VHT (to use Phil Steele-speak) Justin Brent are likely to be a source of fan frustration. Do you give him whiplash and move him back to receiver? The top 3 at running back looks very good and Tony Jones might be nipping at Brent's heels for playing time but does he fare any better at wideout?
The cool thing to do is to say Robinson won't be starting next year. While I wouldn't argue against that right now we'll see how it shakes out. The more important question is what does the inclusion of a one Mr. Demetris Robertson do to things?
Without Robertson there's a hole in the slot that Hunter--while being used everywhere for sure-- can fill easily. I'm not sure C.J. Sanders is going to go from zero receptions to full-time starter just like that and all without a trusted backup.
With Robertson in the fold he's good enough to earn reps in the slot right away which would allow Hunter to stay outside and bring forth a healthy competition for the other starting spot.
Not many story lines here as no new bodies are added to the mix and Chase Hounshell is the only loss, assuming he does not return for a 6th year. Although, just recently talk of Tyler Luatua possibly seeking a transfer has hit the world. If that happens we may see someone move to tight end from another position.
The health and availability of Alex Bars for spring practice is a huge piece to the puzzle. Without him as the projected new starter at tackle there's a big hole on the roster. Bivin could step up but hasn't impressed yet. Harrell has been a nominal backup but might not even return after spring. McGovern is another option with some experience on the edge while at Notre Dame.
The battle at center will be at the forefront as soon as the team steps back on the field but the jockeying on the interior at large will be important as the two-deep looks to solidify. Guys like Montelus and McGovern are entering now-or-never territory.
I actually like moving McGlinchey to left tackle for a couple reasons. One, it spreads out the experience because that whole left side will be really young otherwise. Two, I like the succession plan from RT to LT that Stanley started. Plus, if McGlinchey were to leave early you can keep that plan going with Bars, or perhaps even better, keep Bars at right tackle and prevent yourself from having to replace the whole right side in 2017.
Circling back to Harrell, I think his presence will be valuable in the spring but beyond that Kraemer and Eichenberg might be immediate two-deep freshmen and I don't know if both of these guys are going to spend all year as 3rd stringers. Most would agree they'll be fighting for any open starting positions in 2017 so while Harrell might be back if there's room a look to the future might be better.
There's a real need for depth on the weak-side where 2 freshmen sit behind a couple upperclassmen. As the most highly regarded EE all eyes will be on Daelin Hayes. He's a bit of a tweener right now and could spend his first spring with the linebackers or in some pass-rushing hybrid role if he's not a full-on defensive end.
On the strong-side neither Kareem or Ogundeji are physically ready right this very minute so there's some projection and practice balance here. As an EE it's much more likely that Kareem moves closer to capable playing weight as a freshman and could even see the field in 2016 in a pass-rushing role or if Bonner grows into a tackle.
The trio of Jarron Jones, Cage, and Tillery should bring smiles to Irish fans. Beyond that there are many questions. Particularly at the 3-tech position vacated by Sheldon Day there's no proven depth. It almost makes you think the defense will rely on a jumbo interior and rotate Jones, Cage, and Tillery as much as possible unless someone steps up and deserves snaps.
The back seven is where the most upheaval can take place as 4 starters are gone. At linebacker, James Onwualu is a safe bet to return to his strong-side position. Nyles Morgan has been, ahem, groomed as the next middle linebacker so he's likely next man in there.
The spring should be interesting where we're expecting Greer Martini to move back to the weak-side and run with the starters. The consensus is that Coney should step into that starting role for 2016 but with his shoulder injury keeping him out until August you really have to wonder how realistic that's going to be for someone who logged a mere 62 snaps as a true freshman. Both Martini and Coney could offer help at MLB, too. Additionally, Bilal and Barajas should both get major auditions this spring and could move to any of the positions to create the right fit.
The addition of some freshmen at linebacker needs an explanation. One of the curious things when reviewing the recruiting class is how many players could move around, specifically to linebacker. Despite not currently having any 'traditional' linebackers committed at the moment all of Claypool, Hayes, Jamir Jones, Perry, and Morgan have been talked about as possible 'backers.
Trying to project these guys to linebacker before their first practice is a crap shoot. Jones is like a mini-Hayes in that he could play linebacker for 2016 but eventually grow out of the position. Morgan is too light to seriously play middle linebacker but I don't see a future at safety and he's the biggest defensive back in the class--he can gain some weight and run around on the 3rd team. The consensus seems to be that Perry will be moved down to the strong-side but don't count out strong safety, either.
There's a big theme this year revolving around the placement of the enormous defensive backs class. In our depth chart the freshmen corners are Elliott, Love, and Pride based on the fact that they are the fastest and smallest of the bunch all listed at 175 pounds.
There seems to be some question about whether Elliott sticks at corner or moves to free safety. Elliott mentioned on his official visit that Todd Lyght wants him at corner but Brian VanGorder wants him at safety. The Irish could certainly use his speed on the back end but he's listed at 6-1 (so probably under 6-0 in reality) and would be shockingly under-sized there as a freshman. Down the road after some added weight feels like that switch could be made.
You may have noticed that only 2 true freshmen stay at safety with this current depth chart construction. It wasn't planned that way! There's such a huge amount of fluidity that we could spend all day talking about the different lineups that the Irish may use this fall.
Tranquill may not be healthy for a while and has never been a true safety anyway. There are a lot of more athletic options listed on the free safety side who could come over to the strong side and play a lot of football.
As an EE everyone should get ready to hear Devin Studstill's name in the spring as he could make a serious bid for playing time. Donte Vaughn is listed as a corner but again think about the size factor. Even taking off the 1-inch that every recruit adds on to their resume, Vaughn is still somewhere around 6-2 and 192 pounds. That's pretty much the same size as Max Redfield coming out of high school and screams free safety. So many people have wanted Devin Butler moved to safety and he's only 6-0 1/2 and 8 pounds heavier. I'd be very surprised if Vaughn spends much time at corner.