Tight End University, the name many have used when referring to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, is something you hear less and less over recent years. The Fighting Irish reeled in a pair of lethal offensive weapons in the 2015 recruiting class that look to make that nickname applicable again... Brandon Wimbush and Alize Jones.
Tight End production in ‘16 was the lowest it had been in decades. Expect new Offensive Coordinator and Tight Ends coach Chip Long to fix that. Long, an All-American TE in 2005 at the University of North Alabama, coached the position at Memphis last season while serving as Offensive Coordinator. He was also TE/WR coach at Arizona State University from 2012-2015. Long likes to get the football to the TE and this week Brian Kelly stated he will be giving full control of play-calling to Long in ‘17.
Brandon Wimbush, Rivals #38 overall high school player in the country, and second-ranked dual-threat quarterback, took a late visit to South Bend as a Penn State commit and decided that he needed to be Irish. The Under Armour All American lead his 5th ranked prep school in the nation, St. Peter’s Prep, to a State Championship passing for 2,702 yards with an impressive 71% completion percentage and 31 touchdown passes to his only 4 interceptions, in his 2 years starting. He also scampered for 586 yards and 8 touchdowns in his tenure deeming him a true dual-threat QB. If you peruse his high school highlight film you’ll see him effortlessly flinging 60+ yard passes consistently and accurately.
Some staff within Notre Dame, as well as Lou Holtz, have been on record stating that Wimbush was the most talented quarterback of the three in ‘16- huge praise considering DeShone Kizer is primed to be drafted in the first round in April’s NFL Draft. In a mid-season press conference this year Brian Kelly was asked about the status of Wimbush. Kelly stated that they decided to put their talented signal-caller on the scout team to get him into game-like situations and have him involved in game-plan prep. The staff was very impressed with how he handled things and Kelly stated Brandon was “obviously very talented.” Wimbush, who’s enrolled in Notre Dames’s Mendoza College of Business, is widely lauded as a high-character kid who stays focused, handles pressure very well, mature much beyond his years and a “great leader,” per Brian Kelly.
Wimbush’s number one target during his scout team preparations was Alize Jones. The 6’4.5 250 pound tight-end wasn’t able to play in ‘16 due to grades, unfortunately, but was able to practice with the team, and he was a menace to the scout defense. “He’s pretty good,” Brian Kelly said with a proud grin. You could tell by Kelly’s expression and tone that he was being coy by saying just “pretty good.” Kelly then said “We have him at every position. Wide receiver, tight-end. He plays everything. We don’t have many guys who can cover him.”
For all who are concerned. Yes, I am cleared and back for the 2017 spring season.— Alizé Mack (@AlizeMack97) January 11, 2017
Alize has the rare size, speed and athleticism to line up as an inline TE, flex/split-out TE or at WR. There’s a lot of speculation that he will play the W spot at times. His size provides the Irish with great mismatch opportunities. With St. Brown (6’4), Claypool (6’4.5) and Boykin (6’3) in the WR corps, look for Coach Long to dial up some bunch or trips formations, with the height available, to put defenses in a serious disadvantage size-wise. Pairing Jones with St.Brown on the weak-side, for example, will push any defense into a nightmare situation.
Alize Jones, like his QB counter point, came from a top 5 in the country prep school football program, Bishop Gorman (current NFL tackle and former Notre Dame star Ronnie Stanley as well as junior safety Nicco Fertitta also graduated from Gorman, the Las Vegas football factory). Jones posted 930 yards receiving for 13 touchdowns in his senior season which landed him a #1 TE and #32 overall in the nation ranking by recruiting service Scout (he was #56 per 247 and #70 per rivals) plus U.S. Army All-America honors. In his freshman season (2015) he had 13 receptions for 190 yards in fairly limited action. Those stats happen to be higher reception and yards totals than Notre Dame finished with at the TE position in the entire 2016 season.
Often times, first time starting quarterbacks tend to rely on a safety valve type target, typically a tight-end. I predict Wimbush targets Alize often in ‘17. With Alize’s ability to high point balls, mismatch opportunity, and overall talent... I expect him to emerge as a major red-zone target.
With Josh Adams, Brandon Wimbush and Alize Jones, the 2015 recruiting class provided Notre Dame with star power that should do big things for a blue blood college football program trying to turn things around after the most disappointing season in a decade.