A look at the 2016 WR situation
There is plenty of talent at the receiver position in South Bend going into the ‘17 season. There is some question marks at this time regarding recruiting, coaching and depth. Without the likes of Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, the Fighting Irish offense wasn’t quite as dynamic in ‘16. Coach Kelly did walk away with some hope for the future of the air attack though, as sophomore Equanimeous St. Brown finished the season with 58 receptions for 961 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Torii Hunter battled concussion/injury issues all season and missed starts resulting in true freshman Kevin Stepherson, an undersized and “under-the-radar” freshman into action at the X position where he finished with 25 receptions for 462 yards and 5 touchdowns.
At the slot position, C.J Sanders started his true sophomore season with a bit of a bang but seemed to disappear after the first few games. In the last 7 games of the campaign he managed only 7 catches. The basement-low numbers in TE production leads me to believe Kizer very much prefers getting the ball strictly to his WR’s rather than inside options. That will be up for debate next season when Brandon Wimbush takes the wheel.
WR coaching shuffle ensues
There has been major movement in the coaching staff. WR coach, and Kelly’s right hand man, Mike Denbrock who had been serving as WR coach, strong California and mid-west recruiter as well as held play-calling duties, took the Offensive Coordinator position at The University of Cincinnati. The short story here is that Brian Kelly had decided to hire Chip Long to serve as offensive coordinator after Mike Sanford left to become head coach at Western Kentucky, and as a result Coach Long would be in full control of play calling. This must have not sat well with Denbrock. Denbrock quickly took a job where he would be calling plays. That’s fair enough. This movement quickly lead to Jordan Pouncey, Notre Dame’s lone ‘17 WR commit, to decommitt and plan a visit with in-state Miami (his supposed dream school).
Source tells FootballScoop Arizona State’s DelVaughn Alexander is headed to Notre Damehttps://t.co/ppxU2CWIrn— FootballScoop Staff (@FootballScoop) January 11, 2017
It was announced today that Brian Kelly has hired DelVaughn Alexander to serve as WR coach. First of all, this is a great hire for several reasons. Timing couldn’t be more important with several offers out to talented WR’s across the country, signing day just around the corner and the dead period ending on Jan. 12th. Coach Alexander is also a strong California recruiter as he is a Los Angeles Native and played WR at USC. Most recently he was the TE coach at Arizona State last year as well as the WR coach for the Sun-Devils in ‘12-’15. Previously to his tenure at ASU, he was the WR coach at Wisconsin from ‘07-’11. He has had stints with the San Diego Chargers, USC, UNLV twice, Oregon State and San Diego. Impressive resume if you ask me.
2017 WR recruiting
The Notre Dame coaching staff is very hard at work right now with staying in close contact with currently offered WR’s as well as getting new offers out. Oliver Martin is the #1 WR left on their board at this time. The U.S. Army All American, who would fit well at the X position, visited Notre Dame for “The Echoes,” the Irish’s year end banquet with his family. Reports were that his family loved Notre Dame and Martin himself enjoyed his visit. Martin did have a good relationship with Coach Denbrock, who’s no longer with the program. This goes back to why Coach Alexander was such an important hire. Martin is also considering in-state Iowa and will also be visiting Michigan State in January. The dynamic WR keeps to himself. He isn’t giving anything up to recruiting analysts. As of now, it’s anyone's guess where he suits up in ‘17.
Notre Dame would like to get two more WR commits, so they have recently sent out new offers. Most recent would be Jafar Armstrong, a 6’0, 200 lb. speedster from Kansas who’s committed to Missouri. The coaching staff is pushing for a visit from Armstrong.
An offer has gone out to Michael Smith, an unranked WR out of Del Ray, Florida. By only playing football for two years as well as not attending camps or combines, the 6’3, 220 lb. WR who’s amassed over 1500 yards this season has flown way under the radar but has recently been seeing interest from Power 5 schools. Running back coach Autry Denson, ND’s Florida are recruiter, has been in close contact and Smith will visit on Jan. 20th.
Gavin Holmes is another WR Notre Dame was ‘late in the game’ on. The speedster out of Justin, Texas is a three-star athlete but his speed and solid hands are hard to pass up. He’d be another candidate for the X position. So far, most analysts believe he will choose Nebaraska in the end, but spots are filling up and Holmes will be visiting on the weekend of Jan. 27-29.
Current WR situation
There has been some rumblings on messages boards that Kevin Stepherson, who was arrested last August with teammates Max Redfield, Ashton White, Te’von Coney and Dexter Williams, is still in the dog house. It’s being said that he still may be having issues (depending where you read). There are rumors that he may not be playing football in ‘17, but again, these are rumors. Notre Dame holds their student-athletes to a high standard. Stepherson wouldn’t be the first football player to miss time, or be completely dismissed for that matter, for not following rules or making grades.
This would leave the X position with only Javon McKinley and former walk-on Chris Finke. Javon McKinley was an outstanding prep player in California but in camp he struggled with drops then suffered a broken fibula early in the season. He’s scheduled to be 100% by April. Chris Finke is a crisp route runner with great hands but certainly was never expected to be a starter.
With the W position being loaded with ESB, Miles Boykin, Chase Claypool and occasionally Alize Jones, I expect Chase Claypool to get a shot at X WR. Myself, as well as many Irish fans, are dying to see Claypool on the field and I believe he has the speed and traits to handle the X position. There’s some talk of Claypool being moved to defense as he’s made many impressive tackles in special teams and the fact that he has a sturdy physique at 6’4.5, 220-225 pounds as a freshman. It’ll be interesting to see how staff decides to use the Canadian stand-out next season.