Notre Dame Football: 4 Freshmen Who Must Shine in Fall Practices
There’s plenty of youth and unproven talent on the Notre Dame football squad heading into the 2014 season.
In addition to many of the returning underclassmen and some of the relatively untested upperclassmen, the Irish have added a 22-member class of incoming freshmen. Fall ball is not far away, and we recently looked at the rookies most likely to start this season.
This week, we’re analyzing which freshmen could help the squad with strong performances in fall practices.
In determining our list, we emphasized position needs—both in the present and future—and certain players who should be ready to jump right in and positively impact the team.
Following his first semester in the spring, early enrollee wide receiver Justin Brent will look to follow up with a strong fall.
As can be expected for a would-be high-school senior participating in spring practice, Brent experienced the standard growing pains, according to Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock at the end of spring ball.
“It's a big world for him right now," Denbrock said. "You've heard the phrase before 'drinking through a fire hose.' He is literally drowning at times with information and really overload."
Denbrock was quick to add that Brent wasn’t backing down from any challenges, especially the task of going up against Notre Dame’s top cornerback, KeiVarae Russell.
With the initial adjustment period behind him, a solid fall camp would position Brent to potentially earn playing time in a crowded but mostly unsolidified receiving group.
Notre Dame’s early-enrollee wide receivers last year—Corey Robinson and James Onwualu—combined to record 11 receptions for 191 yards and one touchdown.
It may seem unnecessary to look for quarterback DeShone Kizer to turn in a good fall. After all, Notre Dame’s quarterback decision will come down to Everett Golson and Malik Zaire—not Kizer.
But in three of Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s four seasons in South Bend, Indiana, Notre Dame has trotted out three different quarterbacks during the course of the year. Now, that’s not to say Kizer is expected to play in 2014.
Rather, it speaks to the larger point about quarterback depth within the program. Golson (two years), Zaire (four) and Kizer (four) still have plenty of eligibility between them, but even one unexpected injury, suspension or departure would put Notre Dame in a precarious situation.
The question of quarterback depth lacks full clarity given the uncertainty surrounding a class of 2015 quarterback. After Blake Barnett’s decommitment and Travis Waller’s commitment to Oregon, the Irish have missed out on some of their top targets at the quarterback position.
At the end of June, we chose Nyles Morgan as the Notre Dame freshman most likely to start at some point in 2014.
There’s certainly a need at inside linebacker. Although Joe Schmidt impressed in the spring, Jarrett Grace is still recovering from his leg injury, meaning there could be a chance for Morgan to log meaningful snaps in 2014, even if it’s not in a starting role.
Thus, Morgan could use a steady fall to hit the ground running. As for whether Morgan will be able to help right away when the regular season kicks off, Kelly praised the 4-star linebacker on national signing day.
“It's really going to be about how you handle it mentally and then how you adjust to it as a coach," Kelly said. "If he's the very best player, I want the 11 best players on the field, and we've got to do a good job as coaches of getting the 11 best players on the field sometimes."
Like Brent, Trumbetti already has a full semester under his belt after enrolling early. That gives him a leg up on the horde of defensive linemen and linebackers the Irish added in their class of 2014.
Trumbetti’s progress from the spring to the fall figures to be palpable. Depending on the extent of that development, the Demarest, New Jersey, native could be in a position to contribute on the defensive line.
In each of the past three seasons, the Irish have called on a rookie defensive lineman, from Isaac Rochell and Sheldon Day in the past two seasons, respectively, to Stephon Tuitt, Ishaq Williams, Aaron Lynch and Chase Hounshell in 2011.
With a great fall, Trumbetti has the opportunity to play himself into the defensive-line rotation.
Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information are courtesy of 247Sports.com and all quotes were obtained firsthand. Star ratings reflect 247Sports Composite Rankings. Players listed in alphabetical order.
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.