Notre Dame Football: 5 Players Sure to Surprise at Fall Camp
Just as there are always some spring heroes who burst onto the scene in camp, fall practice can also bring in another wave of surprises.
With Notre Dame football nearing its fall training camp, let’s consider five Fighting Irish players with the ability to turn heads and open eyes. In most cases, these are young players we think are lurking in the wings, ready to rise to a bigger role. But an upperclassman could also be primed to surprise with a breakout fall camp.
Away we go.
WR Chris Brown
Through two seasons in South Bend, Indiana, Chris Brown has tallied 17 receptions for 265 yards and just one touchdown.
The wiry wide receiver, however, notched a career-high five catches in the Pinstripe Bowl against Rutgers and seemed to turn in a solid spring according to coaches and fellow players, especially as one of the veteran leaders in the position group without senior DaVaris Daniels at the time.
We’ve seen firsthand what Brown can do. The former track and field standout in South Carolina supplies excellent athleticism, and Irish fans certainly recall the biggest reception of Brown’s career to date—his 50-yard grab against Oklahoma in 2012 on the drive that eventually put Notre Dame ahead.
It’s a play like that that has Notre Dame looking for more from Brown. Combining his two years of experience with his athleticism could lead to a surprising fall.
TE Durham Smythe
Durham Smythe, meanwhile, didn’t pledge to the Irish until late January 2013. So even though the two tight ends were ranked seventh and eighth, respectively, at their position in the class of 2013, it seems Smythe didn’t begin his Notre Dame career with loaded expectations.
Heading into 2013, however, Smythe is the one who seems ready to shoot onto the scene. Irish head coach Brian Kelly said as much during spring practice.
“I really thought that Durham Smythe had a really good spring,” Kelly said after the Blue-Gold Game. “He's an in-line blocker. I think he's accomplished in the sense that the game comes pretty easy to him and as an in-line blocker from a technique standpoint; he picks up things very well. Got good hands, body awareness and he's got good size.
“I really think he's going to be a key contributor for us in the fall.”
A surprising fall could be in order for Smythe, who did not play as a true freshman.
OL Colin McGovern
It’s easy for an offensive lineman to get lost in the shuffle at Notre Dame nowadays. It seems every year the Irish land an elite, deep group of linemen for position coach Harry Hiestand.
In the class of 2013, Notre Dame added five offensive linemen, all of whom ranked among the top 200 players in the nation. But Hunter Bivin (No. 97 overall), Steve Elmer (No. 112), John Montelus (No. 141) and Mike McGlinchey (No. 161) all ranked ahead of Illinois native Colin McGovern, still a strong 4-star recruit himself at No. 192 in the nation.
So after not playing in 2013, McGovern seemed off the radar for the time being until the end of spring practice, when Kelly was asked who impressed him ahead of the Blue-Gold Game.
#NotreDame HC Brian Kelly singles out Colin McGovern as a guy who has impressed him this spring.— Matt Fortuna (@Matt_Fortuna) April 9, 2014
Now McGovern likely still has a horde of linemen ahead of him on the depth chart, but the 6’4.5”, 313-pounder could work his way into the two-deep as a reliable option.
DL Isaac Rochell
For a defensive lineman who played in 11 games and totaled 10 tackles as a true freshman in 2013, Isaac Rochell was relatively quiet in the spring. Much of that is a testament to his surroundings, as older players like Romeo Okwara, Ishaq Williams and Jarron Jones drew the attention for jumping into key roles on the defensive line alongside Sheldon Day.
Heading into his sophomore campaign, Rochell could be ready to take the next step. In the spring, Rochell was listed at 6’3.5”, 287 pounds. Assuming he comes back bigger and stronger when he straps on the pads in August, Rochell could settle into a key role, part of the defensive line rotation.
Back more along the interior of the defensive line in Brian VanGorder’s four-man fronts, Rochell may be better suited to aid the Irish defense.
CB Nick Watkins
By no means is Nick Watkins a forgotten man or an underrated player, as you could argue for some of the other names on this list. Rather, Watkins is the only incoming freshman cornerback on the Notre Dame roster.
Still, the 4-star cornerback from Texas could surprise in the fall. The No. 16 cornerback in the country, Watkins brings a ready frame, standing at 6’1”, 185 pounds. That sort of size is relatively unmatched by Notre Dame’s current crop of corners. KeiVarae Russell, Matthias Farley and Cole Luke are all listed at 5’11”, for example.
With his size and athletic ability, Watkins may be well-suited to step right in to the defensive back rotation in VanGorder’s aggressive defense, especially if he can use those physical tools to excel in man coverage.
Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports.com and all quotes obtained firsthand. Star ratings reflect 247Sports Composite Rankings.
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco on Twitter.