Notre Dame landed arguably its best recruiting class since the Lou Holtz era on Wednesday when it welcomed 24 new signees to a team coming off of a 12-0 season. The Irish will likely use all 85 scholarships this season for the first time in Brian Kelly's tenure, so there can be some patience in developing this group.
Ideally, at least half of the class would be able to save a year of eligibility and redshirt in 2013, but which ones? Let's take an early look at when each signee will first see game action for the Fighting Irish.
Some players may see only special teams action next year, so these projections are simply for offensive and defensive situations. While the season opener is actually in August this year, I used September for any player expected to see his first action over the first five weeks.
QB Malik Zaire – 2014
With a logjam at quarterback, Zaire is a near certainty to redshirt next season. Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix (probably) will depart after 2013, so Zaire should at least compete for the starting role in 2014.
RB Greg Bryant – September
George Atkinson III remains the odds-on favorite to start at running back on Aug. 31, but don’t count out Bryant. The Florida native has a much different skill set than Atkinson III, and along with the junior would give the Irish a one-two punch comparable to that of Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick in 2012.
RB Tarean Folston – November
There’s enough depth at running back that Folston won’t be asked to make an immediate impact. He could see some special teams action early, but should at least get 20-30 carries in spot duty throughout the season.
WR Will Fuller – September
Fuller’s impressive ball skills make the Irish coaching staff think they found a major steal here. The Philadelphia native lacks ideal height at 6’1”, but he has good speed and excellent body control. He’ll likely be in the six- or seven-man rotation from day one.
WR Torii Hunter Jr. – 2014
A broken femur suffered last month at practice for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl will slow the development of Hunter Jr. With the Irish having signed seven receivers in the past two classes, Notre Dame can afford to be patient with Hunter’s recovery.
WR James Onwualu – November
The Minneapolis product who comes from the same high school as Michael Floyd is already on campus and gives the Irish a versatile receiver. His intelligence and work ethic likely will get him on the field at some point this fall.
WR Corey Robinson – 2014
The son of NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson is still a work in progress, but the Irish really like what they have. Robinson is still growing and will likely be best served by a redshirt year before taking flight in 2014.
TE Mike Heuerman – October
Notre Dame loves tight ends, and despite the loss of Tyler Eifert, the Irish would still like two-tight-end sets to be a fundamental part of their offense. A disappointing sophomore season for Ben Koyack has opened the door for Heuerman to receive immediate playing time, but it may be closer to midseason before he gets on the field.
TE Durham Smythe – 2014
Smythe was one of Notre Dame’s final commitments, giving the Irish a second tight end that was more of a luxury than a need. Heuerman is the better overall prospect, so expect Smythe to sit for a year before becoming part of the tight-end rotation in 2014.
OL Hunter Bivin – 2014
Offensive linemen have the steepest learning curve when transitioning from high school to college, so the Irish would like to save a year of eligibility for Bivin. He projects as a guard, but Conor Hanratty and Mark Harrell figure to claim the two second-team spots in 2013.
OL Steve Elmer – September
The first commit in this class enrolled in January and will likely be the first of the offensive linemen to see any game action. Elmer and sophomore Ronnie Stanley should be the two backup tackles behind Zack Martin and Christian Lombard.
OL Mike McGlinchey – 2014
The Irish love what they have in the 6’8” Philadelphia product, but would like McGlinchey to spend a year with Paul Longo in the weight room before taking the field. He’ll likely be the fifth option at tackle, so barring injury, 2013 will be a redshirt year.
OL Colin McGovern – 2014
McGovern will likely be in the same boat as Bivin. True freshman offensive linemen are generally in over their heads, so a year of learning and physical development would be ideal for the Chicago-area native.
OL John Montelus – 2014
Notre Dame thinks it has the next Braxston Cave in Montelus, but will likely wait until 2014 to unleash him. The center position is in a state of transition, but if Matt Hegarty’s health holds, the Irish can likely save a year for Montelus.
DL Jacob Matuska – 2014
Matuska still needs a defined position, as the high school tight end and defensive lineman could play on either line for the Irish. The late addition of Eddie Vanderdoes to this class all but ensures Matuska will redshirt this fall.
DL Isaac Rochell – 2014
This might be the toughest one to call. Rochell won’t be in the two-deep to begin, but injuries could force him into action. The Irish have a solid group of eight in the defensive line rotation, so redshirting Rochell is the preferred plan.
DL Eddie Vanderdoes – September
Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt, the prized defensive line recruits in the 2011 class, worked their way into the mix early in that season. Expect the same for Vanderdoes, who will likely start at end but can eventually play both inside and outside on the defensive line.
LB Michael Deeb – November
Think of Deeb as a poor man’s Manti Te’o in terms of skill set. He’s a bit undersized and has limited range, but should excel against the run and has great fundamentals. If there’s not a better option than Deeb to backup Jarrett Grace in the middle, the Irish will burn his redshirt.
LB Doug Randolph – 2014
The first question with Randolph will be whether he’s a Cat linebacker or a Dog linebacker. The decision may take all of next season to figure out, and with good depth at both spots, it will likely be special teams-only or a redshirt season for Randolph.
LB Jaylon Smith – October
Despite Smith being a consensus top-five prospect nationally, Danny Spond will still be the opening day starter at Dog linebacker. However, Smith is too talented to not eventually earn significant minutes by midseason.
CB Devin Butler – 2014
The Washington, D.C., native filled a major need for the Irish, but a healthy Lo Wood should be enough to let Butler redshirt. Special teams are always an option, but with Notre Dame having a full complement of scholarship players this year, the Irish may be able to save a year of Butler’s eligibility.
CB Rashad Kinlaw – 2014
Injuries severely limited Kinlaw’s high school career, so the Irish aren’t quite sure what they have in Galloway, N.J., product. They shouldn’t have to find out for sure until 2014.
CB Cole Luke – November
The Irish could have used Luke last year after Lo Wood’s season-ending injury, but they’re more than glad to have him for this coming season. Luke is the most talented of the three cornerbacks in this class, and will likely be a special teams contributor and a second-team defender.
S Max Redfield – September
If there’s one player in this class who could potentially start the Aug. 31 opener vs. Temple, it’s Redfield. The one-time USC commit is the highest-ranked defensive back Notre Dame has signed in the modern recruiting era and is a natural replacement for Zeke Motta.