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Notre Dame Football: Grading Every New Starter's Week 1 Performance

Connor KillorenSenior Analyst INovember 3, 2016

Notre Dame Football: Grading Every New Starter's Week 1 Performance

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    Gone were the stars of last season—Manti Te'o, Zeke Motta and Tyler Eifert, among others—on Saturday afternoon at Notre Dame Stadium.

    In the vacated posts left behind by graduated seniors were new faces, each getting his first taste of a starting role for the Fighting Irish.

    The collective baptism was a success, with head coach Brian Kelly and Co. defeating Temple, 28-6, giving Kelly his 200th career victory. Each new starter played a role in the milestone victory, with their performances subject to the weekly grading scale.

    Which of those players came away with the best marks?

     

Nick Martin, C

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    After becoming so accustomed to the consistent play of former starting center Braxston Cave, who recently made the New England Patriots' 53-man regular season roster, the presence of a first-year starter at the position would typically be troublesome.

    No such issue exists with Nick Martin, though.

    The younger brother of the Irish's starting left tackle, Zack Martin, Nick confirmed the high praise that was bestowed upon him by Kelly throughout fall camp.

    Each Martin snap was clean, he wasn't called for any penalties, and he efficiently directed an offensive line that allowed just one sack and paved the way for an Irish rushing attack that compiled 188 yards.

     

    Grade: A

Amir Carlisle, RB

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    Per the official depth chart, George Atkinson III is Notre Dame's No. 1 running back, though Amir Carlisle was on the field for the Irish's first snap of the 2013 season.

    And that first snap belonged to Carlisle, as the 5'10", 190-pound back scampered 45 yards up the left hash to advance the Irish into Temple territory.

    The Santa Clara, Calif., native finished the day with 68 rushing yards on seven carries and reeled in two receptions for five yards.

    And while Kelly has been reluctant to award the lion's share of the carries to any individual running back, Carlisle's performance Saturday was indicative of the value he will provide to the offense as a versatile playmaker.

     

    Grade: A

Tommy Rees, QB

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    I know what you're thinking: "Tommy Rees isn't a new starter."

    Though by default he is, having replaced incumbent starting quarterback Everett Golson, who is currently serving a one-semester suspension due to an academic-related issue.

    Strangely enough, Saturday was the first season-opening start for Rees, and he was quick to silence his critics, at least for the time being.

    The 6'2", 215-pound quarterback completed 16-of-23 passing attempts for a career high 346 yards and three touchdowns, two of which were to receiver DaVaris Daniels.

    Most importantly, Rees didn't turn the ball over.

    Many have been quick to anoint Rees as an entirely different player than the quarterback we saw during the turnover-plagued 2011 season because of his performance Saturday, but until the Lake Forest, Ill., native pieces together a similar performance against a quality opponent, I'm not buying in to the hype.

     

    Grade: A

Troy Niklas, TE

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    The player known as "Hercules" provided, perhaps, the most herculean sequence of the Irish's 28-6 victory against Temple Saturday.

    With one minute remaining in the first half and Notre Dame leading, 14-6, Rees hit Troy Niklas over the middle for a 66-yard touchdown in which the 6'7", 270-pound behemoth showed that he may not be the fastest tight end in the world.

    The score was Niklas' lone reception, which, on the surface, would warrant a poor grade, but his pure domination as a blocker was thoroughly impressive.

     

    Grade: B+

Ronnie Stanley, RT

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    In an effort to solidify the right side of the offensive line, the Irish coaching staff moved Christian Lombard to right guard, allowing Ronnie Stanley play his natural position of tackle.

    The 6'6", 318-pound lineman didn't have the starting job locked up at the conclusion of fall camp, though.

    True freshman Steve Elmer was also pushing to get on the field, but with Stanley's consistent, penalty-free performance Saturday, the job appears to be his for now.

    Stanley's pure power at the point of attack and burst off the line created massive running lanes on a play-by-play basis, all while avoiding the dreaded holding call.

     

    Grade: A-

Chris Brown, WR

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    Perhaps the fastest player on Notre Dame's roster, Chris Brown is one of my breakout candidates this season after a freshman season in which the Hanahan, S.C., native recorded just two receptions.

    Brown eclipsed the mark Saturday, reeling in three receptions for 57 yards, including a 33-yard catch that set up the Irish's final score midway through the third quarter.

    The question facing Brown is simple in nature: Can he evolve into a consistent member of the rotation at receiver?

     

    Grade: B

     

Sheldon Day, DE

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    After a freshman season in which Sheldon Day was the third defensive end in the rotation, the sophomore finds himself in a starting role along the defensive line.

    Day's first start was a quiet one statistically, as the 6'2", 290-pound end finished with just one tackle and failed to get to Temple quarterback Connor Reilly.

    Day's rather unceremonious performance was was reflective of the defensive line's overall poor performance.

     

    Grade: B-

Jaylon Smith, LB

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    The first true freshman linebacker to start for Notre Dame in 18 years, Jaylon Smith experienced a solid first outing.

    Head coach Brian Kelly was pleased with Smith's performance but admitted he, at times, played like a freshman, via Jake Brown of IrishIllustrated.com.

    "He did some pretty good things," Kelly said. "He played like a freshman. He was a little out of place at times. But in some instances, he obviously has great athletic ability. Closes very well. But it's probably what we expected of him. I think he played like a freshman today. Played with some great energy. He's got great speed and athleticism."

    The jewel of the Irish's 2013 recruiting class, Smith finished with just one tackle.

     

    Grade: B

Carlo Calabrese, LB

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    If there's one player whose performance Saturday was wholeheartedly disappointing, it was Carlo Calabrese.

    The 6'1", 250-pound linebacker was exposed early and often, as the Temple offense attacked him in the intermediate passing game, an area in which Calabrese struggles mightily because of his lack of speed.

    While the Verona, N.J., native did finish second on the team with nine total tackles, Calabrese's inability to cover the middle of the field was, and continues to be, infuriating.

     

    Grade: C+

Austin Collinsworth, S

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    After sitting out last season with a broken collarbone, Austin Collinsworth, the son of NBC Sunday Night Football broadcaster Cris Collinsworth, finally got back on the field.

    Splitting reps with Elijah Shumate, Collinsworth didn't post a single tackle.

    And with the Temple offense employing the "dink and dunk" approach as Kelly termed it, passes over the top were far and few between, not allowing for Collinsworth or Shumate to make big plays in the passing game.

     

    Grade: B

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