Notre Dame Football: 4 Players Primed for Breakout Seasons in 2014
Hype runs rampant throughout the spring and summer, with optimism driving expectations around programs like Notre Dame football.
The glimpses, reports and projections will soon give way to actual performance.
So with fall camp rapidly approaching, which Fighting Irish players are primed for those breakout seasons? Who can live up to some of the hype we’ve heard over the past few months?
For our purposes, we won’t consider players who’ve already achieved a high level of success. While Jaylon Smith seems likely to make the leap from stud freshman to stud sophomore, that doesn’t fit our criteria of a breakout season.
In most cases, we’ll restrict the exercise to players who have yet to make major contributions to the Irish squad.
Maybe more so than any other player on the Notre Dame roster, Greg Bryant generated plenty of hype for his performance in the spring.
That’s not to say Bryant came out of nowhere. The former 4-star running back was the No. 45 overall player in the nation in the class of 2013, and Notre Dame fans have always seemed to peg Bryant as a future star.
But after a three-game, three-carry freshman season that ended early, Bryant was tossed to the back burner as fellow freshman Tarean Folston carried for 470 yards.
Raring to go in the spring, Bryant’s powerful rushing style impressed his teammates and coaches.
“He's a physical kid, and he's fun to coach,” Kelly said after the Blue-Gold game. “He's full of energy, he's got a smile on his face and he loves to play the game.”
If Bryant continues that spring surge, the Delray Beach, Florida, native should hammer out a crucial role in the Notre Dame offense.
Look down at the Notre Dame roster and, all of a sudden, Amir Carlisle is a senior.
It feels like yesterday that the then-USC running back tallied 118 rushing yards as a true freshman for the Trojans.
After missing the 2012 season in South Bend, Indiana, due to injury, Carlisle finally made his Fighting Irish debut in 2013, totaling 47 carries for 204 yards and seven receptions for 30 yards.
However, Carlisle soon became an afterthought as the second half of the season rolled along.
Now, after making the complete switch to the slot receiver position in the spring, the time has come for Carlisle to make his true mark in blue and gold.
Carlisle flashes a strong open-field ability and can give the Irish offense a unique look with his versatility.
According to uhnd.com's Frank Vitovitch, Carlisle was lodged in a battle with C.J. Prosise for the slot receiver job in the spring. The senior could be ready to grab hold of the position and boost Notre Dame’s offense—as he did on the first play of the 2013 season with a 45-yard rush against Temple.
Of the names on this list, Ronnie Stanley has accomplished the most at Notre Dame.
In his second season in South Bend, Indiana, Stanley joined a slew of upperclassmen on the offensive line as the right tackle and started all 13 games.
Still, Stanley went relatively unnoticed—at least in comparison to stalwarts Zack Martin and Chris Watt. Now, with those two longtime starters off to the NFL, ESPN.com's Matt Fortuna notes Stanley has made the jump over to left tackle in the spring and could be in prime position to excel in 2014.
The athletic tackle enters his third full season in offensive line coach Harry Hiestand’s system. Stanley has as much experience as almost anyone on the potential starting line with the exception of graduate student Christian Lombard.
Through two seasons at Notre Dame, Romeo Okwara has played in all 26 games. However, the Charlotte, North Carolina, product has only notched 26 tackles, indicating his relatively small role on the Irish defense.
Okwara shifted to defensive end during the spring under new coordinator Brian VanGorder.
In the middle of spring ball, Irish head coach Brian Kelly stressed Okwara’s progress would be ongoing and continue through the fall. While his development is by no means over, Okwara appeared to elevate his play by the end of the Blue-Gold game.
“I think we found a role for Romeo, one that I think we feel a lot more comfortable where he is,” Kelly said after the game in mid-April.
Having settled in along the defensive line, the next step is for Okwara to grow into a pass-rushing problem for opposing offensive lines. With the athleticism from his linebacker days and his growing frame—Okwara was listed at 6’4”, 258 pounds in the spring—Okwara could be ready to break out.
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.