Meet Notre Dame's New Starters for 2014

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Meet Notre Dame's New Starters for 2014
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

With Notre Dame's 2014 season thrown into chaos with the announced suspension of four players, the Irish will be forced to depend on a few more new faces this season.

With the fate of starters DaVaris Daniels, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams awaiting an academic investigation, the Irish could be even more green (pun intended) heading into their season opener against Rice. 

After building a roster with successful recruiting campaigns since he arrived in South Bend, head coach Brian Kelly is better suited to play a young team than ever before. Even after losing Zack Martin, Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas, Louis Nix and Chris Watt in the first three rounds of the NFL draft, the Irish have a roster that Kelly has repeatedly called one of his deepest. 

With less than two weeks until the Irish welcome Rice to Notre Dame Stadium, let's meet the new starters for 2014. 

 

Offense

With Chuck Martin off to coach at Miami University (Ohio) and trusted assistant Mike Denbrock named the new coordinator, Kelly decided to reclaim the play-calling duties this offseason. He's also reopened his playbook, turning back to the spread-heavy concepts that helped build his offensive guru reputation. 

Of course, Everett Golson had a big reason to do with that. Returning to the starting lineup after a dismissal from school that cost him the 2013 season, Golson's abilities fit perfectly in the spread. Let's look at the newcomers joining him on offense. 

Peter Morrison/Associated Press

 

Ben Koyack

The most experienced of the new starters, Koyack is a three-year contributor at tight end who came on near the end of the 2013 season.

A candidate to be one of the team's captains, Koyack looks like another prototype NFL tight end, continuing a run of early draft picks that date back to the beginning of the Ty Willingham era with Anthony Fasano and continued on with John Carlson, Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert and Niklas. 

At 6'5", 254 pounds, Koyack has the ability to attach to the line of scrimmage as well as flex out to create a mismatch. He averaged 17.1 yards a catch last season playing as the Irish's No. 2 tight end behind Niklas, whose early exit to the NFL opens the door for Koyack to join him in 2015. 

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

 

Chris Brown

A fairly disappointing sophomore season seemed to be salvaged during bowl season for Brown, who finished the year with his most productive game against Rutgers, making five catches in the Irish's 29-16 Pinstripe Bowl victory. 

Brown was forced into a leadership role this spring with the academic suspension of Daniels, suddenly becoming the elder statesman in a young but talented receiving corps. That position of authority carried into the summer and fall camp, where Brown's done a great job holding onto a starting job at a very talented position. 

Brown has the pedigree to be a very good player. A high school track star who scored more points individually at the South Carolina state meet than all but seven teams competing, Brown has sprinter speed and leaping ability that put him on the U.S. Junior National team. 

After making 15 catches in 2013, Brown's poised to have a breakout junior season. 

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

 

Corey Robinson

With Daniels' future in limbo, sophomore Corey Robinson is the next man in at outside receiver. Son of NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson, Kelly and his staff plucked the lanky receiver—a raw stringbean playing private small-school Texas-prep football at San Antonio Christian—out of obscurity.

Notre Dame was the first offer for Robinson, but after enrolling early he showed quickly what the staff saw in him. At a listed 6'4.5" (and likely a little bit taller), Robinson only made nine catches last season, but he dazzled with a pair of velcro hands and a catch radius that make him a very large target. 

Paired with Everett Golson and given the opportunity to spend a lot of time in single coverage, Robinson was set to thrive this season anyway. But if Daniels is lost for an extended period, then Robinson moves into a key role for the Irish offense. 

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

 

Tarean Folston

Entering Notre Dame relatively off the radar with most eyes focused on classmate Greg Bryant, Folston took control of the running back job down the stretch and enters fall as the team's starter. A smooth, efficient running back who has also showed a knack for breaking a long run, Folston will have opportunities to make a difference both as a runner and pass-catcher.

A starter leading a committee, Folston will share carries with Bryant and Cam McDaniel, though he's got the ability to take the job over. And with Golson piloting the offense, the threat of a mobile quarterback should open up a ground game that could power the Irish offense.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

  

Matt Hegarty

One of the more amazing stories in college football, Hegarty was nearly out of the game when he suffered a stroke in November of 2012, needing heart surgery to repair two holes in his heart. The procedure put his career in jeopardy, but Hegarty recovered in 2013 and played key snaps at center when Nick Martin suffered a knee injury against BYU. 

Hegarty filled in valiantly in the season's three final games and continued to play center during spring practice while Martin recovered. But while most had sophomore Mike McGlinchey starting at right tackle after playing during spring drills, Hegarty is at left guard while Steve Elmer plays tackle.

A senior with a fifth-year available, Hegarty adds a veteran body on the interior of the offensive line.

 

Defense

We already knew Brian VanGorder's defense was going to be young. But suspensions to key starters KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams push two new names into the starting lineup. At this point, it might be easier to tell you who returns, but let's get the introductions started. 

247Sports.com

 

Andrew Trumbetti

The early-enrollee freshman has overtaken junior Romeo Okwara at defensive end, pushing his way onto the field, the first freshman defensive lineman to open the season as a starter since Anthony Weaver in 1998. Trumbetti was an Under Armour All-American last year and a 4-star recruit who chose the Irish over Florida and Michigan State, so the pedigree is there.

At 6'3.5" and 251 pounds, Trumbetti has decent enough size and has been lauded for his motor and pass-rushing skills. With multiple personnel packages, it's not as if Trumbetti will be an every-down player for the Irish, but he'll have a ton of responsibilities on his shoulders from the start of the season.

247Sports.com

 

Jarron Jones

He may feel like a veteran at this point, but Jones only worked his way onto the field when Irish defensive linemen started dropping like flies last season. Originally a defensive end, Jones was the next man in after injuries took Louis Nix and Kona Schwenke off the field at nose guard. 

Playing an impressive game against BYU, Jones held his own against Stanford and Rutgers, giving Notre Dame hope that life after Nix wasn't going to be too painful. Shifting into a four-man front takes some of the burden off Jones as a pure nose guard, but he'll still be asked to eat blockers and wreak havoc, something he should do fairly well. 

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

 

Isaac Rochell

With senior Ishaq Williams off the field on Friday as the academic investigation began, Rochell was in his place at strong-side defensive end. After playing in 11 games and making 10 tackles as a freshman, Rochell hardly looked ready to take over a starting job, but the options behind him aren't great.

That's not to say the Georgia native doesn't have promise. Kelly surprised a lot of people when he called Rochell "a beast" last week during a press conference, a declaration that wasn't made to pump the young lineman's tires but rather because the 6'3.5" 287-pounder looks like a completely different player than the one who played last season.

There's no telling how prepared Rochell is to take significant snaps, but at this point he's going to take as many as he can handle. With offers from Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and other SEC powers coming out of high school, Rochell looked the part of a blue-chipper. We'll have to see if he's ready to play that role in 2014. 

USA TODAY Sports

 

Joe Schmidt

After being one of the surprises of spring football, Schmidt has solidified his place in the middle of the Irish defense. The former walk-on (who has been on scholarship for two seasons) was buried on Bob Diaco's inside linebacker depth chart in the 3-4, but he is a much better fit playing behind a four-man front. 

Undersized but instinctive, quick and tough, Schmidt is more than a Rudy-like story; he's a really good football player. With Jarrett Grace still making his slow return back, Kendall Moore suspended and Nyles Morgan swimming in very deep water as a true freshman, this is Schmidt's defense to run.

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

 

James Onwualu

If Schmidt's spot in the starting lineup is surprising, maybe Onwualu's is even more far-fetched. After starting four games at wide receiver for the Irish as a true freshman, Onwualu converted to the defensive side of the ball in the spring and began his transition as a safety before moving to linebacker. 

Onwualu has packed five pounds onto his 6'1" frame after playing last season at 215. That's not enough bulk to take on offensive linemen, but Onwualu will start against teams that attempt to spread the Irish defense out, capable of covering just about anybody while also showing a toughness that allows him to do plenty of jobs.  

Kelly has a reputation for flipping productive players from one side of the ball and making them better on the other. That looks to be happening quickly for Onwualu, who outbattled John Turner and Ben Councell for the starting job. 

STEPHEN MORTON/Associated Press

 

Cody Riggs

The decision to transfer to Notre Dame looks like a brilliant one for Riggs right now. (And for Notre Dame, who accepted the temporary fix.) Having already won a starting cornerback job opposite KeiVarae Russell, Riggs will ascend to the top cover corner role as long as Russell is off the field. 

Starting 26 games between corner and safety over three-plus seasons (he received a medical redshirt after an early-season injury), Riggs wants to prove to NFL scouts he can make it as a cover man. He'll do more than just that for the Irish, sliding inside and out as a versatile piece of VanGorder's aggressive coverage schemes.

USA TODAY Sports

 

Cole Luke

With or without Russell, Luke was going to play a lot of football. But with Notre Dame's top cover corner held out of practice on Friday, the Irish turn to Luke, hoping the sophomore is ready to take on a much bigger responsibility. 

Luke played in all 13 games last season, seeing a lot of time in the secondary playing nickel and cornerback for Diaco. But there's little Cover 2 in VanGorder's scheme, and Luke will be asked to do much more this season than he did just dropping into his zone as a freshman. 

 

Max Redfield

After Kelly pushed Redfield into the starting lineup against Rutgers, the sophomore has solidified himself as the team's starting free safety. A former 5-star recruit, Redfield had a frustrating freshman season unable to work his way into Diaco's rotation at safety with the mental grind of the position holding him back. 

While Kelly talked about limiting the decision-making Redfield needs to do on the field last week, the sophomore safety is ready to take ownership of the back end of the defense. Probably the most physically gifted safety the Irish have had since Harrison Smith, Redfield has all the talent in the world; he just has to play mistake-free football. 

 

Star ratings courtesy of 247 Sports.

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