Position-by-Position Preview of Notre Dame Football's 2015 Roster
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame football’s upperclassmen have made their way to campus for offseason workouts, and freshman arrivals and summer classes aren’t far away.
We’re now less than 100 days away from Notre Dame’s season opener against Texas on Sept. 5 under the lights at Notre Dame Stadium.
Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) June 5, 2015
Let’s take a look at Notre Dame’s 2015 roster, previewing the Irish position by position. Of course, things could—and likely will—change between now and the start of fall camp, not to mention the matchup with the Longhorns. This, though, can serve as a current snapshot for the squad moving forward.
This whole quarterback competition, well, settled itself.
Everett Golson has transferred to Florida State, where he’ll use his final season of eligibility with the Seminoles. That leaves Malik Zaire as the undisputed starting quarterback entering summer workouts.
Experts have already analyzed Zaire at length, and he brings an excitement to the 2015 season, especially after his breakout performance in the Music City Bowl win over LSU. In his first career start, he carried 22 times for 96 yards and a touchdown while completing 12 of 15 passes for 96 yards and another score.
Golson’s departure has a ripple effect down the rest of the depth chart. Redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer and incoming freshman Brandon Wimbush are the next two options. Kizer, a 6’5”, 230-pounder from Toledo, Ohio, was the No. 12 pro-style quarterback in the country coming out of Central Catholic High School. Wimbush, meanwhile, is the No. 3 dual-threat signal-caller and No. 45 overall prospect in the class of 2015.
Between those three quarterbacks, Notre Dame’s signal-callers have attempted 35 career collegiate passes.
A two-headed attack added a third prong in the spring, as junior running backs Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant watched as C.J. Prosise, a slot receiver most recently, cross-trained at running back and drew loads of praise as the spring progressed.
“He’s a guy that you’re going to fear,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said after the Blue-Gold Game in April. “When you turn on the film, you’re going to look at him and go, ‘He scares me.’”
But as of spring’s end, it still wasn’t clear where Prosise would profile within the Irish offense.
“He’ll get every opportunity to take over a starting position, whether it’s at wide receiver or whether it’s at running back,” Kelly said. “So I’m going to play the 11 best players. ... Right now, it’s hard to make the case that he’s not one of the best 11.”
The Irish add depth with the arrivals of incoming freshmen Dexter Williams, the No. 11 back and No. 94 overall player in his class, and Josh Adams, giving them four scholarship running backs—not counting Prosise.
Folston returns from a sophomore season in which he tallied 889 rushing yards, 5.1 yards per carry and six scores on the ground. Bryant rushed 54 times for 289 yards and three touchdowns in 2014.
Notre Dame has options at running back, especially if Prosise sticks at the position.
Wide receiver is arguably the deepest position on the Irish roster with returnees like Will Fuller, Corey Robinson, Chris Brown, Amir Carlisle and Torii Hunter Jr. welcoming a talented freshman crop of Equanimeous St. Brown, Miles Boykin, C.J. Sanders and Jalen Guyton. On top of that, Notre Dame also returns second-year wideouts Justin Brent and Corey Holmes.
Fuller was Golson’s top target in 2014, hauling in 76 passes for 1,094 yards and 15 touchdowns, which was tied for the most in Notre Dame single-season history. Fuller stacks up favorably with other top returning wide receivers across the nation.
Robinson (40 receptions, 539 yards and five touchdowns) and Brown (39-548-1) amassed similar numbers as secondary targets in 2014, and both will be looking to take their respective next steps, with Robinson now a junior and Brown a senior.
Carlisle drew Kelly’s praise during the spring, and he’ll be entering his final season in an Irish uniform as well. Eleven of Carlisle’s 23 catches last season came in the first three games.
The growth and development of reliable week-to-week options not named Fuller could be important for Notre Dame’s offense.
Notre Dame returns just one seven-yard reception of career production to the 2015 roster, as redshirt sophomore Durham Smythe is the likely starter and replacement for Ben Koyack, who was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Smythe recorded his seven-yard grab against Arizona State and, otherwise, didn't see much time in his redshirt freshman campaign. But the Belton, Texas, native is next in line at so-called “Tight End U.”
“I really like the spring Durham Smythe has had,” Kelly said leading up to the spring game. “I think he’s really, in my eyes, kinda picked up where the Notre Dame tight ends need to be when you expect them to step in for the next graduating senior. It’s pretty clear that he’s going to be an important part of our offense.”
Beyond Smythe, Notre Dame brings back 250-pounder Tyler Luatua, redshirt freshman Nic Weishar, converted defensive lineman Chase Hounshell and junior-to-be Mike Heuerman. Of course, some Irish fans are most excited for incoming freshman Aliz'e Jones, the top tight end in the country and No. 62 overall recruit.
Kelly closed out spring ball high on his offensive line, which features starting experience at four of the five spots. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley, left guards Alex Bars and Quenton Nelson, center Nick Martin, right guard Steve Elmer and right tackle Mike McGlinchey comprise the primary unit for offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.
“I think for me it was pretty clear that we’ve got a very good offensive line,” Kelly said following the spring game. “They’re going to be able to control the line of scrimmage in most instances, and we’ll continue to go to our strength, which we believe is up front.”
The Irish did lose a versatile and experienced lineman in Matt Hegarty, who will use his final season of eligibility at Oregon. But Notre Dame has recruited the offensive line successfully in recent years, and Sam Mustipher, Hunter Bivin, John Montelus and Colin McGovern are some of the more experienced options farther down the pecking order.
Between left guard and right tackle, the Irish only have one career start, but there’s plenty of physical ability to go around between Bars, Nelson and the 6'8" McGlinchey.
Notre Dame checked off its first offseason box regarding the defensive line when standout Sheldon Day announced he would return for his senior season and forgo the NFL draft.
Day is back, and the Irish will look for defensive tackle Jarron Jones (foot) to return to full strength. In the week leading up to the Blue-Gold Game, Kelly said he expects Jones to be ready for the program’s nine OTAs in June.
The Irish have plenty of bodies on the defensive line but are comparatively light on past production. Defensive end Isaac Rochell was reliable as a 13-game starter in his sophomore season. Beyond Day, Jones and Rochell, Notre Dame will look to the likes of sophomore Andrew Trumbetti, freshman Jerry Tillery, junior Jacob Matuska, senior Romeo Okwara and sophomore Jay Hayes, among others, to contribute.
Like wide receiver, linebacker is one of Notre Dame’s deepest positions, with Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt, Jarrett Grace, Greer Martini, Nyles Morgan and James Onwualu all bringing starting experience.
Roles, rotations and playing time still remain to be sorted out, but as Kelly said multiple times throughout the spring, it’s a good problem to have for defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.
Beyond those six linebackers, Notre Dame still has sophomore Kolin Hill, early enrollee Te’von Coney and fellow incoming freshmen Josh Barajas and Asmar Bilal to add to the mix as well.
Notre Dame’s secondary took a big step forward last Friday when cornerback KeiVarae Russell announced on his Facebook page that his expected return had become official.
“Love my school and my teammates,” Russell wrote in the afternoon on May 29. “Excited to go help lead this team to success. Officially accepted back at Notre Dame!! Back on campus in [two] weeks!”
Russell, who missed the entire 2014 season during and after Notre Dame’s investigation into suspected academic dishonesty, brings two full seasons of starting experience and some ridiculous athleticism back to Notre Dame.
With Russell and junior Cole Luke holding down the corners, that should help set the tone for the Irish defense. Safeties Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate garnered praise during the spring for their improvement following uneven 2014 seasons.
Depth is still an issue at safety, but Notre Dame does welcome graduate transfer Avery Sebastian from Cal, and sophomore Drue Tranquill (torn ACL) is on the mend.
Do-it-all specialist Kyle Brindza is gone, and it will take a team effort to replace him.
Incoming freshman Justin Yoon is slated to be the new kicker, while Tyler Newsome will handle the punting duties.
Notre Dame didn’t settle on its return men in the spring, but Bryant, Carlisle, Fuller and Prosise could all be a part of the conversation.
The Irish ranked 75th in the country on kickoff returns last season, averaging 20.47 yards per return. Notre Dame took a step forward returning punts in 2014, bumping the average up to 8.48 yards per return after the first three years of the Kelly regime saw averages below five yards per punt return.
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 the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco on Twitter.