With the start of Notre Dame preseason camp approaching fast, we’re looking at what to expect from each unit that’ll take the field Sept. 5 under the lights against Texas.
1. Will Fuller (Junior)
2. Corey Holmes (Sophomore)
2A. Torii Hunter Jr. (Junior)
1. Chris Brown (Senior)
1A. Corey Robinson (Junior)
2. Justin Brent (Sophomore)
1. Amir Carlisle (Grad Student)
2. C.J. Prosise (Senior)
2A. Torii Hunter Jr. (Junior)
Notre Dame’s entire wide receiver depth chart returns in 2015, accounting as a group for 77 percent of the team’s receptions, 83 percent of the yards and 90 percent of the touchdowns from last year (the only players to catch a pass in 2014 who aren’t back are running back Cam McDaniel and tight end Ben Koyack). That bodes well for an offense changing quarterbacks, even if Malik Zaire profiles more as a runner while Everett Golson was more of a thrower.
Fuller had a massive season in Year 2, catching 76 passes for 1,094 yards with 15 touchdowns. Opposite him on the boundary was the Brown-Robinson duo, which combined for 79 catches, 1,086 yards and six touchdowns. And out of the slot, Carlisle and Prosise totaled 52 catches, 824 yards and five touchdowns.
We’ll see how Prosise, who cross-trained at running back during spring practice, is used though good slot depth and Greg Bryant’s expected suspension could push him into taking the majority of his snaps as a running back (who can motion into the slot, too, a la Theo Riddick). Hunter’s versatility to play behind Fuller outside and as a slot guy inside should help free up Prosise to float around the offense and create mismatches with opposing defenses.
Biggest question: Will lowered production be a sign of a worse offense?
Even if coaches have supreme confidence in Zaire’s passing skills, Notre Dame’s offense should still skew more toward running the ball. Against LSU — granted, only one game — Notre Dame attempted 51 rushes against 26 passes, didn’t turn the ball over and averaged 5.8 yards per play against a good SEC defense.
But Robinson didn’t have a catch in the game, while Fuller led the team with five catches for 57 yards with a touchdown. If you go back to 2012, when Notre Dame ran a run-oriented, vanilla offense with an inexperienced Golson as its quarterback, Tyler Eifert and T.J. Jones tied for the team lead with 50 receptions and Eifert led the Irish with 685 yards.
Notre Dame’s receiving numbers may not go to that 2012 extreme, but if the offense is running smoothly, Fuller may not have a chance to duplicate his elite-level production while the rest of the group could see a dip in their stats as well. Of course, that 2012 team didn’t play from behind much — leading to more pound-the-ball-on-the-ground drives — so numbers that look worse on paper may actually be a sign of a successful offense.
In addition to returning all six receivers who caught passes last year and two sophomores, Notre Dame added four-star recruits Miles Boykin, C.J. Sanders and Equanimeous St. Brown and three-star Texas native Jalen Guyton to its ranks on signing day. All four players will face a difficult challenge to get on the field as freshmen — outside of special teams duty — given the loaded depth ahead of them.
Of those players, Sanders — who played a young Ray Charles in the 2004 film “Ray” — probably has the best chance to get on the field as a receiver. He should slide into the slot, and with Prosise moving around and Hunter backing up Fuller, there could be an opening for him to impress coaches and carve out a role in the offense.
Even if Fuller catches fewer passes and has fewer yards this fall, he’s still a go-to touchdown machine on both deep balls and screen passes. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect him to have double-digit trips to the end zone.
They said it
“We were worried about his learning curve early on, he’s picked that up extremely well. Now, it’s making those non-conforming catches, if you will. The ones he’s gotta reach, the ones he’s gotta elevate, twist and turn, those are the ones that we’re looking for.” — Brian Kelly on Corey Robinson