Among the more intriguing Fiesta Bowl headlines is the impending battle between Notre Dame left tackle Ronnie Stanley and Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa, two players who could very well be picked in the first five or 10 selections in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Both of CBS Sports’ mock drafts have Stanley and Bosa being top-six picks (Rob Rang has Bosa at No. 4 and Stanley at No. 6, while Dane Brugler has Bosa at No. 2 and Stanley at No. 3), while Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott and Ohio State offensive lineman Taylor Decker appear in the mock draft as well. There’s going to be plenty of talent on the field at University of Phoenix Stadium on New Year’s Day, but the Stanley-Bosa matchup is the headliner.
Stanley said he’ll use the opportunity to square off against Bosa as an early opportunity to prove himself to NFL scouts and executives.
“You gotta look at it like you’re preparing yourself for the next level,” Stanley said, “and it’s definitely an opportunity for me to take advantage and showcase my skills of me being a top tackle.”
Bosa, though, may slide inside to defensive tackle in certain situations to help replace the suspended Adolphus Washington and injured Tommy Schutt. But when he’s lined up over Stanley, that’s going to be a matchup that’s not only will be highly entertaining, but will go a long way toward determining how successful Notre Dame’s offense can be.
With 13 days of practice and the Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame essentially is cramming an entire spring practice into the span of a little less than a month leading up to New Year’s Day. With a higher importance placed on prepping for its bowl opponent than in previous years, Notre Dame hasn’t given as many reps to freshmen who were buried on the depth chart during the season, but coach Brian Kelly still singled out one of those players.
“We still really like what we’re seeing from Miles Boykin, he’s got a little bit more opportunity to go out there and compete,” Kelly said. “He’s long, he’s athletic, he attacks the football. You could see where he’s going to be a really, really prominent player in our offense. I really like what he’s doing.”
[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame fans!]
Boykin, a four-star recruit from Tinley Park, Ill., should slide into a more prominent role in 2016 with senior Chris Brown playing his final game in the Fiesta Bowl.
Fellow freshman receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, who looks like Will Fuller’s heir apparent, is still recovering from a procedure on his shoulder in November and will not play in the bowl game. The speedy, long Anaheim native blocked a punt this year but was largely blocked at the field-side receiver position by Fuller.
“It just didn’t heal as quickly, and each one is an individual case,” Kelly said. (He) just doesn’t have the strength to put him out there.”
Thanks, El Nino
Notre Dame practiced outside on Wednesday, which was at least the team’s third outdoor bowl practice this month. After back-to-back brutal winters filled with freezing temperatures and drifting lake effect snow, Notre Dame’s enjoyed this mild December by getting outside, which has more benefits than being able to tell recruits about how the winters in South Bend aren’t so bad.
On Wednesday, Kelly was able to have the Irish participate in live special teams work, which probably isn’t as easy to do inside the team’s indoor practice facility (which doesn’t have a ceiling high enough to necessarily work on special teams, especially punts).
“Six weeks is too long to go without tackling (on) kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return, things of that nature,” Kelly said. “So we went live (Wednesday). I don’t think our guys were too enthusiastic about it but we got that accomplished and felt good about that.”