The Notre Dame Fighting Irish capped off the 2015 season with a bitter 44-28 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl. A very disappointing loss, however, the Irish are rapidly making moves and adjustments for the 2016 season, which is quickly approaching. Let’s take a look at what the Irish have done already to ensure 2016 ends on a much higher note than last year.
Extending Brian Kelly’s Stay in South Bend
One of the first moves the Irish made this off-season was extending head coach Brian Kelly’s contract for six more years. Many thought Kelly was going to make his transition to the next level after this past year with the Irish, although this is nothing new for Kelly often having his name rumored around the NFL. He ultimately decided to stick with Notre Dame for the long haul. The timing of him signing his extension was just 5 days before National Signing Day, which let recruit’s know their future head coach who intuitively promised them the world, wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Recruiting Class of 2016 Finishes 16th (According to ESPN)
This is the lowest-ranked recruiting class the Irish have had during the Brian Kelly era, nonetheless, we’ll see how quickly these young men develop while being coached by a sophisticated staff.
Class of 2016 Top Recruits
|Troy Pride Jr.||CB||6-5||205||33|
|Tony Jones Jr.||RB||5-10||216||13|
The biggest story of this offseason will be, who’s going to get the nod under the center for the Irish. The young all-purpose redshirt sophomore DeShone Kizer, or the adept redshirt junior Malik Zaire? The battle will be fierce but believe me, head coach Brian Kelly has a lot of familiarity dealing with the quarterback position, and he will know who the right man for the job is. Withal, running a two-quarterback system wouldn’t be such a bad idea. If you have the talent why not utilize it?
Quarterback isn’t the position to be concerned about this season, Irish fans should be worried about the offensive line that will be overrun with a lack of experience. With offensive linemen Steve Elmer’s sudden retirement from football, the Irish offensive line is going to be overrun by newcomers. He started 30 times at the collegiate level. JJ Stankevits with CSN Chicago wrote, “Elmer would’ve been Notre Dame’s most experienced returning offensive linemen; that designation now goes to redshirt-senior-to-be Mike McGlinchey, who has 14 career starts.” It doesn’t matter who the Irish put under center next year, without protection there won’t be a lot of production, this will affect the running game as well.
At running back, expect to see a lot of sophomore Josh Adams. He briskly matured in 2015 as a true freshman rotating with C.J. Prosise, who battled injuries towards the end of last season. With Prosise entering the NFL Draft, Adams should have the starting position locked up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he begins to rotate with Tarean Folston after he recovers from his torn ACL.
How about pass catchers? Notre Dame lost a lot of veteran talent with Will Fuller, Chris Brown, and Amir Carlisle all moving on in their football careers. You can expect Tori Hunter Jr. and Corey Robinson to lead the way in the receiving game in 2016.
Notre Dame is losing a huge amount of talent in 2016 when it comes to the defensive side of the ball. Most notably, linebacker Jaylon Smith, who’s likely to be drafted in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft. Filling in at the position may be sophomore Te’von Coney, who was Smith’s backup last season. Don’t be astonished if defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder consistently rotates his linebacking core, changing between all 3 LB slots. Senior James Onwualu, and junior’s Greer Martini, and Nyles Morgan are all names we will be hearing a lot this season.
On the defensive front, the Irish must fill in the absences of Sheldon Day and Romeo Okwara. Anticipate a lot of rotating at defensive tackle with sophomore Jerry Tillery, junior Daniel Cage, and fifth-year senior Jarron Jones. Finally, at the defensive end positions, senior Isaac Rochell and junior Andrew Trumbetti.
Lastly, the secondary has lost two key proponents to the Irish’s stiff passing defense last season. Cornerback KeiVarae Russell and safety Elijah Shumate are both leaving. There will be a competition at safety between Drue Tranquill and Avery Sebastian, each coming off of injury. We can guarantee junior Cole Luke will be starting at corner in 2016, but his compadre opposite of his side is yet to be determined. Senior CB Devin Butler is still recovering from his broken foot, suffered in the Fiesta Bowl. With that said, here are some other names to watch who may potentially start at corner this season, junior Nick Watkins, sophomores Shaun Crawford, and Nick Coleman.
Spark Sports College Football Analyst