Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2016

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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24 PRESEASON 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED Rochell has been steady the last two seasons, effectively holding his ground when opponents ran in his direction. A durable player who averaged 60 snaps per game last season (the thresh- old for defensive lineman is around 50), Rochell is being counted on by the Irish coaching staff to become more of a playmaker, against the run and pass. Rochell has made just 15 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks during his Notre Dame career. He enters his senior season with numbers similar to that of former teammate Sheldon Day. Heading into his final season for the Irish, Day had 16.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Day racked up 15.5 tackles for loss and four sacks as a senior, earning USA Today first-team All-America honors. Rochell finishing his career off with similar statistical improvements would have a major impact on the Irish defense. Running back Tarean Folston is back after missing all but the first quarter of the first game of the 2015 season. He rushed for 1,359 yards and nine touchdowns his first two years and was poised for a huge 2015 before suf- fering a season-ending knee injury just three carries into the opener. During fall camp, Folston has looked healthy and every bit the runner that was expected to have a 1,000-yard sea- son. Despite the presence of exciting sophomores Josh Adams (835 yards rushing last year, the most ever by a Notre Dame freshman) and Dexter Williams, Folston will serve as one of the anchors of the 2016 offense. Notre Dame lost 84 percent of the receptions and 86.6 percent of the yards produced from the 2015 receiv- ing corps. Gone is the explosive Fuller, who the Houston Texans selected with the 21st overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Stepping into the spotlight is Torii Hunter Jr., the team's leading return- ing pass catcher from a season ago. Hunter Jr. has a modest 35 career re- ceptions and 428 yards, but a dominant spring has the Prosper, Texas, native on the verge of a major boost in numbers. Hunter Jr. was actually the most highly regarded wide receiver from the class before suffering a broken fe- mur during practice for the Army All- American Game. It took him most of his freshman season to heal from that injury, and injuries limited his playing time and effectiveness during the 2014 season. Hunter Jr. became a vital part of the aerial attack last fall, finishing third on the team in receiving yards (363) and receiving touchdowns (two). Dur- ing the spring, he was a nightmare matchup for the Irish cornerbacks. The rest of the receiving corps has a combined two career receptions for just eight yards, so Hunter Jr. also will serve as mentor to the younger pass catchers. Sophomore Alizé Jones was sup- posed to be the team's top tight end this fall, but an academic suspension ended his season before it began. That has opened up an opportunity for oft- injured senior Durham Smythe. Smythe was the team's starting tight end heading into the 2015 season, but a knee and shoulder injury cost him the final 10 games of the regular sea- son. Now healthy, Smythe will look to finally show off the traits that have caused the Irish coaches to heap praise on his shoulders going back to his freshman season. Commended mostly for his block- ing, Smythe also should find a role in the Irish pass game. A productive — and healthy — season from Smythe will help Notre Dame get more than the 20 receptions and 233 yards from the tight end position that it totaled a season ago. Sam linebacker James Onwualu is not the playmaker that Notre Dame's past top veteran linebackers have been. An All-American season like the one put up by Manti Te'o (2012) and Jaylon Smith (2015) is not expected, but con- sistent play, toughness and leadership will be asked of him. NOW OR NEVER One of the strengths of the 2013 re- cruiting class was the offensive line. Every member of the five-man class was ranked by at least one service as a top-150 recruit. Elmer started 30 games before retiring from football, and Mc- Glinchey has surpassed his prep billing. The rest of the class has not made much of an impact, but this season Tori Hunter Jr. enters his senior season with only 35 career receptions for 428 yards, but he is the clear No. 1 wide receiver for the Irish and is in line for a big boost in production. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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