Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2016

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

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36 PRESEASON 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY BRYAN DRISKELL N otre Dame enters the 2016 sea- son with a great deal of ex- pectations. After coming up just short of a College Football Playoff berth last fall, the Irish will look to break down that door and be- come a legitimate title contender. Now entering his seventh season at Notre Dame, head coach Brian Kelly has a deep and skilled roster, albeit an inexperienced one in certain areas. For Notre Dame to take another step forward as a program — and earn a playoff berth — it will need play- ers to emerge as legitimate difference makers. This list is a look at 11 players at 10 positions on the Notre Dame roster that have the talent to put the Irish over the hump. When the 2016 sea- son concludes, the difference between Notre Dame being a playoff team or not will largely be determined by the production of the players on this list. 1. QB MALIK ZAIRE AND DESHONE KIZER Like most offenses, Notre Dame is at its best when it gets strong quarter- back play. Both senior Malik Zaire and junior DeShone Kizer have shown the type of dynamic playmaking ability that makes the offense perform at peak levels. A battle for the starting position waged all spring and into fall camp, but neither could separate from the other. Kelly and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford had such a difficult time deciding between the two that the Irish head coach announced on Aug. 17 that both would play in the season opener against Texas. There are no guarantees that both will continue to play in ensuing games. Perhaps one pulls away from the other during the season, or maybe they both play each week as long as Notre Dame is winning and moving the ball. Whether or not it's one quarterback or both leading the offense, the play of whatever quarterback is on the field will have a tremendous impact on Notre Dame's chances at winning each week. If whoever starts at quarterback can continue making dynamic plays while eliminating the bad turnovers that plagued the unit the last two seasons — especially in the red zone, where the Irish had a national high 14 turnovers in 2014-15 — Notre Dame's offense should be even better this fall. 2. LT MIKE MCGLINCHEY Despite the presence of NFL first- round draft pick Ronnie Stanley at left tackle and second-round pick Nick Martin at center, Pro Football Focus graded out Mike McGlinchey as the team's best blocker a season ago. That's quite an accomplishment for a player that entered his junior season with just one career start. Now a senior, McGlinchey has be- come a far more consistent player dur- ing practice. The dominant blocks that resulted in him grading out so high last season remain, but McGlinchey has been a far steadier player from a technique standpoint during camp. McGlinchey's combination of elite size (6-7½, 310), power and athleticism makes him a rare prospect. Despite his length, McGlinchey has played with consistently good pad level through- out camp, which allows him to get out- standing movement in the run game that was so vital to Notre Dame's pro- duction last year. McGlinchey is far more confident recognizing defensive looks and knowing whom to pick up in the pass game. He is quick to react to stunts and blitzes, and his improved tech- nique has taken his game to another level in camp. The Philadelphia native contin- ues to impress with powerful blocks that create gaping run lanes, but the consistency he showed during fall camp is what was needed. Being able to combine the steadiness that made Stanley so dominant with Mc- Glinchey's power could lead to an All-American type season. 3. CB COLE LUKE After an outstanding sophomore season in which he became the first Irish defensive back to finish with at least 15 passes defended since 1978, cornerback Cole Luke had a junior sea- son that did not quite go as planned. Luke played solid football in 2015, but he was not as productive, finishing with just two interceptions and five passes broken up. Luke was challenged during the spring to take his game to another level, and he has done just that. No matter who he gets matched up against in practice, Luke has domi- nated. His ability to read routes and jump the football has been even better than what he flashed as a sophomore. Having Luke controlling his side of the field in coverage will have a dra- matic impact on the entire defense. Op- posing coaches will likely look to avoid Luke, much like they did last season. This should allow defensive coordi- nator Brian VanGorder to use that to his advantage, designing coverages to either protect the corner opposite Luke, or overload the left side of the defense in order to force the ball to Luke's side, where he can make more plays. 4. LB NYLES MORGAN No one is expecting junior Nyles Morgan to play like former All-Amer- ican Manti Te'o did during the 2012 season, but Morgan is being counted on to become a game changer on de- fense. With Jaylon Smith now in the NFL, Morgan holds arguably the big- gest key to the defense playing cham- pionship football. VanGorder's scheme is built around the Mike linebacker being a play- maker, but last season it did not get that kind of play from Joe Schmidt. The captain simply lacked the athleti- cism and power to effectively carry out what he was being asked to do. CHAMPIONSHIP PLAYERS Our picks for the 10 Irish players that wield the most influence on the outcome of the 2016 season Now entrenched as the starting Mike linebacker, junior Nyles Morgan emerged as a leader and playmaker in fall camp. PHOTO BY ANDREW IVINS

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