Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2016

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

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Page 54 of 99 PRESEASON 2016 55 BY BRYAN DRISKELL B rian Kelly's first three recruit- ing classes at Notre Dame added a number of future NFL Draft picks, but overall the recruiting hauls lacked the depth of talent needed to compete with the nation's top programs on a consistent basis. However, the 12-0 regular season and national championship game berth in 2012 started a recruiting run that has restocked the roster. The class following that season was a consensus top-five group, which was followed by back-to-back hauls that Rivals ranked 11th nationally. From 2013-15, Notre Dame added 32 Rivals250 players. Notre Dame's most recent class will not be forced onto the field like the previous three groups, but it will still make its mark on the 2016 foot- ball team. The Irish staff brought in a class loaded with athletes and added much-needed help for the pass rush. Keeping the top athletes from the class from rising up the depth chart will be difficult. Here's our annual preseason over- view of the freshman class: STARTER POTENTIAL A pair of early enrollees are going to contribute on the 2016 defense, and by season's end both could end up as starters. Recruited initially as a linebacker, Daelin Hayes made a name for him- self by dominating summer camps with his unique size and athleticism combination. That athletic ability was apparent the moment he stepped foot on campus. Notre Dame's depth at linebacker — and the lack of experience at de- fensive end — resulted in Hayes get- ting moved to the front line during the spring. A shoulder injury that cost him all but three games of his senior season kept him out of contact drills in the spring, but in fall camp he has quickly caught up. Throughout fall camp, Hayes has displayed a burst off the edge that is unmatched on the Notre Dame ros- ter. His ability to pressure the quar- terback was going to get him on the field in nickel and dime situations, but the rare strength he shows for a freshman has raised the possibility of a more full-time role. Juniors Jay Hayes and Andrew Trumbetti are far from proven com- modities, which has given Hayes the opportunity to quickly narrow the gap at weakside end. During the final few practices of fall camp, Hayes showed the ability to set the edge against the run and play physical football, which has put him on the cusp of earning snaps as part of the base defense. A hamstring injury suffered during the first practice of preseason camp slowed down the progress of free safety Devin Studstill, but he remains a contender for serious minutes on the back end of the defense. For much of spring practice, Stud- still ran with the first-team defense, earning praise for his athleticism, playmaking ability and high foot- ball IQ. His ability to pick up Notre Dame's complex defensive schemes immediately made him a threat to challenge for the starting role. Studstill had some catching up to do after missing almost a week of practice, but as soon as he returned to contact drills the Irish coaches threw him into the rotation and he responded well. When senior Max Redfield was dismissed from the team Aug. 21 following his arrest the day before, Studstill was immediately thrust into the starting lineup. Redfield had been performing well in fall camp, so the pressure will be on Studstill to fill the void. Had Studstill simply beat out Red- field, expectations would have been high. Now that he is starting because of the dismissal, however, the spot- light will be even greater. READY RIGHT NOW Safety is really the only position on the roster where a freshman was needed to contribute early. Studstill earned reps during the spring partly because of the team's lack of depth at the position, and partly because of his talent. The same is true for Jalen Elliott, another gifted safety who should be ready to play right away for Notre Dame. Elliott did not have the ben- efit of being an early enrollee like Studstill, so he is still learning the ins and outs of the Irish defense. That re- sulted in him having some struggles the first week of camp. Over the final week, however, El- liott started to get the hang of the defense. The more comfortable he became with his assignments, the more plays he made against the pass game. Elliott's leadership skills and play- making ability are what made him a top recruit for the Irish, and those traits have allowed him to make a strong impression in practice. He would have been a definite spe- cial teams player as a freshman, but with Redfield gone — and the injury history of junior Drue Tranquill and sixth-year senior Avery Sebastian — Elliott has the opportunity to crack the two-deep right away. Depth at cornerback is not an issue, but that has not kept Donte Vaughn from showing up well in fall camp. At 6-2 and 200 pounds, he has length that is unmatched at the position. Size alone makes him a contender to find a role at corner, but his athleti- cism and instincts in coverage have stood out during fall camp. Vaughn plays with a great deal of confidence and physicality, assets the secondary needs. Keeping him on the sidelines is going to be difficult for the Irish staff. A trio of freshman wide receivers have made their presence felt during fall camp, and all of them will likely end up in the rotation. Early enrollee Kevin Stepherson started making a name for himself during the spring by hauling in a number of highlight reel catches. His downfield speed and ball skills make him a legitimate rotation candidate, Devin Studstill (left) is now Notre Dame's start- ing free safety after senior Max Redfield was kicked off the team Aug. 21. PHOTO BY ANDREW IVINS INSTANT IMPACT Notre Dame's athletic newcomers will provide an immediate boost to the Irish roster

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