Notre Dame Football: Justin Ferguson

Duke and Tulane already opened spring ball this past Friday. Notre Dame is moving things up this year, too, as the Fighting Irish will start their spring season on March 3. With that in mind, during the next few weeks, we'll start taking a look at players, position battles and more to watch as spring ball rapidly approaches.

This week we'll look at the top five players to watch in spring, starting today at No. 5.

5) Freshman WR Justin Brent

It was just a year ago that rising sophomore wide receivers Davonte' Neal and Justin Ferguson announced their intentions to transfer during spring ball. Who did that benefit most? Early enrollees Corey Robinson and James Onwualu, who received increased reps and parlayed that into more playing time during their freshman seasons with the Irish.

Now Notre Dame welcomes in another early enrollee at receiver in Brent, who certainly has the physical tools to compete immediately at the next level. What's more, the Irish took a number of unexpected hits at the position this offseason, with top returning target DaVaris Daniels receiving the Everett Golson treatment for what he said is an academic violation and tight end Troy Niklas declaring for the NFL draft. Daniels has said he plans on returning in the summer, but in the meantime, there are passes to be caught, passes to be thrown by Golson in his return to school.

Brent, one of just two Irish signees to enroll early, has already drawn attention for his 6-foot-1, 204-pound frame.

"When I got a chance to see him work out this morning, the first thing that stood out to me is that he does not look like a freshman," coach Brian Kelly said on signing day. "He had his shirt off this morning and he was running around, and he looks like a senior. He is a physically gifted young man. You can see a lot of the accolades that are out there with him in terms of where he was ranked.

"But what we were looking for specifically, and there were some really good players at this position, we were looking for a physical player at this position, somebody that could impose their physicality, could run after the catch. His ability to run after the catch was very impressive for us and had, for us, some of the things, the traits that we were looking for at that particular time and that position."

The opportunity will be there for Brent to make an early impact. And based on accounts of his pre-Notre Dame work ethic, he sounds ready to step up to the challenge.

Notre Dame mailblog

January, 24, 2014
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It has been a while. What's on your minds?

Scott from St. Joseph, Mich., writes: Matt, disagree about Michigan State easily being the highlight of the season. The game was marred with questionable penalties and calling by MSU's staff. To me the highlight of the season was the second-half defense against USC. Being able to beat your biggest rival basically without a functional QB and on the hands of a defensive performance remnant of '12 was the highlight of the year for me.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame Celebration
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesPulling out a victory over Rose Bowl champion Michigan State was the biggest achievement for Notre Dame in 2013.
Matt Fortuna: I think both performances, to be fair, were far from aesthetically pleasing. And yes, we have to give Notre Dame's defense plenty of credit for its play in both games. But the circumstances are too big to ignore here. By beating Michigan State, Notre Dame helped reshape the national title picture. It was the only team to beat a very good Spartans squad, one that ended up winning the Rose Bowl. While it's always big to beat your archrival, let's also remember that USC was without Marqise Lee for the second half, committed 11 penalties and missed two field goals (from 40 and 46 yards), too. And I just can't erase the memory of the Fighting Irish offense coming to a standstill once Tommy Rees went down. No points from either team in the final 30 minutes of a primetime game? No thank you.

Matt from Pittsburgh writes: Matt, O-line starting 5 from LT-RT: Elmer, Hanratty, Martin, Lombard, Stanley? Also how do you see the D-line and linebackers forming out?

Matt Fortuna: That would probably be my early guess, though I'll keep a close eye on that group this spring since Martin will still be out. Matt Hegarty started at center in his place but provides plenty of flexibility, too, so it will be interesting to see where he fits into the picture next fall. My guess for defensive line would be Sheldon Day, Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell, only because I don't know how ready Tony Springmann (ACL, infection) is. If he's 100 percent, it's easy to see him starting. And I'm anxious to watch Chase Hounshell, who saw the field as a true freshman in 2011 but has missed the last two seasons with shoulder injuries. Same with Jarrett Grace at the mike linebacker position (probably not this spring), with possibly Kendall Moore starting next to him. Jaylon Smith (dog) and Ishaq Williams (cat) will be expected to start if and when Brian VanGorder employs a 3-4 scheme, though he said last week he had not delved into schematics yet. Could we see Williams and/or Romeo Okwara play on the line some more? And where will Ben Councell fit into the picture once he's back from his ACL tear?

Jim from Chicago writes: Matt, What role do you see Torii Hunter Jr. having next year? Seemed to be the most athletic freshman WR before the injury. Can he work his way into the rotation with Daniels out in spring ball?

Matt Fortuna: He's the guy on offense, outside of Everett Golson, whom I most want to see this spring. The opportunities will be there for the taking with Daniels gone until the fall, and Hunter was able to battle back from that nasty leg injury to win offensive scout team player of the year. I'm also curious to see what kind of improvements Corey Robinson can make, given his size and potential. In limited practice viewings he seemed to be always making plays, but in games this season there were times where he looked like he could've used a couple of extra pounds.

Chris Kosiak (@C_K_42) writes: Justin Brent going to push for playing time next year? Or does he RS?

Matt Fortuna: It's probably too early to say, though, like Hunter, he'll have a great opportunity to showcase himself this spring with Daniels out. Last year Robinson and James Onwualu enrolled early and ended up taking advantage of the spring transfers of Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson, resulting in playing time during the 2013 season. Notre Dame's receiving corps was young then and is young again now, so playing time will likely be there for the taking.

Michael Hughes (@designwithmike) writes: More important to ND success in '14: Red-zone execution or finding good to great defensive leadership?

Matt Fortuna: Good question. I'll go with red-zone execution, since I expect this Notre Dame team to rely much more on its offense than it has so far in the Brian Kelly era. And that means the Irish will have to capitalize on more red-zone opportunities and score more points. With Golson back at the helm after a semester spent training with quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. and an improving backfield, I think you'll see the Irish take more chances offensively. None of this is to minimize the importance of defensive leadership, but that's just such an unknown factor at this point, especially since we have yet to see these players get coached by and respond to VanGorder, who seems nothing like Bob Diaco from a personality standpoint.
No. 22 on our list may very well have been the breakout player of the spring.

No. 22: C.J. Prosise, WR

Previous ranking: Not ranked

Making the case: Prosise redshirted last season, his first in South Bend, when he was a safety. He switched sides prior to the start of spring practice this year, and his impact was immediately felt. Fellow second-year receivers Justin Ferguson and Davonte' Neal both transferred early in the spring, creating a big opening on a unit that had already lost two starters from last season, including slot man Robby Toma. Prosise accounted for the only touchdown in the Blue-Gold spring game, hauling in a 35-yard touchdown pass from Malik Zaire. He also broke free for a long touchdown pass in a spring scrimmage that was open to the media. In addition, Prosise will likely be the frontrunner to take over punt return duties when camp opens in early August.

The countdown

No. 23 Ishaq Williams

No. 24 Kyle Brindza

No. 25 Greg Bryant
Notre Dame has landed consecutive top-10 recruiting classes. Which players from those groups have the best chances of making an impact as first-year players this fall?

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's C.J. Prosise
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsC.J. Prosise had a 35-yard touchdown reception during the Blue-Gold Game this spring.
C.J. Prosise, WR: The 6-foot-2, 208-pound Prosise redshirted a safety last season. He switched to the offensive side of the ball before spring practices this year, and the early returns have been positive. The Petersburg, Va., native had a long touchdown catch in the open field during an open scrimmage this spring, and his 35-yard touchdown reception in the Blue-Gold game marked the only time the Irish offense reached the end zone in the spring contest. With the spring transfers of second-year receivers Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson, the opportunity is wide open for Prosise to seize the vacant slot position. He will likely enter camp as the leading candidate to bolster Notre Dame's struggling punt return unit, too.

Greg Bryant, RB: Bryant will not officially enroll at Notre Dame until June 17, but he has the potential to become an immediate contributor to the Irish offense. The ESPN150 prospect form Delray Beach, Fla., was ranked second nationally among running backs, making him one of the top running back recruits Notre Dame has landed in recent memory. The 5-foot-11, 197-pound Oklahoma de-commit should get a chance to compete in a deep but untested backfield after the departures of Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood.

Malik Zaire, QB: The early enrollee drew rave reviews from the staff this spring and figures to have a shot to play this fall after the suspension of Everett Golson. The southpaw is a dual-threat signal caller from Archbishop Alter in Kettering, Ohio. ESPN rated Zaire No. 6 among quarterbacks from the Class of 2013, and coach Brian Kelly said that he will get an opportunity to compete like everyone else in camp for the starting spot.

Corey Robinson/James Onwualu, WR: Both players enrolled this spring and found themselves getting plenty of time all over the field after Neal and Ferguson left the program. The 6-foot-4.5, 197-pound Robinson, the son of hoops Hall of Famer David, has the size and speed to go up and get anything in sight on the outside, as evidenced by a deep, diving, juggling catch he made during an open scrimmage. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Onwualu should also get a chance to contribute inside immediately after displaying flashes of athleticism early.

100-day checklist: Notre Dame

May, 21, 2013
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Notre Dame does not have quite as many question marks heading into the 2013 season as it did last summer. For one, the Irish have their quarterback of the future. They also have a coach who proved during a perfect 2012 regular season that he is the right man for the job. And they have -- for the next 24 years, at least -- erased questions about their relevancy within the college football landscape.

But no teams are perfect (seriously, it hasn't been done since Auburn in 2010-11). So, with 100 days standing between us and the college football season -- and 102 standing between the Irish and their Aug. 31 opener against Temple -- we will take a look at three things the program needs to cross off its checklist this summer.

1. Find offensive playmakers: George Atkinson III bulked up this offseason and did not run for the track team to focus on adding to his workload. He is the most experienced man in an Irish backfield that lost its top two rushers from a season ago, but he will be pushed by redshirt sophomore Amir Carlisle, redshirt freshman William Mahone, junior Cam McDaniel and incoming freshman Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston, both of whom are four-star prospects. The three-man battle to replace Tyler Eifert at tight end, meanwhile, will be waged among Troy Niklas, Ben Koyack and Alex Welch.

2. Integrate incoming freshmen: Bryant and Folston are two of the incoming freshmen who appear ready-made for the college level. Linebacker Jaylon Smith and safety Max Redfield figure to see time as freshmen, too. Early enrollee receivers such as Corey Robinson and James Onwualu, both of whom saw added time following the spring departures of Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson, also may see playing time.

3. Stay levelheaded. This really shouldn't be much of a problem for a program and players who seemingly always have the bull's-eye on their back, regardless of the win-loss record. Still, a renaissance 2012 campaign and a return to college football's elite will only up the ante for this group to do similar things this fall, especially with so many pointing to Alabama's title-game rout as a sign that 2012 may have been a fluke.
2012 record: 12-1

2012 conference record: N/A

Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Everett Golson, WR TJ Jones, WR DaVaris Daniels, LT Zack Martin, LG Chris Watt, RT Christian Lombard, DE Stephon Tuitt, NG Louis Nix, LB Dan Fox, LB Carlo Calabrese, LB Danny Spond, LB Prince Shembo, CB Bennett Jackson, CB KeiVarae Russell, S Matthias Farley

Key losses

RB Theo Riddick, RB Cierre Wood, WR Robby Toma, TE Tyler Eifert, C Braxston Cave, RG Mike Golic Jr., DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, LB Manti Te'o, S Zeke Motta

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Riddick (917 yards, 5 TDs)

Passing: Golson* (187-of-318 for 2,405 yards, 12 TDs, 6 INTs)

Receiving: Eifert (685 yards, 4 TDs)

Tackles: Te'o (113)

Sacks: Tuitt* (12)

Interceptions: Te'o (7)

Spring answers

1. Golson in charge of offense. Now in his second year as the starting quarterback, Golson is in charge of what Brian Kelly hopes will become a quarterback-driven offense. Golson has been much more vocal on and off the field since the 2012 season, and the hope is that he can help the offense dictate the pace of the game week to week this fall.

2. Jarrett Grace ready to step up. Te'o leaves a giant hole in the middle of the Irish defense after three-straight 100-plus tackle seasons, but Grace looks ready to step in and assume the starting role. Will he notch seven interceptions this season, like Te'o in 2012? Unlikely. But the staff has liked his progress from the get-go, and he has not been fazed by all of the hoopla surrounding the "Mike" position since Te'o's departure.

3. DB depth. Last season, the Irish entered the fall with two new starting cornerbacks. By Week 3, they were down Lo Wood and safety Jamoris Slaughter because of Achilles injuries. This year Wood is back, as is safety Austin Collinsworth, adding plenty of depth to a secondary that returns three starters. It will give the defense much more flexibility after the unit broke in three new starters in 2012. Several talented safety recruits are on the way, too.

Fall questions

1. Backfield answers. George Atkinson III is the most experienced of the backs, bulking up this offseason and readying for the closest thing to a No. 1 role that the Irish offense allows. Cam McDaniel has been reliable in limited action, and USC transfer Amir Carlisle impressed the staff before going down with another injury, this time a broken collarbone that kept him out for most of the spring. There is Will Mahone and a pair of four-star recruits on the way as well, but the bottom line is that none have handled a majority of the carries at the college level yet and are filling big shoes from last season in Riddick and Cierre Wood.

2. Receiver depth. Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson transferred this spring, leaving the Irish with a bit of a numbers issue. C.J. Prosise has converted to a full-time receiver and could compete for the starting slot role for 2013, but a group already down four of its top six pass-catchers from 2012 can ill-afford another injury or defection, and will likely need some early production from a talented group of freshmen.

3. Defensive leaders. This isn't necessarily an issue so much as an unknown. Last year's three seniors were tremendous vocal presences, helping the defense become greater than the sum of its parts in finishing second nationally in scoring. This year's unit could be deeper and more talented, and if it can work together like last year's, it could see similar success in 2013. Jackson, Farley and Nix figure to emerge as front-runners for defensive captain spots this fall.

Notre Dame mailblog

April, 12, 2013
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Enjoy the weekend.

Steve from Wishing Waters, Ariz., writes: Hello, Matt. My name is Steve. My question for your amusement is this: Which freshman receiver has the best chance to make an immediate impact, and possibly start since day 1? With the departure of young Neal and young Ferguson, someone should have potential, am I right? Steve, out

Matt Fortuna: Steve, I think both James Onwualu and Corey Robinson will see the field this year, and I think Robinson will have the chance to make a number of big plays. He has great speed on the perimeter and nice hands. At 6-foot-4-and-a-quarter, it is easy to see him become a red-zone target this season for the Irish.


Alex Ballentine from New Philadelphia, Ohio, writes: Hey Matt, despite being a TCU fan, I am still an avid reader of your blog. I appreciate your contributions to society. As a matter of fact, my friend and colleague, Bronson from New Philadelphia, Ohio wrote you a question a few mailbags ago. My question is about the offense. I've been hearing that Everett Golson has been getting bigger and stronger this offseason and has been progressing very nicely. Assuming he continues to develop in the mental aspect of the game, do you see Brian Kelly tweaking the offense and running a faster tempo like he did in his Cincinnati days? Thanks in advance.

Matt Fortuna: Thanks for the kind words, Alex. How do you end up as a TCU fan living in Ohio? I think the offense will go as Golson goes as it relates to speed, and I think that's part of the reason so much was put into him last season. He is unquestionably the quarterback of the future and has the best improvisational skills on the team. Becoming more durable will be essential with so much time left for him to see on the field, and I think he is the guy that Kelly sees as eventually getting Notre Dame's offense to the pace he wants it to be.


Steven from Miami writes: Matt, always enjoy your insight and comments. It seems that Notre Dame and NBC have completed their contract negotiations at least 18 months in advance of the TV contract expiring. In fact Swarbrick indicated mid last year and again in January of this year that the deal was within 30 days. What is status? Has Notre Dame association with ACC and ESPN holding this up...does Notre Dame take opportunity to go out and freelance for first time in many years insofar as TV contract. I look forward to your response. Steve

Matt Fortuna: Thanks, Steven. While nothing has been signed or announced in the time frame that Jack Swarbrick originally gave back in the summer, the program has always said it has every intention to re-up with NBC. They said the delay at the time was more a matter of creating new platforms for the program to showcase itself, and other supplementary matters. Given the way last season went, it's probably a good thing that the Irish did not sign anything last summer, as its value has only risen.
Asked if early enrollee freshman James Onwualu would line up in the slot or outside this season, Mike Denbrock offered an answer befitting his depleted group: "Yes."

The Notre Dame outside receivers coach has found himself with a smaller pool of talent to work with this spring following the transfers of sophomores Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson, forcing him to mix and match faces all over the place in hopes of finding the best solution for the Irish passing game.

"We're kind of trying to find a way to incorporate everybody that we've got available to us right now kind of in the mix, and kind of put them in some different places and give some other guys some opportunities," Denbrock said. "Anytime that you're a little bit short numbers-wise, you've got to find them somewhere. So we're not going to practice any shorter, we're not going to take any fewer reps, so we've got to find bodies to do it."

Eight scholarship receivers remain on the roster, with two more, Torii Hunter Jr. and William Fuller, on the way this summer.

Denbrock likes the two freshmen he has right now, saying that Onwualu and Corey Robinson have impressed in their short time on campus.

"Corey Robinson, everything he does that comes near him -- his catch radius reminds me a lot of Tyler Eifert in that even if the ball's somewhere on the perimeter, he's going to find a way," Denbrock said. "Great ball skills, good knowledge of the game of football, surprisingly, even though he's from a small school in Texas and is basketball-oriented maybe family-wise, but has done a really nice job.

"James Onwualu is a tough guy, physical, loves the game, plays with tremendous passion. Good skill-set. Those guys are a pleasant surprise. And when you sit down and you think -- and we talk about this sometimes when we're watching practice film -- and you go, 'This guy's supposed to be getting dressed for the prom, and here he is out here competing,' and those guys are doing a great job."

The Irish lose four of their top-six pass-catchers from a year ago, but even the returnees could see themselves spread to different spots of the field.

Senior TJ Jones, whose 50 grabs last year tied for the team lead, is a candidate to play in the slot after the loss of Neal and the graduation of Robby Toma. So, too, is converted safety C.J. Prosise.

"I'd say the jobs open for anybody, all comers," Denbrock said. "Anybody who proves they've got the ability to go in there and do something positive for our offense is going play in there. We don't obviously have as much depth as we'd like to have, so that's a great opportunity for a lot of guys to do a lot of different things and not pigeonhole themselves into one specific position, but get out there and perform and earn your reps."
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Next-man-in might just be Brian Kelly's favorite mantra, and it may have become the defining one of the coach's Notre Dame tenure after the number of surprises that ended up lifting the Irish to an undefeated regular season in 2012.

As the spring departures of sophomore receivers Davonte' Neal and Justin Ferguson present another test, Kelly could have the very guy to fill at least the dual roles formerly occupied by Neal in both the slot and as a punt returner.

And yes, like unsung starters KeiVarae Russell and Matthias Farley before him, former safety C.J. Prosise is a convert to the other side of the ball as well, this after redshirting during his first year this past fall.

"C.J. Prosise is doing a great job," Kelly said when asked about his receiving options inside. "Really excited about C.J. You’ll see a lot of him in the spring, you’ll see what I mean. He’s been a very pleasant surprise -- that’s probably the wrong word. He’s been what we thought he could be; he’s just done it a lot quicker than we thought. And again, you’re talking about a slot receiver who's 210 pounds. Nice hands, got deceptive speed, can pull away. And then in terms of the run game, we’ve got a big guy that can do some nice things."

Amir Carslisle, who is expected to miss the next four weeks following a broken collarbone, will be another option upon his return as well.

Kelly mentioned Prosise and TJ Jones as possible punt returners as he looks to re-tool a unit that has finished 100th or worse nationally in each of his first three seasons coaching the Irish.

With another shoulder injury forcing Chase Hounshell to miss a second consecutive season, Kelly said promising Cat linebacker Ishaq Williams has started cross-training at defensive end.

"We can get him 15-20 more reps, and he's all for that," Kelly said. "So he’ll still get his Cat work and he’ll play some defensive end as well. Was really impressed with him. We put him in there on Saturday for the first time without any coaching, and he did some really nice things for us. Had another very good day today, and I promised him a visor if he continues to do that."

Irish lose two promising receivers

March, 27, 2013
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Rising Notre Dame sophomore wide receivers Davonte' Neal and Justin Ferguson have decided to transfer, coach Brian Kelly said Wednesday, meaning the Fighting Irish will have lost their top-four signees from a 2012 recruiting class that was ranked No. 9 nationally.

Neal, who was the Irish's primary punt returner last season, was the school's highest-rated prospect from the recruiting class of 2012, receiving five stars from ESPN and ranking as the No. 1 overall athlete in his class. Ferguson was a four-star prospect and the school's third-highest rated signee in the 2012 class.

Kelly announced at the beginning of the spring that quarterback Gunner Kiel, the second-highest rated player from Notre Dame's 2012 class, had left the program and would transfer at semester's end.

Cornerback Tee Shepard, the fourth-highest rated class of 2012 prospect to commit to Notre Dame, had left school for undisclosed reasons just two months after enrolling, before the last spring season even began.

To read the full story, click here.
Our series continues with the wide receivers and tight ends.

Starters returning: T.J. Jones
Players returning: DaVaris Daniels, Davonte' Neal, Daniel Smith, Chris Brown, Justin Ferguson, Luke Massa, Troy Niklas, Ben Koyack, Alex Welch
Players departing: Robby Toma, John Goodman, Tyler Eifert, Jake Golic
Newcomers: James Onwualu, Corey Robinson, William Fuller, Torii Hunter Jr., Mike Heuerman, Durham Smythe, Jacob Matuska

The breakdown: The biggest hole will clearly be left by Eifert, who broke a number of records at Tight End U. Watching the development of the converted linebacker Niklas, along with the growth of Koyack and recovery of Welch (ACL tear), is important to keep an eye on.

Still, Notre Dame has to feel pretty good about what they return among their pass-catchers, especially in light of the Discover BCS National Championship. Jones and Daniels were two of the few who brought their A-games on Jan. 7 against Alabama, and both look like legitimate go-to options heading into 2013. Expect to see plenty of Everett Golson-to-Daniels connections over the next three years.

Neal is an interesting prospect considering he spent the majority of his freshman season simply waving the fair catch signal. He was ESPN's No. 8 overall prospect for a reason, and he should have the chance to show off his athleticism in the slot more now with Toma out of the picture. Brown, meanwhile, made arguably the biggest offensive play of the year for the Irish and, because of his speed, is someone defenders need to keep a close eye on whenever he takes the field.

Onwualu and Robinson enrolled in January and should have a leg up on the other newcomers when fall camp commences.
Notre Dame survived a potentially self-inflicted mistake Saturday, one that could have put its perfect season in further jeopardy.

When Pitt's Kevin Harper missed a 33-yard field goal in the second overtime that would have ended the game had it gone in, the Irish had Bennett Jackson and Chris Brown, both of whom wear No. 2, on the field together.

By rule, Notre Dame should have been penalized and the Panthers should have gotten a first down.

"No exception to [the rule]," coach Brian Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference. "It was a coaching mistake. ... We've got to do a better job -- an oversight that can't happen."

Kelly said he noticed the gaffe right after the play.

Pitt ended up kicking a field on its next drive to start the third overtime before Everett Golson rushed for the game-winning touchdown.

Notre Dame had been penalized for a similar mistake once earlier this season, when Dan McCarthy and Justin Ferguson, both No. 15, were on the kick return unit together in Week 2 against Purdue. Ferguson has since changed his jersey to No. 82.

"We have an easy way for us to make sure that this doesn't happen again," Kelly said. "[Jackson and Brown] won't be on the field again. It's on me now, so I'm going to make sure it doesn't happen."

Nichols still hurting: Kelly said tackle Tate Nichols may have taken a step back with a knee injury and will get an MRI this week, though information won't be available until later in the week.
Brian Kelly re-enforced Sunday that Everett Golson is his starting quarterback, but the decision to put Tommy Rees in for Saturday's final drive had little to do with Golson's thumb injury.

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
Matt Cashore/US PresswireEverett Golson put up good numbers (21-of-31 for 289 yards, 1 TD) before leaving the game.
"I had already begun the conversation with Coach [Chuck] Martin about installing Tommy into that situation, so the knowledge of running our two-minute trumped any kind of injury that he may have had," Kelly said during a teleconference. "Now, it contributed at the end to make it an easier decision for me."

Kelly again used a pitching analogy to describe his quarterbacks' roles, though he was careful not to peg Rees as his "two-minute" guy should a similar situation arise in the future.

"I don't see it as a role, I see it as if we feel like Tommy can help us win a game or he can come in a situation where we believe its the right fit, then he'll be prepared to do so," Kelly said. "I used this baseball analogy: We like our starters to finish the game. We want them to go all nine innings. Occasionally we might need some help. Maybe we need long relief, maybe we need short relief. I don't want to take anything off the table but we'd like our starter to start it and finish it."

Injury/personnel updates: Odds and ends:

  • Asked if he has a No. 1 running back with Cierre Wood back in the fold, Kelly said: "Yes, Theo Riddick."
  • Justin Ferguson will wear No. 82 for the rest of the season. Notre Dame was penalized (Purdue declined) during a first-half kickoff Saturday because the freshman wideout, who was No. 15, was on the field at the same time as senior Dan McCarthy, also No. 15. Ferguson changed to No. 82 at halftime. Alex Welch, out for the year (ACL), was No. 82 before.
  • Kelly elaborated on why he allowed only Te'o and Zack Martin to speak to reporters after the game: "I had to do what I thought was in the best interests of the team. At times that might put me at odds with you guys, and I understand that. Last night I thought it was best for our team to have a couple captains speak and I'll just leave it at that."
1. This ground game is good: And it's going to be even better when Cierre Wood returns. Of course, not every defense will be as easy to run on as Navy's was, but there are several valuable options -- don't forget about USC transfer Amir Carlisle, either -- that will help alleviate the pressure on Everett Golson.

2. Golson has poise: Yes, that's a vague, cliche term coaches and writers alike love to throw around. But give the redshirt freshman credit: First start, overseas, the pressure of playing quarterback for Notre Dame and Brian Kelly -- and he was never rattled. Golson was an efficient game manager, which was more than enough against the Midshipmen.

3. There may be a punt-return game: Notre Dame averaged 3.7 yards per punt return in 2011 -- and that was after Michael Floyd's 41-yard return in the Champs Sports Bowl. Davonte Neal returned one punt 11 yards. Earth-shattering? No. But after last season's opening-week fiasco, it's enough reason to think this could be a source of production for the Irish, with the true freshman leading the charge.

4. Freshmen will contribute: Neal had the punt return (and a negative-5-yard catch), Justin Ferguson had a 9-yard reception. Ferguson, Elijah Shumate and Nicky Baratti were special teams regulars. KeiVarae Russell became Notre Dame's first true freshman starting corner. Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Sheldon Day saw some time. And even Ronnie Stanley played with the second-team line, a rarity for a freshman offensive lineman.

Notre Dame chat wrap: Aug. 17

August, 17, 2012
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Thanks to all of you for stopping by during today's weekly Notre Dame chat. As always, the transcript can be found here. We'll return Thursday at 2 p.m.

Among today's highlights:
  • Ryan (Dover, N.H.): Matt, how do you feel about Notre Dame's young wide reciever corps a.k.a Davonte, Justin, Chris, and Davaris? Who do you think will redshirt and who do you believe will contribute as a solid backup or to overtake a starting spot?
  • Matt Fortuna (2:03 PM): Ryan, all have looked very good so far, and all spoke very well when we got to chat with them Monday. I'd expect all to see action this season, with Davonte Neal seeing the most playing time, as looks to be the No. 2 slot guy and a potential factor on special teams.
  • Andrew (Fort Wayne, Ind.): Hey Matt! Please do me a favor and tell these cry-babies to join the 21st Century. All these "traditionalist" are ripping ND for these new uni's and its pathetic. Its for 1 game people...CHILL OUT! Like it or not, its going to happen every year for at least the foreseeable future, so get used to it. They really need to take a step back off the ledge, cause there is no telling what their gonna do when FieldTurf and a Jumbotron comes (which will probably happen next year for at least FieldTurf). 18-22yr old kids LOVE it, which last I checked is the age bracket that actually suit up on Saturdays. Do they realize that the ND uniform has changed MANY times over the years? Do they realize ND Stadium used to have a manually operated scoreboard and the old stadium never had lights? Do they realize they added 20,000 seats to the stadium and now the facade looks nothing like the old brick that it used to be? I love ND's tradition as much as the next guy, but will somebody tell these whiners that mixing our tradition with a little modern flavor isn't wrong....in fact its actually a good thing!? If anybody reading this is one of those people....get off your computers, throw away your cell phones, trash your flat screen TV's cause they are far too advanced for your shallow minds! Here's to ND thumping Miami and looking pretty sweet in the process!
  • Matt Fortuna (2:11 PM): And we have our first uniform rant of the day. And wait ... IT'S A POSITIVE ONE?! I don't disagree with you, Andrew. Me? I actually really like the jerseys and pants. The helmet is way out there though, even by 21st century standards. I'm no fashion expert, but I can't say I understand the 60/40 split and whatnot. Like you said, though, the people wearing them seem to like them, and that's what matters.
  • Greg (Skokie, Ill.): BK said he was going to separate the reps between the QB's next week. Any idea on who will be getting the majority?
  • Matt Fortuna (2:26 PM): Everett Golson has run with the first team almost the entire time we've been able to view practice. Barring anything unforeseen, he'll probably get more snaps next week.
  • Brad (Benton, Ky.): Hey Matt, love your stuff. How do you think the young and inexperiences secondary has done through the offseason and how well do you think they will hold up this year against air assaults by Oklahoma and USC?
  • Matt Fortuna (2:59 PM): Appreciate that, Brad. Everyone seems to be in agreement that Bennett Jackson will be good once he gets enough experience. And Lo Wood has been, by all accounts, the biggest riser on the team in camp so far. Kerry Cooks had very strong things to say to me about Wood yesterday. I think the Oklahoma contest will be interesting when you take into account the damage that has been done to the Sooners' o-line. The USC game would still scare me if I were an ND fan, but that's a long ways away.

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ESPN 300 athlete Porter Gustin (Salem, Utah/Salem Hills) took time out to talk recruiting and more with WeAreSC's Garry Paskwietz on Tuesday at The Opening.
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