Notre Dame Football: Tommy Rees

Fighting Irish morning links

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
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Bravo, Kyle McCarthy.

Irish lunch links

May, 19, 2014
May 19
12:00
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I should've trademarked this stadium grass selling idea when I had the chance.
Notre Dame walked away from NFL draft weekend with eight of its former players getting picked, tied with Alabama for the second most of any school in the country, behind LSU's nine. The eight picks also marked the most in a single draft for the Irish in 20 years, as they had 10 draftees in 1994.

In addition, six former Notre Dame players signed with NFL clubs after the draft, with five of those players coming from last season's team.

Seven of Notre Dame's defensive starters from the Discover BCS National Championship following the 2012 season have now been drafted as well: Kapron Lewis-Moore (Ravens, 200th), Manti Te'o (Chargers, 38th) and Zeke Motta (Falcons, 244th) last year; Stephon Tuitt (Steelers, 46th), Louis Nix (Texans, 83rd), Prince Shembo (Falcons, 139th) and Bennett Jackson (Giants, 187th) this year.

It's not a stretch to say that linebacker Danny Spond, who also started against Alabama in the title game, was on track to be drafted prior to retiring before last season because of hemiplegic migraines. It's also worth noting that safety Jamoris Slaughter, who was drafted 175th overall by the Browns last year, started on the Irish's 2012 defense before suffering a season-ending Achilles' tear in Week 3. Two defensive starters from that title game, KeiVarae Russell and Matthias Farley, still have two years of eligibility left at Notre Dame.

Here's a recap of Notre Dame's 2014 draft weekend. Irish transfers Shaquelle Evans (fourth round, 114th overall) and Aaron Lynch (fifth, 150th) were both drafted as well.

DRAFTED

LT Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys (first round, 16th overall)

DE Stephon Tuitt, Pittsburgh Steelers (second, 46th)

TE Troy Niklas, Arizona Cardinals (second, 52nd)

NG Louis Nix, Houston Texans (third, 83rd)

LG Chris Watt, San Diego Chargers (third, 89th)

LB Prince Shembo, Atlanta Falcons (fourth, 139th)

CB Bennett Jackson, New York Giants (sixth, 187th)

WR TJ Jones, Detroit Lions (sixth, 189th)

UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT SIGNINGS

RB George Atkinson III, Oakland Raiders

LB Dan Fox, New York Giants

LB Carlo Calabrese, Cleveland Browns

QB Tommy Rees, Washington Redskins

NG Kona Schwenke, Kansas City Chiefs

C/G Mike Golic Jr., New Orleans Saints

Irish lunch links

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
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Not-so-ridiculous-prediction: The Bulls stay alive tonight.
Tommy Rees has had no shortage of familiar surroundings these past couple of weeks. The former Notre Dame quarterback is with several of his Irish teammates back in South Bend, Ind., as they make their final preparations for next week's NFL draft, and he was one of a handful of prospects invited to the Chicago Bears' local pro day.

Rees father, Bill, worked for the franchise more than a decade ago, one of many stops in a college and pro scouting career that has taken him across the country. The younger Rees enjoyed his time working with head coach Marc Trestman and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh, and the trip to Halas Hall certainly evoked old memories.

[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesTommy Rees' high-profile career playing for Brian Kelly at Notre Dame could help his chances of reaching an NFL camp.
"[When] my dad was working there, I would go over to the facility all the time, so it was cool to be back," Rees told ESPN.com. "There were a lot of guys that I remember, guys on staff, it was good to see. It was a cool experience for me to go there so many years later and be able to work out."

The training hasn't been all that different back at Notre Dame. Rees has been working with new Irish quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur, whose recent experience with the Washington Redskins has proved to be beneficial for Rees as he tries to reach the pro level.

"It's been great, he's really a great coach and a cool guy to work with," Rees said. "He's younger, so there's a connection there right away, and he's been in the league the last couple of years, so he's been able to watch film and talk about mistakes. And just putting me through some of the drills and some of the footwork stuff has gone a long way to help with my progression."

Also going a long way was the performance that Rees was able to put on last month at Notre Dame's pro day. The 6-foot-1.5, 210-pound signal-caller pushed a combine snub aside and completed 32 of 34 passes, with one of the incomplete throws being dropped.

Rees is hoping that the showing in front of the 59 NFL personnel men in attendance helped answer some questions about his ability after a four-year college career that featured just about every high and low imaginable.

"I was really happy with how pro day went, and followed that up with some good throwing sessions similar to that," Rees said. "And I just wanted to go out and show I could make all the throws and [that] my footwork was where it needed to be, and I felt like I did that, and I got a lot of positive feedback from it."

Little has surprised Rees these last four months, something that can likely be attributed to his background. While having a parent in the business (Bill now works for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) carries its advantages, Rees is appreciative of his father not being overbearing during pre-draft process.

"My dad's been pretty good about trying to let it be my thing, and obviously he knows a lot about it and when he needs to say something he speaks up and helps out," Rees said. "But when I made the decision to try to [pursue the NFL], it was my decision. I'd be meeting with my agent. It was going to be our deal. And my dad's done a really good job of trying to separate that, but it's been great hearing from him for help or words of advice. He's always been there."

There is a strong possibility that Rees goes undrafted, though his pedigree suggests he could be an ideal invite to an NFL camp, if not an eventual coach. It was a narrative that followed him throughout his Notre Dame career, and one that head coach Brian Kelly validated after Rees' finale: "He’ll keep trying to play the game as long as he can. But I told him he’s got a bright future as a graduate assistant for Brian Kelly any time.”

Rees will take in Night 1 of the draft at former roommate Zack Martin's place for the tackle's likely first-round selection before heading home, confident that he has held nothing back before his fate is decided.

"I think if you turn on tape you can see a lot of good things," Rees said. "But a lot of these intangibles: playing at Notre Dame, where you're on TV every week against the best competition, I did it for four years -- that wasn't by accident. I didn't play at Notre Dame by accident. And I think I'm the kind of guy who will go in there and just need to get better and that will only go in one direction, and I can definitely help a team with whatever they need."

Notre Dame mailblog

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
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One more time before the spring game ...

Derrick from Warsaw, Ill., writes: Matt, first off, thanks for doing such a great job covering the Irish! I always look forward to reading everything you write! My question is, with all the great options the Irish have at running back heading into the season, how do you see everything going at the running back position? Will one guy get the lion's share of the carries? Do they go with the hot hand? Or will each guy get a fairly equal share of touches? Thanks! And keep up the great work!

Matt Fortuna: Thanks for the kind words, Derrick. I think everyone will get a fair share early. Cam McDaniel is obviously the veteran of the group and will probably "start" the season with the first unit, but I don't see it being a traditional 1-2-3 pecking order. I said it last year (and was wrong) and will say it again now: I do think the bulk of the workload will go to Greg Bryant if he's playing near the top of his game. After all of his talk this spring about being "hungry and humbled," I think the light will click on for him in 2014.


Brian Henighan from Medina, Ohio, writes: During the practices leading up to the Pinstripe Bowl, we heard a lot about how Torii Hunter was looking very good. There was some good hype around this kid before and after his injury. Spring practices are now nearly over and I haven't heard his name mentioned one time. How is he doing/progressing? It's just strange for his name to completely disappear lately.

Matt Fortuna: Brian, I was actually wondering the same thing recently, as he rebounded from his leg injury last year to win offensive scout team player of the year: Here's what offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock said when I asked him Monday: "He is absolutely physically very gifted, and right in the mix with all those young guys as far as what we feel like he can do potentially down the road. Like a lot of young guys, the more he sees things, the more he does things, the better he's going to be. He's not where we need him to be yet, but you can see so many positive things that are going to happen there moving forward. We're just trying to speed up the process as fast as we can."


[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsTommy Rees' legacy at Notre Dame will likely grow with time.
Jeremy from Bethlehem, Ga., writes: Hey Matt, great job on the blog! I was curious on your take of Tommy Rees' legacy. He has been on the losing side of some games that they should have won, like Stanford. But he has won some big games in his career, such as against No. 14 Utah in 2010, being the closer in 2012 to go on to the BCS championship game, and against Michigan State this past year.

Matt Fortuna: Jeremy, like most things, I think it will only grow with time. Sure, a lot of the turnovers are what stick out in most fans' minds right now, but you have to look at the bigger picture. Notre Dame had flat-out awful quarterback luck in three of Rees' four seasons there. And yet, the Irish were lucky beyond relief to have a guy like Rees who not only knew, but embraced his role, stepping in unfazed every step of the way. And in the one year they had good quarterback luck, in 2012? That 12-0 regular season doesn't happen without Rees being the great teammate he was, relieving the guy who took his job and leading the Irish to some crucial wins. Speaking of which, that locker room absolutely loved him, which speaks louder to anything the rest of us could say.


Thomas Witty from Northbrook, Ill., writes: Hey Matt! I've been looking at the offensive line for this year and it seems like there is a lot of talent overall. I've seen on various sites that they have Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey playing tackle, but do you think Steve Elmer could get a chance, too? Also, I was excited last year when they got Hunter Bivin because he seemed like a great player. How do you see him factoring into the mix in the coming years/this year? Lastly, it seems that the talent of the offensive line has increased a lot. Do you think the offensive line could change from good to great in the coming years or even this year? As always, I love reading your blog!

Matt Fortuna: Thanks for the kind words, Thomas. Brian Kelly actually addressed this topic Wednesday, saying that the left guard spot could very well be affected by the right tackle spot, which would be between Elmer and McGlinchey. That could provide an opening at left guard for Matt Hegarty, who has plenty of experience across the line and has filled in at center for Nick Martin this spring. As for the depth question, we'e seen Notre Dame sign nine offensive linemen across the 2013 and 2014 recruiting classes. So while the numbers are down this spring -- especially on days such as Wednesday, when Elmer had a stomach ailment and the Irish were down to eight healthy offensive linemen -- the addition of four more come fall camp should be a big boost to this group's daily progress.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Just because the relationship between Notre Dame's top quarterbacks is different this time around doesn't necessarily mean Everett Golson and Malik Zaire are stealing each other's playbooks.

"They are competitive, but they do help each other, believe it or not," quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur said Wednesday. "Just the other day at practice Malik made a mistake and Everett was trying to explain to him why he made that mistake. Yeah, there is a competitiveness but those guys also help each other at game time."

Golson-Tommy Rees, this is not, as coach Brian Kelly made pretty clear earlier this spring. And the frontrunner to be the Irish's starter will likely have to wait four-plus months to be officially declared the No. 1 guy.

LaFleur, the first-year Irish assistant, said he has been more focused this spring on getting everyone on the same page before drawing any comparisons between the two signal callers, be it through stats or other tangible measurements.

"Honestly, I don't think it makes a difference right now," LaFleur said of knowing a starter this early. "I think each guy, whether you're an offensive lineman, receiver, running back -- you're kind of focused on your job. And No. 1, I tell the quarterbacks, do your job. You've got to do your job before you can even worry about anyone else or any other situation. I think from an offensive standpoint, I think everybody's just focused on improving their own skills and improving each day."

Both quarterbacks have heeded that advice, stressing that their concerns have lied inward, not on what the other was doing.

"It's definitely put me in another level of capability in terms of just being comfortable within the offense," Zaire said. "I think this year and this spring specifically it's gotten better for me because I'm in there a lot more than last year."

Notes: LaFleur, a Mt. Pleasant, Mich., native, said he will recruit Michigan locally while having responsibilities on the West Coast, from the Los Angeles area up through Washington. He has Hawaii, as well. … Notre Dame was finally able to practice outside Monday and Wednesday, making conditions more ideal for the always-intriguing punt return unit. Running backs coach Tony Alford mentioned Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston, Cam McDaniel, Amir Carlisle, Torii Hunter Jr. and Josh Atkinson as players who have gotten looks in the return game.

Irish lunch links

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
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Enjoy the weekend, everyone.
All that talk about Everett Golson this spring must have gotten lost between the time Notre Dame's former starter returned to school and the time the redshirt was unofficially taken off the Fighting Irish's other returning quarterback.

No, Malik Zaire is not bowing down to anybody this spring, even if the man he is splitting reps with has a résumé that includes national title game experience.

"I don't see it as a competition at all -- I see it, I'm competing with myself to get better every day and competing with myself to be the best quarterback in the country, because I hope that's why a lot of guys come to college football, especially Notre Dame," Zaire said. "I'm not here to make this a one-on-one match with the next guy as me being the most prepared to lead this team to 12 victories and a national championship."

[+] EnlargeMalik Zaire
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsDespite the pedigree that Everett Golson provides, Malik Zaire won't concede the Notre Dame starting job without a fight.
It's been there, nearly-done-that for Golson, which is why Brian Kelly raised a few eyebrows last month when he declared the starting job an open competition. What Golson's opponent lacks in experience he just might make up for in potential, as Zaire entered Notre Dame a year ago as ESPN's No. 6 signal-caller from the Class of 2013.

But with Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix now out of the picture -- and with incoming signee DeShone Kizer three months away from enrolling -- the burden is on Zaire to be more than window-dressing, to emerge as a viable in-game option for the Irish and perhaps even more.

"It's definitely put me in another level of capability in terms of just being comfortable within the offense," he said. "I think this year and this spring specifically it's got better for me because I'm in there a lot more than last year. Dealing with that, I'm feeling better as the days progress, I'm getting better as the days progress, I'm enjoying it as the days progress, so I'm just getting a lot better each day."

The southpaw gets the benefit of a clean slate with a new position coach in Matt LaFleur, and, by statistical measure, hardly trails Golson in the chemistry department with the current crop of receivers.

Only Ben Koyack and Chris Brown have caught passes from current Irish signal-callers, accounting for two receptions from Golson totaling 55 yards during that charmed run of 2012. Both the experience gap and the skill-set between Notre Dame's current quarterbacks are not what they were during Golson's ascension around this time two years ago, when he fought off the incumbent, football-savvy Rees -- who was never hesitant to share all that he knew with the underclassman.

"They're good together, they like each other," Kelly said. "Everett's not going to sit down and teach him the playbook, though. But they like each other, they get along very well, but it's not a Tommy Rees (situation), where Tommy Rees would sit down and teach Everett the offense; we don't have that kind of situation. These are two competitive kids. Malik wants to beat out Everett. But it's a very positive kind of atmosphere.

"(Zaire's) just a highly competitive kid, and he's extremely confident in his ability. Extremely. Sometimes I have to settle him down a bit. But that's a good thing. I'd rather have that than somebody who doesn't think he can do it. So the dynamic is very positive. They're very good with each other. They help each other. But it's not one where they're going to share notes and sit down and, 'Hey, how can I help you beat me out?' That's not happening."

Zaire treaded a path similar to Golson upon his arrival to Notre Dame last spring before coming down with mononucleosis during his first preseason camp. Kelly conceded that the 6-foot, 208-pounder probably got a little lost mentally as the reality of redshirting settled in, but he had come full-circle by season's end.

"When December rolled around, being in there and being at least kind of involved definitely impacted me in a way where I felt a lot more comfortable and I felt like myself," Zaire said. "I always say, 'You take the lion out of the wild and put him in the zoo for a while, he forgets how to be a lion.' In December, I was able to come right back and do what I've been doing since Day 1, and that's playing and being involved and being the quarterback that I am."

Whether that will be enough to pull off a monumental upset on the depth chart remains to be seen, but for now the only person Zaire is concerned with is Zaire, the name he thinks can take the first snap for the Irish come Aug. 30.

"This competition is more me getting better and finding whatever it takes to do and whatever it takes to get to that next level, so they don't have a choice but to play me," he said. "There are things that I can't control as well -- it's definitely an uphill battle on fighting in terms of what people believe to be a quarterback competition because of the guy that's been there and done that.

"So I can't concern myself with something I can't control. More of it is just like, whatever it takes for me to be on the field, and doing what it takes to be on the field and knowing that I got what it takes, that's all that really matters."

Notre Dame pro day notes

March, 20, 2014
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Fourteen former Notre Dame players were back on campus Thursday for pro day, with many doing drills in front of executives from all 32 NFL teams and two head coaches, Mike Tomlin (Steelers) and Gus Bradley (Jaguars).

Here are a handful of notes from the event, courtesy of the Irish's sports information department:
  • Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox and Kona Schwenke were the only players to take part in every drill, with Tommy Rees and Chris Watt skipping only the bench press. TJ Jones, Zack Martin and Prince Shembo only did position drills, with Shembo working with both defensive linemen and linebackers.
  • Bennett Jackson, who ran a 4.51 40-yard dash at last month's NFL combine, improved that mark to 4.40 Thursday. The only cornerbacks to top that at the combine were Justin Gilbert (4.37, Oklahoma State), Phillip Gaines (4.38, Rice), Jason Verrett (4.38, TCU) and Bradley Roby (4.39, Ohio State).
  • Fox, who was not invited to the combine, ran a 4.59 40, which, among linebackers, would have trailed only Boston College's Kevin Pierre-Louis (4.51) and Florida State's Telvin Smith (4.52) at the combine.
  • Rees, who also was not invited to the combine, had a vertical leap of 31 inches, which would have topped fellow quarterbacks Tajh Boyd (30.5, Clemson), Jimmy Garoppolo (30.5, Eastern Illinois), Teddy Bridgewater (30, Louisville), Stephen Morris (30, Miami) and Jordan Lynch (29.5, Northern Illinois). Rees completed 32 of 34 passes Thursday.
  • Louis Nix improved his 40 time from 5.42 at the combine to 5.36 Thursday. He improved his three-cone drill time from 8.29 to 7.94.
  • Watt, whose PCL tear kept him from all but the bench at the combine, ran a 5.39 40 on Thursday, in addition to a 4.76 20-yard shuttle and 7.60 three-cone drill. He did a 28.5-inch vertical and 8-foot, 8-inch broad jump.
  • Schwenke, also not invited to the combine, ran 4.88 40, 4.59 20-yard shuttle, 7.16 three-cone drill, did 29 inches on the vertical leap, nine feet on the broad jump and 27 reps on the bench,
  • George Atkinson III improved his 20-yard shuttle from 4.46 at the combine to 4.38 Thursday.
  • Calabrese, another combine snub, ran a 4.86 40, 4.60 20-yard shuttle, 7.10 three-cone drill, did a 30-inch vertical, jumped 9-feet, 2-inches on the broad jump and did 25 reps on the bench.
Sixteen former Notre Dame players will take part in Thursday's NFL Pro Day at the Loftus Sports Center, the school announced Monday.

Though each's exact participation has yet to be determined, the names scheduled to be in attendance this week are George Atkinson III, Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox, Mike Golic Jr., Bennett Jackson, TJ Jones, Zack Martin, Troy Niklas, Louis Nix III, Tommy Rees, Kona Schwenke, Prince Shembo, Nick Tausch, Stephon Tuitt, Robby Toma and Chris Watt.

Golic and Toma both finished their Irish careers during the 2012 season.

One player from that list who won't be participating in any drills is Tuitt, who told ESPN.com in a text message that he already completed such drills during his Feb. 28 pro day at Lovett (Ga.) High. Tuitt had surgery earlier this month to repair a stress fracture in his left foot that was discovered during the NFL scouting combine.

Testing and position-specific drills Thursday start around 11:45 a.m. ET.
Nine former Notre Dame players were invited to the NFL scouting combine, including all three players who declared for the draft early.

TJ Jones, Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Louis Nix, Prince Shembo and Bennett Jackson will be in Indianapolis for the Feb. 22-25 event, along with underclassmen George Atkinson III, Troy Niklas and Stephon Tuitt.

Notable former Irish players to be left off the list are Tommy Rees and Carlo Calabrese, along with Dan Fox, who spoke of the snub to CSNChicago earlier in the week, saying he plans to use it as motivation.

It will be interesting to see how a number of these players fare, and if they can seriously affect their stock either way. We all remember Manti Te'o's 40-time being a source of much questioning last year.

The intrigue this year will likely be among the early departures. Tuitt will more than likely be the first of the trio drafted, but he has already seen his name fall out of the first round of Mel Kiper Jr.'s mock draft. The jumps by Niklas and Atkinson were more surprising, but given the former's strength and the latter's speed, they could turn out to be combine stars.
We are one day away from national signing day, an occasion packed with promise. As we noticed last week when looking at the Ultimate 300, some prospects meet their potential better than others.

Recruiting is an inexact science, as projects such as the Ultimate 300 reveal, and as many rosters filled with blue-chip prospects show, too.

[+] EnlargeJaylon Smith
AP Photo/Scott BoehmJaylon Smith was the only five-star recruit among Notre Dame's starters last season.
Look no further than Notre Dame, which currently has Recruiting Nation's No. 11 overall haul for the Class of 2014, down from No. 4 last season. The Irish were No. 9 in 2012, No. 9 in 2011, No. 21 in 2010 and No. 14 in 2009.

The 2009-13 classes made up the 2013 Notre Dame roster. So, using Recruiting Nation's rankings, we will take a look back at this past season's (general) starters to see where they stood as recruits.

The numbers? Notre Dame had one five-star recruit, six four-star recruits, 11 three-star recruits and one two-star recruit.

(Note: ESPN did not use the star system until 2010.)

Offense

  • QB Tommy Rees, Lake Forest (Ill.) High: Three stars, No. 19 QB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 79
  • RB: George Atkinson III, Granada (Calif.) High: Three stars, No. 40 ATH, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 79
  • WR: TJ Jones, Gainesville (Ga.) High: Four stars, No. 68 overall prospect, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 81
  • WR: DaVaris Daniels, Vernon Hills (Ill.) High: Four stars, No. 65 overall prospect, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 81
  • WR: Chris Brown, Hanahan (S.C.) High: Three stars, No. 66 WR, Class of 2012. Scout grade: 78
  • TE: Troy Niklas, Servite (Calif.) High: Three stars, No. 19 TE, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 79
  • T: Zack Martin, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard High: No. 109 overall prospect, Class of 2009. Scout grade: 81
  • T: Ronnie Stanley, Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High: Four stars, No. 34 OT, Class of 2012. Scout grade: 79
  • G: Chris Watt, Glenbard West (Ill.) High: No. 68 overall prospect, Class of 2009. Scout grade: 82
  • G: Christian Lombard, Williams Fremd (Ill.) High: Three stars, No. 20 OT, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 79
  • C: Nick Martin, Bishop Chatard (Ind.) High: Three stars, No. 39 OT, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 78
Defense

  • DE: Stephon Tuitt, Monroe (Ga.) High: Four stars, No. 90 overall prospect, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 81
  • DE: Sheldon Day, Indianapolis Warren Central High: Four stars, No. 143 overall prospect, Class of 2012. Scout grade: 80
  • NG: Louis Nix, Jacksonville (Fla.) Raines High: Four stars, No. 64 overall prospect, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 81
  • LB: Prince Shembo, Charlotte (N.C.) Ardrey Kell High: Three stars, No. 47 DE, Class of 2010, Scout grade: 78
  • LB: Dan Fox, Cleveland St. Ignatius High: No. 76 OLB, Class of 2009. Scout grade: 76
  • LB: Carlo Calabrese, Verona (N.J.) High: No. 12 ILB, Class of 2009. Scout grade: 78
  • LB: Jaylon Smith, Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers High: Five stars, No. 7 overall prospect, Class of 2013. Scout grade: 90
  • CB: Bennett Jackson, Hazlet (N.J.) Raritan High: Three stars, No. 97 WR, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 77
  • CB: KeiVarae Russell, Everett (Wash.) Mariner High: Three stars, No. 28 RB, Class of 2012. Scout grade: 79
  • S: Matthias Farley, Charlotte Christian (N.C.) High: Three stars, No. 92 ATH, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 77
  • S: Austin Collinsworth, Highlands (Ky.) High: Two stars, No. 121 S, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 74
Special Teams

  • K/P: Kyle Brindza, Plymouth (Mich.) High: Three stars, No. 6 K, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 79

Poll: Who will be drafted highest?

January, 28, 2014
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Zack Martin's recent surge throughout Senior Bowl week and his rise up draft analysts' rankings make it a very real possibility that he could be the first former Notre Dame player to hear his name called on Night 1 of the NFL draft. Obviously, there is plenty of time for movements to happen and stocks to rise and fall (the combine, pro days, etc.), but this early in the stage, we are wondering who you think will go highest.

SportsNation

Which former Notre Dame player will be drafted highest?

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    39%
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    21%
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    40%
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    0%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,281)

Zack Martin, LT: The two-time Notre Dame captain capped his career by winning MVP honors in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. The 6-foot-4, 308-pounder could play guard at the next level, and he set the Irish career starts record by starting 52 straight games from his second through fifth seasons.

Louis Nix III, NG: The 6-2˝, 342-pound interior lineman is a run-stuffer who often commands double-teams. His combination of size and quickness is rare at all levels, making him a precious commodity among NFL franchises. It is worth wondering whether his injury-plagued (meniscus surgery) final campaign in South Bend, Ind., coupled with his early signing with an agent before telling the staff -- and therefore forfeiting his final game, which he was out for anyway -- hurts him in the eyes of pro front offices.

Stephon Tuitt, DE: Another giant defensive lineman who was plagued by injuries his final year, though he overcame them to become Notre Dame's best defensive lineman by season's end. The 6-6˝, 312-pounder entered camp overweight after recovering from offseason sports hernia surgery, then dealt with a back issue. Still, he managed to start all 13 games and record a team-best 7.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss, while forcing a fumble and adding a pick-six. His 21.5 career sacks are second-most in program history, and we all know how coveted explosive pass-rushers are at the next level. The fact Tuitt didn't play football until high school suggests plenty of the infamous "upside" that so often seems to make scouts salivate as well.

Other: Tight end Troy Niklas leads this category, as the 6-6˝, 270-pounder also possesses plenty of upside after catching passes for just two years while at Notre Dame after switching from linebacker. Don't be surprised if he ends up becoming a combine superstar. He is nicknamed ‘Hercules’ for a reason, after all. The other early departure is running back/kick returner George Atkinson III, who was probably the fastest player on the team during his time at Notre Dame. Seniors to consider are receiver TJ Jones, cornerback Bennett Jackson, left guard Chris Watt, linebackers Prince Shembo, Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox and quarterback Tommy Rees as well.

Notre Dame mailblog

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
9:00
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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.

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