Yesterday, I listed the five veterans that Notre Dame can rely on the most this year. Today, we’re looking at five newcomers who are poised to make an immediate impact this season.
(As a side note, this series is a fun way to exercise all the different way to say “five of something.” Did you know, for example, that the word “limerick” is a synonym for five, likely due to it’s distinctive five-line meter?)
5. James Onwualu, WR
Onwualu joined four other early enrollees for spring drills this year and made his presence known almost immediately.
He took second-team reps with Tommy Rees and flitted between receiver and ball carrier in the spring. He has the physical gifts to be Notre Dame’s next slot receiver.
He also attended the same high school as Michael Floyd (Cretin-Durham Hall) and said in an interview that Floyd served as an ambassador for the university and encouraged Onwualu to participate in Notre Dame summer camps.
Onwualu weighed in at 215 before beginning Paul Longo’s strength and conditioning program, so expect him to get even bigger. DaVaris Daniels and TJ Jones are the only established receivers on the depth chart ahead of Onwualu, so expect to see the freshman on the field early and often this year.
4. Malik Zaire, QB
Had things not shaken out the way they did in May, Zaire likely wouldn’t have been in the picture for another year or two. But with Everett Golson gone for the season, Gunner Kiel gone for Cincinnati and Tommy Rees filling in, Zaire’s chances of redshirting have dropped to almost nil.
Zaire came to Notre Dame in January as the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the country, possessing the physical gifts both Rees and second-string quarterback Andrew Hendrix lack. If Rees gets injured or is yanked for poor play, it’s only a matter of time before Zaire starts taking snaps this year.
In an ideal world, Zaire will preserve a year of eligibility and never touch the field. But with the roller coaster off-season Notre Dame has had, don’t count on it.
3. Max Redfield, S
Notre Dame’s defensive coaches showed what they could do last year’s grab bag of former wide receivers and true freshmen. Imagine what a five-star safety like Redfield could do in that program.
Redfield will likely have to unseat Elijah Shumate to get starting time, but Redfield will undoubtedly rotate in at some capacity this season.
In fact, his first significant playing time might not even be on the defensive side of the ball. Redfield told The South Bend Tribune earlier this month that he might spend some time at receiver:
“The coaches talked to me about playing both ways a little bit,” Redfield said. “They said if I could get the defense down, they might throw me in at receiver every now and then. A wide range of other schools offered me a chance to play receiver and safety as well.”
2. Jaylon Smith, LB
Smith is one of the biggest defensive players Notre Dame has grabbed in the modern recruiting era. At 6-foot-1, 215-pounds, Smith is a bit undersized at his position next to 248-pound Danny Spond and 250-pound Prince Shembo.
Spond and Shembo seem like locks in their positions, but Smith seems versatile. According to Keith Arnold at NBC, Smith “hopped from position to position, dominating drills as a wide receiver, running back, defensive end, linebacker or cover corner” on the summer camp circuit.
Barring any serious injuries, Smith likely won’t start this year. But with Spond and Shembo graduating after this year, expect Smith to be ready to take over in 2014.
1. Greg Bryant, RB
Of the five freshmen I’ve listed, I expect Bryant is the most likely to start a game this season.
Not only is Bryant one of the top recruits of the 2013 class, but the running back depth chart is also the shakiest in the program.
Bryant plays like a bigger, faster Theo Riddick, who thrived in Notre Dame’s hybrid offense. George Atkinson III may have the starting job for the first half of the season, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bryant finish second in rushing yards and even start a few games midway through the year.
You will see him, though. Bryant vowed to Blue & Gold Illustrated in June that he will definitely see the field this year.
“I can tell you right now that I’m not going to redshirt,” Bryant disclosed. “I’m putting myself in the best position to play early and nobody is going to work harder than me to get on the field. I’ve been playing among the best of the best in Florida and I’m prepared to go in and make plays for Notre Dame.”