NOTRE DAME — Spring football comes to a climax Saturday with the Blue-Gold game, and several young bucks are looking to burst onto the scene.
But for as much as spring performances can be deceiving and as much as head coach Brian Kelly drives home the point that the spring practice depth chart certainly may not be the depth chart against Temple, the Blue-Gold game still gives fans their first full view of Notre Dame football since the national championship game.
So who should you watch for in Saturday’s contest? Here are a few names offensive coordinator Chuck Martin and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco had to offer. OFFENSE
CJ Prosise, receiver
With Robby Toma gone and Amir Carlisle recovering from a broken collarbone, Prosise was flipped from safety to slot receiver and has taken significant strides in first-team reps this spring.
Martin says Prosise has some more work to do before he’s given the “keys to that car” but says he is a “Theo Riddick-type of kid” that he can put anywhere on the offense.
“He just needs more experience,” Martin said. “We’ve had a good spring but still he’s 14 days on offense. He’s done some nice things with the ball in his hands, but he’s been a little inconsistent like most rookies. But he’s a bigger, thicker kid, so even body type is different. He’s certainly a guy that as he continues to grow in our program.”
Chris Brown, receiver
Brown caught only two passes as a freshman last year, but one of them was a 50-yard bomb in the Oklahoma game where Brown flat outran everyone in the Sooner secondary. As of now, Brown is the popular choice for the No. 3 receiver come fall.
“I’d like to think that there’s nothing on our offense he couldn’t do by next fall,” Martin said. “He’s not there yet ... but if he can execute the fundamentals of his position. We know he can run like crazy. We know he’ll go attack the ball for us.”
Jarrett Grace, middle linebacker
While Diaco and Kelly have made it clear that there is no Manti Te’o clone waiting in the wings, Grace has shown the speed and athleticism at middle linebacker to impress coaches this spring.
“He is a high-effort player,” Diaco said. “He plays defensive football like you’d like to see it played. He’s still new to all the small nuances of his fits and run and pass, but we’re well pleased with him and his development this spring.”
Ben Councell, outside linebacker
Councell was expected to battle for an outside spot last year, but was edged out by Danny Spond when he returned from his migraine issues. Now Councell is ready to challenge Spond in what may be one of the most intriguing position battles of the pre-season.
“Me, personally, if Coach Kelly asked (who is the) player of the spring, I would at least throw his name out there,” Diaco said of Councell. “Not that he’s the best player of the defense, but in terms of improvement from what he was to what he is, he’s the most improved this spring defensively. He’s at least in the conversation.”
Elijah Shumate, safety
With Nicky Baratti recovering from shoulder surgery, Elijah Shumate burst onto the scene this spring at safety as a possible heir to the departed Zeke Motta.
In the full practice media got to watch last week, reporters got to see a hard-hitting Shumate lay out receivers time and time again during drills.
Diaco praised Shumate’s “speed, strength, toughness, tackling (and) ability to play man coverage,” but he insists the sophomore isn’t a finished product.
“He’s a very talented player, but he’s a long ways away from functioning and driving our defense,” Diaco said. “Light years away.”
HOW TO TUNE IN
Tickets to the game are on sale for $12 in advance and $15 on Saturday. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.
The game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network and on the radio at WSBT 960 AM and 96.1 FM.