By: Kyle Gibson

As we march into the dog days of football news just waiting for Spring camp to arrive we’ll be taking a look at different parts of the Notre Dame roster. A lot of starters and production has been lost heading into 2016 which will result in tons of intrigue and speculation this off-season. There will be position battles taking place all over the field as the coaching staff works to discover who will step up and fill the voids in the depth chart. We start out this series taking a look at the QB and WR positions.

Quarterback
Malik Zaire (Sr)
DeShone Kizer (Jr)
Brandon Wimbush (So)
Ian Book (Fr)

This is the only group on the roster that hasn’t lost anyone. It’s also one position that fans don’t need broken down. Malik Zaire will be returning from injury to fight for his starting job back. He’ll be locked in a head to head battle with the now seasoned and proven DeShone Kizer. Kizer has 11 starts with 8 wins to his name compared to Zaire’s 3 starts and 3 wins. But that experience and those track records will likely play a very minor role in the QB competition this year. Despite Kizer’s success, Zaire is still considered the favorite by most to start against Texas on September 3rd but we know that both can run this offense efficiently. Zaire may have better mobility and be more effective with the option but Kizer displayed his ability to make big plays with his feet as well. This race will ultimately come down to who does the little things better. It won’t be as simple as just throwing and running ability. It’s decision making, identification, pre-snap and post-snap reads, along with fundamentals that will be evaluated very closely. Both are proven winners and leaders so it’s really a win-win situation but someone has to separate himself even if both end up playing meaningful roles in 2016. One interesting aspect that could play a big part in the QB competition is the change in the complexion of the WR corps. Who will have better chemistry with the next wave of WRs stepping up? Next season this receiving group will have a different look and feel with quite a range and variety of styles and ability. Without a Will Fuller getting behind secondaries on every play there will be more emphasis on developing the shorter to intermediate throws. The passing game is going to evolve to reflect this new group and the QB that does a better job adjusting to some different wrinkles and strategies tailored for this personnel will emerge as number one.

Behind the scenes will be Wimbush and newcomer Ian Book. Wimbush should have redshirted as a true Freshman but was denied that ability due to Zaire’s injury. The plan is to have him get in that redshirt season this year to regain that 5th year eligibility. It’s not an ideal situation for him especially when you consider how talented he is. Wimbush has a cannon of an arm and could easily be in the competition to start but will be much more valuable in two years when Zaire is gone. Part of recruiting well is having great players waiting their turn. Ian Book will undoubtedly redshirt this season and spend this year on the scout team.

Wide Receiver
Lost: Chris Brown, Amir Carlisle, Will Fuller
Torrii Hunter Jr (Sr)
Corey Robinson (Sr)
Corey Holmes (Jr)
Justin Brent (Jr)
Equanimeous St. Brown (So)
CJ Sanders (So)
Miles Boykin (So)
Chase Claypool (Fr)
Javon McKinley (Fr)
Kevin Stepherson (Fr)
?Demetris Robertson (Fr)?

Losing last season’s starting 3 is a bit of a sad sight but the roster is still loaded with talent and versatility. Torrii Hunter looks poised to take over as the leader of this group both on the field and off after finally getting a healthy season in. We saw his role expand as last season wore on and he’s proven himself as a reliable and potent playmaker. The most experienced WR on roster, Corey Robinson, announced that he’ll continue to play ball despite taking on a lot of duties as newly elected student body President. Many speculated he would leave the team in pursuit of his many interests and passions off the field but even though he’ll return to the team it’s yet to be seen how much attention and focus he’ll be able put into his game. After taking a step back in ‘15 it’s plausible to question if he’ll ever get close to maximizing his potential on the field in his final season after showing so much promise his first two seasons.

Behind the Senior duo it will likely be the Sophomore class that steps up to provide the next wave of playmakers. Juniors Corey Holmes and Justin Brent are both solid athletes but have shown some deficiencies that have kept them from making a serious push into the WR rotation and there’s still the question of whether or not Brent changes positions after cross training at RB last season. But there’s no question that this group of rising Sophomores possesses the most potential and will be the key factor in how successful this WR corps can be. St. Brown is the tall speedster that would have seen a whole lot more of the field as a true Freshman had it not been for Will Fuller. He was Fuller’s back-up last season and should take over that starting spot this year. The small and shifty CJ Sanders showed his electric ability as a return man in ’15 but didn’t get much of a crack at WR. He’s a perfect fit for the slot position but how much playing time he gets there depends on what the coaching staff wants to do with Hunter. Hunter was second on the depth chart behind Carlisle in the slot last season but he’s versatile enough to play any WR position and will likely move around a bit. If Sanders excels in the slot this offseason it would make sense for Hunter to slide out to Chris Brown’s vacated role, which could happen regardless.

Then there will be the new names that have yet to see the field in any capacity. Highlighting this group will be Sophomore Miles Boykin who is well known in the program despite having redshirted in ’15. Boykin is atop the list of newcomers at any position poised to make an immediate impact. He was turning heads in camp last year and brings something to the WR position that we haven’t seen since Michael Floyd, physicality. Robinson and St. Brown possess valuable height but Boykin has all around size checking in just a tad under 6’4 and 230lbs. Sometimes a bigger body can hold a WR back but Boykin has that blend of size, athleticism, and hands that results in a physically dominant WR that’s tough for DBs to cover and bring down after the catch.

Of the incoming Freshman Kevin Stepherson is the only one that will be present for Spring camp which gives him a head start but he’s still the least likely to crack into the rotation this year. Fellow Freshmen Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool will arrive in the Summer with much better size and potential than Stepherson. One thing that increases their chances to see the field early is their blocking ability. There’s nothing coaches love to see more from young WRs than a willingness to block. McKinley is the better blocker and more physical of the two. He’s praised for his strength but also his speed which makes him dangerous after the catch. As a prep star he was a yards after the catch specialist and hopefully that translates to the next level. Chase Claypool is a bigger bodied WR at 6’5 and word is that he’s been bulking up from the 215lbs he was listed at coming out of hs. That size makes blocking a lot easier and may even inspire some seeing him as a potential TE but when watching his tape he feels more like a natural WR. His size doesn’t prevent him from being very shifty with great footwork and athleticism. If he hadn’t played ball in Canada he likely would have been a much higher rated recruit. There’s a realistic possibility that both these Freshmen could crack into the WR rotation this season with the wild card being still uncommitted and unsigned 5-Star WR Demetris Robertson. The Irish are still in great shape with the 6’ “Will Fuller-esque” speedster out of Georgia but it’s anyone’s guess at this point.

Projected Depth Chart

QB
Malik Zaire- 6′ 225lbs
DeShone Kizer- 6’5 230lbs

X-Receiver (Fuller)
Equanimeous St. Brown- 6’4 210lbs
Corey Robinson- 6’5 215lbs
Chase Claypool- 6’5 215lbs

W-Reciever (Brown)
Torrii Hunter Jr.- 6′ 195lbs
Miles Boykin- 6’4 230lbs
Javon McKinley- 6’2 195lbs

Z-Reciever (Carlisle)
CJ Sanders-5’8 185lbs
Torrii Hunter Jr.- 6′ 195lbs
Corey Holmes- 6’1- 184lbs

When it comes to the WR position there’s constant rotation between the ones and twos and a lot of fluidity in terms of where players will lineup. It’s all about the design of the play and situation. It makes the depth chart a very loose and flexible document but what you’ll see with this group is the range of sizes. The Irish have the assets available to go tall across the board or strong and physical. They’ve got a man for every job and I’m sure we’ll see many of these guys lining up at different positions to create favorable match-ups and utilize their individual strengths and abilities to do some pretty great things with this versatile style of offense under Kelly, Sanford, and Denbrock.