Who are the new faces in South Bend to keep an eye on this fall?
This should be where we insert the name Gunner Kiel and be done with it.
But the former No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation isn’t playing football at Notre Dame any longer. He is at Cincinnati. But had he stuck around, and, redshirted like he was supposed to, Kiel would likely be the starting quarterback of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
That, of course, is because the Notre Dame's star freshman last fall, quarterback Everett Golson, is also no longer with the team after academic issues removed him from the 2013 equation.
So no Kiel and no Golson? What is Brian Kelly to do?
His improbable 2012 run to the BCS National Championship Game was premature. It was a magnificent season that will go down in Irish lore as one of the greats. But it was ahead of schedule as Kelly has yet to have a roster of nothing but his own players. Well, that day is coming soon and the rest of college football has been placed on notice.
Kelly has finished 11th, 17th and 3rd nationally in recruiting according to Athlon Sports' team rankings in each of his full years on the job in South Bend. His latest haul was his most impressive and it is loaded with names who will help contribute to the defending national runner-up.
And it could be headlined by yet another redshirt freshman quarterback.
Greg Bryant, RB
The No. 46-rated prospect in the nation was the No. 8-rated running back recruit in the nation and he should play plenty right out of the gate. He has rare playmaking ability to go with a solid 200-pound frame that can withstand the beating of a 200+ touch season. George Atkinson III can fly and score from anywhere but it remains to be seen if he can be a workhorse back and that is where Bryant could shine as a true freshman.
Jaylon Smith, LB (pictured)
The overall No. 2-rated freshman in the nation, behind only Robert Nkemdiche, is expected to see time in the Irish front seven this fall. He is a rangy 6-foot-3, 220-pound hybrid outside linebacker and defensive end. He should see plenty of spot duty on special teams and third downs where Kelly can utilize his excellent ability to get up the field off the edge. On a stacked Irish defensive front, Smith could easily work his way into the regular rotation.
Malik Zaire, QB
There are no guarantees with any true freshman quarterback but it appears Zaire will be on the big roster this fall. That is because he brings a skill set to the offense that Kelly craves from his quarterback. Tommy Rees has experience and should start the year under center and Andrew Hendrix is hanging around too, but neither can do the things Zaire can. Should the offense struggle to outscore quality opponents — like, Michigan, Oklahoma or Arizona State — Zaire’s ability to move around and make plays might be too intriguing to keep off the field. He has a similar type of game as Golson and Kelly has shown he will go with the youngster if it gives his team the best chance to win.
Max Redfield, S
The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder is a missile in the secondary and should see plenty of early playing time as a true freshman. The No. 6-rated defensive back prospect in the nation was one of Kelly’s prized gems of this class from Mission Viejo, Calif. The safety brings a physicality and intimidation to a defensive backfield that already has plenty of talent at every position. Additionally, don’t be shocked if Redfield’s rare athleticism is used on offense as well.
Corey Robinson, WR
This Irish receiving class is one of the best in the nation with names like Torii Hunter Jr., James Onwualu and William Fuller joining Robinson in the four-man haul. Robinson, at 6-foot-5 and 190 pounds, enrolled early and has loads of upside in the red zone and down the field. Look for him to see time this fall in order to prepare himself to take over as the No. 1 in 2014.
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Jarron Jones, DE
Highly touted prospect just missed top-100 status and should contribute as a redshirt.
James Onwualu, WR
From famed Cretin-Derham Hall, Onwualu brings solid intangibles and an advanced football IQ.
Steve Elmer, OL
Top-100 prospect enrolled early this spring and could be a key reserve this fall.
Mark Harrell, OL
The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Charlotte native will be a key interior offensive line reserve this fall.
C.J. Prosise, WR
A big-bodied 6-foot-2, 220-pounder who could provide some help in the passing game.