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Football

St. Brown leads deep receiving corps into 2017

| Sunday, August 20, 2017

Preseason expectations for the Irish offense are understandably high.

First-year starting quarterback Brandon Wimbush has been getting a lot of hype. Emphasis on a lot.

And there’s been nothing thus far to suggest he won’t live up to it. On top of that, Irish head coach Brian Kelly has a significantly better record with a first-year starter at the helm of his offense than with more experienced quarterbacks.

Then, there’s the offensive line, which sports two future draft picks on the left side in Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson.

A solid quarterback and a stalwart offensive line are great to have, but the truly elite offenses in college football also boast playmakers at the receiver position.

Right now, Notre Dame has just one elite receiver — junior Equanimeous St. Brown — but that can change. Quickly.

Irish junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown hauls in a pass down the field during Notre Dame's 50-33 win over Syracuse on Oct. 1 at MetLife Stadium.Grace Tourville | The Observer

Irish junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown hauls in a pass down the field during Notre Dame’s 50-33 win over Syracuse on Oct. 1 at MetLife Stadium.

Sunday’s scrimmage was a big one for the receiving corps, with St. Brown, sophomore Chase Claypool and sophomore Javon McKinley having standout performances.

In his postgame remarks, Kelly called the scrimmage a “big day” for Claypool in particular.

“You saw Claypool make a couple plays today,” Kelly said. “We’ve been looking for him to kind of step up and be a little bit more consistent. We’ve been pushing Chase — he’s a great kid. He wants that. He wants us to stay on him, and he’s learning and developing the traits.”

Claypool only recorded five receptions for 81 yards last season, but with Torii Hunter Jr. graduated and sophomore Kevin Stepherson seemingly out of the mix, there’s a lot of playing time to go around.

“I think we have really good depth. We’re going to play a lot of them, they’re all going to contribute in some fashion,” Kelly said. “I think we have a marquee player in [St. Brown], and then I think we have a lot of really solid football players that will contribute.”

And while Claypool and junior Miles Boykin look to be the most likely candidates to join St. Brown among the elite ranks of receivers, St. Brown said until that happens, he’s prepared to step up his game.

“I need to step up, be more vocal,” St. Brown said. “Right now, I’ve been mainly leading by example. I’ll be more vocal during the season, help the young [receivers] out, because they’re looking up to me and some of the older guys for counseling and leadership, so that’s going to be one of my major roles this year.”

In addition to his leadership behind the scenes, St. Brown already appears to have strong chemistry with Wimbush, who looked for the big target from Anaheim, California, on multiple third down situations.

“I’ve been catching balls from him since high school,” St. Brown said of his relationship with Wimbush. “We have a great relationship on the field and off the field, so that’s definitely going to help us out throughout the season.”

Kelly and wide receiver coach DelVaughn Alexander have a lot of pieces to choose from with Claypool, Boykin and junior C.J. Sanders all showing signs of life. And that’s not to mention the new transfers seniors Cameron Smith and Freddy Canteen and tight end Alize Mack.

Irish sophomore receiver C.J. Sanders hauls in a touchdown catch during Notre Dame’s 39-10 win over Nevada on Sept. 10.Emmet Farnan | The Observer

Irish sophomore receiver C.J. Sanders hauls in a touchdown catch during Notre Dame’s 39-10 win over Nevada on Sept. 10.

“I really think that each one of them has a little bit different trait,” Kelly said. “Each one is a bit different as a player. Boykin is obviously rangy. Claypool obviously big, physical kid.”

St. Brown also said he likes the depth at the position, especially when the Irish go up-tempo on offense.

“It’s important with the offense, with how fast we go, to have subs that can perform in high-pressure situations,” St. Brown said. “Going as fast as we go, we’re going to need some plays off. You can’t run forever, that’s good.”

Now, the only thing the receivers need to do, is prove themselves. Of players not named Equanimeous, only Kevin Stepherson and Sanders had over 10 catches in 2016. Mack missed the season due to an academic suspension and Smith and Canteen are transfers.

But with a revamped offense and a new gunslinger under center, there may be a lot more household names coming from the receiving corps.

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About Marek Mazurek

Marek is a senior history major and is a former resident of Carroll Hall. He has lived in Mishawaka or South Bend for all 21 years of his life and covers Notre Dame football and men's basketball. He has loads of hand-eye coordination but lacks the height to be any good. Marek is also a proud esports supporter.

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