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Irish receiving corps looks to fill big shoes

| Friday, April 15, 2016

Fans of last year’s Notre Dame team will have fond memories of the 2015 receiving corps.

Between Will Fuller averaging over 20 yards per catch, Amir Carlisle getting open from the slot position and Chris Brown making clutch catches, receiver was one of Notre Dame’s strongest position groups.

Entering spring practices however, one thing is clear: change is coming.

Fuller, Brown and Carlisle are all gone chasing NFL careers, and with them go 2,210 of Notre Dame’s 3,364 receiving yards from last year. Additionally, the team’s current leader in receiving yards, senior Corey Robinson, underwent a medical evaluation for a concussion Tuesday and there’s been no word if he’s been cleared to return to spring practices.

The good news for the Irish, however, is that there are a number of players vying to fill the vacancies on the depth chart.

And they’re fast.

Irish senior Torii Hunter Jr. runs away from defenders during Notre Dame’s 24-21 win at Temple on Oct. 31 in Philadelphia. Hunter’s 28 receptions in 2015 make him the program’s leading returner at receiver.Zachary Llorens | The Observer
Irish senior Torii Hunter Jr. runs away from defenders during Notre Dame’s 24-21 win at Temple on Oct. 31 in Philadelphia. Hunter’s 28 receptions in 2015 make him the program’s leading returner at receiver.

“What we do have is a tremendous combination at the position of some guys who are longer, some guys who are faster, some guys — the shorter guys might be a little faster than the longer guys — but all of the guys have the ability to make plays down the field,” Irish associate head coach and receivers coach Mike Denbrock said on March 21. “Now, they might not be running 10 yards away from the corner who was trying to cover them like Will [Fuller] did at times, but they still have the ability to create explosive plays.”

One player in particular who looks to make a splash in the 2016-2017 campaign is senior Torii Hunter Jr. At 6-feet tall, Hunter has the ability to play either outside or in the slot. Wherever he plays, however, Hunter is poised to be the team’s first option.

“I think he is smoother, and he appears to be running pretty fast down the field when he’s out there route running,” Denbrock said. “He can give us — maybe not exactly the same things we got from the overall electric speed of a Will Fuller, but he can give us down the field opportunities.”

As one of two seniors on the receiving corps, Hunter also figures to step into a leadership role.

“I think Torii Hunter has done a good job of stepping up, being a leader of the group, along with Corey Robinson,” sophomore receiver Equanimeous St. Brown said.

Behind Hunter, St. Brown and junior Corey Holmes appear to be favorites to make a run at starting jobs. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound St. Brown was a four-star recruit coming out of high school but totaled only one catch for eight yards last season.

Holmes too, was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and appeared in two games during the 2014 season before being redshirted last year. Like Hunter and St. Brown, Holmes’ biggest strength is his speed — the 6-foot, 190-pound receiver was clocked at 4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash for Notre Dame.

“I think trusting my speed is a big thing, Holmes said. “My dad used to tell me all the time, ‘Just trust your speed. You’re fast, just trust it.’ At times, I kinda get caught up trying to make people miss and stuff and [I] don’t really show my speed at times. That’s really all it is, pushing myself and running full speed all the time.”

With Hunter, St. Brown and Holmes in the game at the same time, the Irish can field one of the fastest receiving corps in the nation. And with Robinson and sophomore tight end Alizé Jones providing height for red zone targets, the Irish look to be in good shape.

In theory at least.

With the departure of last year’s players, the receiving core entering Saturday’s Blue and Gold game will be the least tested in recent memory, with only Hunter seeing significant playing time last year. And while all three candidates have impressive speed and natural talent, making that talent translate will be Denbrock’s top priority in the fall, he said.

“It’s always interesting running on a clock and then running when you have a helmet on and shoulder pads on, and some guys play at different speeds depending,” Denbrock said of Holmes’ game on March 21. “[Holmes has] done a much better job here in the last year … of learning how to play fast. He’s translated that better than he has at any point so far. He just needs to continue to be reminded.”

Growing pains are to be expected, but if the Irish can overcome them early in the year, this group has the chance to be as explosive as last year’s.

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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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