Vorel: Lots to look forward to in fall camp at Notre Dame

COMMENTARY

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Here’s a blanket statement.

I’m looking forward to the start of fall practice at Notre Dame.

Of course, that’s a sweeping generalization, like a kid saying he’s looking forward to Christmas morning, when really, he’s looking forward to that voluptuous pile of presents. It’s every present, every piece of candy stuffed into a stocking, every bite of roast beef, every moment spent with family and friends, that makes a holiday a holiday.

Saturday’s a holiday, too.

And oh, there will be presents.

When Notre Dame spreads into stretch lines on a picturesque swath of turf in Culver, Ind., on Saturday morning, I’m looking forward to seeing an early glimpse of what’s to come. A new team with a new identity and the same old expectations. Familiar faces and promising freshmen. Fall surprises and position battles aplenty.

Where to even begin?

I’m looking forward to watching C.J. Sanders run at full speed, something we as the media and general public may have taken for granted. Sanders, who returned both a kick and punt for touchdowns in his freshman season, was relegated to an electric scooter for much of the spring with a hip flexor injury. The 5-foot-8, 185-pound blur from Granada Hills, Calif., should challenge for the starting job at slot receiver while also reclaiming his role as the primary Irish returner.

And once he gets going, Sanders is a sight to see.

50 DAYS.

Today's moment: CJ Sanders' 50-yard punt return for a TD last season.#CountdownToPrimetimepic.twitter.com/cRbh8UIlVR

— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) July 16, 2016

I’m looking forward to a few more “Gimme that's” from senior wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr.

GIMME THAT!

Happy #TouchdownTuesday from Torii Hunter Jr. (@THunterJr) pic.twitter.com/hoGLknMxOO

— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) July 26, 2016

Notre Dame’s top returning receiver, Hunter caught 28 passes for 363 yards and two touchdowns in 2015. Now, subtract Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle from the mix. Subtract tight end Alizé Jones, too, who will miss the season with an academic suspension.

What do you get? More targets. More catches. More opportunities for a senior who’s ready and willing to lead.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the young kids are made of.

Can Tommy Kraemer start at right guard? Can Devin Studstill really challenge Max Redfield for reps at free safety? Where does Javon McKinley fit into the mix at wide receiver?

What is ChaseClaypool — a wide receiver, a tight end or an outside linebacker?

And is there any way Brian Kelly can keep this young upstart off the field?

Congrats to my 2 year old who just committed to @NDFootball. pic.twitter.com/j4UolBZdtM

— Shane S (@TimsNeighbor) July 24, 2016

Speaking of freshmen, I’m looking forward to a fully healthy Daelin Hayes. A 6-foot-4, 257-pound ball of muscles and expectations, Hayes missed significant time throughout his high school career with shoulder issues and enrolled early in the spring, but was limited in practice as he recovered from a torn labrum.

We know he can dance, but can the linebacker-turned-defensive end rush the passer? The Irish need the answer to be yes this fall.

Me in about an hour, right before loading up my plate at the #SBTTacoBar. pic.twitter.com/jdOvMTrP2w

— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) April 9, 2016

I’m looking forward to seeing golden-haired, golden-footed punter Tyler Newsome boom footballs so high that you swear they’ll never land.

Because punters need love too

Tyler Newsome ( @Rogerthat_85 ) booms a punt that still hasn't landed. pic.twitter.com/p0KGDoVTE7

— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) August 8, 2015

A 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior, Newsome averaged 44.5 yards per punt, knocked 21 punts at least 50 yards and recorded a long of 62 yards in his first stretch of playing time in 2015. And still, he was left off the Ray Guy Award watch list this summer.

Luckily for Newsome, he gets to take out his frustration on a few — if DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire have their way, not too many — unfortunate footballs this fall.

I’m looking forward to having something to talk about other than the Shamrock Series uniforms.

I’m looking forward to Max Redfield finally getting those shoulder pads off, and Nick Watkins being healthy enough to help him.

RT if you understand the struggle. pic.twitter.com/AZDgnLIai9

— WORLD STAR FANS (@WorIdStarLaugh) May 18, 2016

Redfield and Watkins both have something to prove, albeit for different reasons. A rare veteran in the suddenly youthful Irish secondary, the 6-1, 205-pound Redfield should be a reliable contributor. He should be a calming presence and respected field commander. He should be a force to be reckoned with.

Should. But will he be? For one of Notre Dame’s most undeniably talented yet frustratingly inconsistent mainstays, that remains to be seen.

As for Watkins, who missed a portion of the spring with a broken arm, the opportunity is there. So is the competition. After starting the first game of his career in last season’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State, the lanky 6-1, 200-pound junior will compete alongside the likes of sophomores Shaun Crawford and Nick Coleman and freshmen Troy Pride Jr. and Donte Vaughn for a starting cornerback job alongside senior Cole Luke this fall. He’ll sink, or he’ll swim.

And if the secondary sinks, so will the Irish defense.

I’m looking forward to the sophomore season of placekicker Justin Yoon (who suddenly has competition).

He's ready. #GoIrish! @NDFootball@jkicker19@wwhite4NDpic.twitter.com/MXMIqzQEmQ

— Bobby Lee Coy (@bobbyleecoy) July 16, 2016

I’m looking forward to seeing how spring surprises translate into the fall.

That goes for Studstill as well as freshman wide receiver Kevin Stepherson, who transcended a slender frame and an underwhelming recruiting ranking to make an immediate impression. The question may not be whether Stepherson plays, but at what position. The Jacksonville, Fla., native may have to shift from the X to W wide receiver slot to step out of Hunter’s considerable shadow.

What am I forgetting?

Oh, that’s right. I’m looking forward to focusing more on the highly publicized position battle under center at Notre Dame and less on the one in Washington, D.C.

And here, only one vote matters.

Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly will decide on a starting quarterback in fall camp. (AP Photo/ROSS D. FRANKLIN)

What are you looking forward to seeing in fall camp and the 2016 season? Let us know in the comments section.

Notre Dame’s Torii Hunter Jr. (16) celebrates after a Notre Dame touchdown during the first half of Notre Dame-Stanford NCAA football game on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015, in Palo Alto, Calif. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN