Notre Dame football notebook: Can Irish shake up 2014 NFL Draft?

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Bryant Young has pushed past 40, played in four Pro Bowls, earned aSuper Bowl ring, won the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year award andjust recently pushed away college coaching.

And yet the former Notre Dame All-America remains the most recentIrish player to land in the top 10 picks of the NFL Draft, with SanFrancisco having slotted him seventh in 1994.

That could soon change.

A plethora of way-too-early 2014 mock drafts are up, and two Irishplayers show up in the top 10 picks of several of them. Both playersdo have college eligibility, though, beyond this season.

Jason McIntyre of Big Lead Sports, for instance, has junior defensiveend Stephon Tuitt going seventh to the Tennessee Titans, and seniornose guard Louis Nix (who has a fifth-year option) 10th to MantiTe'o's new team, the San Diego Chargers.

McIntyre also has ND junior outside linebacker Ishaq Williams in thefirst round, heading to Seattle with the 32nd pick, and former Irishdefensive end Aaron Lynch going fourth to Buffalo. Lynch, aftersitting out last season, will suit up for the University of SouthFlorida this fall.

Some other mocks have fifth-year senior offensive tackle Zack Martinand cornerback Bennett Jackson as first-round projections.

Draft analyst Scott Wright of draftcountdown.com doesn't do a mockdraft this early, but he has already started his 2014 research andagrees Nix and Tuitt look like first-rounders at this juncture.

"I don't think Nix is going to be a high first-rounder like some do,just because he's not going to test off the charts like, say, DontariPoe a couple of years ago. He's not going to run a 5-flat 40 oranything like that.

"But I mean he can be a dominant nose tackle, and the guy he kind ofreminds me of (New England's) Vince Wilfork. He's that big guy who canstuff the run, but a pretty good athlete too. He'll penetrate andwreak some havoc in the backfield as well.

"And Stephon Tuitt? That's a pretty impressive human being. He's300-plus, but he looks like he's about 250. Who knows what his growthpotential is? Everyone's going to be talking about (South Carolina's)Jadeveon Clowney, and rightfully so, but I think Tuitt is going to beright in that conversation to be that next defensive end off the boardpotentially."

Wright said Lynch and Williams, who were both in the same Irishrecruiting class with Tuitt, have first-round skill sets but have alot to prove.

"We haven't seen Lynch play in a couple of years," Wright said. "Heneeds to come out and show it on the field, but there were definitelyflashes as a freshman in which he showed that first-round potential.

"He's a great athlete, but there are going to be some characterconcerns there. They're going to investigate how he left Notre Dame,and they're going to talk to those Notre Dame coaches to see if thereare any concerns there. But if he checks out with the characterconcerns and has a good year, then I think he absolutely is going tobe in the first-round conversation."

Wright projects Martin and Jackson more in the second- to third-roundrange, but said both players could move up.

Of ND's remaining draft-eligible players, Wright said senior outsidelinebacker Prince Shembo is the most intriguing.

"I think he's going to be on a par with, if not a better prospectthan, Darius Fleming, who was a fifth-rounder," Wright said. "I thinkhe's going to be right in that third to fifth-round range."

Toma gets his shot

Former Notre Dame wide receiver Robby Toma may never have been sohappy to have been awakened at 4 a.m.

That's what time it was in Laie, Hawaii, where Toma was when theBaltimore Ravens called and offered him a chance to join their rosteras a rookie free agent. He'll join former teammate and sixth-rounddraft choice Kapron Lewis-Moore. For the record, it was 10 a.m. inBaltimore.

Toma became the fifth undrafted Irish player in this draft class tocome to terms with a team as a rookie free agent.

More night moves

ESPN announced Monday that Notre Dame's road games at Michigan onSept. 7 and at Purdue on Sept. 14 will both have 8 p.m. (EDT) starts.The games will be televised on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.

That leaves ND's road games at Pitt (Nov. 9) and Stanford (Nov. 30) asthe only two on the 2013 schedule still awaiting kickoff times.

The Irish played a school-record seven night games each of the past two seasons.

Star-struck

If recent Notre Dame five-star running back commit Elijah Hood does goahead and sign with the Irish in February, it will complete a rarerecruiting feat for the ND coaches.

With five-star running back Greg Bryant having signed in the 2013class, Notre Dame would become just the fifth school in the past 13cycles -- going back to the start of Rivals.com -- that signed five-starrunning backs in consecutive classes.

The other four schools are Alabama, Oregon, Texas and USC.

USC has actually done it twice, sort of. In 2006, USC got two in the same class -- Stafon Johnson and C.J. Gable-- followed by two more in the 2007 class -- Joe McKnight and MarcTyler.

Texas' two-step comprised Malcolm Brown (2011) and Johnathan Gray(2012). Oregon doubled up with Lache Seastrunk (2010, now at Baylor)and D'Anthony Thomas 2011), while Alabama coupled Demetrius Hart(2011) and T.J. Yeldon (2012).

Scholarship numbers

With quarterback Gunner Kiel and wide receivers Davonte' Neal andJustin Ferguson having exited the Notre Dame roster, the Irish aredown to 83 scholarship players for 2013. That leaves the door open forND head coach Brian Kelly to award scholarships to a couple ofwalk-ons -- perhaps Wake Forest punter transfer Alex Wulfeck and Irishbasketball player-turned-tight end Joey Brooks.

As far as the 2014 recruiting class that Kelly is assembling, theIrish will have 15 players exhaust their eligibility after the 2013season (counting Brooks and Wulfeck), opening up 15 slots. If youbelieve Tuitt and Nix are NFL-bound, then that gives the Irish 17openings before you consider potential fifth-year seniors in the mix.

How many of the other fifth-year guys besides Nix come back is wherethe elasticity in the recruiting class size comes. The nine playerswith fifth-year options besides Nix are safety Austin Collinsworth,offensive guard Bruce Heggie, quarterback Andrew Hendrix, offensivetackle Christian Lombard, wide receiver Luke Massa, linebacker KendallMoore, defensive end Justin Utupo, tight end Alex Welch and cornerbackLo Wood.

Shopping around

The injury-ravaged college career of tight end Jake Golic might not beover after all -- just the ND part of it is.

According to former Irish offensive lineman Mike Golic Jr., Jake'solder brother, the 6-4, 245-pounder from West Hartford, Conn., islooking for a place to play out his final season of eligibility nextseason.

Jake Golic saw cameos in five games over four years at Notre Dame,including brief appearances this season against Miami (Fla.) and WakeForest. His next career pass reception will be his first.

"He's battled some injuries in his career, but now he's healthy andfeeling good," Mike Golic Jr. said. "It's just one of those thingswhere he's not ready to give it up yet and really wants to get back onthe field, really wants take another shot at this, put his best footforward. And so he's trying to look around right now and see wherethat good fit is.

"I expect nothing but good things from Jake. He's always been a greatplayer. Bad-timed injuries here and there just kept him from gettingon the field much here, but I have no doubt that he can be a greatplayer for somebody somewhere. Hopefully, he'll find a good fit heresoon."

Staff writer Eric Hansen:

ehansen@sbtinfo.com

574-235-6112

Notre Dame defensive linemen Louis Nix (9) and Stephon Tuitt pressure Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson during last season's game.