Notre Dame football: Chris Brown could be golden

South Bend Tribune

The Golden Tate analogy seems plausible to just about everybody except perhaps the one on the other end of it — heretofore deep-route receiving specialist Chris Brown.

“I’ve heard of him,” offered Brown, a sophomore wide receiver for Notre Dame who was more decoy than defined last season.

So largely was Tate during his freshman season (2007) at ND, though he eventually evolved into an every-down receiver then an All-American before leaping into the NFL Draft pool a year ahead of his eligibility expiring.

Irish coach Brian Kelly is pushing Brown, who had twice as many starts (4) as receptions (2) in 2012. down that same path. Brown is slated to make career start No. 5 Saturday, when 14th-ranked Notre Dame hosts Temple in the season opener for both squads.

“I thought it was just OK,” Kelly said when asked to assess Brown’s August training camp. “We expect a little bit more consistency from Chris. He's got great talent. He really worked hard this summer. He put on weight (up to 191 from 172 on a 6-foot-2 frame). He got to the level that we wanted him physically. Now we want to see a consistency out of him.

“I don't want to compare him to anybody, but we went through this a little bit with other players in our program, where we demanded that consistency. And that's where we are with Chris. We think he's got such a high ceiling. I mean, we think he can be a terrific football player.”

In practice, you can see the wider repertoire. He’s now dangerous on short slant patterns, has nice double moves to get free in the red zone. Some of what held him back in the weeks leading up to game week were nagging injuries.

“More precautionary than anything,” the Hanahan, S.C., product said. “But I’m 100 percent now and ready to go.”

He saw time in practice this month both as an outside receiver and in the slot, the kind of versatility the Irish coaches have tried to invoke in all of their front-line receivers.

“Coach Kelly preaches having smart players,” Brown said.

Of the two catches Brown had last season, the most memorable was a 50-yarder at Oklahoma in the fourth quarter that set up the go-ahead touchdown in a 30-13 conquest of the Sooners.

“I realized I was almost one-dimensional last year,” Brown said, “so I just had to expand myself as an overall receiver.”

The former national prep standout triple-jumper pushed away an invitation to compete for the Irish track team in order to focus on diversifying his skill set.

And what did the growing process look like?

“He has flashes where you go, ‘wow,’ and then you go, “what was that?’” Kelly said.

“From a confidence level and an understanding level of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, he’s so much farther ahead than he was a year ago,” Irish receivers coach Mike Denbrock added.

He’s also still very fast, and in fact disputes running back George Atkinson III’s claim that Atkinson is the fastest player on the team.

“I still say I’m the fastest,” Brown said.

The next step, though, is to be the most consistent.


-- Irish junior defensive end Stephon Tuitt starts the season 10½ sacks away from New York Giants star Justin Tuck’s career sack record at Notre Dame (24½) and came within 1½ of tying his 10-year-old single-season mark of 13½ last season.

And apparently Tuck is paying attention.

“Are you going to break my sack record or what,” Tuck tweeted to Tuitt on Wednesday night.. “I've had it long enough.”

-- ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper’s newest Big Board is out, as he sizes up the top pro prospects for next May’s NFL Draft. And two Irish players are on it, with both moving up.

Irish senior nose guard Louis Nix is ranked No. 3, behind only South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Nix was No. 7 in the last rankings.

Tuitt moved up from 13 to 11. Former Notre Dame defensive end Aaron Lynch, who makes his re-entry into college football Saturday with the University of South Florida, is No. 14. He previously was No. 20.

The now Skip Holtz-less Bulls host McNeese State Saturday night, then visit Michigan State the following Saturday.

-- Apparently Brian Kelly stayed off his computer during SEC Media Days in July, when Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, seconded by Alabama’s Nick Saban, insisted the prevalent fast-tempo offenses in college football are resulting in more injury risks for defensive players.

Not just that, they believe the rules should be tweaked to slow the offenses down and allow for substitutions.

Where this is relevant to Kelly is that it’s the kind of offense that’s been a staple in his past and purportedly is in Notre Dame’s near future, at least in stretches.

“I really haven't been in tune to that conversation,” Kelly said of the injury claims. “When I've had conversations about fast tempo, it's trying to neutralize really good defensive coordinators. It's trying to take away sub packages. It's trying to take away the pen last from the defensive coordinator as it relates to running tempo.”

-- There is little doubt Temple associate athletic director/athletic communications Cathy Bongiovi will have to put up with some bad musical puns on Saturday, such as “Is She Livin’ On A Prayer?”

Actually, though, she is a distant relative of both rocker Jon Bon Jovi, but not so distant that they’re strangers, and son Jesse Bongiovi, the latter of who is a freshman walk-on cornerback for the Irish. All three are expected at ND Stadium on Saturday.

-- Former Irish cornerback recruit Tee Shepard’s college career gets a reboot Thursday night when he plays in his first real game since 2010, his junior year in high school at Fresno Central East.

His new team, Holmes (Miss.) Community College takes on Jones Junior College.

-- Temple helped alleviate a bit of the overbooking on Notre Dame’s 2014 schedule when it agreed this summer to move ND’s Oct. 11, 2014 date in Philadelphia into the 2015 season.

Arizona State insistence on not letting the Irish out of their contracted 2014 meeting in Tempe, Ariz., helped prompt the move. The Irish still have to move or cancel one more game to get down to the NCAA allowable maximum of 12 regular-season games.

The Owls complete the 2-for-1 arrangement in 2017, when they return to South Bend.

-- Saturday’s 3:30 EDT start between Notre Dame and Temple might just create a bit of culture shock for the Owls players.

Temple actually practices in the early mornings, and is one of the few FBS schools to do so. The players attend class in the afternoons and evenings.

The ball hits the fingertips of Notre Dame wide receiver Chris Brown (2) in front of defense by Wake Forest cornerback Chibuikem Okoro (6) during an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, at Notre Dame. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER
Notre Dame's Chris Brown.