WR Corey Holmes leads list of Notre Dame spring surprises

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Corey Holmes will have no actual bearing on the upcoming — and likely protracted — Notre Dame quarterback derby, other than the non-factor at wide receiver in 2015 is suddenly a strong candidate to eventually catch passes from the last man standing in it.

As spring practice kicks off early Wednesday morning with this first of 15 sessions, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior-to-be from Pembroke Pines, Fla., is officially the fastest man on the Irish football team.

He’s also the most fascinating wild card of the spring, edging quarterback Brandon Wimbush — among others. Head coach Brian Kelly made a U-turn regarding the automatic redshirting of the sophomore-to-be and instead is throwing him into the potential starter mix at QB with comeback kid Malik Zaire and incumbent DeShone Kizer.

“Wimbush has arguably the best arm on the team and is extremely fast,” Kelly said on Tuesday. “It’s almost an embarrassment of riches at that position. We just have to give them all a great opportunities to compete.”

Holmes actually did redshirt last season as a sophomore after sliding down the depth chart in August. But he made a strong impression behind the scenes while redshirting. And during the team’s recent physical testing, he put up freakish numbers.

Like a 4.39-second 40-yard dash, edging fellow wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. (4.42) for best time on the team. Now, different tracks, different circumstances and different timing devices, but Holmes’ 40 time would have tied him for second place — behind only former ND teammate Will Fuller’s 4.32 — among wide receivers at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last month.

And his 41-inch vertical leap would have matched the best among wide receivers in that category and would have ranked among the top 10 at his position at the combine in the past 11 years.

“We’re going to use this spring to figure out where we want Corey Holmes to play,” said Kelly, who loses all three starters in the receiver corps, with recently elected student body president Corey Robinson as the only receiver on the roster with more than one career start (5).

Across the entire roster, Notre Dame experienced massive turnover, with cornerback Cole Luke (26) the new leader in career starts and yet not assured of a starting spot when the Irish open Sept. 3 at Texas. Sophomore-to-be Shaun Crawford, back from ACL surgery, and late-season surger Nick Watkins are pressing.

Overall, the Irish return nine starters from their 10-3 squad in 2015, though two 2014 starters — nose guard Jarron Jones and running back Tarean Folston — are back, as are a handful of other players with intermittent starts in 2015.

That lends itself to the wild cards and out-of-the-woodwork sagas having some staying power.

“We've had some pretty strenuous workouts to test this team and to find out who they are,” Kelly said. “We're still trying to figure out who this team is, really.”

Here are some of the more intriguing surprises and ascending players to keep an eye on:

• Early enrolled freshman Daelin Hayes, listed at 239 pounds on National Signing Day, is up to 257 on his 6-4 frame, and ran a 4.8 40-yard dash.

Though Hayes’ offseason shoulder surgery will keep him out of contact drills in the spring, Kelly still expects Hayes to benefit greatly from not waiting to enroll on June and will be part of the plan to boost the heretofore pedestrian Irish pass rush in the fall.

Kelly also said early enrolled safeties Spencer Perry and Devin Studstill look the part.

• Sophomore center Tristen Hoge redshirted as a freshman but has come on so strong that he’ll challenge heir apparent Sam Mustipher at Nick Martin’s vacated center spot and perhaps for a starting guard berth if Mustipher holds him off.

Quenton Nelson at left guard is the only player on the line guaranteed to start 2016 where he finished last season. Incumbent right tackle Mike McGlinchey could end up on the right side or the left. It’s a much more open competition elsewhere, with lots of moving parts and the 6-4, 300-pound Hoge being a big reason why.

“He looks really good, and we’ve got to see where he fits,” said Kelly who added Hoge did 24 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press (Martin did 28 at the combine) and had a vertical leap of 30 inches, same as QB Zaire.

“He’s changed the dynamic. That’s why we have to put him out there and see where it ends up.”

• Sophomore-to-be Dexter Williams garnered a modest 21 carries as a third-string safety-net last season at running back.

He technically enters this spring in the same position, with Folston expected to take departed starter C.J. Prosise’s carries eventually, though Kelly isn’t sure the 2014 starter will take any contact until August, coming of ACL surgery.

Fellow sophomore Josh Adams, meanwhile, is coming of the most prolific freshman rushing season in school history.

None of which seems to be fazing Williams who’s listed at 210, up from 200 last season, and ran a 4.51 40 in testing.

“He’s going to be a force to be dealt with, and his workouts have been extraordinary,” Kelly said. “He’s a man right now that does not want to get overlooked, so he’s caught everyone’s attention.”

• Linebackers Asmar Bilal and Josh Barajas each redshirted as freshmen last season. One or both could end up seeing significant roles this season and will cross-train this spring at the weakside and strongside spots.

The 6-2 Bilal is up to 230 from 220 last season, while the 6-2 Barajas is up two pounds to 237 from 235 last year, but his body composition is much different.

“Josh has probably remade himself physically more so than any player on our team,” said Kelly, who considered Barajas overweight last season.

• Another dramatic makeover is senior-to-be Jacob Matuska, who’s gone from a 6-5, 295-pound nose guard, sort of rotting on the bench, to a valuable piece in the tight end puzzle, and now at 275.

He provides the inline blocking role the Irish lost with the offseason transfer of Tyler Luatua to BYU. And Kelly was thrilled when Matuska, who was a standout tight end in high school, clicked off a 4.9 in the 40.


Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame wide receiver Corey Holmes (15) takes part in football drills Saturday, March 28, 2015, during practice at Loftus Sports Center in South Bend. (SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ)