Notebook: Notre Dame DL Daniel Cage on road to recovery from knee surgery

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Four days after Daniel Cage underwent knee surgery, the Notre Dame nose guard was ambling around without crutches.

A full recovery from a June 15 procedure to repair a torn meniscus will take a while longer, but Irish head football coach Brian Kelly said the part-time starter in 2015 and ’16 is expected to be 100 percent when Notre Dame opens training camp, Aug. 1 in Culver, Ind.

“He was continuously developing an effusion, swelling,” Kelly said. “So we went in there and snipped the cartilage. It was a pretty good bucket tear, so they had to suture that.”

Cage finished the spring No. 2 on the depth chart at nose guard, behind junior Jerry Tillery, who had moved over from defensive tackle in new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme. The 6-foot-2, 329-pound senior from Cincinnati in the spring battled through the effects of a long winter layoff due to offseason hernia surgery.

Concussion issues limited Cage to eight games in 2016. He started four of those games and totaled 10 tackles and forced a fumble before missing the final four games entirely. His most productive season has been 2015, in which he had 18 tackles, including four for loss.

He played in 11 of ND’s 13 games that season, with seven starts.

Bowling for a cause

The Notre Dame Chapter of Uplifting Athletes on Sunday will hold its fifth annual community bowling event to benefit skill development, patient-focused programs and rare-disease research.

Fans who pay the $30 registration can bowl with Notre Dame football players from 10 a.m. to noon at Strikes & Spares Event Center in Mishawaka.

The event, and the causes it recognizes, was inspired by Northridge High grad Sam Grewe. Sam was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in 2011, was adopted by the Notre Dame football team in 2012 and has since been declared cancer-free.

He’s also become a world-class Paralympian. Grewe won a silver medal in the high jump in Rio de Janeiro last September.

To register, fans can visit the Notre Dame Chapter Bowling Event registration page at http://bit.ly/2rZBE0a. Non-bowlers who want to support the cause are encouraged to attend as well.

What’s the catch?

Notre Dame sophomore-to-be wide receiver Kevin Stepherson finally put his legal hassles behind him — that is if he continues to stay out of trouble.

On Thursday, the Jacksonville, Fla., product was sentenced to one year in a conditional-discharge program by a judge in Fulton County, Ind. Stepherson pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana earlier this year in connection with an arrest last August that involved four other Irish players.

His place on the Irish depth chart is a little more muddled.

Three tall receivers — juniors Equanimeous St. Brown (6-5) and Miles Boykin (6-4) as well as sophomore Chase Claypool (6-5) — emerged as the starting group coming out of spring.

Kelly added two grad transfers this offseason, with skill sets very similar to Stepherson, in Freddy Canteen (Michigan) and Cameron Smith (Arizona State). Smith, per Kelly, is the fastest player on the Irish roster.

Add to that slot receiver holdovers Chris Finke and C.J. Sanders, ascending sophomore Javon McKinley and a couple of incoming freshmen, and the numbers game becomes apparent.

Here, though, are the numbers in Stepherson’s favor. He was ND’s third leading receiver in 2016, with 25 receptions and five TDs. His 462 receiving yards are more than any player among ND’s top 10 career leaders in that category in their freshman seasons, save Michael Floyd (719 in 2008).

Stepherson started three games and played in all 12 last season, but was consistently taking third-team reps throughout this past spring.

“I think he’s maturing every day,” Kelly assessed. “And I think, unfortunately, we had to accelerate him last year. He wasn’t ready emotionally.

“Physically, he’s extremely gifted. It would have been nice to redshirt him last year. But he’s making progress every single day — as long as he’s not reminded about how great he is. He doesn’t need that.

“He just needs to focus on school and growing as a person. If he does that, he’s going to be a tremendous player. Unfortunately, we just had to move him a little bit quicker than we wanted to.”

Appreciating Holtz

Earlier this month, former Notre Dame head football coach Lou Holtz dropped by Kelly’s Irish Invasion camp, in what’s evolved into one of the program’s key recruiting events in each cycle, and he spoke to the participants/prospects.

“He was in South Korea and came back that day to come help us out,” Kelly said. “’Immediately after, he was going to an event for Brady (former Irish QB Quinn). If he’s available, he’s here in a moment’s notice,

“I just wonder what his schedule will look like when he turns 90, because at 80, he’s doing more than I’m doing. Lou Holtz is Lou Holtz. I don’t think he will slow down until he can’t walk, can’t talk. Because that’s who he is.”

Kelly said that when Holtz isn’t a moving target, he remains a valuable coaching resource.

“There’s a lot to be gained in a conversation with coach Holtz when it comes to relationships with players,” Kelly said. “He loves Notre Dame. If I picked up the phone and I needed something, he would see that it got done. Pretty amazing guy.”

Notre Dame nose guard Daniel Cage (75) underwent knee surgery on June 15 but is expected to be 100 percent when training camp begins, On Aug. 1. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)