Where is Davonte Neal going to see opportunities in the fall of 2012?
Welcome to Part III of a series on the incoming freshman football players on the Notre Dame Football team. The basis of the Herring Bone analysis is to move away from Signing Day, where we spend time projecting careers from 5 years out, and rather get a realistic take on where they might fit into the depth chart in the upcoming season. While blue-chip recruits Gunner Kiel and Elijiah Shumate may end as up multi-year starters and 1st Round NFL Draft picks, they may be riding the pine this fall due to no faults of their own.
The curious finish to Davonte Neal’s recruitment is already a distant memory (story). ESPN.com’s #1 rated “athlete” in the 2012 recruiting class is all Irish and that’s all that matters (until it doesn’t). Again for emphasis, Neal is the “Number One Rated Athlete In The 2012 Class” and was ESPN’s #8 rated player. The 5’10″, 185 lb WR/DB passed on in-state favorites with new coaches, Arizona State & Arizona, SEC power Arkansas (pre-motorcycle madness), and new local recruiting rival Urban Meyer to take his talents to South Bend. In light of the deficiencies of the Irish punt return unit in 2011 and needs at wide receiver and corner, fans already expect him to see the field early and possibly often.
This site argued that WR Justin Ferguson might have a better career than classmate and outside threat Chris Brown, but if he ends up in the Slot/RB mix he’ll be challenging multiple proven veterans for snaps in 2012. Davonte Neal’s height, weight, and combination of speed and athleticism, like Ferguson, are tailored to the Slot/RB position, but he still could struggle to get attention if he starts his career playing offense. We’d like to think his elite skills will make it impossible for Brian Kelly to keep the lid on, but expectations are already high for 3rd stringer George Atkinson III. Will there be enough balls to go around? Is this a bad problem to have? (N-O.)
Davonte Neal Highlights (Offense & Defense)
Davonte Neal got the “athlete” and vaunted “#1″ tags for a reason – he had impressive film as a lockdown cornerback in high school to go with his explosive offensive and returns tape. The depth chart for the 2012 Notre Dame Football team at corner is not the experienced, deep group we see at Slot/RB, so if he enters fall camp with the defensive unit it shouldn’t come as a surprise. The projected rotation (Bennett Jackson, Lo Wood, Josh Atkinson & Jalen Brown) has a combined zero starts and one interception. It would still seem that coordinator Bob Diaco left spring ball believing the cornerback position is not in dire need of help, but rather a young, fast group that is going to be given their chance. With multi-year starters at both safety positions and Manti Te’o manning the middle of a strong front seven, Neal would need to blow the staff away and digest the playbook rapidly to make any case for starting on this team.
Davonte Neal got his own post because the possibilities are just too dynamic to give an honest projection that this writer believes in. Let’s start with here – there is 0% chance he is redshirting this fall. The rest of this series withheld Special Teams from the discussion – Neal will be on both return units and likely get a hard look as the team’s main punt returner. GAIII would seem to continue his role as the main kickoff returner, but Neal will join Ferguson in that rotation. After that, anything else is a guessing game and I’ll toss out my own.
Charles Woodson Ultra Diet Lite. It would seem to be a massive waste of time and talent to plug Davonte Neal into one position during Fall Camp. If Brian Kelly, Chuck Martin, and Bob Diaco all feel comfortable before freshmen arrivals, why not give him snaps on both sides of the ball from the start and build in practice packages for him that don’t take away from his development? As I’ve mentioned before in this series, freshman who have one élite skill can get early playing time when that skill can be harnessed for its singular use. Neal could run with the Slot WRs, but have a few plays designed specifically with Theo Riddick, GAIII, and Neal in mind that basically tell him to let his athletic ability take over.
On the defensive side of the ball it would behoove the coaching staff to not find out if Neal can transfer his lockdown corner skills to the college level. There are numerous concerns carrying over in that department and more options would appear beneficial. Forget orget the playbook if he provide blanket coverage. Just let him work onto specific packages where he can be told, “Do ONE thing – cover that guy wherever he goes.” Neal wouldn’t need to learn where his safety help is coming from or zone schemes; the lack of time spent with specific units would not be a major problem in this scenario.
So Irish fans … we’re essentially grasping at straws when offering our takes on Davonte Neal. We still shouldn’t be surprised if he becomes a playmaker early or another high-profile benchwarmer. Getting on the field as a freshman is never easy and doesn’t predict career successes either. I’d like to think the coaching staff will be doing everything in their power to maximize match-ups on offense and defense during the death march that is the 2012 schedule. Maybe the #1 rated athlete in America could be of some assistance.
|Steve Herring is the Editor-in-Chief of HerringBoneSports.com and also hosts TNNDN’s Down the Line. Steve is the new TNNDN Network President and acts as Executive Producer of four Notre Dame related shows.
Steve has worked in broadcasting at Madison Square Garden Media and the Arena Football League. You can find all his articles and radio show links on this site.
Contact Steve on Twitter @HB_Sports or e-mail HerringBoneSports@gmail.com
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