Notre Dame may count on freshmen to shoulder load at WR


Notre Dame may count on freshmen to shoulder load at WR

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Michael Floyd caught 100 passes for 1,147 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011, his senior year at Notre Dame. While the Irish return a some experienced receivers, the team may wind up needing a few true freshmen to help make up for Floyd's departure to the NFL.
"There's no replacing Michael Floyd's production," admitted first-year receiver Chris Brown. "But as a unit, we just gotta come together and just fill that role."
T.J. Jones, Robby Toma and John Goodman return to the Irish offense with a few years of experience under their collective belts, while DaVaris Daniels will get a shot after not seeing the playing field his freshman year.
And Notre Dame is deep at tight end, with All-American Tyler Eifert headlining a group that also includes Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack. But Brown, Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson could see some playing time, if the first few days of practice are any indication.
Brown and Neal saw plenty of work with the first and second-team offense in last week's open practice, with Brown gouging out large chunks of yardage after making a few catches on short passes. And Neal's blue-chip talent was on display as he worked with quarterback Everett Golson, who many believe will be the starter on Sept. 1 when Notre Dame opens their season against Navy in Dublin.
"Everybody wants to get on the field, but I'm just looking to do my part as of right now," Neal said. "Coach Brian Kelly will put in that situation when it comes down to it. But right now, we're just working getting set with the plays."
The trio of freshman wide receivers all room with upperclassmen, as Brown lives with Goodman, Ferguson with Jones and Neal with Toma. That veteran presence has helped each rookie adjust to life at the college level.
"I'm feeling very comfortable," Brown said. "The older guys have made it a lot easier for me -- John Goodman, Daniel Smith, T.J. Jones, all of them just making it more comfortable for me, and I feel like I'm actually getting in it."
"I'm starting to get real comfortable with the playbook," added Neal. "Robby Toma's helping me out, learning the plays, learning the scheme, and Theo Riddick also back there coaching me up. And slot receivers coach Tony Alford is a great coach, he's done a great job putting the plays in a way that I can understand them."
Neal came to Notre Dame after a lengthy recruiting saga that extended a few weeks past signing day. He was one of the most coveted skill players in the country, with the kind of playmaking ability that had coaches from LSU to Oklahoma to USC salivating. While there were rumors about discord within Neal's family about his school choice, he repeated over and over on Monday "I love it" and emphasized how happy he is at Notre Dame.
"There's a lot of great players here, so I'm not stacking myself up with anybody," Neal said. "We're all looking out there to compete. That's what everybody's doing. You can't ask for a better to compete with than at Notre Dame."
Both Brown and Neal say they aren't aiming to be the next Floyd, Golden Tate, Jeff Samardzija, Tim Brown or Rocket Ismail, at least in their freshmen year. They're aware of Notre Dame's history, but are aiming to stay focused on the immediate task ahead.
"Those are all great receivers," Neal said. "I just came in looking at trying to play my part as a freshman right now. I'm coming in as freshman, looking to do what I can to be a good receiver for right now."

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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Boston Bruins tonight on CSN and streaming live on Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Scott Darling gets the nod.

Joel Quenneville is giving a struggling Corey Crawford a breather tonight, electing to go with Darling in the final game of the father's road trip. Darling is 11-4-2 with a 2.34 goals against average, .924 save percentage and one shutout in 20 games this season. His numbers aren't as great on the road, where he is 4-2-1 with a 2.83 GAA and .901 save percentage compared to a 7-2-1 record with a 1.98 GAA and .928 save percentage at home, but he fared well against Boston last season. The Lemont native stopped 42 of 46 shots, good for a .913 save percentage, in a 6-4 win at the United Center last April.

2. The Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line.

The Blackhawks' trio of Artem Anisimov, Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin had a rare zero points in Tuesday's 6-4 win over Colorado, but don't expect to see that again. In fact, it could be the opposite. In their last meeting against the Bruins, a 6-4 win on April 3 during the 2015-16 season, they combined for 11 points (five goals, six assists), highlighted by a Kane hat trick that put him at 100 points on the season for the first time in his career. 

3. How the rookies build off a monsterous game.

In arguably the most well-rounded victory of the season Tuesday in Colorado, the Blackhawks had three rookies that had multi-point efforts. Vinnie Hinostroza had two goals, including the game winner. Tanner Kero had two goals and one assist, while Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. It was the top-six that was doing the heavy lifting earlier in the season, now the bottom-six is slowly starting to contribute on a consistent basis. The Blackhawks will be in great shape if they can confidently roll four lines that have the potential to find the back of the net on any given shift.

4. Patrice Bergeron vs. Jonathan Toews.

Two of the best two-way centers in the league will go head-to-head, and it's always a fun matchup to watch. Bergeron leads the league with 597 faceoff wins, and is ranked fifth with a 58.4 percentage at the dot while Toews ranks eighth in wins with 473 — despite missing nine games with a back injury — and sits at sixth with a 57.5 percentage. Both of the perennial Selke Trophy candidates have struggled offensively this season, with Bergeron recording only 21 points in 45 games and Toews with 22 points in 38 contests. Bergeron has been heating up as of late, though, scoring three goals and six assists in his last eight games. Bergeron also leads the league in possession numbers, with the Bruins controlling 61.9 percent of the even-strength shot attempts when he's on the ice.

5. Brad Marchand.

In September, Marchand inked an eight-year, $49 million deal and it's already paying dividends for the Bruins. He has 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in his last eight games, and 45 points total, which is by far the most on his team and tied for sixth in the NHL. He's 16 points away from tying his career high of 61 set last season, with a little less than half the year to go. He's also had great success against the Blackhawks. In his last six games against Chicago, dating back to the 2013-14 campaign, he has registered at least a point in all of them, scoring four goals and adding five assists. To make life more difficult, he's a player that enjoys getting under people's skin, so expect him to be a big factor tonight.

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