Neal transfer leaves Notre Dame shorthanded

Neal transfer leaves Notre Dame shorthanded
March 27, 2013, 10:15 am
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JJ Stankevitz

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly confirmed Wednesday the transfer of receiver Davonte Neal, finalizing a move that leaves Notre Dame in a bind at slot receiver.

Neal was the only true slot receiver Notre Dame had heading into the 2013 season. After serving as Notre Dame's punt returner/fair catch specialist in his freshman year, Neal was slated to take over for Robby Toma at the slot next fall.

Kelly declined to get into the specifics of Neal's transfer, although Blue and Gold Illustrated's Jason Sapp reported Tuesday night the receiver wanted to be closer to his 6-month-old daughter in Arizona.

Neal was rated by Rivals as a four-star receiver when he committed last year, and was one of the highest-rated players in Notre Dame's class. In fact, the three highest-rated players by Rivals in Notre Dame's recruiting class of 2012 -- QB Gunner Kiel, DB Tee Shepard and Neal -- all have transferred.

[MORE: Notre Dame makes Kiel transfer official]

Freshman wide receiver Justin Ferguson, a three-star recruit in 2012, will also transfer from Notre Dame, Kelly confirmed. His departure, though, is likely nothing more than a minor hit to Notre Dame's depth.

Whether or not Notre Dame can shoulder Neal's transfer, though, rests on a few inexperienced players.

Kelly said running back Amir Carlisle and converted safety C.J. Prosise will get looks in the slot, while early-enrollee receiver James Onwualu could merit a look there as well.

[RELATED: Notre Dame spring players to watch: Amir Carlisle]

Carlisle is a natural running back, although he worked with receiver Davaris Daniels in the offseason on route-running and expected to contribute as a pass-catcher before Neal's transfer. However, Carlisle will be out of commission for the next four weeks with a broken collarbone, meaning he won't get to work in the slot in an organized practice environment until August.

"I pride myself on versatility," Carlisle said before his injury. "I'm not quite sure if the coaches are going to use me like that, but over the offseason I really worked on becoming a better receiver."

Still, for a guy who hasn't had many reps since coming to campus, and for a guy who may be counted on to play a significant role in Notre Dame's offense next fall, Carlisle's injury came at an inopportune time. That could open the door for Prosise, who likely will get most of the looks at slot over the next few weeks.

Kelly spoke highly of Prosise, who began working at receiver on the outset of spring practice. Still, the learning curve is steep for Prosise, who only moonlighted as a wide receiver in high school.

[MORE: ND's search for Eifert's replacement begins to come into focus]

"Really excited about C.J. You'll see a lot of him in the spring, you'll see what I mean," Kelly said. "He's been a very pleasant surprise -- that's probably the wrong word. He's been what we thought he could be, he's just done it a lot quicker than we thought."

With the transfers of Neal and Ferguson, Notre Dame is without four of its 17 recruits from its class of 2012 -- nearly a 25 percent departure rate. Despite that seemingly-staggering rate, Kelly characterized the departures as par for the course.

"There will be more guys leaving, there will be more guys coming," Kelly said. "This is a process that every year you go through."