Breaking the Mold

Breaking the Mold

Six-foot, 220-pound junior C.J. Prosise doesn't possess the typical frame of a college slot receiver. He plans to use that to his advantage.

"The physical traits obviously are off the charts from a strength standpoint and an athletic standpoint. He is still continuing to grow and understanding the nuances, the little things, more than anything else that lead to the consistency that we need from that (slot) spot. No. 1, his route running has gotten better. Consistency catching the football has gotten better. There's a pretty good competition going on there." -- Irish offensive coordinator, Mike Denbrock on C.J. Prosise

The competition of which Denbrock speaks is between Prosise, a former safety, and senior Amir Carlisle, a former running back. Both will have the opportunity to show their wares next August and September as Notre Dame's slot receiver -- both are likely to continue to contribute, regardless who "wins" the job, throughout the 2014 season.

And both are unfinished products, with Carlisle recently concluding his first spring at the position and Prosise entering his second go-round after making the switch from defense to offense during the calendar year 2013.

"I've grown a lot with one season under my belt," said Prosise, a junior with three seasons of football eligibility remaining. "I understand how to play the game, what I need to be seeing (pre-snap) and what I need to be doing depending on the (route) concept."

It's clear the latter was an issue for Prosise as a rookielast fall, not only because it was revealed his mis-read of Stanford's defense caused the first of Tommy Rees' pair of fourth quarter interceptions last November in a near upset of the Cardinal, but from a cursory examination of his opportunities as well.

Prosise started three games, the season opener and bowl game included. Playing all 13, he was targeted for 12 passes, catching seven. A week-by-week look at passes thrown to Prosise (completed or not) is as follows:

0, 1, 1, 1, 0, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 0, 1, 3 (Rutgers).

Prior to the bowl game, each pass thrown to Prosise with the exception of the aforementioned pick in Palo Alto was thrown on first or second down. In other words, Prosise wasn't yet a player head coach Brian Kelly felt he could rely upon to convert on third down, the money down.

"I felt like last year I learned how to play the game and how (consistent) your intensity has to be," said Prosise. "I went out there and made a couple of plays, but I feel like this year there will be a lot more made."

"I would say the speed of the game (was the biggest adjustment). Everything seems to be moving so fast (pre-snap) especially with Tommy (Rees) checking, it was tough on me in the beginning. You have to learn to slow your mind down."

Built like a running back at six-feet, 220 pounds, Prosise's safety skills were nonetheless on display late last fall when he recorded a tackle in each of the season's final four games in punt/kick coverage. Of his seven receptions, four went for first down yardage highlighted by yards accrued after the catch -- usually because he ran through arm tackles.

His natural strength offers a weapon in the slot the shifty Carlisle and others on the Irish roster cannot provide.

"You've got to block the Sam (linebacker), a guy like Jaylon Smith, who's 235 pounds," Prosise said. "You also have to worry about getting (re-routed). That was the hardest thing about the position."

On each snap, Prosise is tasked with recognizing and understanding the defensive alignment and coverage scheme; knowing who to A.) block, or B.) beat in a pass pattern, and then potentially changing all of the above after his quarterback audibles to a new play or blocking assignment late in the clock.

It's no wonder Prosise prefers operating in freewheeling space after the initial play breaks down.

"I love the scramble drill," he admitted. "I usually have a linebacker on me so I can break loose. But also being able to see the field (as a slot). I can see what the safety is doing and what the backside safety is doing…you can tell by (a safety's) demeanor what they're doing."

Inconsistent -- or at least not on par with his head coach's high expectations during most of spring ball -- Prosise saved his best for last.

"C.J. Prosise was not in my opinion having great practices and today he showed," said Kelly of Prosise's two-reception, touchdown effort in the annual Blue Gold Game. "He flashed today."

Such flashes were apparent in most practices open to the media dating back to spring ball 2013, when Prosise occasionally ran away from defenders (notably Keivarae Russell after a "scramble drill" in April 2013) and occasionally ran through opposing defenders' tackle attempts last fall.

But Notre Dame needs more than promise and isolated moments of athleticism from Prosise in 2014. Production, from both he and Carlisle, and from the team's (at least) four-deep perimeter receiving corps will be paramount to the overall success of the quarterback-driven offense.

"I feel like a lot more guys can make plays," said Prosise at the conclusion of the spring. "Younger guys know they'll have increased roles…I feel like I can be a big part of this offense. I feel like I can make plays."

Prosise will have a chance to prove that from the outset.

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