Rookie receivers making strong impression

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- National signing day never seemed so far away.

Back then, more than six months ago, the story line of Notre Dame's recruiting haul surrounded the player the Irish didn't get, as touted California wide receiver Deontay Greenberry flipped to Houston at the 11th hour. But with three receivers highlighting the group of nine freshmen who met the media for the first time, Monday's discussions shifted to those who will take the field for the Irish this fall.

And if reviews from 10 preseason practices are any indication, those freshman wideouts will, in fact, be seeing the field this fall.

"We're all looking to play early," Justin Ferguson said between practices 10 and 11. "The spots [are] open, and we just gotta make the best of our opportunities."

Examples of that include Chris Brown's touchdown reception from Everett Golson last Wednesday that spanned more than half the field. Or Davonte' Neal learning the intricacies of the slot position from senior Robby Toma, while also trying to make his mark on the punt- and kick-return teams.

Neal, whose whirlwind recruitment ended with a commitment to the Irish three weeks after signing day -- and hours after failing to show at his former elementary school for his originally scheduled announcement because of what his father had said was a family issue -- used something of a cheat sheet before arriving on campus.

The 5-foot-9, 171-pound Scottsdale, Ariz., native enlisted the help of Cardinals first-round draft pick Michael Floyd this spring.

"It's a big help, just because Michael Floyd, he's a great receiver," Neal said. "And he has size on him, so he knows the size part of it and the swift part of it, and he's obviously under Larry Fitzgerald, who is another great receiver. So I feel I have a little advantage just because Michael Floyd has helped me out."

Floyd, who re-wrote the school record books before graduating, has left a considerable production hole to fill, though depth among the receiving unit has helped breed competition.

"There's no replacing Michael Floyd's production, but as a unit we just gotta come together and fill that role," Brown said.

Brown, a high school track star, is the speediest of the trio. Neal, ESPN's No. 1 athlete from the class of 2012, is the most decorated. The 6-foot-2, 196-pound Ferguson is the most physical of the new wideouts.

Each has described comfort with the playbook, which, as least thus far, has spared them from the inevitable wrath of their superiors.

"The coaches have been very supportive, we haven't gotten chewed out or anything," Ferguson said. "If we do something wrong — not politely — but they make sure we know what we're doing. They know the right way to get the message across, so they help us a lot."

Playmaking ability certainly helps, too.

With assistant Tony Alford in charge of the running backs and slot receivers this season, the line between each position will be further blurred, as both are expected to provide crucial elements to the passing game -- even if those passes are coming from just a few yards away.

"Coach [Brian] Kelly, he knows best, and coach Kelly knows what to do with the football," Neal said. "We have a lot of playmakers that can take that three-yard catch or three-yard run for 30 yards, 40 yards, and I just feel that I'm just another asset to the team."