It’s that time of year again, ladies and gentlemen. Notre Dame Fighting Irish football fans are going through an annual routine of being uncontrollably ecstatic, but also incessantly anxiety-ridden about the approaching season. This causes us to nitpick every little detail in practice reports and brief Brian Kelly post-practice pressers. The byproduct of such a habit, though, can lead to a better interpretation of the stock of the team as a whole, from position groups to players. What to do with this newfound understanding? Why, we make a Stock Report of course! Without further delay, let’s jump into it.
LB Nyles Morgan
Big things were already expected of Nyles Morgan heading into his senior season. He has repeatedly flashed his playmaking potential over the previous three seasons, seeming to be Kelly’s most exciting linebacker prospect not named Jaylon Smith. During 2016’s 4-8 catastrophe, Morgan validated the enthusiasm with a solid season, in which he proved to be arguably the most consistent force on the Irish defense. For his final season in South Bend, it was about refining his game as a whole.
From all accounts, Morgan has done just that. Reports out of practice report the same athleticism and ability that they always have, but an aspect vital to the defense’s success seems to have been added to Nyles Morgan’s arsenal: leadership. Morgan has been said to be a vocal leader in practice for this Irish defense. One example of this is when the first-team defense had played poorly in 11-on-11, and Morgan pulled his fellow starters aside and rallied them together. In the next session, the defense came out and played significantly better. Having good team leadership makes success that much easier for a team, and it seems Morgan is providing just that.
TE Alizé Mack
In the stock report for the first week, I wrote about how expectations for Mack needed to be tempered. He is effectively a second-year player after spending last year in academic exile, and outside of the athletic ability that we all know is there, he has given little reason to justify anointing him as the next big thing for Notre Dame at the tight end position.
Mack suffered a minor hamstring injury on August 5th, and has yet to return to the lineup. Brian Kelly stated that he expects the junior to return in full by this upcoming Wednesday. That would mean an 11-day hiatus for a player who we’ve seen sparingly during fall. I’m just as excited for what Mack could bring to this offense as the next guy, but I’ll have to see it happen before I’m completely bought into it.
WR Cameron Smith
Cameron Smith has been with this program for merely a few months at this point, but has already wedged his way into the starting lineup alongside junior wideout Equanimeous St. Brown. This is likely due to his prior knowledge of the system that Chip Long brings to the program, and his familiarity with new receivers coach Del Alexander. Smith brings both top-end speed and quick feet, something all offenses can use on the outside. Clearly, Kelly and Co. think this is sufficient to start at the University of Notre Dame.
If you were surprised to hear reports of Smith running with the first team offense, you wouldn’t be alone. Not only did the Irish seem to have a plethora of players who were ahead of him — Chase Claypool, Miles Boykin, Kevin Stepherson, and even Javon McKinley — Freddy Canteen sounded like the more proven option. However, I don’t think Irish fans have any qualms with another new weapon materializing on this offense. I believe the saying goes: the more the merrier.
The safety group at Notre Dame needs help, sooner rather than later. This isn’t news to anyone. During Kelly’s tenure, this group has not been outstanding by any means. Even with talents like Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield, the group struggled. Whether that blame falls more on Kelly or his coordinators is a debate for another time; the fact of the matter is that the safeties haven’t been quite up to par for some time now.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to have changed this year. With first year starters in Jalen Elliot and Nick Coleman manning both safety positions, maybe it was ureasonable to think there would be improvement. But with Mike Elko being heralded as a defensive genius, and his specialty being the safety positions, there was a glimmer of hope. While they haven’t been abhorrent, the Notre Dame’s safeties are going to need a bit more time under Elko before things begin to be truly exciting. Hopefully there will be substantial improvements before the season, but until those improvements show up on the football field, their stock will remain as it is.