The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are one week away from finishing up the their spring practice schedule with the annual Blue-Gold Game. The spring session only includes 15 practices (which includes the game) so in all reality and honesty, there is still very little to hang a hat on for those looking for definitive proof of progress.
Spring is more about tinkering - at least this year it seems. The Irish are doing quite a bit of that, so let’s take a few moments to go over what we have in front of us.
SEALING THE DEAL
If you weren’t convinced before the spring that Brandon Wimbush is the starting quarterback for the Irish, than these past two months should have changed your mind (if not your heart). He was placed as QB1 from the start, and nothing that has transpired since the start of spring has changed that fact. Saturday’s practice reports were nothing but absolute praise for what Wimbush did in practice.
Saturday might have been #NotreDame QB Brandon Wimbush's most impressive practice of his career.— Irish Sports Daily (@ISDUpdate) April 14, 2018
Hitting all throws, including several deep balls.
Just walked out of Notre Dame’s spring practice. Best I’ve seen Brandon Wimbush, by far. If today’s Wimbush can be packaged for the season, Notre Dame should win 10 games.— Irish Illustrated (@PeteSampson_) April 14, 2018
Brian Kelly was asked if he had seen that all spring from Wimbush, and Kelly was quick to talk it down a bit.
“No. No. He’s building his consistency, though. His footwork has put him in a position where now he can accurately put the ball where it needs to be and be so much more consistent with his progression reads. Throwing a seam ball. I don’t know that we threw a seam last year, an inside seam, other than a bender with the tight end. His ability to do that is a product of he’s really been much more consistent with his footwork. His delivery and throwing motion has allowed him to throw a lot more on the black and throw strikes.”
At the very least, the fact that the QB that helped create a 93% scoring efficiency in the redzone last year while struggling with accuracy issues in the passing game, is improving and doing the things needed to become a better quarterback.
THE FRONT LINE
The offensive line is shaping up just about the way that many of had hoped it would would spring began. From left to right, we are looking at a linup of Liam Eichenberg, Alex Bars, Sam Mustipher, Tommy Kraemer, and Robert Hainsey. Trevor Ruhland looks like the next man in on the interior, and Josh Lugg would be the next man in on the edge. (I also pray for a package that uses Lugg as an extra tackle / tight end).
There is no way possible that the offensive line will be as good as last year with the loss of Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey, but it can still be very good. If the offense is used correctly, however, we could see the same type of production.
FIND A SKILL AND USE A SKILL
The remaining pieces of the offense involve the puzzle of the skill players. Notre Dame is blessed with talent at running back, wide receiver, and tight end; so the task from now until September will be to find the right mix and the right packages to squeeze out the most production.
I like what we have been hearing about Dexter Williams and his improvements - but I don’t like hearing that Tony Jones Jr. is 1B to Dexter’s 1A. I like Jones a lot, and I think he has a valuable skillset, but I like it a lot better in the role he played last year. This is one of the ultimate “wait and see” possibilities.
Tight end has been a position this spring that is difficult to put a finger on. Injuries and split time with baseball has basically made this the Alize Mack show. That’s not a bad thing - if that finally helps Mack reach the potential he all had hoped for him before the start of last season. I still like “Dad Body” Nic Weishar to put in a lot of snaps and work.
Wide receiver is still very much an enigma. Here’s a list of players to choose from: Chase Claypool, Miles Boykin, Michael Young, Javon McKinley, and Chris Finke. All have had good moments this spring (Claypool is only recently recovered from shoulder surgery) and all could figure prominently within the offense. What groupings will Chip Long and Brian Kelly use? Will there be enough to hold off the talented freshmen that arrive in June? Who becomes THE MAN?
ATHLETES BE ATHLETES
Both Jafar Armstrong and Avery Davis made moves within the offense this spring to help the offense get more speed and athleticism, and to help create more playing time for themselves. The reviews so far (Armstrong to running back and Davis to both running back and receiver) have been positive, but nothing has been spectacular - as if that was actually going to be the case.
To be honest, I’m more curious as to what Davis brings to the offense more than anything else. I’m not sure if we will even see much of his role in the spring game, because Kelly may want to hold onto that card for the Michigan Wolverines. Then again... we could have a serious contender for the Junior Jabbie Memorial MVP Trophy.
A STABLE FORCE
Perhaps the most stable position group on the team right now is the defensive line - even after the transfer of Jay Hayes to the Oklahoma Sooners. A frontline of Daelin Hayes, Jerry Tillery, Jonathan Bonner, and Khalid Kareem is full of talent and experience. The 2nd string is strong with plenty of experience after last season with Julian Okwara, Kurt Hinish, Myron Tagovailola-Amosa, and Ade Ogundeji.
Between these eight players, Notre Dame can have a solid rotation in 2018. They’ve had a strong spring already, and the continued evolution of the defense would be helped greatly with line play not seen for quite a few years.
Notre Dame gets one shot at this... an all senior linebacker group. The somewhat surprising returns of MIKE Te’Von Coney and BUCK Drue Tranquill, and the rise of ROVER Asmar Billal to (possibly) reach his athletic potential, has the makings of a really good group.
There seems to be no discussion at all about Tranquill possibly moving back to ROVER if Bilal isn’t up to the task. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah has the inside edge to be the #2 at ROVER and the move of Jordan Genmark Heath to BUCK from safety to back up Tranquill makes this unit deeper than at the start of spring.
YOU WILL LOVE IT
With Julian Love on one side of the field (whether as the boundry or field) Notre Dame has an advantage at cornerback. Love is developing into an All-American type of player, and makes the job easier for others. Troy Pride Jr. was initially pencilled in on the other side with Shaun Crawford retaining his nickel role. Some of that may have changed now that Nick Coleman is seeing some time at the nickel - and we shouldn’t forget about either Nick Watkins or Donte Vaughn.
There is plenty of good depth here, and the unit is healthy and experienced. How the rotation or linup shapes up is probably not important right now, but will be fully developed in fall camp.
NO SAFE BET
Your guess is as good as anyone’s in regards to the safety depth chart. Most feel this is shaping up to be a pairing of Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott. However... Houston Griffith’s move from corner to safety this spring as an early enrollee already has Brian Kelly talking about the freshman playing this fall:
“He’s got great instincts, knows the game. He’s gonna be a really good player here.
He’s gonna play for us in the fall. How that ends up, whether he’s a starter or a backup? He will play football for Notre Dame this fall. No doubt.”
Griffith can could play either safety spot given his coverage abilities and he’s a really nice tackler. In any case... it’s still a position group that is very much up in the air in terms of a depth chart.
LET IT CONTINUE
We have about 4 and a half months of speculation ahead of us, so be sure to get the proper sleep, exercise, and eat a healthy diet. It’s going to be a marathon this offseason. If Notre Dame can place the pieces in the correct places, they have chance of finishing with 10+ wins for 3 out of the last 4 years. That’s a goal that we should all be craving as it not only helps out with recruiting, but it makes the Notre Dame head coaching job more enticing than its been in a long while. Brian Kelly may only have a couple of years left... but that’s another matter altogether.