It’s an exciting time in the midwest and for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. I mean, temperatures be damned — we just had two whole days of beautiful sunshine. BREAKOUT THE CHUBBIES AND THE JET SKIS!
But enough of all that.
Notre Dame entered this spring with a lot of work to do with the roster and the depth chart, and knowing very well that neither will be truly in focus until the fall, they are inching toward some fairly lucid territory. Here is a quick rundown of where they are sitting across the board:
Ian Book is the starting quarterback and only fools are debating this. Phil Jurkovec certainly has talent, but it’s talent that still needs developed. They’re both out there slinging the rock, and they’ve done some good things and some things that might make you kick your television.
The keys here are for Book to try and push the ball more downfield, and for Jurkovec to run the offense within the scheme provided by Chip Long. It’s a pretty simple checklist (the actual list anyways).
Despite losing just one starter from last year (Miles Boykin) there is a lot of noise being made about this position group. Chase Claypool and Chris Finke will start and play the entire season. What Notre Dame does with the third spot, and with its rotation still remains to be completely up in the air.
The obvious replacement is either Michael Young or Kevin Austin. While Austin is extremely talented (and having a good spring) there are still some lingering “doghouse” issues with Brian Kelly. Young continues to play well and grow within the system. Either option provides speed and athleticism.
Along with Austin, the other youngsters Braden Lenzy and Lawrence Keys III are seemingly doing quite well. Lenzy is much more physical and Keys has been hard to cover with his incredible quickness. A nice surprise has been Joe Wilkins this spring with some solid route running. Wilkins is another sophomore that has the potential to be a future starter.
More so than at any point in the Brian Kelly era, Notre Dame (I believe) has a large number of receivers that can play, and we might finally see a rotation of 6 or 7 this year instead of “the three.”
Once Brian Kelly announced that Jarrett Patterson was “the guy” at center for the Irish, the offensive line was basically set. Liam Eichenberg (LT), Aaron Banck (LG), Tommy Kraemer (RG, and Robert Hainsey (RT) were to surround Patterson, and make this group “the best five” rather than plugging in old depth charts.
The most interesting part so far, is that Josh Lugg will back up Aaron Banks at LG. If something were to happen to Eichenberg, it’s set right now for Banks to move to LT and Lugg comes in at LG.
The line is SUPER BEEFY and will need to continue it’s explosion off the snap. Speaking of snaps... Patterson is “getting there.” Luke Jones remains his back-up right now, but when Trevor Ruhland returns in fall camp, that may change.
It’s pretty much everyone’s opinion that Cole Kmet could be on the brink of a really good season at tight end — like REALLY good. He’s looked the part, and as we know now, he’s done with baseball for the spring. Brock Wright has slimmed down, and has looked pretty good himself.
Kmet and Wright are almost a given, but finding for that 3rd tight end is also a big job this spring. Tommy Temble seems to be that guy, and has been catching the ball well and looked very athletic in space.
I know why people are concerned, but at the same time... my concern is lessening with each passing day. The term “if they can stay healthy” can generally be applied to most position groups, so I’m going to go down that route. Jafar Armstrong looked and played the part well last season before Dexter Williams returned, and many have remarked at how much more explosive Tony Jones Jr. looks this spring despite gaining weight.
With those two running backs, I believe Notre Dame can win a lot of games. As far as a third back... it’s probably still a big toss-up between Jahmir Smith, C’bo Flemister, and Kyren Williams. That battle will go well into fall ball, and there really is no need to force the issue.
This offense could very well evolve into more of a “power offense” given the pieces they have to work with. I would offer very little complaint in that regard, but if it does, it HAS to have more of an ability to stretch the field vertically in the passing game. Perhaps that involves more “rub plays” to set loose our speed at receiver than for Book to start heaving the ball downfield 30-40 yards. As they piece this together this spring, that is a continual thought that stays in my head.