There are several ways to talk about a football team and its possible success during the upcoming season. One of those ways is to break down the talent on a group level. Lucky for us... I’m going to do that right now for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Here are my rankings for Notre Dame’s position groups PRE fall camp (the PRE part is very important here).
#9 KICKER / PUNTER
Yeah... this is an easy starting point. Notre Dame has to replace multiple year starters in Tyler Newsome and Justin Yoon. As of the spring, those duties are in the feet of K Jonathan Doerer and early enrollee freshman, P Jay Bramblett. I’m sure there will be a battle in fall camp between Doerer and incoming freshman Harrison Leonard (#LacrosseBroKicker) so who knows what may come of that.
The uncertainty here is overwhelming. Close games hinge upon the kicking game, and we still know very little about what the Irish actually have here.
The Irish lost two of its top three tacklers to the NFL in Drue Tranquill and Te’von Coney (a combined 209 tackles). The third linebacker from 2018, Asmar Bilal, has been moved from Rover to Mike. I don’t care who you are — that’s a lot of lost production. Coney and Tranquill played 94% and 81% of the snaps in 2018 respectively.
It’s anybody’s game right now. There’s a combination of Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Shayne Simon, and Jack Lamb that intrigues quite a few people. There’s also Jordan Genmark Heath, Drew White, and Paul Moala. And oh yeah... there is still Asmar Bilal. I have no idea how all of this is going to come together, so there is as much uncertainty here as with the kickers.
The Cotton Bowl showed just how valuable Julian Love was to the defense, and now that he is with the New York Giants, that creates a considerable hole. Troy Pride Jr. returns and is projected to continue to improve his game, but then it gets a little cloudy.
Houston Griffith will most likely takeover for Love after moonlighting as the nickel (included in this group) in 2018. Griffith didn’t have a very good spring, and in fact, walk-on Temitope Agoro played quite well in the same spot.
The Irish should have back Donte Vaughn and Shaun Crawford for the fall, and if both are fully healthy, this group could be a lot better than this ranking. Vaughn could be the starter at boundary, and Crawford should be the starter at nickel in place of the nomad Avery Davis.
#6 RUNNING BACK
Dexter Williams was outstanding in the 9 games he played last year. He was clearly Notre Dame’s best option at running back — but not the only option. Jafar Armstrong played well when healthy, and Tony Jones Jr. had his own moments as well.
The Irish lose a lot of pop with the graduation of Williams, and will most likely trot out a trio that includes Armstrong, Jones, and (in my opinion) Jahmir Smith. Kyren Williams and C’Bo Flemister could be involved as well, and this really comes down to how healthy Armstrong and Jones stay thoroughout the season.
#5 RECEIVER / TIGHT END
The Irish lose the talented Miles Boykin, but return a large amount of talent in 2019. Chase Claypool moves over to the W (Boykin’s position) and Michael Young will likely take over to the X. Chris Finke will retain his role in the slot, and will probably still be one of the most underrated players in college football. The Irish are equally stable at tight end with the return of Cole Kmet and Brock Wright. Alize Mack may have been a starter, but Kmet is the bright future.
Besides the easily placed starters, the depth here is full of considerable talent. If the Kevin Austin situation ever gets worked out, his talent on the field is overwhelming. There’s also the speedy Braden Lenzy and quick Lawrence Keys III. From top to bottom, I have to admit already... I think I’m underrating this group.
#4 OFFENSIVE LINE
The Irish lost Alex Bars around the same time they got Dexter Williams back behind the line. Aaron Banks did a fine job as his replacement, and should be better for it in 2019. Other than Bars, the Irish lose just Sam Mustipher at center.
Liam Eichenberg, Robert Hainsey, and Tommy Kraemer join Banks as returning starters. Redshirt freshman Jarrett Patterson takes over at center, and in some ways could be an upgrade from Mustipher, who took a step or two back last season.
As a group, they appear as solid of a unit as there is in college football, and with Josh Lugg as the next guy off the bench in most cases... I like this group a lot more than I did that year.
Ian Book returns and will be the Day 1 starter for the first time in his career. Book’s insertion as the starter for the 4th game of the year in 2018, changed the dynamics of the offense in many positive ways (code for a lot more points).
While I do like Book a lot (like enough to make this group #3 based off of one guy), and think that his accuracy will help drive an efficient offense — I still have concerns with the deep ball. Too many times last year, defenses muddled up the middle of the field because of the lack of a threat from a deep pass.
There are issues behind Book as well with a relatively green Phil Jurkovec and incoming freshman Brendon Clark. Ian will need to be more mindful of how many hits he absorbs throughout the season.
#2 DEFENSIVE LINE
The defensive line last year, led by Jerry Tillery, was incredible. It wasn’t just the “starters” either. The defensive line rotation that Mike Elston has put together is finally on a championship level.
While the Irish lost a great defensive tackle in Tillery (a first round pick in the NFL Draft) they return Julian Okwara, Daelin Hayes, and Khalid Kareem on the edge. They will also use Adetokunbo Ogundeji a lot in that rotation. They can even go 3-deep in that rotation with Justin Ademilola and Ovie Oghoufo. We didn’t even mention Jamir Jones who will most likely be used just enough to keep another year of eligibility for 2020.
The question mark is inside, but both Kurt Hinish and Myron Tagovailola-Amosa have proven themselves to be good players. The hope is that behind those two, Jayson Ademilola and freshman Jacob Lacey can provide enough depth.
I can’t say enough good things about both Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman. Both had breakout performances in 2018, and both are candidates to be captains in 2019. Gilman was actually rated as the best safety in the country last year by Pro Football Focus, and Elliott led the team in interceptions.
The bigger question is who may be behind them. The general consensus is that Kyle Hamilton is going to be a star and make an immediate impact. That could be done by moving Elliott up to the nickel when needed and using Hamilton at safety (this very scenario has been talked about quite a bit already). The Irish could also get help at times from Derrik Allen — who despite reports that were not flattering in spring practice, showed quite a bit during the spring game.