For years, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have had a depth problem on its roster. Some years it’s good here and bad there, and some years it’s okay all around. That doesn’t mean the Irish haven’t had great players — because they certainly have. No, it just means the overall team depth wasn’t at a championship level.
The 2018 playoff game at the Cotton Bowl against Clemson was a prime example of a team that had great depth versus a team that did not. In 2020, Notre Dame has flipped that depth and they really seem loaded across the board — with the lone exception at quarterback.
On Monday, Brian Kelly took questions from the media, and the topic of depth was the soup du jour. Here’s most of what he had to say:
“The back linebacker position is really just about, from a year to year situation, where your depth is and we’re just blessed with a lot of depth at that position. We didn’t have guys that were ready to play last year. Asmar was on the field virtually all the time and the year before, Drue was just a step above everybody, so I don’t know that it’s anything that we have kind of morphed into as much as we think we’ve got really good depth and guys that complement each other. Shayne does some really good things. Marist does some really good things. Jack Kiser. All three of them really complement what we do defensively and we feel like they all deserve to play.”
BACKING UP THE BEST OFFENSIVE LINE IN FOOTBALL
“Really now it’s about the ability for those guys to build a relationship with those that are adjacent to them, and what I’m talking about is Lugg and Zeke and certainly Zeke and Aaron, because they’re working so many combinations. When does Josh Lugg push Zeke off the nose so Zeke can work up to the linebacker? When does Banks leave the nose and feel Zeke control the nose, so we can go to the backer? Those are the nuances of playing together. They knew those things with Jarrett. They knew when to leave. They knew when they couldn’t leave the center. Those are the things that need to continuously be worked on and the things you may not see watching the game at first glance, those are the things that we see. That’s just a matter of practice, trust, continuity, consistency, communication, passing stunts off. Those are the things you get when you got an offensive line that had played together for so many games. There wasn’t anything that was glaring that either one of those guys did that’s said to us, ‘My goodness, they can’t play and play at a high level.’ It’s about how this unit continues to grow together.”
THE OVERALL DEPTH
“I think you see it in a lot of different areas, from JD Bertrand to Jack Kiser to, on the offensive line, Zeke Correl, to George Takacs. Guys that don’t get a lot of talk and recognition that in some instances, not even listed on the two-deep. C’Bo Flemister, who comes in and plays a huge role in a road victory against Boston College. That’s what we’re talking about when we talk about outside of the two-deep, those guys that will play pivotal roles for you. And of course, I made those comments before we were even thinking about COVID, where you’re going to be without some frontline players that they’re going to need to step up and play significant roles for you. I think it’s even more important that statement that was made back in 2018, about the depth of your roster and those guys being able to step up and play significant roles for you throughout the season and feel confident that that when they are called upon, that they will be able to step in and significantly impact in a positive way. So, I think to name a few, I think those are the kind of guys that we’re looking forward to continue to develop and be prepared to step up and play significant roles.”
TIGHT END U
“My conversations with Tommy, relative to this position, was one where we wanted to make sure that in the present and in the future that we were taking advantage of our roster. Our roster, as you know, as it is currently configured, was deep with the tight end position. There was a relationship there with with Tyler Eifert, one where he was very comfortable and throwing to him. We did run a lot of two tight ends when Tommy was the quarterback. All those things helped. But if I asked him to run five wide receivers, he would have been ready for that as well. This is so much more about who we want to be now and moving forward and utilizing the assets that are currently on the roster.”
“Obviously losing Hamilton was certainly one thing that we had to overcome, but we’ve got a great deal of confidence in those young men. We talked earlier about developing depth within your football program and I think that’s another indication of that. A lot of this started up front. It started with the ability to pressure the quarterback, take him out of rhythm. We said this last week, if you let Howell get into a rhythm, he’s a very difficult quarterback to handle. We were able to get him out of rhythm. Our linebackers were attacking downhill, making it difficult for him to execute some of his run-pass options. Then we did a really good job schematically with our safeties. Our safeties were very integral in this whole scheme. When Kyle went down, we still were able to implement the scheme. Those guys were on top of it. They were assignment-correct. They were doing exactly what we had practiced all week. Those are really good football players. Do they have some of the traits that Kyle Hamilton has? No, probably not, but they can certainly play at a high level and they can execute the game plan, and the game plan, with the pressure that we’re getting up front, allowed those guys to continue to excel at high level.”
AND THAT’S JUST A LITTLE BIT
Kelly also went into detail about injuries and guys stepping in — as well as projects that are paying off in Adetokunbo Ogundeji, Javon McKinley, C’bo Flemister and more.
It’s quite something to finally see the Irish be in this kind of position thanks to excellent recruiting, development, and roster management. If you’re looking for one more reason to be excited for Notre Dame’s final stretch run of the 2020 season... this really is the best team since 1993.
You can watch Kelly’s full presser in the player below: