The national championship game is over and done with, as is the first transfer portal window. The Notre Dame football roster won’t be adding scholarship players from Jan. 19th until at least May 1st. And while the offseason for the Irish technically began after winning the Gator Bowl, the first transfer portal window felt like a continuation of the postseason that has finally ended.
With that in mind — and with a few notable new additions now in the fold — this feels like a good time to reset as the Irish head into the true offseason. So here’s a position-by-position breakdown of where Notre Dame stands regarding roster construction in anticipation of spring camp.
The quality of Notre Dame’s quarterback play during the 2022 season was… spotty, at best. Drew Pyne was up-and-down but won eight games and transferred out before the bowl game. Tyler Buchner looked very underwhelming in an incomplete offense for two games then missed all but the bowl game with a shoulder sprain; his return performance had some fire (five touchdowns accounted for) and some ice (three INTs, two of which were pick-6s).
A transfer portal addition to the room this offseason was a no-brainer (to everyone except Drew Pyne, apparently…). It’s safe to say the Irish won in that regard by adding Wake Forest departee Sam Hartman, the second-leading passer in the history of the ACC (12,967 yards) and the conference’s all-time leader in touchdown passes (110).
The assumption on the national front is that Buchner’s Gator Bowl performance was an audition for potential transfer portal suitors this offseason. But the prevailing thought around Notre Dame is that Buchner is more likely than not to stick around and back up Hartman this season (because, let’s be real, Hartman will be the starter; he isn’t coming in if there’s even a remote chance that he loses the starting job). Combine those two with sophomore Steve Angeli and true freshman Kenny Minchey, both former four-stars, and this group of Irish signal callers is as talented as any of the last decade.
They’re good. Like, seriously. No one has departed (as of yet), and in Audric Estime, Logan Diggs and Chris Tyree Notre Dame returns a 900-yard rusher, an 800-yard rusher and a 400-yard rusher, respectively.
The Irish also add Jeremiyah Love, the highest-rated commit at the position since Greg Bryant in 2013, and return Jadarian Price, a former four-star who would have played as a true freshman but-for a preseason achilles injury. Oh yeah, and Gi’Bran Payne is a former four-star and probably the sixth man.
Suffice to say no transfers were or should be needed barring a devastating string of injuries. And the room is so crowded that it would be coaching malpractice to not cross-train at least one of Tyree and Love (in that order of preference) at wide receiver. It also feels safe to say that Deland McCullough won’t be just a running backs coach for too much longer, at Notre Dame or otherwise.
Chansi Stuckey did his effing job, to use Tommy Rees’ parlance. That job was to resuscitate the nearly undetectable pulse of Notre Dame’s wide receiver recruiting. After the Irish signed just one receiver in the 2022 class following the flips of C.J. Williams and Amorrion Walker, Stuckey landed four receiver commits in 2023. Notre Dame missed on Williams a second time in this year’s portal market in addition to watching Kent State transfer Dante Cephas head to Penn State, but they managed to land a graduate transfer in ex-Virginia Tech wideout Kaleb Smith (37 rec, 674 yards and 3 TDs last season).
Stuckey also did some solid work during the season, developing Jayden Thomas into arguably Notre Dame’s most consistent wide receiver and helping Deion Colzie to break out by season’s end. At the same time, Tobias Merriweather was limited by injuries and Lorenzo Styles Jr. regressed from his production the previous season. Even so, those four plus the freshmen and Smith (and Matt Salerno for blocking purposes) should make for a dependable receiver group next season.
Of course, there remains a possibility that Styles (and maybe even another receiver) enter the portal after spring practice. And the lack of experience from top to bottom means it would probably be wise to take another transfer, but Notre Dame’s receiver room is now healthy enough that it can afford to be selective. At this point it’s more important to take the right guy than just another guy.
With Michael Mayer leaving, it’s worth remembering that Notre Dame doesn’t have the moniker of “Tight End U” because of just one player. The tradition lives on because of the depth of talent, and the Irish tight end room is still the envy of 95% of other FBS programs.
Former four-star Cane Berrong transferred out after injuries kept him buried on the depth chart, but otherwise the room remains amply stocked. It features Mitchell Evans (of “Mitch-a-Palooza” or “Mitchell-Palooza” fame), Mayer’s classmate Kevin Bauman, rising sophomores Eli Raridon and Holden Staes and incoming freshman Cooper Flanagan. And, of course, scholarship fullback Davis Sherwood, whose fake-punt shovel pass to Braden Lenzy in the Gator Bowl shall always be cherished.
Evans, Bauman and Raridon all have injury histories to varying degrees, but the coaching staff has still been very high on Evans, Raridon and Staes in particular. And as the Irish begin to transition their offense into one predicated more on wide receivers there shouldn’t be a need for more than five tight ends plus a fullback.
Two All-American caliber offensive tackles return in Joe Alt and Blake Fisher, plus Zeke Correll, a fifth-year center who saw a surge in play under a new offensive line coach. The two guard spots need to be sorted out, but odds are better than not that any two of Andrew Kristofic, Billy Schrauth, Rocco Spindler and Pat Coogan will allow this group to compete for the Joe Moore Award. Bringing in a transfer to compete is a possibility, but it feels like a luxury at this point.
Prevailing wisdom would suggest that Notre Dame’s depth of talent at the position is bound to induce a departure or two this offseason. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that offensive linemen are a different breed, one not prone to transfer quickly. Case-in-point: Zeke Correll has stuck around for four years despite getting played out of position and then benched as a junior. That means there’s always a chance that guys like Tosh Baker, Caleb Johnson and Michael Carmody bide their time while waiting for Alt and/or Fisher to leave for the NFL after next season.
Isaiah Foskey, Notre Dame’s all-time leader in sacks, is NFL-bound and leaves the No. 1 vyper spot without a clear successor. There’s also some uncertainty on the interior and at strongside end given the departures of the Ademilola twins and Chris Smith, the uncertain status of Aidan Keanaaina and the inexperience of Tyson Ford, Aidan Gobaira and Donovan Hinish.
However, the addition of Ohio State transfer Javonte Jean-Baptiste has a domino effect, alleviating concerns on the strongside which should allow Rylie Mills to play more inside. It also lets Nana Osafo-Mensah continue to thrive in a rotation role. As for vyper, the staff either passed on or failed to land Utah State transfer Byron Vaughns, but they are apparently high on converted/hybrid linebackers Jordan Botelho, Joshua Burnham and Junior Tuihalamaka. Still, an interior transfer would be preferable to go along with the returns of Howard Cross III and Gabriel Rubio.
The Irish return everyone at the position aside from Bo Bauer. That means the veteran starting unit of Marist Liufau, JD Bertrand and Jack Kiser is likely to remain intact. But there is legitimate reason to worry that the experienced starters could stunt the growth of the talent behind them, which should obviate any need for a transfer addition. Notable names are ex-high school Butkus Award winners Prince Kollie and Drayk Bowen and former five-star Jaylen Sneed.
Notre Dame’s coaching staff has already started working Botelho and possibly Tuihalamaka at vyper, and linebacker is a feeder position for special teams. But to be frank, the staff needs to find a way to get the young (and generally more athletic) talent on the field at the linebacker position. Otherwise, the middle of Notre Dame’s defense will continue to be vulnerable in space.
In the 2022 recruiting class Notre Dame landed two players hyped up to be borderline transcendent. Benjamin Morrison lived up to the billing while Jaden Mickey didn’t, but a year of experience as a collegiate cornerback can only help Mickey (assuming he has the mental fortitude to overcome his struggles). Combine them with the return of Cam Hart and Clarence Lewis and cornerback could be special for the Irish.
There’s likely to be at least one transfer from the rising junior class of Ryan Barnes, Chance Tucker and Philip Riley, especially if Micah Bell or early-enrollee Christian Gray make noise as true freshmen like Morrison and Mickey. But TaRiq Bracy’s departure leaves an open nickel spot for whoever is hungry enough to take it.
Brandon Joseph’s one-year pitstop in South Bend left a lot to be desired after the former All-American transferred from Northwestern. Even so, his return for the Irish would have been a benefit. Instead Oklahoma State transfer Thomas Harper (93 tackles, 6 passes defended and 2 INTs in four years) will need to provide as much if not more than what Joseph gave last season.
As for the second starting spot, Xavier Watts needs to be on the field after a strong finish to 2022; sixth-year D.J. Brown provides abundant experience but leaves playmaking ability to be desired; and Ramon Henderson was give-and-take throughout 2022 and needs to take a leap. That provides a serviceable two-deep, but the staff should give every opportunity to take a spot to reserve Justin Walters and incoming freshmen Adon Shuler, Ben Minich and Brandyn Hillman.
Arkansas State transfer Blake Grupe departs after converting 14-19 (73.7%) field goals in 2022. In comes USF graduate transfer Spencer Shrader, the antithesis of Grupe in terms of physical stature (Shrader is 6-foot-2; Grupe is generously 5-foot-7). Shrader has gone 28-41 (68.3%) on field goals and 95-95 on extra points in four collegiate seasons. He’ll have three other kickers in the room to hold off: redshirt-sophomore Josh Bryan and preferred walk-ons Zac Yoakam and Marcello Diomede.
At punter the Irish took the opportunity to redshirt Bryce McFerson in 2022 after he was injured and Yoakam ably took over kickoff duties in his stead. With Jon Sot’s one year in South Bend now exhausted it felt like McFerson was the heir apparent in 2023. However, special teams coach Brian Mason isn’t one to pass up an opportunity for competition, so Notre Dame brought in another Ivy League punter in Ben Krimm from Penn.
And, last but not least, ex-walk-on Michael “Milk” Vinson returns to hold down the long snapper position. Former 6-star recruit Alex Peitsch entered the transfer portal after failing to beat out Vinson, leaving the second-string spot to redshirt freshman Rino Monteforte.