Who, and What, to Watch

A six-pack of points previewing Saturday’s 86th-annual Blue Gold Game on campus.

TWO GUYS IN BLUE JERSEYS

In Saturday’s offense vs. defense format, the O will wear blue while the D dons white, but it’s the dueling duo in charge of the offense -- #5 Everett Golson and #8 Malik Zaire – on which all eyes, and cameras, will be glued inside the LaBar Practice Complex.

Golson’s recent pair of Blue Gold Game appearances have been less-than-stellar, especially last April’s disinterested effort.

Kelly noted as such, thereafter offering, “He’s had a really good spring. I expect him to have a really good spring game as well.”

The significance of the blue jerseys is that both triggermen are open for contact/tackling. It’s an X-Factor that affords the better runner, Zaire, a chance to realistically compete with the more polished Golson in scrimmage action.

In a head-to-head comparison between the two in most practice settings, the bigger, faster, and stronger Zaire was inevitably at a disadvantage against Golson, who, when protected by a red jersey signifying no contact, has and likely will always be a better pure passer – from today through the conclusion of their prospective professional careers.

But the college game isn’t meant to be played in an antiseptic environment. Golson needs to be contacted and Zaire needs to show what he can do after initial reads break down.

Look for the pair to alternate possessions in the first half before giving way to third-string redshirt-freshman quarterback DeShone Kizer (#14) in the second.

JOB AUDITIONS

Leave it to Notre Dame football to bring panache to a left guard position competition.

Redshirt-freshmen Quenton Nelson (#55) and Alex Bars (#71) have competed over the course of winter conditioning and 14 spring practices in an effort to gain ground entering the summer months. That will continue Saturday (again, likely only during the first half) and likely through the mid-point of August camp.

The middle linebacker conglomerate of Grace, Morgan, and Schmidt is nowhere close to establishing a pecking order. Jarrett Grace (#59) and Nyles Morgan (#5) are the pair to watch Saturday – likely alternating with the first and second units – while Schmidt might see time in a red jersey, keeping him free of contact but at the same time rewarding him for his rehab efforts to date.

Their story won’t be written until season’s end.

-- Sophomore Nick Watkins (#21) and junior Devin Butler (#12) continue to compete at left cornerback. One of them will earn the honor of attempting to hold off KeiVarae Russell in August pending his reinstatement from suspension.

-- Notre Dame’s kickers Saturday, Tyler Newsome (#85) and junior walk-on John Chereson (#43), are merely keeping the spot warm for incoming freshman Justin Yoon. If camp viewings to date are any indication, you can expect missed field goals tomorrow.

The redshirt-freshman Newsome will punt for the Irish next fall and he’s fared well in that regard this spring according to Kelly. 

-- The rush end position (#45 Romeo Okwara; #98 Andrew Trumbetti) will see a heavy rotation both Saturday and next fall. Trumbetti missed time with a virus mid-spring but first-year defensive line coach Keith Gilmore saw the 2014 early enrollee bookend that time off with a fast start and strong finish.

THE FRESHMEN – AND HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS

Early enrollees, each of whom will see about a half of action, include:

-- #99 Jerry Tillery, starting at nose tackle in place of injured Jarron Jones

-- #4 Te’Von Coney, will play often in both the first and second-half replacing All-America candidate Jaylon Smith at weak side linebacker.

-- #73 Micah Dew-Treadway, should see ample time at defensive tackle behind Sheldon Day (no more than one series is likely) and sophomore Jay Hayes (#93)

-- #66 Tristen Hoge should see at least a half of action at center. He backed up Nick Martin (#72) and Sam Mustipher (#53) for most of the spring. Hoge vs. Mustipher is the spring battle to watch for 2016.

-- In addition to Mustipher, recently ascending youngsters to watch include nose tackle Pete Mokwuah (#96), tight ends Nic Weishar (#82) and Tyler Luatua (#13), and redshirt-sophomore (junior) Jacob Matuska. Gilmore noted earlier this week that Matuska (#89) and Mokwuah had improved of late.

-- Juniors (redshirt-sophomores) in backup roles to monitor include left tackle Hunter Bivin (#70), a healthy Torii Hunter, Jr. (#16) in the slot and at X receiver, rush end Doug Randolph (#44), and G/T prospect Colin McGovern (#62).

Kelly noted this spring that the staff was high on McGovern’s athleticism while adding earlier this week that he wanted to see Bivin “continue to grow” in the summer. Randolph has moved from his clunky slotting of inside linebacker to a natural pass-rushing role while Hunter is now 28 months removed from a hideous broken leg (femur) and ready to roll.

-- Look for extra playing time from defensive end Grant Blankenship (#92), and sophomore receivers Justin Brent (#11) and Corey Holmes (#15), plus senior right tackle Mark Harrell (#75).

WHO’S OUT AND WHY?

-- Senior nose tackle Jarron Jones (November foot surgery)
-- Prospective 5th-year senior linebacker Joe Schmidt (November ankle surgery/broken foot
-- Sophomore safety Drue Tranquill (November knee surgery)
-- Sophomore nose tackle Daniel Cage (undisclosed injury)
-- Redshirt-freshman defensive end Jonathan Bonner (April 2015 toe surgery)

As noted about, Schmidt could see a few snaps while wearing a red jersey to keep him safe. The others won’t play, though with the exception of Bonner, each is expected back for summer OTAs beginning on June 5 and concluding near the 26th.

Bonner is expected to be full go prior to August camp. (Cage’s injury will be determined post-game by the media.)

Any remaining undisclosed injuries will be posted to the Four Horsemen Lounge Saturday morning.

THE RUNNING BACK TRIO

Tarean Folston (#25), Greg Bryant (#1), and slot receiver/spring interloper C.J. Prosise (#20) have carried the load this spring as they wait for two freshmen scholarship runners to join the fray in June.

Look for each to receive snaps with the first and second unit offensive line before ceding second-half playing time to walk-on Josh Anderson (#46). It’s a position in which full effort is mandatory lest the competitor be on the receiving end of an over-zealous defender looking to release one last spring frustration.

The hunch here is that Bryant shines Saturday amid the trio’s limited action.

WHY DOES THE SECOND HALF MATTER?

Because you don’t have Notre Dame football again until August, but that’s about it…

After what should be a highly competitive first 24 minutes (the first half will be comprised of two 12-minute quarters with appropriate clock stoppage) go ahead and enjoy a spring day with family and friends thereafter, and check out the running-clock second half -- replete with scout team reserves and likely a few red jerseys keeping players free from contact -- on your DVR during a boring summer night.

Or read about it here for three months.


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