Notre Dame’s secondary isn’t getting any older this season, at least not via cornerback Nick Watkins. The junior has missed the entire season following a broken arm suffered during spring practice and there had been hope he would show enough bone growth to be back this month.
That won’t be happening, meaning Brian Kelly will red shirt Watkins to give him an extra year of eligibility. Watkins, who’s played sparingly the past two seasons but started against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, will be eligible during the 2017-18 campaigns.
“He's going to need an additional surgery,” Kelly said. “So he'll be out for the year.”
That means Notre Dame will move forward with a secondary that relied on four freshmen at the same time against Syracuse.
Devin Studstill, Troy Pride Jr., Julian Love, Jalen Elliott and Donte Vaughn all played prominent roles. It appears that will continue, although Kelly cautioned that he views the rest of the season under defensive coordinator Greg Hudson to be essentially a one-year experiment.
What Notre Dame shows during the next two months won’t impact next season, although the Irish head coach hopes the work afforded to the freshman class pays dividends moving forward.
“It’s let's put these guys in a position to succeed this year, utilizing a lot of young players, gaining experience as we go, and being smart about utilizing our personnel,” Kelly said. “In other words, putting them in places to succeed. So this is a short-term approach to the season, but it's also a long-term approach in the sense that we are getting a lot of young players some valuable experience.”
Hayes Trending Up
Jay Hayes finished with just three tackles against Syracuse to go with a tackle for loss.
That was enough for Kelly to give his stamp of approval on the junior defensive end, whose role could expand this weekend against N.C. State as Notre Dame works more 3-4 fronts into its approach. Hayes was actually recruited by Bob Diaco to play defensive end in a 3-4 front.
“He's kind of a tweener; is he a three technique; is he a five? And so it's just the scheme fits him,” Kelly said. “So my job is to really get our guys in positions where they can maximize their talent and so including this defensive front, really allows Jay to blossom in this kind of look.”
Hayes had been slotted at weak side end in Brian VanGorder’s scheme behind Andrew Trumbetti, which felt like roster mismanagement of a 285-pound athlete who was a four-star prospect coming out of Brooklyn Poly Prep.
“He did some pretty good things,” Kelly said. “He's a big physical kid. (The new defense) really fits him well and so it's a front that you'll see a lot more because of his ability to really two-gap that tackle and it allows him to do a lot of good things.”
Folston, McGovern on mend
A Thursday ankle sprain sidelined Tarean Folston last weekend and Colin McGovern succumbed to his own ankle injury against the Orange. Kelly said he expects Folston back for N.C. State, although he’ll face a challenge to reclaim his job considering the show put on by Dexter Williams.
McGovern was replaced by classmate Hunter Bivin, which revealed Notre Dame’s plans for freshman Tommy Kraemer, who didn’t travel with the team this weekend. Kraemer will red shirt.
“I think that there would have to be a slew of injuries for Tommy to be on the field,” Kelly said. “I think the guy that we felt like was more ready and prepared was Hunter Bivin. Hunter played and did a nice job for us on Saturday, and he'll be our swing guy at this point.”