1 – All good things to those who wait: You know what the best thing about a freshman is, don’t you?
“They become a sophomore.” So said the late Al McGuire during his broadcast days covering college hoops.
Generally in college football, the best thing about a freshman (and a redshirt-freshman) is he becomes a junior, a player that finds his comfort level in a program both on and off the field.
Enter massive Irish wide receiver Miles Boykin – the fourth wide receiver in Brian Kelly’s 2015 recruiting class to catch a pass and to score a touchdown (former walk-on Chris Finke was the third in both categories).
But if Boykin continues his ascent this spring, and likewise builds on that momentum with a quality summer and August camp, he could join the class’s headliner – Equanimeous St. Brown – as two mainstays in what will doubtless be a deep receiver rotation.
“He’s very sneaky,” said Kelly of Boykin’s straight-line speed. “He eats up a lot of ground with those long strides. Before you know it, he’s running past people. There’s a big battle going on out there and what that rotation will look like.”
2 – Last Impression: Notre Dame has just five true seniors on its 2017 roster and it’s not difficult to discern the most likely final season arc of three of them:
-- Nyles Morgan – One of the team’s best football players. Captain, leader.
-- Greer Martini – Captain, leader. One of the team’s most versatile defenders.
-- Tyler Luatua – Special teams, blocker.
What do the senior swan songs of defensive linemen Daniel Cage and Andrew Trumbetti hold now three seasons removed from playing an aggregate 23 games as true freshmen rotation members?
The presence of an in-shape Cage is a necessity in the middle – Notre Dame is unlikely to win at an acceptable level without Cage as at least a solid backup from their pivot man currently behind starter Jerry Tillery.
But where does Trumbetti fit with the bigger, more rugged Jay Hayes ahead of him at defensive end, and the more explosive Daelin Hayes currently leading sophomore classmate Julian Okwara in the Rush End race?
We’ll likely find out this fall when various sub packages are fine-tuned by defensive coordinator Mike Elko. Trumbetti, when used properly, can help a defense in reserve.
3 – Dearth of Depth? There’s a lot to like about Brandon Wimbush, Notre Dame’s new starter behind center. But behind him…?
The backup pairing of Ian Book and Montgomery VanGorder is reminiscent of the Tommy Rees/Nate Montana duo from spring ball 2010, Kelly’s first season at the helm. (After a rough start, it turned out well for Rees.)
Incoming freshman Avery Davis will get a chance to earn second team reps in August, but 2017 seems the wrong time to break Kelly’s nearly annual string of early enrollee triggermen comprised of Tommy Rees (2010), Everett Golson (2011), Gunner Kiel (2012), Malik Zaire (2013), DeShone Kizer (2014), and Ian Book (2016).
Such unproven/shaky depth only matters if Wimbush (who did not enroll early in 2015) were to go down for more than one game due to injury. But these last three months in Notre Dame’s winter program coupled with spring ball would likely have aided Davis’ cause immensely.
4 – Pet Peeve: You’ll hear it tonight and in most basketball games broadcast thereafter. “Dribble drive…”
Listen: if you ‘drive’ in basketball, you have to dribble. It’s just a ‘drive.’ Dribble drive is redundant.
The usage of “dribble drive” as a skill is akin to a football announcer repeatedly saying “his ‘throwing passing’ is excellent!”
5 – Best Seat In The House: March 29th 1982, North Carolina vs. Georgetown. The first NCAA Championship game that I remember watching and it happened to be the first of 14 consecutive (15 in total – embarrassing story for another day) that I watched with my dad/at my parents’ house.
I haven’t done so since 1996 but will again tonight. Let’s hope it’s as entertaining as the first.
6 – Optimistically Skeptical: I’m a Nick Coleman fan.
Of his off-field demeanor, his on field speed, his quick feet, his ball skills (in practice) and of his solid/strong August 2016 training camp performance, 10 hours of which we witnessed first-hand.
Nick Coleman could become a quality free safety for the 2017 Irish, but fans, media, and analysts won’t realistically enter a comfort level regarding him as the squad’s last line of defense until at least late September.
Why? Because while I don’t necessarily doubt Coleman, I do wonder if his off-season conversion and apparent ascent to the starting role in such a short time speaks volumes about Notre Dame’s safeties…and not Coleman himself.
7 – The Top Five Plus Five: Reasonable minds can disagree on the order, but it’s hard to argue against the following five among Notre Dame’s 10 best players at the mid-point of spring ball: Quenton Nelson, Nyles Morgan, Josh Adams, Equanimeous St. Brown, Mike McGlinchey.
If you asked me which five players (realistically) could join them to round out the Top 10 – and that their performance would then portend for a contending 2017 campaign, I’d offer: Brandon Wimbush, Jerry Tillery, Alizé Jones, Daelin Hayes and Alex Bars.
8 – Penciled In: Aside from my ten top tier players listed above, I’d be stunned if the following six Irish competitors don’t start (in good health) throughout 2017:
- CB Julian Love: Already carries himself like a seasoned starter, plus he’s a tackler on the edge.
- Rover (or Safety) Drue Tranquill: For better or for worse, he’s certainly going to start somewhere.
- Buck LB Greer Martini: Sure chief competitor Te’von Coney will earn playing time, but Martini is too versatile to sit often, and that includes third-down sub packages where he fared well under both Brian VanGorder and Mike Elston last season.
- Center Sam Mustipher: They had myriad chances to replace him with backup Tristen Hoge last season but stuck with the rookie starter.
- CB Nick Watkins: Largely because A.) Shaun Crawford isn’t ready to compete against him, and B.) It’s easy and effective to let Crawford work the Nickel role this fall before re-opening the competition next spring.
- TE Durham Smythe: I’m not “all in” but I do think a healthy Smythe, and a stronger Smythe, will prove to be effective in what should be a preponderance of two tight end sets.
9 – Parlor Game: Next time we get together over beers or caramels have your answers ready for the following:
Name the best team from each of these five-year segments of champions from my viewing lifetime (I don’t know your viewing lifetimes)…
2013-17: Louisville, Connecticut, Duke, Villanova, tonight’s winner
2008-2012: Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, Connecticut (Kemba), Kentucky
2003-2007: Syracuse, Connecticut, North Carolina, Florida, Florida
1998-2002: Kentucky, Connecticut, Michigan State, Duke, Maryland
1993-1997: North Carolina, Arkansas, UCLA, Kentucky, Arizona
1988-1992: Kansas, Michigan, UNLV, Duke, Duke
1982-1987 (6): North Carolina, North Carolina State, Georgetown, Villanova, Louisville, Indiana
Until next week, Irish fans…