My regular in-season film review (“I have x# things to say”) will appear on our Irish Illustrated message board Wednesday so until then, I’ll go light on the Blue Gold Game particulars…
1 – Top 5 (Spring Only): Had I never witnessed a moment of Notre Dame football prior to this spring session – March 8 through Saturday’s Blue Gold Game – I’d enter the summer months believing the following Irish rank, in order, as the squad’s five best veteran starters. By veteran, let’s assume at least 10 career starts:
OG Quenton Nelson, LB Nyles Morgan, RB Josh Adams, LB Drue Tranquill, and WR Equanimeous St. Brown…
Conspicuous in their absences? LT Mike McGlinchey, who’ll probably crack the group next fall, and NT Jerry Tillery – who better join the group next fall.
2 – Five on the Rise (Some Starting Experience): Not exactly grizzled veterans, but they’ve already got their feet wet in the college game (In order): TE Alizé Mack, CB Julian Love, CB Nick Watkins, TE Durham Smythe, and LB Greer Martini.
Love is the most polished, Mack the most talented, Smythe the most improved, and Watkins continues to impress. Finally settled at one position, the former jack-of-all-trades Martini can finally master one.
3 – Six Surging (No Prior Starting Experience): In order – QB Brandon Wimbush, RB Tony Jones, Jr., WR Miles Boykin, RB Dexter Williams, DE Jay Hayes, and WR Chase Claypool.
Now, if we’re reclassifying in order of importance it goes Wimbush, Hayes and take your pick.
4 – Help Wanted: Spring ball also revealed the following truths from my purview:
- Incoming DL prospect Darnell Ewell must contribute weekly along the defensive interior.
- Jalen Elliott and Nick Coleman etched their names in pencil as the team’s starting safety duo, but it was by default. I wouldn’t mind if early enrollee Isaiah Robertson presses the former through mid-August…
- There are two natural offensive tackles on Notre Dame’s spring roster. One of them might transition to guard in the NFL and the other is the team’s starting nose tackle.
- Ideally, a backup strong side defensive end (paging Khalid Kareem? Could DT Jonathan Bonner move out?) needs to emerge to backup Jay Hayes, because the Irish defense would benefit from senior Andrew Trumbetti backing up Daelin Hayes at drop end for 2017. (Then Julian Okwara for 2018-19; Ade Ogundeji for 2018-19-20.)
5 – Actual Exchange: I met an Irish Illustrated subscriber and podcast listener in the parking lot Saturday. As I exited my car talking on the phone, I said goodbye to my sister and was greeted with: “I recognize that voice.”
Always flattering to hear someone say they enjoy listening to our podcasts, and apparently my sister relayed the story to my 88-year-old mother who responded:
“Was he waiting outside the phone booth? How did he hear Timmy?”
Now I know why she’s easier to reach on the landline than her cell…
6 – True Strengths: There’s depth in numbers (fake depth) and depth in reality. The following positions seem well equipped to handle the rigors of August through bowl preparations:
- Tight End, where it’s #1 (Durham Smythe), #1A (Alizé Mack), #3 (Nic Weishar), #4 (early enrollee Brock Wright). And they’re all legit.
- Running back, where it’s #1 (Josh Adams) and #2A and 2B (Dexter Williams and Tony Jones, or vice versa). Do they need a fourth? They might have one in injured early enrollee C.J. Holmes – though his missed time and separated shoulder won’t help – and re-converted redshirt-freshman Deon McIntosh, a straight-line, one-cut speedster that toiled at wide receiver last season
- Linebacker, featuring a Top 5 roster player in Nyles Morgan, a Top 5 spring riser in Drue Tranquill, a Top 15 reliable guy in Greer Martini, and a solid backup for two positions in Te’von Coney. Add to the mix Asmar Bilal – perhaps the most intriguing player that’s not likely to win a starting job next fall – and you have a strong quintet to battle with.
- Wide Receiver, a group buoyed by size and speed (Equanimeous St. Brown), size and hands (Miles Boykin), size, speed, and raw talent (Chase Claypool), quickness and knack (Chris Finke), and exceptional quickness with the ball in his hands (C.J. Sanders). Add take-the-top-off a defense talent Kevin Stepherson to the mix, not to mention future threat Javon McKinley and the Irish should be fine on the outside.
- Cornerback, highlighted by one top 10 roster player (Julian Love), one potential top 10 for the future (injured junior Shaun Crawford), one potential Top 15 roster piece in Nick Watkins, plus two future starters in Troy Pride and Donte Vaughn.
I thought Pride had a better spring than did Vaughn, who battled back spasms early in the six-week session.
7 – That Said… Notre Dame’s projected relative weaknesses appear remain unchanged.
- The defensive interior isn’t Russell Athletic Bowl level, much less Major Six caliber. That means the positions listed as strengths above – plus quarterback and special teams – have to perform at a Major Six Bowl level as forecasted.
- The safeties are at least as worrisome as they were this time last season save for the addition of a defensive coordinator that specializes in their craft. But there’s no senior Über-athlete such as Max Redfield at the head of the group. That’s both a great thing (clearly) and a bad thing – because they could use a guy that can run and jump like the enigmatic former Irish defender.
- The projected starting right tackle (Tommy Kraemer) is probably better suited for guard and he’s beating out a guy we thought would be a tackle (Liam Eichenberg). The starting right guard (Alex Bars) is ideally suited for guard and he might have to go back to tackle. The line has ample work to do to establish the cohesion necessary to approach the levels of their 2015, 2013, and 2012 predecessors.
8 – Stock Up: Quarterback Ian Book as an emergency starter if needed…Daelin Hayes’ presence off the edge and in space…Miles Boykin’s consistency…Drue Tranquill the attacking strong side linebacker (hey, where have I read that before?)…
Nick Watkins’ confidence in himself – actually, that appears unchanged, but his level of play is on the rise to match…the changing late-career (not this year) aspirations for Brandon Tiassum and Ade Ogundeji…Dexter Williams rising to the challenge…Hope for Daniel Cage come August…A running second half clock in the spring game. (Could have used that against Duke.)
And Jay Hayes. Jay Hayes is a football player (always has been) and it appears he’s finally putting it all together. Whatever wasn’t in place, it seems to be now.
9 – The Most Important Change: We’re nearly four months into Notre Dame’s necessary off-season program overhaul and to date, my guess is most Irish fans rate the changes in the following order of importance:
- The new strength and conditioning program and its trickle-down effect.
- The new defensive coordinator. This would be No. 1, clearly, but we’re not comparing Mike Elko to the Brian VanGorder error, but rather the Mike Elston-led defense that battled admirably under untenable circumstances last fall.
- A new offensive approach behind coordinator Chip Long, because the previous while able to move the football with regularity, lacked the necessary physicality and patience to compete at a level commensurate with a champion.
- The addition of a new and dedicated special teams coordinator. Because while sometimes unintentionally funny can be good, it’s not when applied to your football team’s weekly special teams hijinks.
Reasonable minds can agree to disagree on the order above, but for me it’s clear that a fifth change not listed ranks as the most important.
It appears Notre Dame has a different head coach.
Until next week, Irish fans…