Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Seeing Red: Who plays on offense?

With spring practice in the books and Notre Dame’s depth chart taking shape, exactly who plays from the freshman class has begun to become clear. Irish Illustrated projects red shirts and early impacts on offense.

Quarterback: Avery Davis
Avery Davis (Under Armour)

Here what it takes for a freshman quarterback to play under Brian Kelly. Either the depth chart has to be in complete shambles (2010) or a transfer has to be followed by a devastating injury (2015). Beyond that, this is an automatic red-shirt season, which means Avery Davis can spend this fall learning from the sidelines rather than jumping into a quarterback competition. Tommy Rees remains the only freshman quarterback to start a game under Kelly, with the next eight all taking a red-shirt. Technically, Brandon Wimbush’s red shirt came during his sophomore year when the Irish actually sat two quarterbacks. The other one, Ian Book, was good enough during spring ball that Davis shouldn’t be in the running for the No. 2 job. This is all a sign of good quarterback depth chart health.

Projection: Red shirt

Running Back: C.J. Holmes

Tony Jones broke the mold last season when the staff sat him. He was just the third running back to red shirt under Brian Kelly of the nine who have signed. The other two red shirts at this position were Will Mahone and Cam Roberson. Neither sniffed real playing time before departing. Jones will be in the rotation this season and the coaching staff is high on him long term. He’ll be the first red-shirt freshman running back with potential to actually impact the offense since Cierre Wood. Deon McIntosh could be included here, but he took his red shirt last season at wide receiver. So what about C.J. Holmes? Early enrollment may prove to be a negative considering the off-season altering shoulder injury suffered in March. Notre Dame doesn’t need him outside of special teams this season. And if spending the fall strengthening that should makes sense, Holmes might follow Jones’ lead.

Projection: Red shirt

Wide Receiver: Jafar Armstrong, Michael Young
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While it’s hard to see Jafar Armstrong or Michael Young affecting Notre Dame’s offense this season, consider the receivers who have taken a red shirt under Brian Kelly. That’s DaVaris Daniels (academics), Mathias Farley (position switch), Torii Hunter Jr. (injury), Miles Boykin (depth chart), Jalen Guyton (off-field issues) and Deon McIntosh (position switch). From that group Boykin represents the only player held back for football reasons who didn’t then switch positions. Could Notre Dame sit Armstrong and Young for similar reasons? Of the 23 receivers signed by Kelly, 17 got on the field in some capacity, even if that just meant special teams or bit parts. Six freshman receivers turned that playing time into starts. Armstrong and Young won’t move up the depth chart that high considering the talent on campus, but if they can work special teams only the staff won’t think twice about starting the eligibility clock.

Projection: Play both

Tight End: Brock Wright, Cole Kmet
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Notre Dame has enough talent to sit Brock Wright and Cole Kmet, but it’s hard to imagine the early enrollee not helping on special teams or even jumping at least one more veteran player at the position. Of course if that happens it makes it even more likely that Kmet will red shirt considering he’d be the sixth tight end of six on the roster. A split between the freshmen feels historically accurate based on the Kelly era. Seven tight ends have signed and four too red shirts (Alex Welch, Durham Smythe, Nic Weishar and Mike Heuerman). Of the three who played, Alizé Mack and Ben Koyack started games. Tyler Luatua was an outlier, playing in 10 games as a freshman but never making much of an impact. It all makes a split between Wright and Kmet a logical outcome. The staff has not informed Wright that he’ll play this season but he’s impressed offensive coordinator Chip Long.

Projection: Wright plays, Kmet red shirts

Offensive Line: Robert Hainsey, Josh Lugg, Aaron Banks, Dillan Gibbons
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Brian Kelly has enrolled 22 offensive linemen during his seven seasons. Twenty took red shirts, which doesn’t include Ronnie Stanley’s de facto red shirt for medical reasons due to a high school elbow injury. That leaves Steve Elmer as the lone freshman offensive lineman to play under Kelly. Elmer even started four games that season after doing early enrollment into a depth chart that needed help and suffered injuries. Basically, if you sign with Notre Dame as an offensive lineman, you’re going to red shirt. There’s no reason to think Banks and Hainsey won’t follow that trend, even after they took second-team reps during spring practice. Lugg and Gibbons are absolutely locks to do the same after they arrive in summer.

Projection: Red shirt


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