Spring football is in session which means there’s no time to waste for 18S content. This past Friday we posted our first practice report since the Irish opened up a workout to the media following a long break from school. The team was right back at it again on Saturday with the media in attendance finishing up practice number six this off-season.
With eight more practices (including another open workout this upcoming Tuesday morning) plus the Blue-Gold Game yet to come here are 7 things to know so far in spring ball:
1) Receiver Competition is Fierce…For Now
If you were going to write out the most positive script for spring at receiver the reality doesn’t seem to be far off right now. Chris Finke had to play school on Saturday and missed practice. The top position in the slot went to Lawrence Keys who was able to showcase his incredible short-area agility. He will continue to be an intriguing option heading into the season but the absence of Finke in this last practice and more of spotlight on the younger guys brings up an important question.
How much depth will really be used when the season begins?
Take Finke, for example. Two years ago he was still pretty much a bit player inserted occasionally before exploding for nearly 700 snaps last season. Is he coming off the field much, if at all? Claypool logged 846 snaps and might literally never see the sideline when the offense has the ball.
So, we’ll either see a lot more rotating (Kelly’s history suggests don’t get your hopes up) or the true competition is going to take place at the “X” position where Michael Young is fighting off Braden Lenzy, Kevin Austin, and Joe Wilkins. Everyone seems to be Doing Good Things™ we just need to figure out what that really means for the young guys moving forward.
2) Offensive Line Stability
Harry Heistand wasn’t known to try too many new things in his time at Notre Dame and he was quite deferential to experienced veterans on the line. Jeff Quinn had his hands full last spring as the new position coach losing Mike McGlinchey and Quention Nelson while deciding to cross-train 7 linemen during parts of the off-season while only Sam Mustipher remained at center.
Looking back, maybe a little too much movement? So far this spring the only movement has occurred due to a banged up Aaron Banks and Liam Eichenberg missing practice this Saturday with academic commitments. This has allowed Josh Lugg to get a lot of reps with the top group at left guard but otherwise the unit looks to be ready to head into the summer with Eichenberg (LT), Banks (LG), Patterson (C), Kraemer (RG), Hainsey (RT) entrenched at their positions.
3) Don’t Sleep on Kmet
So far this spring we’ve seen Brock Wright turn some heads (last practice, especially) and Tommy Tremble beginning to assert himself as well. Anyone paying attention should know with the losses of Alize Mack and Nic Weishar it was going to be an important set of practices for building tight end depth.
Judging by the amount of volume in reps and targets from Ian Book–in combination with Kelly’s praise following Saturday’s practice–we probably shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Cole Kmet is shaping up to have a big year.
4) Chosen Ovie
If I remember correctly, rising redshirt freshman Ovie Oghoufo was moved from linebacker to weak-side “drop” end either late last season or during the semi-final preparations. As a recruit, he was decently sized at 6’3″ and 215 pounds but such a move felt like this made him a long-term project.
Well, Ovie flashed some impressive physicality at his current 230 pound weight on Saturday and was able to get himself some praise from Kelly after practice who called him a “young Julian Okwara.”
Is that Kelly being a little bit too optimistic? Let’s go with absolutely on that, but also this could be a sneaky important development for 2020 when new ends are going to be needed badly.
5) Fitting the Pieces at Linebacker
Asmar Bilal was heavily rumored to move to Buck this spring and as I mentioned in the last practice report it didn’t seem smart to keep both Bilal and Jordan Genmark-Heath at this same position. On Thursday, Bilal spent a lot of time at Mike and on Saturday spent the entire practice at Mike.
Elsewhere, for the spring preview I wrote this:
I still feel like Simon and JOK have the potential to be difference makers compared to the other guys in that group which would be a shame if they continue to play the same position. This is why I like Simon to move inside–it seems like the defense is never going to be short of Rover-type players and will take that position off the field a lot anyway for a nickel defender.
This past Saturday Shayne Simon spent the entire practice at Buck. Now, this is where things get interesting. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah got all of the 1st-team reps at Rover and drew praise from Kelly after practice who cited he just needs a little more work mentally. From an athletic standpoint, JOK can be the protoypical Rover in this defense with freakish cat-like burst and ability to cover large tracts of the field.
Ask me right now and it would seem highly likely Bilal, Simon, JGH, and JOK are going to be the top 4 linebackers in some order, it’s just a matter of figuring out exactly where they all fit.
6) Moala to Rover
A quiet position change happened within the past week as sophomore Paul Moala moves from safety down to Rover. With Simon cross-training and/or getting a strong look inside this has moved Moala into a backup role at Rover for now. The staff has liked him but even at 6’1″ 210 pounds his coverage skills were questioned (hence the move) and who knows how high his ceiling will be closer to the line of scrimmage at that weight.
I have a hard time thinking they’d move Simon to Buck and put most of the starting minutes of Rover on JOK with Moala being directly in the mix. But it is interesting that one of the lesser heralded recruits from 2018 could have this big of an impact on how the 2019 linebacker corps shakes out.
It would seem crazy for Simon to play both Rover and Buck so will a decision be made on this by the end of spring? JGH/Simon sharing the Buck duties with Bilal starting at Mike feels like a really strong situation on the inside after having to replace Tranquill and Coney but my goodness does that seem to weaken Rover in the process.
7) D.J. Brown Emerging, Ready for Hamilton
Safety has been in a weird spot this spring after much rejoicing that this position looked as strong as at any time in recent memory. Alohi Gilman has been banged up and missed Saturday’s practice with academic commitments, Houston Griffith is staying at corner for good, and with Moala moving to Rover that has put a walk-on in the two-deep in recent practices.
Thankfully, the move of D.J. Brown from corner to safety looks like it’s going to pay off down the road. Most of the reports have him still very raw at the position but clearly a better fit for his playing style. It doesn’t seem like Derrik Allen is developing much so far–and with the limited bodies he’s getting a ton of reps right now–therefore Brown is quickly becoming an important backup as quickly as this year.
The coaching staff may not have done this with any great intentions yet it’s hard not to look at safety today and see that the decks are being cleared for incoming super-recruit Kyle Hamilton to step right in and contribute. Whether that’s purely as a safety or to solidify the Rover/nickel position the snaps could be there for the taking.