Spring practice is just around the corner for Notre Dame football as they officially make preparations for the 2019 season to come a long 6 months away. It’s a fairly settled situation for the Irish offense as they return most starters and set about establishing a pecking order for spring, and maybe, discover some new playmakers.
This side of the ball will have 37 scholarship players on hand for the spring. The (*) denotes a returning starter.
The Players for Spring
QB Ian Book, r-JR*
QB Phil Jurkovec, r-FR
RB Jafar Armstrong, r-SO
RB Tony Jones, r-JR
RB Avery Davis, r-SO
RB Jahmir Smith, r-FR
RB C’Bo Flemister, r-FR
RB Kyren Williams, FR
WR Chase Claypool, SR*
WR Chris Finke, 5th SR*
WR Michael Young, JR
WR Kevin Austin, SO
WR Javon McKinley, r-JR
WR Isaiah Robertson, r-SO
WR Braden Lenzy, r-FR
WR Lawrence Keys, r-FR
WR Micah Jones, r-FR
WR Joe Wilkins, r-FR
TE Cole Kmet, JR
TE, Brock Wright, JR
TE, George Takacs, r-FR
TE Tommy Tremble, r-FR
OL Liam Eichenberg, r-JR*
OL Tommy Kraemer, r-JR*
OL Robert Hainsey, JR*
OL Aaron Banks, r-SO*
OL Trevor Ruhland, 5th SR
OL Josh Lugg, r-SO
OL Jarrett Patterson, r-FR
OL Dylan Gibbons, r-SO
OL Luke Jones, r-FR
OL John Dirksen, r-FR
OL Cole Mabry r-FR
OL Zeke Correll, FR
OL Quinn Carroll, FR
OL Andrew Kritofic, FR
OL John Olmstead, FR
I went back and re-read a bunch of spring practice content from last year and I cannot stress enough two facts of the Brian Kelly era. One, by hook or by crook the starting quarterback is going to be successful in practice. Two, the media’s natural tendency is to play up the positives of the starting quarterback, mainly because the player generally looks solid when available for viewings (see point one).
Last spring we were told Wimbush’s fundamentals were vastly improved and his accuracy issues fixed. Then there was a middle period of returning to earth a bit finished off by Wimbush’s best practice of his career in the final media viewing session. This for a quarterback who lost his job after week 3 so it’s been a long time since spring practice meant anything meaningful for judging quarterbacks.
We should see Ian Book command most of the first-team reps probably so much so that it’s a little annoying that Phil Jurkovec won’t get enough run with the best players on offense. However, with only these 2 on scholarship for spring there will be plenty of time for Jurkovec to show his mettle even if he realistically has no shot of starting prior to the Georgia game.
I still have Davis listed with the running backs but given the numbers he’s probably shifting towards more of a receiver role this spring. Five tailbacks is a lot to manage and I don’t know if it makes sense to keep Davis as a 6th in the backfield when the offense needs to learn so much about the other young players.
The spring is all about two things: Assessing if Jafar Armstrong has what it takes to be a bell cow running back who will be gobbling up a ton of carries and taking stock of the trio of freshmen. For the sake of argument, I’m going to assume Tony Jones remains a steady option but not a starting-level running back.
Many eyes will be on Kyren Williams, as they should be. We’re expecting him to play a role as a freshman and I’m predicting he moves quickly ahead of at least one running back early in spring to throw his hat in the ring moving towards fall camp.
Let the search for the third receiver begin. Or, in other terms the question to the answer of whether or not Kevin Austin is going to be a large part of the offense or if we’ll be hearing grumblings of him not being quite ready yet. I think he’ll have a productive spring based on the fact that he was a rare true freshman able to get in the mix last year and surely the staff knows how much they needs his skill set for 2019.
There are rumblings that Wilkins is moving back to corner for the spring which would make sense because they need bodies. This is all the more true if Davis is going to be a receiver and pulled out of the backfield numbers. Still, Wilkins was moved away from corner last year, evidently for a reason, and that was at a time when corner still needed help, too.
It’s a spring for the youth, that’s for sure. We know what we have in terms of Claypool and Finke but beyond that Young and Austin have a combined 16 receptions. No one else even has a collegiate target in their careers let alone a catch.
Both Cole Kmet and Brock Wright are suddenly juniors and thrust into the spotlight as the elder statesmen of the tight ends. For me, Kmet quietly put up 162 receiving yards last year which isn’t terrible given he wasn’t the main pass-catching option at his position. At the same time, the often-maligned Alize Mack had 190 receiving yards as a freshman and it still didn’t seem like that much of an impact because of his hype. As he juggles duties on the baseball team, it’ll be important to rely on Kmet being someone who has the ability to push towards at least 400 yards in the fall as the hype of a promising career shifts into gear.
We shouldn’t forget that Wright was a big-time recruit who should have his own hype, although the past couple years have dampened expectations a bit. He caught a touchdown pass in Book’s first start of 2018 but that was only 1 of 2 career receptions to date. You’d think his game would match up pretty well with Book’s short-to-intermediate accuracy and I’m curious to see if Wright develops into more of a weapon this spring instead of mainly being a rarely used blocker.
Nothing quite like fielding 3 full lines up front for spring practice! Note, this doesn’t include Darnell Ewell who is rumored to be heading back to nose guard where he originally started and was recruited for back in 2018.
Here’s what we think we know for the offensive line before spring practice. One, we can just about sharpie in the 4 returning starters to remain in those roles for 2019. Two, all signs point to 5th-year senior Trevor Ruhland getting first crack at becoming the starting center. It doesn’t seem like anything is going to happen until the coaching staff gets a better read on the center position.
Now, should Ruhland not be up to the task then we’ve got combinations and rotating to discuss.
Option 1 could be moving Robert Hainsey to center where he projects for a higher ceiling as a pro but you’re giving up on 2 years of experience at right tackle in that scenario. You’d also need to feel good about a replacement at tackle in this case and the Kraemer experiment is likely over on the edge while Josh Lugg, despite being a towering 6’7″ in height, apparently struggles at the position. For 2019, that likely leaves rising redshirt freshman Jarrett Patterson as the option to replace Hainsey.
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) February 21, 2019
If you’re skeptical that Hainsey will be moved (I’m in that boat for now) another option at center is Luke Jones who has offered flexibility for the staff in the past and might be the immediate competition with Ruhland to start spring practice.
Lastly, it’s expected the highly touted Zeke Correll is going to become the starting center early in his career. Should we expect 2019, though? Perhaps not, although center is one of those positions where (Nick Martin being an exception) once a player shows he’s worthy of starting it’s his position until graduation. In that vein, 2019 sets up to grind it out with Ruhland for a year before handing things off to Correll in 2020. It kind of doesn’t make sense for Jones to start if Correll projects to be better in 2020 at center and you have nowhere to move Jones at guard as both Banks and Kraemer should return the year after next.
Pleasant Surprise of Spring: Tommy Tremble
I really liked Tremble’s skill-set coming out of high school and can foresee him being a nice weapon for Chip Long to use. He can fill a role similar to Alize last year.
Don’t Listen to the Media: Jurkovec’s Throwing Motion
The exposure for Jurkovec is going to be increased significantly which means more awareness of his funky, quick release. It kind of is what it is, folks. Improved fundamentals aren’t going to change his throwing motion to any great degree.
Still Can’t Get Respect: Chris Finke
Finke basically saved the regular season with his 1st half against USC and made maybe the play of the season against Michigan. I hope he doesn’t have to spend his last year on campus hearing, “Yeah, but when will someone else beat him out?”
Pick One of Lenzy or Keys: Lenzy
Being a receiver at Notre Dame is challenging because the position seems so crucial in practice where 9 or 10 players can get significant visibility during media sessions. Then when the actual games begin we’re lucky to see 5 receivers on the field on a regular basis. Lenzy has a better shot to stick in a rotation because he’s a little taller than Keys and can survive at the “X” position. I’m not sure Keys can do that which means fighting for reps in the slot with Finke and tight ends.
No One Wants to Talk About: Linemen Transfers
Notre Dame typically has at least a couple competent preferred walk-on offensive linemen which are added to the mix of 15 scholarship players. There really isn’t going to be much work for a few linemen coming up this spring. All of the freshmen are here early which is good to get assimilated but their gains may be largely in the weight room. And if any of those freshmen find themselves on the two-deep (everyone agrees the 2019 class is a lot more talented than 2018) that’s not a good sign for the older player’s and their future.
Impressive Freshmen Nowhere Near Playing: Andrew Kristofic
Everyone here at 18 Stripes loves Kristofic and I can see him getting some air time during a Kelly presser this spring. We know Kelly has been happy to throw around some high-praise for young players even if in reality they aren’t ready to make an impact.