We are finally entering the home stretch for spring football as the Fighting Irish finished their second-to-last full media viewing practice on Saturday. The team will take the practice field 5 more times overall with another full viewing this upcoming Saturday before the Blue-Gold Game on April 21st. Yes, this means spring practice has been stretched out to almost 2 full months!
Anyway, we have a handful of interesting topics to discuss so let’s get to it.
Quiet Spring for Tailbacks
It’s been a quiet spring for the running backs and Saturday was no exception. In fact, I really don’t have anything performance based to talk about per se, if only to mention that everyone seems to be of the belief that Dexter Williams is the No. 1 running back.
That’s not shocking but I did think Tony Jones was going to be putting up more of a fight after being one of the media darlings last off-season. That’s not to say that Jones hasn’t been practicing well (by all accounts he’s been fine) it’s just without Josh Adams taking up so much attention it’s becoming a lot more apparent where the top athleticism at this position is coming from now.
This has to be the move because Jones’ ceiling just isn’t anywhere near Williams’ and none of the younger players are in that stratosphere, either.
Receiver Fears, Still Alive
During the beginning and middle portion of spring there was a swelling of optimism around the receivers that I think is starting to come back down to earth. For one, sophomore Michael Young was absent on Saturday going through concussion protocol and it was quite noticeable how different the wideout corps looked. Young has been showing promise and is in line to be a starter but it’s not exactly like missing Michael Floyd out there.
Barely 2 weeks ago Brian Kelly said that Miles Boykin was “way ahead” of the likes of Young and Chase Claypool and the “Boykin as the No. 1 receiver” hype train was unleashed. “He could be like Maurice Stovall,” I read in various different forms. Except, Boykin really hasn’t flashed enough in practice to separate himself to this degree. I now have 2 predictions for the world:
1) I bet Boykin finishes no better than 4th in receiving yardage in 2018.
2) Prepare yourselves for a lot of those low-risk but frustrating sideline fades early in the season to Boykin.
Following practice Kelly brought up the scarlet letters (or shall I say words) that is “traits” and “process” for Claypool who is now full-contact from a shoulder injury that kept him out of the Citrus Bowl. This might be Kelly’s new off-season thing to screw down on a talented receiver, although to be fair Claypool has struggled a little bit with consistency. Let’s just make sure we’re not trotting out Freddy Canteen in his place against Michigan because of “traits.”
Offensive Line Shuffled
Since our last update the offensive line finally shuffled in a serious way. After moving Robert Hainsey to left tackle he’s now back at right tackle and Tommy Kraemer is now at left guard. Right now the most-used lineup appears to be Eichenberg (LT), Kraemer (LG), Mustipher (C), Bars (RG), and Hainsey (RT).
Kelly mentioned on Saturday that Josh Lugg has been “hard to keep off the field” and he’s basically the twin to Kraemer at the moment. Kraemer is still getting some work at right tackle, which moves Lugg up to first-team left guard, and when Kraemer stays at left guard Lugg is getting reps at right tackle.
All of this sounds like great news for Liam Eichenberg who may be finally breaking through. Aaron Banks has been receiving decent praise but as the left tackle backup doesn’t appear to be a serious contender to start at the moment. So, unless Hainsey (or Lugg?) are receiving left tackle reps it would seem Eichenberg is a very strong 1A option at this position.
Jay Hayes Moves On
Friday brought some unexpected news as rising grad student Jay Hayes announced he will be graduating in May and transferring for his final year of eligibility. It’s a bit of a sad ending for a player who burned his redshirt late during his freshman year, lashed out on Twitter with rumors of a transfer that off-season, took a sophomore redshirt, then turned things around to be a quality player in 2017.
Hayes was conspicuously absent from the previous 2 media viewing practices prior to this Saturday for the (code-word) “academic” issues while Kelly mentioned after Saturday’s practice the following FULL quote:
“Yeah, I mean Jay understands the standards we have here and he just felt like a change would be better for him and so we granted him a release to anywhere he wants to play. We gave him the opportunity to come back if he could meet the standards we set here, and you know, I don’t know what his thoughts were…can’t read into his mind. But, he’s decided to transfer. He’ll finish his degree this semester so he’ll be a grad transfer, so he’ll be immediately eligible. We love Jay, we wish him the best.”
No surprise that the usual suspects are up in arms about throwing another player under the bus, oh my! I bet Kelly doesn’t even really love Jay! The more important quote came immediately after and is actually worth discussing:
Brian Kelly says, even if Jay Hayes hadn’t opted to transfer, Khalid Kareem earned the starting position at SDE.
— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) April 7, 2018
I honestly can’t remember another time when Kelly so casually said someone earned a starting job in the spring at a position that was at least somewhat being contested among two or more players. So, you can start to piece together the concern from Jay Hayes’ point of view and maybe why he wasn’t too happy.
Hayes’ loss isn’t great news, at least for depth. Kareem should have a very nice 2018, Ade Ogundeji is showing some promise but is an unknown, and now converted linebacker Jamir Jones is getting reps at strong-side end. Jones weighs 242 pounds (Ogundeji isn’t large at 251, either) so being able to set the edge is officially a concern. Although, let’s hope any deficiency there is made up for by better play-making in the backfield.
Pick Over Rover
The Rover position was supposed to be one of the fun spring story lines and hasn’t delivered much in the way of intrigue. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah looks the part for a muscle magazine photo shoot but isn’t making much of an impression on the field so far this spring and depth here is pretty troubling.
Asmar Bilal seems to have locked up the Rover position so much so that he spent most of Saturday working inside for more depth there. That gave JOW and Isaiah Robertson tons of reps at Rover and still not a ton of positive takeaways for the media.
During some assistant coaches interviews late last week Todd Lyght mentioned that Julian Love has been coasting a little bit while Troy Pride and Shaun Crawford were the most consistent corners during spring. This seems to be backed up by what is seen on the field as Love has been okay/good/fine but not the All-American we saw last year.
Prepare yourself for the time-tested upperclassman corner let down season! I’m only half kidding!
How interesting it is that we haven’t heard anything about Love’s traits, though. To be fair, he’s proven to be a far better player than someone like Claypool but it is curious how receivers of all positions tend to get some of the strongest criticism.
Houston, We Have a Position Switch
Current early enrolled freshman Houston Griffith lasted about half of spring at corner. He’s now moved back to safety, a switch that on the surface, wouldn’t be made unless he can be a factor in the back end because the depth at corner isn’t exactly voluminous.
Through a couple of viewing periods he seems to be settling right in and getting a lot of work at free safety.
Clarity at Safety
New safety coach Terry Joseph singled out a pair of players late last week and we can now confirm Alohi Gilman at free safety and Jalen Elliott at strong safety are the front-runners. Behind them are the aforementioned Houston Griffith and Devin Studstill, respectively.
But, what of Nick Coleman the leading safety in snaps last year? The latest development with him is that he’s apparently still working at safety but also receiving a lot of reps at nickel. We continue to see signs that a 4-2-5 with a whole lot of nickel is going to be favored over rotating a couple of Rovers.