Saturday saw the Fighting Irish take part in their 12th practice of spring and the first for the media to view inside Notre Dame Stadium. The team will practice twice more this upcoming week before another edition of the Blue-Gold Game on April 13th. This Tuesday’s workout will be open to the media, as well.
Here are the latest news items to discuss today.
First, some roster news as rising redshirt freshman offensive line Luke Jones will be transferring according to several reports and confirmed by Brian Kelly after Saturday’s practice. The Little Rock native was a late-December flip from Arkansas in the 2018 class and had been falling back to third-team center this spring. With this loss Notre Dame drops down to 87 scholarships with JD Bertrand and Marist Liufau included.
There have been no new major injuries to report, although Braden Lenzy had been dealing with a hamstring in recent weeks and suffered a concussion which kept him out of Saturday’s practice. Cole Kmet also left practice with what’s believed to be a sprained ankle.
On the positive side, Donte Vaughn, Shaun Crawford, and Javon McKinley were taking some contact during positional drills. I’ll have more on Vaughn and Crawford below.
The deeper we get into spring the more the gap seems to widen between Ian Book and Phil Jurkovec. By all accounts, Jurkovec had his worst practice viewed by the media this past Thursday and while he performed much better on Saturday this past workout might’ve been Book’s best of the spring. So while the gap likely isn’t widening that much–mostly because it was fairly wide to begin with–we should probably be talking more about Ian Book getting better after an impressive 2018.
I can’t remember a spring with so little analysis on the running backs. A lot of that has to do with Armstrong and Jones being entrenched at the top of the depth chart. Still, I’m not sure we’ve learned much if anything about the younger running backs.
I think we have a top 5 at receiver: Claypool 1A, Finke 1B, Young 3A, Austin 3B, and Keys 5. I’ve been scratching my head somewhat with Michael Young because he’s been rock solid in the starting lineup all spring, getting somewhere between mildly positive to strong reviews, but the highlights and production tracked by the media didn’t seem to be matching up. Then, Saturday looked to be his best practice of spring! At the same time, Kevin Austin also got some run with the starters.
With Lenzy’s pair of injuries I think it’ll take a big fall camp from him to break into the top five mentioned above. There are still positive things being said about Joe Wilkins too, let’s not forget. It’s been a tremendous spring for all of the wideouts but naturally a pecking order has to develop. Although I will say, if this spring is any indication Chip Long should be thinking hard about not playing two tight ends at the same time and even pulling all tight ends off the field a little more often than in the past.
Brian Kelly made a comment after practice about Josh Lugg cross-training at center, which is interesting. Lugg was splitting reps with freshman Zeke Correll on the second-team and you have to think Correll will redshirt. Therefore, Lugg is shaping up to be the first man up at either guard position plus center this fall. Is there a center anywhere else in the country that stands 6’7″ tall??
As mentioned previously, I don’t know where this slots 5th-year Trevor Ruhland once he comes back from injury. If he’s not in the mix at center then he’ll take reps from either Dillan Gibbons or John Dirksen at guard.
Several of the starters on the defensive line were rested through portions of Saturday’s practice which gave some of the younger players time to shine. One of the more underrated aspects to spring is how Jacob Lacey has avoided hitting a freshman wall. That’s not to say he’s been entirely consistent which would be absurd to expect at his age but he had another strong practice on Saturday. He’s living up to expectations as a quality backup and that’s great news.
Since our last update Shayne Simon has moved from Rover to Buck and now has apparently settled in at Mike linebacker. That’s a lot of change in a few short weeks! Although Asmar Bilal appears to be inching very close to locking down the Mike linebacker spot, at least Simon has been the backup in recent practices. He may be in position to make a move during fall camp for some playing time which is a lot better than his situation a couple weeks ago.
I’m not sure where this places Bo Bauer now. Early in spring he seemed squarely in the conversation at Mike and now has seemingly fallen off the map.
Owusu-Koramoah has pretty much locked down Rover which seemed a done deal once Simon was moved. At Buck as the dust settles it appears we’re seeing Genmark-Heath as the starter while getting spelled by Jack Lamb on occasion. They also seem to like Lamb a lot more as a third-down option which could develop into a 1A and 1B set up in overall snap counts between the two players.
With this incredibly large sample size of spring and the performance of the receivers to date it’s finally taken its toll on the corners. Troy Pride has largely performed at a high level but struggled a little bit on Saturday. Overall, Griffith has been good too but his coverage ability is still a question mark. The staff is trying to develop Avery Davis at nickel but that will need more work of course.
If there was any doubt, Kelly mentioned in his post-practice that the injured Vaughn and Crawford would be “factored in heavily” during the fall. If they can get healthy that would seem obvious and you could say Kelly is being deferential to seniors with his statement. Still, I wouldn’t say Notre Dame is thrilled with the way things have gone at corner this spring…some of that to be expected.
Finally, Jonathan Doerer really kicked the ball well on Saturday. Kelly mentioned they had been working on something with his technique since he’s such a large kicker and hopefully it’s working. Of note, possible transfer and walk-on candidate Andrew David was on campus visiting this past weekend. He’s a punter/kicker combo who originally signed with Michigan, transferred to TCU, and is looking for a new home in 2019. David only has 35 punts, 3 kickoffs, and no field goal attempts in his career so I’m not sure how much competition he’d provide for Doerer.