Folks, fall camp isn’t that far away and it’s time to start thinking about the 2019 season. I was wondering about last year’s Top 25 Players ranking from August 10, 2018 and how things would’ve been rearranged. Of course, that will be part of our new 2019 Top 25 list in the coming weeks. Instead, my mind wandered to the most important players for 2019 but not in the usual sense. Of course, if Ian Book throws 45 touchdowns he’s likely the most important player on the roster.
I’m looking at holes and weaknesses on the roster and want to see which players need to step up for the Irish to really add quality depth. In other words, if any of these players end up being some of the better performers for 2019 I think Notre Dame might be able to pencil in 10 wins again.
LB Jordan Genmark Heath
Someone from the linebacker corps has to be on this list. It would be negligence as writers not to include someone from Buck linebacker, too. Although, Notre Dame’s “let’s try guys all over the place at inside linebacker” plan for spring could bring us another surprise or two when fall camp opens.
I’m working under the assumption that JGH is going to play a big part at Buck because he saw a decent amount of snaps in 2018 relative to his teammates, he’s still (arguably!) the front-runner to start this fall, and he has a good enough skill-set to become a quality playmaker.
The Buck position is also the most shaky position, perhaps on the entire defense. Despite plenty of focus on someone beating out Asmar Bilal the graduate senior should at least provide a decent baseline of productivity early on in the season at Mike linebacker. The combination of Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Paul Moala offer decent experience and looked very solid during the spring.
The good news is that JGH could be helped out greatly by a surging Jack Lamb who might open fall camp as the 1A option at Buck if he’s improved his physicality and can be trusted on 1st and 2nd down. Splitting reps probably isn’t a wise long-term decision but the Irish will need either JGH or Lamb to start grabbing this job by the end of fall camp.
DT Jayson Ademilola
Notre Dame is losing both starters on the interior of the defensive line including 1st round draft pick Jerry Tillery who leaves a literal and figurative massive hole at the tackle position. The Irish should feel okay about a starting unit of Myron Tagavaola-Amosa and Kurt Hinish–both have a decent amount of experience and have done some good things early in their careers.
Absent a major breakthrough from someone the 2019 situation on the interior does look like one that won’t be too flashy but could provide more than enough stability to maintain a strong defense. Enter rising sophomore Jayson Ademilola who was a fairly hyped recruit and played decently with 18 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and a quarterback hurry in a modest 189 snaps during 2018.
The defense could really use Ademilola stepping up his game and being able to handle upwards of 400 snaps in his second season. He did get a little lost in the success of Tillery and the fact that his less-heralded brother Justin Ademilola surprised nearly everyone a year ago. With no experience behind the top 3 tackles, it feels imperative that Jayson Ademilola becomes a really good player as soon as possible.
WR Michael Young
What is Notre Dame football if there isn’t a secret, not-so-secret suspension on the horizon? All indications for the fall are that sophomore Kevin Austin will be missing game action. How much isn’t clear, maybe 2 games, maybe more? What is clear is that behind veterans Chase Claypool and Chris Finke there is a rather large hole to fill for a third receiver.
It’s easy to think that a collection of players and emerging depth is going to fill the gap. In reality, one player is likely to eat most of the snaps left behind by the departed Miles Boykin. If the spring is any indication Michael Young will be that player.
Young is an interesting case, it feels like half of the fans are ready for him to break out and the other half are waiting for him to be passed by younger talent. He looked awfully close to locking down a starting spot during the spring and with the impending issues with Austin it would seem only injury will keep Young from starting in the fall.
We just need to see more from him. Young has played 214 snaps through 2 seasons with 156 receiving yards, 66 of those yards coming on one screen against Wake Forest last year. For someone about to enter a big-time spotlight we still know so little about his skills and abilities.
PK Jonathan Doerer
If you ask 100 Notre Dame fans if the kicking game will cost the Irish at least one defeat in 2019 how many will agree? In a position that is as unfairly scrutinized as any in football (I remember every disrespect shown towards school-record holder Justin Yoon!) I’m certain fans are not particularly impressed with a young kicker who had his fair share of shaky moments in spot duty last year.
We’ve seen so little of Doerer that who knows how he will perform in the bright lights as the starter–or if he even holds on to the job. He’s made his only field goal of his career, looked all out of sorts kicking off, and he’s missed one of 6 PAT’s so far. He looked nervy to start the spring game (not a great sign!) then appeared to settle down pretty well (a good sign!) and look like a solid college kicker.
Most would probably take an average college kicker right now and pray that it doesn’t cost the Irish a close game. But there are no guarantees an average kicker would have a fun, stress-free season without a ton of criticism. That almost never happens unless the Irish offense goes for it on 4th down all the time.
CB Shaun Crawford
Someone at corner needs to be on this list, same as linebacker. Originally, I had Houston Griffith but he didn’t have a great spring by any means, many still think he’s a better fit at safety, and will yet again find himself back there soon enough. Perhaps we can offer Donte Vaughn who might come off his shoulder surgery, put a rough game against Clemson behind him, and lock down a starting job? Maybe we’re sleeping on Tariq Bracy making a nice sophomore jump following a freshman campaign that saw him at least get his feet wet?
This is a tough one because none of the options are great, just about everyone has huge question marks. This includes Shaun Crawford who has dealt with a torn ACL (2015), torn Achilles (2016), and torn ACL (2018) as he enters his graduate senior season. Not only are we dealing with health and durability concerns for the 5’9″ corner but we have to see if he’s able to play outside corner.
If Crawford can get back to his 2017 self and be more than a nickel corner it could be huge for the defense. Crawford could still be a disruptive nickel–and honestly it’s his best fit–but until we see differently the defense really needs someone to lock down the other corner spot opposite Troy Pride.