Logic & Reason
Join Date: Apr 2011
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Chris Wilson just published a Rakes Report on the B&G Game:
The usual caveats about the spring game apply: It’s tough to evaluate much when something good happening for the Irish usually means something bad is also happening to the Irish, but it’s still fun to see the helmets gleaming in the Stadium on a sunny day. I think the easiest way to start this will be to combine some observations from Saturday with the reports from throughout spring practice and do a power ranking of the position groups. These rankings apply only to the 2019 season and have no intention of projecting strength beyond that. As always, I reserve the right to switch these around after smarter football people point out obvious things I missed.
Without further ado:
9) Linebacker —I initially had linebacker a spot higher but I’m going to anticipate some feedback (complaints) and move it down. I am bullish on this unit, which might be unwise but I’m going to show some faith in Clark Lea. Losing Te’von Coney and Drue Tranquill is not good (Professional Football Opinion) and seeing a couple of promising options (Jack Kiser, Drew White) lose their spring to injury was also not ideal but there is still a lot of material for Lea to work with here.
Asmar Bilal seems set at starter, sliding over from rover where he was solid last year. Juniors Jordan Genmark Heath and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah seem to have a bead on the other linebacker spot and rover, respectively. Among the soon-to-be-sophomores, Paul Moala has drawn praise after his move to rover from safety while Jack Lamb’s coverage skills have been complimented. Shayne Simon and Bo Bauer are talented guys and it’s a long summer where either could take a leap. The general consensus is that this group is extremely athletic so if that speed can be pointed in the right direction it could be pretty fun.
(Would it be nice to have a clear-cut, former top 100 recruit upperclassman ready to step in here? Yes, even though I really like the potential of JGH and JOK, who were less heralded. Thanks, BVG.)
I have said this before, but Coney and Tranquill were not Coney and Tranquill until they were. Coney didn’t impress in spring 2017 and didn’t start at the beginning of the season, but by the bowl win over LSU he might have been the best player on the field. Tranquill was a guy who bounced around positions and couldn’t stay healthy before excelling at both rover and linebacker. Are the 2019 linebackers going to be as good as those two guys? Almost certainly not, but there’s a wide gap between “Bad” and “As good as Coney and Tranquill” that includes a lot of space for “Playing good, winning football.” This is probably the best I have felt about the bottom unit on one of these rankings.
8) Cornerback – One spot is absolutely on lock with Troy Pride, Jr., who’s going to challenge to start on the All-BK-at-ND team opposite his old running buddy Julian Love. (If Love had come back, this might be number one? I hope Julian makes a gazillion dollars playing in the NFL but also it would have been really neat if he came back.) Questions arise as soon as you get past Pride.
You have talented guys who have moved positions (Houston Griffith and Avery Davis), seniors coming off injury (Shaun Crawford and Donte Vaughn), a couple intriguing sophomores (TaRiq Bracy and Noah Boykin), a senior walk-on (Temitope Agoro) and freshmen who have yet to arrive on campus (K.J. Wallace and Isaiah Rutherford). Odds of at least one of those players being good are high, but corner is such a psychologically and schematically damaging position to have a clear weakness at that I’m nervous. Bonus points if the Irish actually have a steady nickel this year.
(It would also be cool to have any pure corners in the junior class. Just sterling work from the staff circa 2016.)
7) Running Back — I have been dismissing all running back concerns with the theory of “Listen, if you’ve got some athletes working with a good offensive line and a quarterback who keeps the defense from cheating up, you’ll be fine,” and I think that’s mostly correct. However, I am willing to admit that I might just be spoiled, because in the lifetime of this newsletter we’ve had C.J. Prosise, Josh Adams and Dexter Williams hitting home runs, which can cause you to forget the less lethal attacks that preceded their tenures.
Do I love Jafar Armstrong, who has earned comparisons to both Prosise and my beloved Theo Riddick? Yes. Is Tony Jones, Jr. a perfect complement, particularly with an accurate quarterback? Yes. Do I think that at least one of Kyren Williams, Jahmir Smith and/or C’Borius Flemister will be able to break out as a third horseman? Yes, and more so after Saturday when Smith looked good and Williams bowling balled his way around. Do I wish Dexter was back? Yes, of course, but I think this will be fine. This group looked good in the spring game, and even if they aren’t consistently putting the ball over the fence they’re going to be finding the outfield gaps for doubles.
(I know Wake Forest's defense was hot garbage, but in our only example of a game last year where Ian Book played and Dexter Williams did not the Irish rushed for 241 yards on 6 yards per, led by Armstrong’s 98 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries. This year Book will be better, the line will be better and Armstrong will be better. We’ll see.)
6) Tight End – This could and maybe should be a lot higher based on potential but it’s also a unit that returns all of 17 total catches from last year so keeping it down here as motivation. (This could also be lower depending on how smitten you are with the tailback depth chart.) Juniors Cole Kmet and Brock Wright were among the top tight end prospects in their class and this spring they looked like it, with Kmet earning Mackey Award whispers and Wright taking a big leap from last season where he mostly worked as a blocker. Redshirt freshman Tommy Tremble has impressed and it seems like Chip Long is going to find a role for him as a receiving threat detached from the line, which is fun. George Takacs remains very large (6’6”, 255) and will hopefully be capable of handling blocking duties because this position could get thin quickly.
5) Quarterback – At Blue-Gold, Ian Book looked like the guy who went 8-1 as a starter and flirted with the completion percentage record for a lot of the season. He’ll need to be able to hit on a few more deep balls (there was a dandy to Chase Claypool on Saturday) and not get flummoxed for stretches like he did occasionally last autumn, but I think in his third year in Long’s system with Tommy Rees (it’s officially Tommy again, thank God) guiding him, we should be in good shape.
Phil Jurkovec wasn’t as consistent as you’d like to see during the spring, and while that doesn’t necessarily limit his long-term potential it does make you a bit more nervous if he were required for extended action this fall. He does have a whole summer to keep working on his mechanics so we could be hearing a different story come August. Brendon Clark is the incoming freshman and while he seems like the kind of player who could find Book-like success as a three-star at Notre Dame, if he sees a meaningful snap this season something has gone very wrong. (For those who don’t follow recruiting, an FYI that Notre Dame has verbal commitments from four-star quarterback prospects for both the Classes of 2020 and 2021. That fact does not affect this ranking.)
4) Safety – This is similar to quarterback in that the starters are both captain-level, as Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott are coming off great seasons and having all the right things said about them. Depth? Ehhh. Griffith got moved to corner, Moala went to rover and Devin Studstill graduate transferred to South Florida so we’re looking at a converted corner (D.J. Brown), a sophomore four-star who’s yet to pop (Derrik Allen) and true freshmen (Kyle Hamilton and Litchfield Ajavon). Hamilton ended up as a five-star recruit and 247's 15th overall prospect, so that's a nice card to have to play, but regardless of pedigree I get nervous thinking about a freshman as the last line of defense in Athens, Ann Arbor or Palo Alto.
If Elliott and Gilman both stay healthy and/or a couple of the younger guys are ready for primetime, this will be a great unit. If one or both is hobbled while Allen and Hamilton lag behind expectations, questions arise.
3) Offensive line — Four of the five expected starters were four-star recruits (three top 100, one top 200) who have logged at least six starts in the opening lineup, which is about all you could ask for in the trenches. It’s perfectly acceptable to take a step back when you lose Quenton Nelson, Mike McGlinchey and Alex Bars, but now it’s time to bounce back because a ton of talent has been accrued. The outlier in both ranking and experience is redshirt freshman center Jarrett Patterson, but he was still a four-star (369th overall) who has earned rave reviews since arriving on campus.
Depth is a little interesting. Josh Lugg has been the Prince That Was Promised lineman for a while now and per Kelly will serve as the super sub across multiple positions. Will Trevor Ruhland stick around in a reserve role? Are true freshmen Andrew Kristofic, Zeke Correll and Quinn Carroll ready to live up to their blue-chip billing out of the gate? The Irish have amassed as much offensive line talent as any team in the country, just up to Jeff Quinn to now deploy it correctly.
2) Defensive Line – I originally had this broken out between ends and tackles, but historically I’ve done it as one so let’s keep it that way. (If I had split this up, end would have been number one and tackle would have somewhere in the LB/RB/TE range.)
Notre Dame’s edge rush is set to be absolutely silly, as both Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara have All-American potential after choosing to return for their senior seasons. Their backups, Daelin Hayes or Ade Ogundeji, could have started for most of the 21st century Notre Dame teams. Justin Ademilola surprised as a freshman, Ovie Oghoufo has received praise after bulking up from linebacker and there is talk of senior Jamir Jones, who was quite solid last year, redshirting to take advantage of the additional playing time set to be available next season. This isn’t even mentioning four-star incoming freshmen Nana Osafo-Mensah and Isaiah Foskey, who would have been needed for snaps in previous seasons but are now set to be a depth chart afterthought in a very good way. After how they looked on Saturday, what’s your projected total sack number for Kareem and Okwara? We’ll have to come up with some over-unders this summer.
Defensive tackle has neither the depth nor star power of their exterior counterparts, but there’s potential. Juniors Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Kurt Hinish been good, sophomore Jayson Ademilola impressed last year and freshman Jacob Lacey has done everything we could have asked after enrolling early. But that’s pretty much it. After that, we have to look to other freshmen (Hunter Spears and Howard Cross), a guy coming off a severe leg injury (Jamion Franklin) and the best defensive recruit from the junior class who simply hasn't worked out at the collegiate level (Darnell Ewell). It’s possible we get something from one of these guys, but it’s also possible someone tweaks their foot or Lacey wears down as a freshmen and things crumble.
Ways to help out the interior of the line? Score a bunch of points. That will prevent teams from simply lining up and running it up the middle while also putting the opposition into a series of passing situations, which would allow for the sliding over of Kareem and Ogundeji for peak pass rushing terror.
1) Wide receiver – If the wide receiver corps was simply Chase Claypool and Chris Finke, that would be really good. Finke is basically uncoverable out of the slot and Claypool has been getting rave reviews all spring, looking to take a massive first-round leap after his very good 50-catch 2018. Set to join them in the starting lineup is junior Michael Young, who showed flashes here and there (the touchdown reception against LSU, the long catch-and-run against Wake Forest) but has stepped up in his third year, looking good in the spring game. That is a talented and athletic starting three but the real excitement comes from the wave of reserves behind them. At one point or another in the spring, observers and coaches have praised each of the Lawrence Keys/Joe Wilkins/Braden Lenzy/Kevin Austin sophomore bloc. If just half of that group is legit, that’s a quintet of production along with the starters. If it’s more than half or any freshmen contribute? That’s something special.
(I could see switching wide receiver and defensive line, but my thinking is nothing about wide receiver is as tenuous as the depth at tackle. Defensive line might have a slightly higher upside — although that’s a big “might,” if Claypool, Young and one or two of the kids all hit their ceilings — but the floor is also lower.)
[If you’re a fan of tiers, I would divide this up into: Tier 1: Wide receiver, defensive line (depth, star power, upside) — Tier 2: Offensive line, safety, quarterback (various combinations of promising starters with returning production but also some question marks) — Tier 3: Tight end, running back (it’s probably going to be good but we can’t say for sure just yet) — Tier 4: Cornerback, linebacker (definite questions but there are enough potential answers I’m not too concerned which are, admittedly, famous last words).]
A brief note on specialists: I hope you appreciated Justin Yoon and Tyler Newsome, because you might appreciate them even more in their absence.
Predicting the story of Notre Dame’s 2019 season at this early date feels something like: A highly efficient offense with more explosiveness than 2018 does the heavy lifting to help out a defense with an elite edge rush and safety combo but some question marks at all three levels vacated by NFL Draft-quality talent. A new kicker and punter bring a sprinkle of additional danger to the proceedings, as does a schedule that includes road trips to the S&P+’s preseason No. 2 and No. 9 teams in addition to games with four more Top 40ish squads, including a finale in a venue where Notre Dame has not won in its last five visits.
Is that good enough to make a New Year’s Six game? Most definitely. Good enough to make the playoff again? Doesn’t feel that way just yet. My initial gut prognostication of this season is the Irish go a hard-luck 9-3 (losses in Ann Arbor and Athens + one more close one along the way) and Notre Dame fans act like the team sucks and the sky is falling. It’s possible for this team to be better than last year’s edition but clock in at 10-2 because of a more difficult schedule coupled with a bad break or two, which would be very annoying. My current* goal for the season is to get to Thanksgiving weekend at 9-2 or better, putting the Irish in the position where a win over Stanford sends them to the New Year’s Six at worst.
* This can and probably will change in the coming months.
We have all summer to get nervous and debate how things will go before things kick off in Louisville. The important thing to keep at the front of mind as we head into the heart of the offseason is that the program remains in good shape. It has won 22 of its last 26 games, has double-digit victory seasons in three of the last four and appears to be doing a bang-up job using the 12-1 season in recruiting. There are two very capable coordinators, an exciting new running back coach and plenty of good vibes. Could our mellow be severely harshed on the road against the Dawgs, Wolverines or Cardinal, in hangover games against the Cavaliers or Hokies, or in a revenge game from the Trojans? Sure, but there is plenty of good to focus on at this moment so I’d direct your attention there. Prayers up for an offseason devoid of academic issues, legal run-ins or injury.