Three Camp Questions For The Notre Dame Offense
Notre Dame kicks off fall camp today, officially starting their campaign for another College Football Playoff berth. It will also be the program’s first in a conference, as Notre Dame will be playing in the ACC this fall.
With camp kicking off there are a number of key questions that I will be keeping my eye on. How those questions get answered will have a significant impact on how the 2020 season will play out on the field.
Let's start with the three biggest questions on offense.
Question #1 — How will the running back depth chart shake out?
Tony Jones Jr. was the only runner that really did much damage last season, and now he’s trying to earn a spot in the NFL. Behind him were young players with little experience and a checkered injury history. Notre Dame tried to replace Jones with Stanford transfer Trevor Speights, but Speights saw his Irish career end before it began.
There are far more questions than answers at running back as camp kicks off.
But there is also talent returning. It’s not talent that is going to make you think they are on the same level as Clemson or Ohio State, but talent that is good enough to do damage behind what should be a very good offensive line (see below). Notre Dame needs at least two backs to emerge as legit every-down players and at least one dual-threat weapon.
Can Jafar Armstrong stay healthy and find his 2018 groove? Can C’Bo Flemister and/or Jahmir Smith become a key figure in the rotation? Can Kyren Williams use a season of experience to vault up the depth chart? Will Chris Tyree get a chance to use his elite speed to make plays?
The more of those questions that are answered positively the better this unit will be.
Question #2 — Can the wide receivers stay healthy?
Despite the injury to Kevin Austin there is still plenty of talent coming back at the wide receiver position. Javon McKinley is a talented player that showed flashes last season, juniors Braden Lenzy and Lawrence Keys III bring big-play ability to the game, transfer Ben Skowronek is a veteran with over 100 career catches and the freshman class is loaded. I didn’t even mention players like Joe Wilkins Jr., Micah Jones and Kendall Abdur-Rahman, who also bring skill to the roster.
Notre Dame has plenty of weapons, but a big issue is many of the players that I just mentioned have struggled to stay healthy. The biggest question at the position heading into camp is can players like McKinley, Lenzy, Keys and Wilkins stay healthy for a full season, something none of them have been able to do yet. Can Skowronek overcome his season-ending injury and regain his form?
At least one player from this group and at least one tight end must step up and become big-time, go-to players. If this unit stays relatively healthy, beyond the Austin injury, I have confidence Notre Dame will get excellent play from the group and a go-to player - or two - will emerge. But if the injury history that has plagued many at the position continues the offense will struggle to consistently get the production and impact needed to fuel an elite offense.
Question #3 — Can the offensive line be as good as advertised?
If Notre Dame is going to be a contender for the ACC Championship, and a CFP berth, the offensive line will have to be the driving force. There is plenty of talent at the position, and with 114 career starts coming back it’s one of the most experienced lines in Notre Dame history.
The unit showed flashes last season, but consistency and good performances in big moments were not up to par. Struggles in the run game also held this unit, and the offense, back when it mattered most. That cannot be the case in 2020, and Notre Dame has all the ingredients to be a dominant offensive line this fall.
A dominant offensive line makes quarterback Ian Book better. A dominant offensive line allows the backs to get the most out of their ability. A dominant offensive line allows Notre Dame to control the tempo of every game, whether that means speeding up or eating up clock.
This is a show-me year for line coach Jeff Quinn. He has everything he needs to put out a great line week after week in an attempt to silence critics, like yours truly. The addition of graduate assistant Chris Watt should provide a big boost, and if the rumors I heard about the workouts this summer are true, this group should be more than prepared to play at a high level.
If they do, the 2020 offensive will likely be special, but now the unit has to prove it.
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