Irish Breakdown Mailbag
Time for the next installment of the Irish Breakdown Mailbag. In the video above I address a question about quarterback Brendon Clark.
chamgel — Over/under 9.5 regular season wins?
There’s a lot more film to watch and data to study, but I believe the 2020 schedule will be slightly tougher than the 2019 schedule, but not by much. Notre Dame is certainly capable of winning 11-12 games in the regular season, but my prediction is another 10-2 campaign.
The staff has recruited well enough, developed the talent well enough and has a strong enough structure in place with the strength program that they can out-talent at least eight teams on the schedule. In the last three seasons, Notre Dame has gone 25-0 against opponents that finished the season unranked. I view Navy, Arkansas, Western Michigan, Wake Forest, Duke and Georgia Tech as being sure-fire unranked opponents, so that’s 6-0 right there.
Notre Dame is 8-3 against opponents that finish ranked between No. 11 and No. 25 in the polls. I view Wisconsin, Stanford, Pittsburgh, Louisville and USC as being possible Top 11-25 finishers. I think the Irish go 4-1 against those opponents, so that’s 10-1.
Notre Dame hasn’t beaten a team that finished in the Top 10 since 2013, and at the time that opponent - Michigan State - was unranked when the Irish met. Until Notre Dame actually proves it can win this type of game I’m not going to predict it will happen. Can Notre Dame beat Clemson? Absolutely, but at this point I’m not predicting it.
So that’s 10-2, and the over. I could also see a scenario in which the Irish upset Clemson but drop one of the 11-25 games due in part to three of those five games being away from home.
IrishQ — Looking at each position group where there isn't a lot of returning production (let's call it RB, WR, TE, S, CB), if you/coaches/fans could have one player step up who would it be? So not who's most likely to step up, but who would add the most value if they hit their 2020 ceiling based on what the offense and defense has around them.
RB - I’m going with Jahmir Smith. I believe Notre Dame needs a running back to emerge that can hammer opponents between the tackles, and while Jafar Armstrong brings a lot of value, Smith has the best tackle-to-tackle game.
WR - This is an easy one for me, and it ties into the next question. I’m going with Kevin Austin. But in a perfect world Austin, Lawrence Keys III and Braden Lenzy all step up. They have very different games and could complement each other very effectively if used properly.
TE - Another reason one, Tommy Tremble. He has game-changing talent, but he needs to become a more efficient player, be more consistent and mature.
S - Houston Griffith, easy one. Kyle Hamilton is going to be a star as long as he stays healthy, but what made the safeties so good the last two seasons was how good they were as a tandem. Notre Dame needs Griffith and Hamilton to both emerge, and I think that’s going to happen.
CB - This one isn’t as easy to answer. My initial response was TaRiq Bracy, who is the veteran with the best coverage potential. Bracy emerging is a must, there’s no question, but Notre Dame needs one of the sophomores or a freshman to step up. I would go with Cam Hart if I was confident he would be healthy, but if he isn’t then Isaiah Rutherford is the guy Notre Dame needs to make a big leap this offseason.
chamgel — Does anyone step up as an alpha WR in 2020 like Miles Boykin did in 2018 and Chase Claypool did last year?
To build on my answer from the previous question, Kevin Austin is the one player on the roster that I believe has a chance to step up as an alpha in the same way that Boykin and Claypool did the last two season, and the way Will Fuller did in 2014 and TJ Jones did in 2013.
Lenzy has the talent to be Notre Dame’s most explosive and dynamic offensive weapon next season, and the Irish need that to happen. But Lenzy has struggled to stay healthy, and even when healthy he’s not a guy I see being able to stay on the field for 60+ snaps a game, and he’s not a guy who has shown the tools to be a 60-70 catch player.
Keys is a precise route runner with impressive ball skills, but he’s also undersized and not a guy I view as a 60+ catch guy.
The one player on the roster, that isn’t a freshman, that has that kind of talent is Austin. He’s got a unique combination of size (6-2, 210), explosiveness and ball skills. He’s the guy with the raw talent to go from a few number of catches (5) to being a go-to weapon that defenses must game plan for.
IrishCajun — Since the running back depth chart going into spring will be five players deep and come this summer the addition of Chris Tyree (makes six). Does Avery Davis stay at running back or does he move to another position where he may see more playing time? Do you think the arrival of Tyree takes away Davis spot as a change of pace player?
I personally would like to see Davis move to wide receiver. The position could use some depth, and the plays Davis has made at Notre Dame came lined up more as a wide receiver. His skill set is far better suited for wide receiver than it is running back. I don’t ever see him developing into a difference maker at running back as a runner or blocker.
At wide receiver he could be more of an every-down type of player, and the position better suits his athleticism and body type.
If Davis does stay at running back he’ll need a big spring, but even with a big spring it will be difficult for him to keep Tyree off the field. Tyree is more explosive and he’s a more natural runner that should be more effective running between the tackles. With Davis, when he’s in the game it’s much easier to make defensive calls, knowing he isn’t going to hurt you between the tackles.
Celtic Dragon — I realize questions like this are not easily answered, but in your mind how much do you think Jafar Armstrong's perceived struggles when he returned were due to his injury (or even the blocking on his carries)? He flashed a dynamic ability we were expecting all season against Iowa State and it makes fans wonder if he had finally fully recovered after playing the season at less than 100%.
I don’t think his struggles were perceived, they were very real. He averaged just 2.5 yards per rush on 44 carries upon returning from the injury he sustained against Louisville. The struggle was real.
I think the injury effected him from the standpoint of he never got his timing back. That clearly hurt him as a runner, but I don’t think the injury itself hurt him physically or held him back physically.
He ran for 8 yards on 8 carries against Iowa State, so I wouldn’t say he looked better at all. He had a really nice perimeter run on a jet sweep, but that’s a run he showed during the regular season as well. He still looked off running between the tackles. His timing was off all season, he wasn’t patient, he struggled making proper decisions and he never got into any kind of rhythm, something he’ll need to find this spring.
Coachty22 — Who has the inside track on the starting linebacker position? Do you think Shayne Simon is the front runner for the position?
I wouldn’t say anyone has an inside track at this point, but I do expect Simon - if healthy - to certainly be in the mix. I think we’ll see Simon, Jack Lamb (again, if healthy), Bo Bauer and sophomore Marist Liufau all in the mix competing for the open starting job. Simon, Lamb and Liufau could all start at Buck, but Bauer could also start at Mike, moving starting MLB Drew White to Buck.
IrishinIowa — Who do you think wins the boundary cb job? Will the staff try to fit Shaun Crawford or TaRiq Bracy there, or do you think Mickens track record of getting young guys prepared to flourish can get a Cam Hart, Isaiah Rutherford or even a Ramon Henderson ready? Realize they are all long shots at this point, but they have the ideal body types for that position. I find Hart and Henderson particularly intriguing and if one of them hits, it goes a long way in allaying my concerns in the secondary.
I honestly don’t know at this point. It’s hard to have a strong impression on what will happen with Hart, Rutherford, Henderson or KJ Wallace without ever really seeing them in a Notre Dame uniform. I’m in a “wait-and-see” mode at cornerback from a personnel standpoint.
What I’m more curious to see this spring, beyond which players look good, is how does Notre Dame use their cornerbacks. I’m curious to see if they do more right-left than they do field-boundary. With more of a right-left alignment we could see both Crawford and Bracy on the field together. But with Crawford’s injury history I don’t think he can be a 60+ snaps a game guy, I think they need at least one more corner working in the rotation with him.
chamgel — Two players on each side of the ball you’re most intrigued to watch in Spring Camp?
Offense - Kevin Austin for the reasons stated above
Defense - Houston Griffith for the reasons stated above
Both emerging this spring would have a huge impact on Notre Dame’s success on both sides of the ball next season.
The other offensive player I’m most intrigued to see this spring is quarterback Brendon Clark. Notre Dame needs him to step up and take hold of the second quarterback spot. The other defensive player I’m most intrigued to see this spring is Daelin Hayes. I really want to see if he’s healthy, and can he take his game to another level, especially as a pass rusher.
Fitz1105 — We know about Kelly sometimes having different standards for younger players. And I sometimes get frustrated with the lack of rotation. Given the new makeup of the team, what spots could you see that playing out again? At those spots, what’s your preferred rotation?
I think it’s a concern at wide receiver and in the secondary. For whatever reason, Notre Dame simply refuses to use a proper rotation at wide receiver. Yes, some players get snaps, but the staff rarely actually uses more than the starters as focal points in the offense. When we finally saw Lenzy used that way later in the season he stepped up.
Keys, for example, caught 7 passes for 70 yards in the first three games with Lenzy and Michael Young injured or out of the lineup. When Young returned we saw Keys playing time diminish. He caught just 1 pass over the next five games he played and had just 6 catches for 64 yards in the final ten games of the season.
They basically wasted his talent, and when he was in the game he was mostly ignored. The offense needs to do a much better job of not only expanding the rotation, but actually using all the players when they are in the game. An opposing coach the last few seasons could see who was in the game at wide receiver and basically know he wasn’t going to be targeted in the pass game.
irish_polak — What do you think about RPOs? It seems the officials could call illegal man down field on every play, but only call it when they want. Should this continue or should officials start enforcing this rule uniformly?
I would like to see the rule clarified a bit. I think what the NCAA needs to do is make it very clear for officials. In an RPO if a blocker engages with a defender and drives him past the 3-yard mark while still engaged it’s not a penalty. If a blocker works past the 3-yard mark and isn’t engaged then it should be a penalty.
ccr284 — Recruiting questions — Who are the (2-3) CB’s most likely to commit? Besides Shipley who is the RB most likely to commit?
It’s hard to really know the answer to the cornerback question because Mickens has yet to be hired officially. We’ll need to see who they target first and foremost. Once we get a better read on who their top targets are it will be much easier to determine who they have the best shot with. Anything at this point is nothing more than a guess with very little information.
I don’t know if any running back is likely to commit at this point. I am confident in saying that Notre Dame’s next in line player in regards to who they like and want would be West Bloomfield (Mich.) High School running back Donovan Edwards. If Notre Dame can land either Shipley or Edwards it would be a huge success for running back Lance Taylor.
Matt0315 — Will the 2021 recruiting class be the best overall class of the BK era?
It certainly has a chance with how the offense has started, but there is A LOT of work that needs to be done. OL coach Jeff Quinn has a chance to put together an epic OL class, but right now they only have one lineman in the class. Will have a much better read on where things stand after the big week in late March. If Quinn starts closing that weekend the class will take off.
Defensively, Notre Dame is just starting off and has a long way to go to have an elite defensive haul.
The start is fantastic, but now we need to see the staff finish. There was a bit of a pause with the quiet periods, dead periods and time in which the staff was being put together. Now things are all set and they can start rolling again.