With the addition of graduate transfer running back Trevor Speights, it would seem that Notre Dame is done with roster additions for the 2020 season. The pick up of Speights adds to a roster that based on what is public knowledge right now would be over the 85 scholarship limit.
If you include the former walk-ons (Colin Grunhard, Mick Assaf), Notre Dame stands at 90 scholarships based on public information. Freeing up those two scholarships is the easiest to do for the staff, but even with them removed there are still three scholarship players that will need to no longer be on athletic scholarships by the time we get to the first game of the season.
Let’s go position by position and take a look at where things stand and who could come off the roster. Remember, unless stated otherwise,
Notre Dame has three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, which is one fewer than the ideal number. This is not a position where the Irish will be able to free up a scholarship.
RUNNING BACK (6)
The addition of Speights gives Notre Dame a great deal of depth at the position, at least from a numbers standpoint. Notre Dame pushing so hard for Speights could just be about position coach Lance Taylor wanting more competition, and Taylor certainly has history with Speights, but part of me wonders if there is more to it than that, and we just don’t know about it.
Could there be an injury at the position? Could there be a possible transfer or academic issue? All of that is pure speculation at this point, but it’s part of trying to figure out why Notre Dame would look to improve an unproven and injury prone backfield by adding another unproven and injury prone running back.
WIDE RECEIVER (13)
This is a position where a scholarship will likely come available. Thirteen scholarship receivers is too many, especially for a three-receiver offense that will also go with just two wideouts for chunks of the game.
According to head coach Brian Kelly, rising senior wide receiver Isaiah Robertson was going to be away from the team during the spring. For months my sources have told me that Robertson was highly unlikely to be part of the team in 2020. Nothing has been announced, and until it has its speculation, but my sources are confident in this becoming reality.
There were also rumblings about some uncertainty surrounding Javon McKinley being allowed back in the fall. He was part of spring practice, and I’m told the staff certainly wants him back. The question is will the school grant him a fifth season, which is something beyond the control of the coaching staff and we never got a formal announcement about it.
If the school allows McKinley back he could be poised for a big final season, and it would certainly give the offense a boost, assuming he can stay healthy. McKinley showed flashes in the fall, and from sources I’ve spoken with he is as focused as ever. If he can stay healthy, McKinley could be on the verge of ending his career in impressive fashion.
TIGHT END (5)
Notre Dame is loaded at tight end, and there is only one player on the roster with fewer than three seasons of eligibility remaining. The Irish are strong for 2020 and appear quite strong moving forward as well.
I expect all five scholarship tight ends to return for fall camp.
OFFENSIVE LINE (16)
From a numbers standpoint the offensive line is in a very healthy position. It is one of the few positions where there could be a loss or two and still be in great shape. There are two returners that have questionable injury situations, which could result in a possible medical scholarship situation taking place.
Senior Dillan Gibbons has had multiple injuries and could be questionable to be healthy for the fall. Junior Cole Mabry has been working hard to get healthy, but staying that way has been a battle for him.
At this point either being possible medical scholarship candidates is pure speculation, but based on history and how these things tend to go it would make sense to keep an eye on their situations heading into fall camp.
DEFENSIVE END (9)
Notre Dame is in great shape from a numbers standpoint at defensive end. There is strong talent in the upper classes and talented young prospects in both the sophomore and freshman classes. The experienced to young balance is how you want a depth chart to be, and if you recruit the right kind of players this is how you build a situation where you are reloading instead of rebuilding.
At this point, barring an injury that is not yet public I don’t see anyone that could come off the depth chart without a transfer.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (8)
Defensive tackle is in a similar situation as defensive end. The Irish can go four deep inside, and it’s four deep in quality as well. Top to bottom it could arguably be Notre Dame’s best interior depth chart in well over a decade. Notre Dame has veterans who can play, young players that show promise and a talented freshman class.
Like the defensive end position, barring an injury or transfer that we are unaware of at this time this is not a position where a spot will open up.
Notre Dame has 17 total defensive linemen on scholarship, and the vast majority of them can play, or at least have the potential to be players that can help the Irish defense in some way. It’s a very healthy situation based on what we know right now.
From a numbers and talent standpoint the linebacker/rover positions are also in a strong spot heading into the 2020 season. Even with injuries to rising juniors Shayne Simon and Jack Lamb, Notre Dame can go three deep across the board, and its quality depth. Lamb is set to be full speed by fall camp, and while Simon’s status for the fall remains a question mark, his injury was not a long term situation.
Notre Dame might not be in great shape in a couple of seasons if recruiting doesn’t pick up, but right now this is a long, athletic and high-upside position group. There are eight players listed at the two inside linebacker spots and three players listed at rover, but there are defenders inside that could move outside if the need arose.
At this time there is no linebacker that I can point to and say “transfer,” or anyone with a medical issue that would be career threatening. It is not a position that I would predict we’ll see Notre Dame lose a player this fall unless a situation we are currently unaware of comes about.
Safety is one of Notre Dame’s trouble spots from a numbers standpoint. The Irish aren’t three-deep on the back end, but the good news is all five safeties on the depth chart have multiple seasons of eligibility remaining.
There is talent at safety, but there isn’t ideal depth. Notre Dame isn’t in position where it can afford to lose a safety, and there isn’t a safety that can be pointed to as a transfer or medical possibility at this time.
From a pure numbers standpoint the Irish are absolutely loaded at cornerback, and only two corners run out of eligibility after the 2020 season.
Of course there is no proven ability behind sixth-year senior Shaun Crawford, junior TaRiq Bracy and graduate transfer Nick McCloud. That won’t change until the six sophomores and freshmen on the roster get a chance to develop, but from a pure numbers standpoint the Irish are in a strong position.
In fact, the cornerback depth chart is such that I could see at least one or two corners eventually move to safety. At the very least we could see one player cross train between corner and safety, and we saw that in the first and only spring practice when sophomore KJ Wallace got work at both cornerback and safety.
Freshman Caleb Offord and sophomore Cam Hart are two more corners that have traits that could fit well at safety.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
Notre Dame returns a scholarship placekicker (Jonathan Doerer), punter (Jay Bramblett) and long snapper (Alex Peitsch). Losing anyone from this trio would be a stunning loss for the Irish, and it’s not something that I believe will happen.
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