Notre Dame wraps up Spring Football for 2017 this weekend with the annual Blue-Gold game. Notre Dame worked in almost an entirely new assistant coaching staff including new offensive and defensive coordinators in addition t0 a new starting quarterback as they look to rebound from 2016’s 4-8 disaster so obviously there is A LOT to watch for this weekend. With that in mind, we decided to preview a few specific players to watch on both sides of the ball on Saturday starting with the offense.
Brandon Wimbush (QB)
Ok this one goes without saying but it will be very interesting to see how Brandon Wimbush looks in his first audition as the starting quarterback for the University of Notre Dame. By all accounts, Wimbush has had a fantastic spring and is ready to lead this offense in the fall. Watch for how fast the new uptempo offense looks and how comfortable Wimbush looks with it. Odds are they won’t be at “full speed” by Saturday, but they should be faster than we’ve seen in the past.
Wimbush won’t see too many exotic looks from Mike Elko as the Irish will likely keep their new defense close to the vest, but it would be surprising if they didn’t throw at least one or two things his way to see how he reacts. If Wimbush has a clean game and looks accurate, the Notre Dame offense should be in a great place heading into the summer.
Ian Book (QB)
While it will be interesting to watch Wimbush to see just how good he is, it will be interesting to watch Book to see just how ready he is for playing time since he is the likely backup in 2017 baring a mild upset from Avery Davis in fall camp. Book will be one play away from being the starting quarterback for Notre Dame all fall. How ready he is to run the offense and how much, if at all, the offense changes with him in command should be watched for on Saturday. If Book looks shaky or uncomfortable, Notre Dame fans will be holding their breath any time Wimbush gets hit this fall.
Tony Jones (RB)
The star of spring practice. Tony Jones has drawn rave reviews this spring as he stakes claim to his share of carries this fall. With Josh Adams and Dexter Williams ahead of him, any carries he gets will be well earned. Has Jones really been a revelation this spring though or is this another Junior Jabbie case? At the same time, a strong case could also be made that he is the most complete back currently on the Notre Dame roster. If Jones shows he can be a reliable receiver out of the backfield, he will make a strong case for playing time.
Chase Claypool (WR)
Greg has already written about Chase Claypool A LOT this spring, but the Canadian receiver is still very much worth mentioning here. He could have the highest ceiling of any wide receiver on the Notre Dame roster and his continual development will be worth watching. What will specifically be worth watching on Saturday is where Notre Dame lines Claypool up. Is Claypool ready to be a starting wide receiver or is he still a year away? Some campus insiders have cautioned to pump the breaks a little with Claypool (but ssssssssh, don’t tell Greg).
Chris Finke (WR)
Chris Finke emerged at the end of last season to the point he was a primary weapon for Deshone Kizer against USC. Is Finke that good or was his ascent more a indictment of the state of the wide receiving corps last year? Chris Finke should have a role in the 2017 offense, but as a complimentary piece. With the talent Notre Dame has assembled at wide receiver, something is amiss if Finke ends up being a focal point in 2017. That said, his role can be very important and it will be interesting to see how much he is featured this weekend.
Alize Jones (TE)
Brian Kelly has said that Jones has been “uncoverable” at times this spring. After a season of academic exile and another season of little production from the tight end position, Jones could be a gamechanger for the Irish offense in 2017. He hasn’t shown any signs of rust in spring practice so far so look for Brian Kelly and Chip Long to call a few plays specifically for Jones to show off their new toy. Watch for where Jones lines up too. Is he the primary tight end in base sets, is he in the slot in place of a Z receiver, is he split wide as a jumbo W receiver?
Kevin Stepherson (WR)
Is he in Brian Kelly’s doghouse or not? Kelly has said multiple times this spring that he isn’t but that doesn’t explain why the rising sophomore has spent so much time running with the third team in practices open to the media. Stepherson is Notre Dame’s best deep threat and after a very successful freshman campaign, he could be a dangerous weapon opposite Equanimeous St. Brown. So why hasn’t Stepherson been running with the first team? Making matters even more intriguing (worrisome) was Stepherson’s absence from practice on Wednesday for “personal matters”. Kelly said that he is expected to play on Saturday though. What role and in what capacity will be very interesting to say the least after Stepherson’s spring.
Miles Boykin (WR)
Ok, maybe I should have just listed the entire wide receiving corps, but this is the last wide receiver I swear. Boykin is another player that has been talked up A LOT this spring by Brian Kelly. Boykin is a massive target but his game has reportedly evolved outside of being more than just a big target. He’s made plays downfield and has been making plays after the catch. With a crowded wide receiving corps, every rep will be a fight. If we see Boykin make some plays on the run and after the catch, it will bode well for his prospects this fall.
Alex Bars (OG)
Not much has been said of Bars this spring, but his moved to guard has allowed for the offensive line to come into focus fairly early. Bars struggled at times in 2016 in his first stint as a starter at right tackle. The move inside should play to his strengths better, but it is still a new position for him. Notre Dame needs Bars to be lights out at right guard. Hopefully we won’t hear Bars name much mentioned at all this weekend since that will indicate he’s quietly doing his job.
Tommy Kraemer & Liam Eichenberg (OT)
The lone wide open position battle on the offensive side of the ball doesn’t figure to be settled on Saturday but it will still be a lot of fun to watch these two rising sophomores battle it out. Kraemer and Eichenberg represent the future of the Notre Dame offensive line and whoever “loses” this battle is really just waiting in the wings until next year when Mike McGlinchey heads to the NFL. The “loser” here could very well find themselves on the field in 2017 in a prominent role in the event of injury as well. Both will be staking their claim for the right tackle position on Saturday.