Notre Dame Football Spring ’17: Revisiting What To Watch For

At the start of spring ball I highlighted one thing from each position group on offense and defense I wanted to pay close attention to in a two post series. Over the course of 15 practices and a marathon six weeks, it’s time to revisit those aspects of the team and break down what we learned. At some spots it’s safe to say we’ve come to some conclusions, and at other spots there is still an air of uncertainty.

Quarterback

How Good Is Ian Book?

As it turns out, Mr. Book is pretty darn good.

He was compared to former quarterback, and his current coach, Tommy Rees pretty much the moment he committed to the class in 2015, no so much for his style of play, but as a code for a player who you didn’t even want to be the guy, but would be useful in a pinch, a la Rees in 2012. Or at least that’s what the comparison should have been, because the two aren’t similar in any way. Book is more athletic, has a stronger arm, and doesn’t have 8-4 written all over his face. I’ll put it like this, if it’s Ian Book versus Tommy Rees in 2013 after Golson was booted, Book wins the job. He can just do more.

As I noted in the post spring game write up, his aptitude has to be welcome news for Kelly and Chip Long; his skill set fits right into what they want to do on offense, he just lacks the upside ability of Wimbush, which is why any talk about a quarterback competition is folly. There isn’t the explosive capability with his arm or legs like Wimbush brings to the table. But he can move this team, and Long wouldn’t have to change what they do all that much, if at all.

Running Back

Will Josh Adams Get His Mojo Back?

Early returns suggest the mojo has returned. Not just from what we saw in the spring game, when he made Jalen Elliott hug the air and shrugged off Nick Coleman, while running through the defense into the end zone on the first drive. Adams is said to have regained his explosion, has taken on a leadership role, and in the best physical shape of his time on campus. He figures to lead the running back group that boasts three quality players and whose overall numbers will depend on his workload. Very positive spring for the junior running back.

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Wide Receiver

Is Chase Claypool Ready To Take The Leap?

It appears I targeted the wrong player for this question, because Miles Boykin seems to be the player who is taking that leap. Boykin figured to be a Corey Robinson type player, good in the red zone and on jump balls, but not really a #2 guy. However, throughout spring Boykin showed himself to be capable of carrying the moniker of starting receiver opposite of St. Brown.

As for Claypool, I’m still a believer in his talent and expect great things from him this year, but Boykin’s ascent could be ruining everything for me, which I suppose is fine. He made his share of plays in the spring game and was on the receiving end of the brilliant Wimbush throw late in the scrimmage, which required a lunging, toe dragging play that would have been good at the next level, which is where he will play eventually, because he is awesome.

Tight End

Is Aliz’e Mack Ready To Be Dominant?

I’m just not there with him yet. He’s definitely a weapon, a very good one at that, but I just don’t see the type of dominance that you want from this position yet. He’s still only lukewarm as an inline blocker and I don’t see him having a season comparable to that of Eifert in 2011 or 2012. Granted, he hasn’t played in a while, which may have stunted his growth as a player some, and maybe Eifert expectations are too high. But, I do feel that is the bar he is setting for himself, and I’m sure even he would admit he hasn’t reached it yet.

I still believe he can get there, no one is a finished product in the spring of their second season and a lot can happen between now and then. But, right now, I’m not ready to say he’ll dominate in 2017.

Offensive Line

Is Same Mustipher The Answer At Center?

A total whiff of a topic, Mustipher was never challenged, and it was never a storyline, so lets change it.

Who Starts At Right Tackle?

It looks like it’s going to be Tommy Kraemer, and there is reason to be concerned. Daelin Hayes went after him pretty good last Saturday (which is great for Hayes, he should be able to dominate someone when blocked one on one) and made Kraemer look pretty bad at times. Kelly clarified after the game the offensive line wasn’t doing much in terms of sliding protections, thus exposing the linemen a little bit, but what happened is what happened. But, Kraemer is the better run blocker between he and Liam Eichenberg, and Notre Dame figures to emphasize that part of the offense with Wimbush and their depth at running back.

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Defensive Line

Are We Sure Jerry Tillery Is Good?

No, we are not sure and it continues to be a problem. From the sounds of it, Tillery was this spring what he has been his entire career at Notre Dame: a guy who flashes good play, but then disappears for long stretches. He didn’t show much in the scrimmage, but he held up pretty well in the middle.

Notre Dame needs him to be good this year, there is no way to get around it. Hayes looked great and had a very good spring, Jay Hayes is again coming on–same as last spring before he disappeared in the fall–and Daniel Cage got through spring drills healthy. But, the depth behind Tillery and Cage is beyond unproven and those two guys can’t be on the field together all the time. It’s just hard to imagine Notre Dame being a good defense if the interior line is simply a bunch of bodies. Tillery needs to lead from the front here.

Linebacker

Can Nyles Morgan Be A Star?

Yes, I think he can.

He’s bigger, he’s quicker, he hits like a monster beast. It’s been pretty much rave reviews about Morgan all spring as he’s been the most consistent presence on the defense. He’s fully taken on the captains role and under Elko’s scheme is going to be able to showcase his skill set. I linked to the play Saturday where he destroyed Quenton Nelson in the hole, came off that and tackled Adams for a two yard gain. Flying down hill at the snap, the impact is so loud Mustipher turns to look at the carnage inflicted by Morgan, who tries to pick him up to no avail. It’s a truly stunning play, and an example of the way we can expect Morgan to play this year. No more reading and waiting, no more indecision. I can’t wait.

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Rover/Safety

Who Is Playing These Spots? 

It looks like we got some pretty clear answers at all three spots. Tranquill found his calling as the Rover, it’s the position he was destined to play. He was a revelation on Saturday; he was darting into the backfield, he was swimming on Quenton Nelson, he was covering receivers up the seem. The guy who didn’t have a position finally has a position. Given the responsibilities and the way he can impact the game, he is a good candidate for defensive MVP at the end of the season.

It looks like Nick Coleman and Jalen Elliott are going to man the safety spots, at least in week one against Temple, for Notre Dame this season. Tackling is obviously the biggest concern with these two, but they did show some playmaking ability in the passing game, something we didn’t see at safety last season. The thing that brings me optimism regarding these two players, and this position in general, is they are coached by coordinator Mike Elko. He runs the defense, but he specializes at the safety position and I have faith he can turn this group into a plus position for the Irish.

Cornerback

Who Is Most Comfortable Playing Off Coverage?

The answer appears to be Nick Watkins and Julian Love, who look very comfortable doing whatever it is they are being asked to do at corner right now. They were with the #1 defense on Saturday and throughout the spring and look to hold onto those roles heading into week one in the fall.

Watkins in particular stood out in the spring, having returned from his broken arm last summer. He brings size, athleticism, and perhaps best of all, confidence. He looked at ease out on the field and showed a little bit of swagger, something this position lacked last season after KeiVarae Russell moved on to the NFL.

Love is said to be Notre Dame’s best corner, and nothing happened Saturday to contradict that opinion. These two lack elite speed for the position, but they aren’t exactly turtles out there, and they don’t have any obvious weaknesses. Love is one of the best tacklers on the team and Watkins has good size to bring in run support. This should be a plus position for the team in 2017.

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8 comments

  1. John Connor 1 month ago

    Great article, exactly what I was looking for

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  2. Smokeyrob 1 month ago

    THE IRISH LOOK IMPROVED DEFENSIVELY. COACH ELKO SHOULD HELP MAKE THIS A MORE AGRESSIVE UNKT. THERE ARE POTEMTIAL STARS IN THE MAKING DRUE TRANQUIL,NYLES MORGAN,DAELIN HAYES. OFFENSILY THEY LOOKED EXPAOVE BEANDON WIMMBUSH WILL BE BETER THAN KEISER OR ZAIRE.THERE ARE NUMEROUS RECIEVERS TO THROW TO. RUNNING BACKS ARE LOADED. ALIZE MACK WILL BE THE BEST TIGHT END IN THE COUNTY. HOWEVER,DUE TO ANOTHER BRUTAL SCHEDULE,WINNING 10 GAMES WILL BE VERY TOUGH.THE IRISH PLAY A RIDICULOUS SCHEDULE COMPARE TO MOST OF THE TOP PROGRAMS,BAMA,OHIO STATE,MICHIGAN,AND LSU.

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  3. Smokeyrob 1 month ago

    THE IRISH LOOK IMPROVED DEFENSIVELY. COACH ELKO SHOULD HELP MAKE THIS A MORE AGRESSIVE UNKT. THERE ARE POTEMTIAL STARS IN THE MAKING DRUE TRANQUIL,NYLES MORGAN,DAELIN HAYES. OFFENSILY THEY LOOKED EXPAOVE BEANDON WIMMBUSH WILL BE BETER THAN KEISER OR ZAIRE.THERE ARE NUMEROUS RECIEVERS TO THROW TO. RUNNING BACKS ARE LOADED. ALIZE MACK WILL BE THE BEST TIGHT END IN THE COUNTY. HOWEVER,DUE TO ANOTHER BRUTAL SCHEDULE,WINNING 10GANES WILL BE VERY TOUGH.THE IRISH PLAY A RIDICULOUS SCHEDULE COMPARE TO MOST OF THE TOP PROGRAMS,BAMA,OHIO STATE,MICHIGAN,AND LSU.

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  4. Michael the Archangel 1 month ago

    Thanks for the analysis, Greg.
    But the perennial problem with spring ball is obvious:
    How much better is one vs. how bad is the other?
    is Daelin Hayes that improved, or is Kraemer that average?
    Are our RBs that good, or was the ongoing problem with tackling just further displayed
    by the long runs of our RBs?
    How good is the passing O’, or does it appear better than it is because they’re passing against the
    ND pass defense? These questions won’t be answered until October, or later.
    DB Crawford has had more than his share of bad luck,so I, too, am anxious to see his recovery and
    ability to regain his impressive showing ever since he arrived as a Freshman.

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    1. John Connor 1 month ago

      I’ve always wondered that too. You only have a relative difference. You don’t really know where you stand playing against yourself.

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  5. Bob Rodes 1 month ago

    I’m still looking forward to seeing what Crawford can do at corner. He might take one of those starting positions from Watkins or Love.

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    1. Greg Flammang 1 month ago

      I love Crawford and his game, like a lot, but I think the plan is to limit his role if they can to get him through the season healthy. He’s had a bad run of luck, just want to see him out there all 12 games.

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    2. Bruce Gregory Curme 4 weeks ago

      Hi Bob. Crawford is an impact player (or at least he was one – hopefully he still is). If things go well early in the year he’ll get limited, but meaningful playing time. If things go south early though, I think you’ll quickly see more and more of him as a “shut down” corner. We can’t afford another “TEXAS/MSU and done” fiasco this year. We have to do whatever it takes to stay “in the conversation” into late October or November, like we did in 2015.

      Bruce G. Curme
      La Crosse, Indiana

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