A record 10 freshman early enrollees are beginning their Notre Dame football careers today. The record breaking class is expected to have at least one starter for 2019 among it while the remaining class will restock the offensive and defensive lines along with adding another talent back to the Irish backfield. Here’s a quick run through of how all 10 early enrollees project to compete this spring and fall.
Jay Bramblett steps into starting opportunity
The early enrollee who will almost certainly make the earliest impact is punter Jay Bramblett. The US Army All-American is expected to take over for Tyler Newsome from day one. In fact, the only way he wouldn’t is if he has a disastrous transition. No one expects that to happen though. He will work all spring as Notre Dame’s top punter and will start off his collegiate career as Notre Dame’s opening day starter.
Jacob Lacey could be forced into early action
Notre Dame’s depth on the interior of the defensive line – specifically at nose tackle – could make it imperative that Jacob Lacey is ready to play in September. Kurt Hinish is locked in as the starter and could even be an upgrade over Jonathan Bonner, but behind him there are some serious questions depth wise.
Jamion Franklin would ideally be ready for a backup role this fall, but the 2018 freshman suffered a rough injury early in the season that will sideline him for spring ball and part of fall camp. The real problem for Franklin isn’t just needing to be cleared for action, it’s also all of the lost time in the weight room. Anything Notre Dame gets from Franklin in 2019 should be considered a bonus at this point.
Assuming Franklin’s injury limits his effectiveness in 2019, that leaves Notre Dame with just fellow early enrollee Hunter Spears who is coming off a 2nd ACL injury, Lacey, and potentially Darnell Ewell should the staff move him back to defense. Considering Ewell was moved to offensive guard in 2018 because there was an easier path to playing time for him there and he didn’t see the field, that doesn’t speak well to his chances on defense should he move back.
That’s where Lacey comes in. Notre Dame needs a strong spring from Lacey and to prepare him to be ready to contribute solid snaps from day one. It’s not ideal, but Hinish himself filled in as the top reserve NT in 2017 and he didn’t have the benefit of enrolling early.
Lacey looks like he is already adjusting well.
— David Lacey (@revmackd10) January 13, 2019
Kyren Williams joins crowded, unproven backfield
Notre Dame will not have a Dexter Williams on the roster in 2019. None of the backs coming back have that kind of explosiveness since few players do. Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones Jr return but neither has been able to make it through a full season at running back without dealing with injuries. Avery Davis returns in 2019 after converting to running back but could be destined to return to the hybrid role that the staff initially envisioned when they made the move in spring.
Outside of Armstrong, Jones, and Davis; Notre Dame has sophomores to be C’Bo Flemister and Jahmir Smith entering their second years as well.
Where Williams will fit in remains to be seen, but of all of them, Williams might be the most complete running back. He can run and catch and has solid speed. He is not a homerun threat, but he isn’t slow by any means. How well Williams performs this spring will go a long way in determining his role for 2019. He could play early if all goes well or he could redshirt if not. Both options are on the table.
Offensive line depth restocked with loaded class
Jeff Quinn pulled in a massive haul with his first recruiting class as Notre Dame’s offensive line coach. Notre Dame signed four 4-star lineman last month and al four enrolled early. The Irish added tackles Quinn Carroll and Andrew Kristofic, guard John Olmstead, and center Zeke Correll. None of them are being counted on contribute early in their careers so if any of them crack the two deep this fall it will be because they earned it.
The one to watch specifically is Zeke Correll. With Sam Mustipher headed to the NFL after serving as captain during his 5th year this past fall, there is only one starting position up for grabs in 2019. Trevor Ruhland played in place of Tommy Kraemer at right guard at times this year but ended the season back on the sideline. Ruhland is going to get the first crack at the spot, but Correll was down right dominant at the Under Armour All-American bowl practices and could force his way onto the field.
Outside of Correll the others are expected to spend the next year in the weight room and in adjusting to college football. Correll is rooming with Kristofic and it looks like the two are settling in.
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) January 13, 2019
NaNa Osafo-Mensah joins suddenly loaded, for now, defensive end group
Don’t look now, but Notre Dame has legit depth at defensive end for the first time in years. Julian Okwara and Daelin gives Notre Dame a legit elite one-two punch at the drop. Khalid Kareem could be on the verge of an All-American season if he continues to progress like he did in his first year as a starter. Ade Ogundeji developed like Notre Dame had hoped he would when they took a chance on him three years ago and looks ready for a bigger role in 2019. Justin Ademilola flashed in limited playing time this fall.
You can never have enough pass rushers though so if Osafo-Mensah is able to contribute this fall, he likely will. Notre Dame doesn’t need him to play in 2019, but when they most definitely will is 2020 after Hayes and Okwara move on to the NFL. That makes Osafo-Mensah’s development this year crucial for the future as he could be a starter at DROP in 2020.
Local linebacker Jack Kiser adds to linebacker depth
Notre Dame has a bit of a numbers jam at linebacker for 2019 after an impressive haul the past two seasons and Kiser is part of that hual. The local linebacker played in one of the lowest levels of high school football so it could take him a little while to adjust to college football. Getting him on campus early helps accelerate that transition.