Speculating on Impending Notre Dame Personnel Changes

Dexter Williams - Notre Dame RB
Photo: Matt Cashore // USA TODAY Sports

Following Notre Dame’s loss to Duke this past weekend Brian Kelly made it very clear that personnel changes were coming to Notre Dame.  He backed that up with immediate staff changes on Sunday by firing Brian VanGorder and reiterating that personnel changes will be coming in the very near future.  While Kelly may give a glimpse of some of them tomorrow at his weekly presser, it’s likely that we won’t know any of them until kick-off on Saturday.

So let’s speculate on some players who might see more playing time, some who may see a reduced role, and some who may see time at new positions.

More carries for Dexter Williams.  The one player that Kelly singled out on Saturday for playing with passion and fire was running back Dexter Williams.  The sophomore running back had a tackle breaking run for a touchdown on Saturday that was one of the more impressive runs of the season.   On the season Williams has just 13 carries but he’s gained 83 yards on those carries and has found the end-zone twice already.

Fellow sophomore Josh Adams has looked off the past two weeks and senior Tarean Folston does not look like the same player from before his ACL injury last year.  Adams and Folston have combined for two touchdowns in a combined 84 carries.  Williams is a potential game breaker and needs to be on the field more.  After getting singled out by Kelly this one is a no-brainer.

Playing time for Jay Hayes.  Hayes was reportedly the odds on favorite to be the starting weakside defensive end prior to his high ankle sprain.  Kelly swears though that Hayes is not limited at all and has already said Hayes is one player Notre Dame needs to “activate” more.  Andrew Trumbetti has been nearly invisible so far this year despite a lot of snaps at WDE and Daelin Hayes has made an impact but is still a true freshman coming off injuries in high school.

Jay Hayes is not a stereotypical WDE, but at this point what does Notre Dame have to lose? Notre Dame has a single sack on the season as a team and Trumbetti has 6 tackles on the season and none for loss.


Reshuffling in the secondary.  Nick Coleman bounced back a little bit against Michigan State but mainly because the Spartans targeted Cole Luke.  Coleman had another rough outing as evidenced below.

Coleman also missed an easy tackle on the kick return touchdown that got Duke right back in the game after the Irish jumped to a quick 14 point lead.  Notre Dame doesn’t have many players left who haven’t played but it’s safe to say no redshirt is safe at this point.

Coleman isn’t alone in struggling at corner for Notre Dame.

Donte Vaughn is a tall, fast corner who got the first interception of his career and was at least in solid coverage on the occasions that he got beat on Saturday.  Julian Love has been one of the more sound tacklers on a really bad tackling team.  We haven’t seen sophomore Ashton White at all or freshman Tony Pride Jr much so far but that could change.  Pride was the highest rate of all the corners who signed in February.  Perhaps we’ll see more of him.

At safety, Avery Sebastian was back on the field after his rough Texas outing and looked pretty OK in the second against Duke.  Drue Tranquill has had a really rough start to his junior campaign so it would not be shocking if Sebastian was in the starting lineup Saturday.

More playing time for Chase Claypool and Kevin Stepherson.  Both freshman have made plays when given the chance.  Stepherson showed that the Will Fuller comparisons are not completely off base by getting behind the Duke defense for a long score on Saturday.  No other Notre Dame wide receiver has shown that ability and Kelly said after the loss they need to find more plays for Stepherson.

Claypool made some plays against Michigan State including just missing a desperation Hail Mary at the end of the first half that could have changed the entire game.  Claypool is raw but in limited action he’s looked like a physical specimen.  Maybe Claypool gets more looks as a flex tight end similar to what the staff had envisioned for Alize Jones.

Getting Asmar Bilal on the field.  Notre Dame’s linebacker play hasn’t been steady.  Nyles Morgan is racking up tackles, but he isn’t making too many negative plays other than picking up Notre Dame’s only sack of the season.  Morgan is also taking himself out of too many plays at times by running right into blocks instead of trying to shed them.

James Onwualu played great against Nevada but has been uneven since.  The one play that is still ingrained in my memory from Saturday’s debacle was Onwualu getting completely run over by Duke quarterback Daniel Jones.

Kelly hinted that some position changes could be coming and linebacker was one area that immediately came to mind.  Greer Martini has played WILL primarily this year but could he get a look at SAM? Sophomore Asmar Bilal is one of the more athletic players on the roster and could see more playing time as well.

Changes on the offensive line?  Pro Football Focus rated Notre Dame’s offensive line as the best in all of college football in the pre-season, but they have been below average this year.  Even the left side of the line where Notre Dame’s only two returning starters – Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson – are playing has been a weak spot.

Could Notre Dame reshuffle it’s offensive line?  Alex Bars was once described as one of the best offensive linemen Brian Kelly had ever seen as a freshman.  Could Kelly moved McGlinchey back to right tackle where he excelled a year ago and shift Alex Bars to left tackle?  Could Notre Dame insert Tommy Kraemer into the starting lineup to inject some youth?

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  1. It’s seems the administration is incapable of hiring a stellar athletic director. Wadsworth forced out Lou.
    White hired the three most incompetents coaches in our history. And swarbrick drove the last nails in
    thedestruction of our once sacred program. I think they need a committee of outside advisors to help
    Pick one. And advise on s stellar fotbAl program

  2. BK out!, really. Lets not forget what this program was before he got here. Last year he missed the play-offs by one game (w/ the 2nd string QB), which could be blamed on the defense. I would say his rep as a qb coach and offenive guy is well-deserved. The Offense is doing what it should, I personally believe if the “O” puts up 30+ points and lose the defense is at fault. Also, the first three games they played (#11)Texas, which they almost won (defense again), Nevada, and (#17)Michigan State, Duke(defense again), was not a cake walk. Lets take Michigan for example, they played Hawaii, UCF, Colorado, and Penn State (all unranked). Most of those top teams don’t play the schedule that ND plays. This team is also very young. Firing BVG should’ve happened last year.
    I think they will turn things around. Fans just need to “relax”, although I was really ticked about losing to Duke (woo-shaaa).

  3. SORRY AGAIN: That would be put in Larry Conjar’s capable hands (spelling unsure) but I’m pretty sure Wolski would do it too!

    Wow – I’m getting old.
    Bruce Curme

    I meant to write “diveback/fullback” just above – NOT “tailback/fullback”…in my opinion, the cupboard is fairly well stocked with quality tailbacks.

    My bad.
    Bruce Curme

  5. Guys,
    Everyone, including BK, seems to want a power running game. So do I, of course. But can it be done with our personnel in a one back offense with 4 wide outs, or three wide outs and one TE?
    I really don’t know. I’ll “fess up” – I don’t know what you are talking about when you say “a Pro Hybrid Spread O” and stuff like that. Obviously, a lot of you think you can have smashmouth power running with a single back O. Perhaps – I never actually played this game beyond grade school so sometimes I know that I don’t really know what’s going on in modern football with these one back (or no back) spread O’s. So I’d like to hear about it from some of you.
    I do know this 1. The option can be run with just one back and a good ball handling running quarterback, but it’s not a triple option, and can never be your primary weapon
    2. I know this too – you can definitely have a power running game with TWO backs – and you have your choice of a half dozen completely different ways to do it, and you can still pass well (you still can have 2 or 3 wideouts) and you can flare one back on any play you want to, or send one on a brief delay right through the line into the area vacated by the LB’s, still giving you four receivers in space. And you still have your FB to pass block. Now you probably wouldn’t want your “FB” to actually line up where an old school FB would have on most plays, but having that second back in there, I think, causes way more problems for a “D” than a fourth wideout would, at least if he’s a quality FB like Bettis obviously, or Anthony Johnson, or Wayne Bullock. Hell, even Wolski would do those workhorse tasks with a smile on his face if you asked him to do it. (Apologies to about 15 other guys I didn’t mention who toiled at ND in anonymity doing those jobs for decades).

    So could somebody please answer this question:
    Do we even have a bona-fide tailback/fullback type guy on scholarship at all?
    and 2. Am I just “behind the times” and don’t get “power running football” with the spread O and a single back? Can you have it both ways?

    Bruce G. Curme 77′ 82′

  6. Facts: When Kelly arrived at ND, all the expectations were focused on his ability to develop QBs, and that was an offensive genius with his own version of a west coast, no huddle offense that would run opponents off the field.

    Well, that never happened. ND is slow and confused, they can’t even get their OWN personnel on and off the filed without burning TOs. And Kelly’s track record at ND with improving the play of his QBs is unimpressive.

    The last 3 years, his mantra switched to “red zone efficiency”. And how has that gone?

    So this latest issue…a sieve of a defense….is just another problem laid on top of all the other, unresolved problems.

    Personnel is not the issue. Coaching is. Starting at the top.

  7. Patrick,

    I do agree about the defense. You’re right that because of ND’s schedule and relative independence, we face all kinds of offensive schemes. ND needs to make sure it has great coaches on the defensive side of the ball.

    Also agree about Miles, but more so because he is not coming to ND for the same reasons Saban and Meyer aren’t. Shaw has proven you can win with high academic standards and discipline at Stanford, but guys like Miles just don’t want to deal with it when they can get a much higher paying gig and be able to run the program as they see fit.

  8. I’m not jumping off the Kelly bandwagon yet. Am I 100% satisfied? Absolutely not. There are glaring issues in the program. Namely, depth. ND had a lot of NFL talent last year and that was evident in the draft. Could it be replaced? Nope. That doesn’t happen at Alabama, Ohio State and others. The next man is is typically a 1st or 2nd round player – immediately. Not at Notre Dame. Talent isn’t the issue at Notre Dame.

    To me, just as a die-hard for over 20 years, it is motivation, aggression, tenacity and focus. This is most evident on defense. I agree with many of you, BVG should have been gone after last year. But he wasn’t and the shambles are what remain. But what happens during the off-season determines the next 1-3 years at ND.

    I believe the offense can score points, change field position and keep ND in games. But the defense needs to be the strength of the program. With the variety of offenses ND plays (and who they will invariably face in a playoff scenario), the defense is what matters.

    I don’t think starting with Les Miles (whose teams have had their own issues) is the answer. To me it either comes down to Kelly hiring the best defensive coordinator he can next year, or ND opens up the war chest and goes after a coaching legend. Hands him the keys and lets him win a title.

  9. Kelly loses whenever the coach across the field is better than him. Cutcliffe, David Shaw, Charlie Strong, Petrino a couple years back, Meyer, Dantonio, etc. I think they laugh behind his back and know how easy it is to beat him. When we was a little schools he could hang with other coaches. Not in the big leagues once they figured him out. And everyone has at this point. Coaching way outside his league. And, yes, ND hurts themselves by being ok with average teams and then scheduling Ohio State, Texas A&M, and the like and thinking they are going to be anything but blown out.

  10. When Joe Theisman got his chance in the NFL it was as a punt returner. Todays players are so spoiled, they come to a school for their certain position. Even Jim Plunkett played defensive end in the Shrine high school all star game, while Dante Pastorini was the quarterback!

  11. I just read somewhere that BK said all positions are up for grabs. Even DeShone Kizer because he failed to live up to expectations the last couple of weeks. Is he serious? This is a guy who is listed as the top draft pick in 2017 on some mock drafts. How come the head coaching position isn’t up for grabs as well. I think we can agree that ND isn’t meeting expectations with their 1-3 record. Smdh…

  12. Historically bad defense. Need better recruiting in that area. Coaches unable to motivate is a serious issue. Team seems to lack leaders. Lack of a conference renders too many seasons irrelevant in September. I have supported Coach Kelly but if this is where we are after seven years we may have to reevaluate. Very hard to accept that the truth is we have a very bad team.

  13. I agree Joey. Play an easy game in the opener and how do you feel about replacing Booker- the special teams don’t consistently perform well and the tight ends have regressed under his coaching.

  14. As an independent, it is common to have a front loaded schedule because the Power 5 schools are not going to be too keen on including ND amongst a rugged conference schedule. I agree ND should have at least one creampuff early on, preferably as the opener but cannot afford two as they only play 12 games in comparison to P5 schools in playoff contention that play 13. ND should play 7 HOME games a year at ND, if the AD can make the Shamrock series game happen, great but if not, you got have 7 home games. Many top P5 schools play 8! I’m not a huge fan of Kelly but unless the season completely flops wouldn’t can him yet. However, I would much rather prefer a HC that likes to rely on a solid ground game and throw 20-25 times again and play solid D.

  15. This years schedule is/was set up very favorable for Notre Dame. All the regularly tough teams were breaking in new QBs. Offensively ND is as good or better than every team on this years schedule. Defensively not so much. There appears to be a serious lack of talent on the defensive side of the ball. Who are the leaders on this team?

  16. I played high school ball with Jalen Elliott and he is the real deal. He is the most dominant high school athlete I have ever watched (on the football field) and as a teammate (on the basketball court, he is just as good at basketball as football). A complete freak athlete all around, could throw up lineman weight in the weight room, is deceivingly fast, has an insane vertical (could dunk a basketball as a freshman). and physical as safeties get. Do not expect to have tacking issues on his side of the field. I don’t know how many will see this post however, Notre Dame fans y’all are in for a huge treat with Jalen. If i was a gambler i would put my money we will see him in the NFL one day.

  17. I agree, this year okay. But too many other years we have had a front loaded schedule. Also look at the future schedules, opening with Michigan,Ohio state Texas a&m is not smart scheduling. Look at Ohio state schedules every year. Bowling green Tulsa. However, I do agree with you it’s about 100 on the list of problems, for notre dame right now.

  18. Frankly, I like that ND year in and out plays one of the toughest schedules, and they refuse to schedule FCS teams. Our schedule is part of the reason ND made it to the NC game in 2012. I’m not interested in playing Chattanooga State and acting like its such a big deal when we beat them. It’s not.

    Unless you want to join a conference full time, ND needs a tough schedule to get into the playoff (someday hopefully we’ll actually be able to think about that). With no conference championship, all we have is a tough schedule. In fact, it’s tough enough some years ND may even have a gimme loss thrown in to boot. This year had the only loss been to Texas by the end of the year, we still may have gotten in. Go 12-0 with the schedule and ND is in, absolutely no doubt of that.

    Soften up the schedule and you can forget the playoffs. I think Swarbick did a decent job with the scheduling aspect, and he knows from that perspective what ND needs to do to get into the playoffs.

  19. More home games? Notre Dame plays three true road games this entire season. If anything, Swarbrick has done a hell of a job scheduling for Notre Dame. Two of the first four games this year were Nevada and Duke. Following by Syracuse and NC State. That’s four games that should be easy wins for Notre Dame in the first six. The schedule is probably problem #100 on the list of things wrong with the program right now.

  20. I agree, everyone thinks swarbrick is so great but I don’t. He doesn’t schedule to notredames advantage. We need more home games and the first 2 games of every season need to be creampuffs. The old saying you coach next year’s team this year. Plus you need a some easy games on your schedule so your 2nd and. 3,4 string get valuable playing experience. When your breaking on a new quarterback or a bunch of new staters you can’t start the season playing heavyweights. Davie said this 15 years ago.

  21. The only personnel changes we need are to get rid of Swarbrick and Kelly. And go get miles we missed Meyer harbaugh gruden. They have not done anything right in south bend in 24 years.

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