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.
— Bleacher Report CFB (@BR_CFB) September 25, 2016
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.
— Jamie Uyeyama (@jamieuyeyama) September 26, 2016
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.
It's been a brutal start to the season for Notre Dame's secondary pic.twitter.com/DJCNqDmFw2
— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) September 26, 2016
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.
DeShone Kizer hits freshman Kevin Stepherson for the 44-yard touchdown.
ND 14 | Duke 7
1 Q 8:44 pic.twitter.com/dZcr6RIGig
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) September 24, 2016
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.
Notre Dame LT Mike McGlinchey and LG Quenton Nelson have combined to allow 8 QB pressures on 81 snaps in pass protection the last 2 weeks.
— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) September 26, 2016
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?