Spring football has officially started at Notre Dame. Brian Kelly got things rolling yesterday with his kick-off presser and today the Irish held their first official spring practice as they look to wash off the stink of last year’s putrid season. Optimism is surprisingly high around the program given the extreme makeover Brian Kelly lead the program through the last eight week despite last year’s nightmare season.
As the Irish look to bounce back and dare I say, return to glory, they are going to not only need their stars to play like stars, but they are going to need the young players to start developing during the spring. With that in mind, today I want to look at all 10 freshmen who red-shirted last year and where they are at as spring practice kicks off.
Ian Book (QB)
All eyes will be on Brandon Wimbush this spring as he takes the reigns from Deshone Kizer. Wimbush’s place as the starter is not in question, but as Gregg pointed out earlier this week, we don’t know what exactly to expect from Book. That’s not that comforting when you realize he is one play away from being the starting quarterback right now – at least until Avery Davis arrives in the fall.
While the staff must give Wimbush all the reps they can to prepare him for his role, developing Book to be ready to come in if called upon will be critical this spring as well. In fact, at his spring kick-off presser, Brian Kelly stated that Book will be getting 40% of the reps this spring. That number might look eye-popping considering all that is riding on Wimbush for Notre Dame – and Kelly’s future – but given the lack of experience at the position, it’s probably a wise idea. Book isn’t the athlete that Wimbush is and he doesn’t have the same rocket arm of Wimbush we’ve heard so much about. What he is, however, is a good athlete with a good arm who is capable of running this offense. Think of Book as a Tommy Rees type backup with a better arm, mobility, and athleticism.
Tony Jones Jr (RB)
Jones impressed early in fall camp last year but never saw the field behind Tarean Folston, Josh Adams, and Dexter Williams. Folston is gone and while Adams is the likely starter and Williams the change of pace, there are carries there for Jones if he is ready. Jones is a gifted inside runner who might be the best option for a short yard back on the roster. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if he impresses in spring football this year and starts to carve out a role for himself in the 2017 offense.
Deon McIntosh (RB/WR)
One of the fun storylines to watch will be where McIntosh lines up. In fall camp McIntosh made plays as a receiver including a few impressive grabs downfield. He was recruited as a running back though and could take snaps at both positions for Notre Dame. He is a little reminiscent of Theo Riddick in terms of his skillset and unclear position early on in his career.
Given Notre Dame’s lack of depth at the slot position, McIntosh’s quickest path to the field might be as a receiver. He’ll need to impress in the spring though because Michael Young arrives in the summer and the staff is very high on him even if the recruiting services might not have been.
Tommy Kraemer (OT)
Many people, myself included, expected Kraemer to start by the end of last season. So, it’s no surprise that many, again myself included, expect Kraemer to move into the starting lineup this year. The question will be at what position. Does Kraemer take over at RG for Colin McGovern? Or does Alex Bars slide inside to guard and open up the RT position for Kraemer or possibly Liam Eichenberg? Kelly said yesterday that he will get a look at RT and that Bars can play either position. When Notre Dame lined up for practice today, it was Kraemer at RT and Bars at RG. Whether or not that align sticks remains to be seen.
Long term, Kraemer is the most likely on the roster to continue the tackle tradition Notre Dame has been developing with Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley, and now Mike McMcGlinchey. With that in mind, it would seem to make a lot of sense to give Kraemer a long look at tackle this spring since Bars didn’t do enough to completely secure that spot heading into 2017. Brian Kelly did say that Kraemer was “light years ahead” of any freshman OL he’s ever coached last summer too.
Liam Eichenberg (OT)
If Kraemer doesn’t take one of the starting spots in 2017 it could be because his classmate beat him out. Eichenberg didn’t receive the same praise as his classmate last year, but the ceiling is very, very high with Liam Eichenberg. For the same reasons Kraemer will get a look at tackle, Eichenberg will get a long look here as well. Bars struggled as a full time starter in 2016 and some speculate that he is better suited for RG where he saw action in 2015. Most likely, Eichenberg will be one of the top reserves for Notre Dame.
Parker Boudreaux (OG)
With the left guard spot on lockdown by Quenton Nelson and Kraemer, Hunter Bivin, and Tristen Hoge (assuming Sam Mustipher holds him off at center) candidates for RG, the path to playing time in 2017 looks crowded for Parker Boudreaux. Long term, Boudreaux has a bright future and a much clearer path to playing time in 2018 after Quenton Nelson heads to the NFL and the right guard spot possibly opens as well depending on how it shakes out this year. Boudreaux has been talked about as a center as well and could end up playing there long-term – especially if Tristen Hoge settles in at guard. Like Eichenberg though, he’ll be a key reserve this fall.
Adetokunbo Ogundeji (DE)
Notre Dame needs to find a pass rush. it’s been said over and over and over and over again. It will continue to be said over and over and over again until Notre Dame starts getting to the quarterback. Ogundeji was recruited as more of a developmental prospect so it was not surprising that he redshirted last year.
This spring will be an important one for Ogundeji’s development, but it might be a stretch to expect too much from his at this stage. He enrolled at Notre Dame last year at just 17 years old and his senior season in high school was cut short after four games so he really hasn’t played a whole lot of football and is still very young. Last year’s redshirt will give him the kind of time to develop that a guy like Romeo Okwara wasn’t afforded. And wouldn’t it have been pretty damn nice to have the elder Okwara in the lineup last year?
If we see Adetokunbo Ogundeji flash at times this spring, things are moving in the right direction with his development. A very, very early positive indicator here is that Ogundeji weighed in at 251 lbs. that said, he is still raw so expectations should be tempered for 2017.
Jonathan Jones (ILB)
Notre Dame’s defensive Scout Team Player of the Year will likely battle with Josh Barajas for the backup MIKE position behind Nyles Morgan. We haven’t heard much from Barajas after two years but Jones was a menace on the scout team last fall and reports are he has lined up at the BUCK position already, but long term he might not have the athleticism for that position.
Jones has been one player I’ve been interested in watching since he committed over a year ago. Jones is a bit undersized otherwise he would have been a much more sought after recruit. Hopefully Notre Dame has another Bobbie Howard type inside backer here. If Barajas doesn’t impress, watch for Jones to move up the depth chart.
DJ Morgan (S)
Morgan was the only defensive back from last year’s class to red-shirt in the fall. Where Morgan ends up playing will be interesting to watch this spring after defensive backs coach Todd Lyght mentioned he will get a look at the ROVER position along with Spencer Perry and Drue Tranquil. Morgan has the size to play the ROVER position but if that doesn’t work out, a move back to STUD (strong safety) would make the most sense.
Morgan has reportedly started the spring at safety although he remains a strong candidate to play the ROVER position along with Drue Tranquill, Spencer Perry, and Asmar Bilal.
John Shannon (LS)
With Scott Daly out of eligibility, John Shannon will move into the starting lineup as the long snapper for Notre Dame. The long snapper position is taken for granted until something bad happens so in a perfect world, we will hear very little about Shannon this spring. That would mean he stepped right in for Daly and did exactly what he needed to do.