We are less than two weeks from the opening of the 2017 season against Temple, classes have started, so it’s time to make some guesses. The Fighting Irish recently completed their big pre-season scrimmage, the depth chart is coming together, and there is enough public information out there where I’m not totally making these things up.
This is going to be a continuing series, this first couple installments will focus on player predictions, then finally some team predictions (something I’ve done in the past). It’s going to be an interesting and fun year, and this is a way of diving into that. It will also give some insight into what type of team I think this is going to be.
Let’s get into it.
Freshman Of The Year
My Pick: Michael Young
Young has been the buzz of fall camp for the last couple of weeks. First it was “hey, this Michael Young guy is pretty good”. That was replaced shortly thereafter with “Michael Young is going to play this year”, and finally settled with Michael Young taking first team reps in the full team scrimmage on Sunday.
The biggest knock on Young heading into his freshman season was his size. People didn’t think he was ready physically to be a player in his first reason. Those concerns have been alleviated. He showed up to camp looking bigger than anticipated and plays with a physicality beyond what you would think from a player his size.
Now it’s just a matter of learning the offense and making good decisions. He reportedly is very comfortable catching the ball and distinguishes himself from CJ Sanders and Chris Finke in the slot with his burst off the line.
There are other freshman who might log more snaps–Brock Wright or either of the defensive linemen (Tagovailoa-Amosa and Kurt Hinish)–but Young has the potential to be playmaker in the ways the other guys can’t. Another thing to consider is the receiver position is not short on bodies the way the defensive line is. It’s one of the deepest positions on the team. If he is playing it’s because he beat out guys who have done good things at Notre Dame. Not the case for the others.
My Pick: Andrew Trumbetti
There were a lot of candidates for this spot: Sam Mustipher, Nick Coleman, Jonathan Bonner, Jerry Tillery. The senior defensive end gets the nod as reports suggest he’s ready to be the player he seemed destined to be as a freshman when he flashed athletic ability off the edge, registering 21 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. Those numbers seem modest, but remember Stephon Tuitt tallied 30 tackles and 3 tackles for loss as a freshman in 2011. In other words, there was a lot of optimism around Trumbetti that never came to fruition.
He’s up to 263 and therefore much stronger at the point of attack, while maintaining his quickness coming off the edge. He never seemed comfortable executing whatever it was the previous coaching staff was asking him to do, and that meant falling out of favor with coaches in lieu of other players. One thing adding weight does for Trumbetti is it brings versatility. He is big enough to play the strong side defensive end position and nimble enough to play on the weak side and drop into coverage at times.
I predict after the 4th game we are going to stop talking about how good Andrew Trumbetti has played because it will just be assumed.
Newcomer Of The Year
My Pick: Tony Jones Jr.
Jones Jr. gets this over Tommy Kraemer and Cameron Smith. I’ve been beating this horse dead for a while now, but I don’t think people realize how much he is going to touch the ball in 2017. Chip Long loves to throw to the backs and Jones Jr. has the best hands at running back on the team. Between his carries and his receptions, somewhere between 12-15 touches a game makes a lot of sense for the redshirt freshman running back. That’d bring his season total to about 150 touches over the course of 12 games, which is 27 more touches than Josh Adams received as a freshman in 2015.
Jones Jr. will have more volume than Cam Smith and a higher quality of play than Tommy Kraemer. Keep in mind, that isn’t a reflection of Kraemer’s ability, I’m just a big believer in Jones Jr. and what he will add to the offense in 2017.
Breakout Player Of The Year
My Pick: (Please Be) Daelin Hayes
I’m ashamed not to pick Chase Claypool here, but I honestly think Hayes has the better season overall. Claypool is going to flash at times, he’s too talented not to, but I think with the receiver rotation the way it is, and the inconsistency of Claypool, there are going to be games where he kind of disappears. Not so with the sophomore defensive end Hayes. He’s going to be there all day, week in and week out and become a household name.
Brian Kelly has consistently lauded Hayes on his commitment to being a great player. He takes the weight room seriously, film study seriously, and his diet seriously. That’s pretty much the story of every great player ever, the guy who has an obsession for his craft. Hayes fits that bill. Which is good because Notre Dame really needs him to be what he has appeared to be in the scrimmages open to the public over the last few months.
Notre Dame hasn’t had a disrupter off the edge since Stephon Tuitt moved on to the NFL in 2013 and that has exposed an at times vulnerable secondary. Quarterbacks just haven’t been uncomfortable passing against the Irish defense and that hardly ever leads to good results. More than sack totals, Hayes has to be in the mind of the quarterback on Saturdays, and in the heads of offensive coordinators during the week. If teams have to game plan to slow down Hayes, that makes everyone else on the line better, and of all the position groups, that’s the one that needs the biggest boost from a star player.