Notre Dame Football Spring Primer: New Names Take The Stage

chase claypool
Notre Dame rising sophomore WR Chase Claypool. (Photo: © Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports)

There are many occasions where spring football is very much a non-story. Practices are rudimentary, we generally make big predictions about the spring narrative–consider that Corey Holmes and Jay Hayes were the stars of spring practice last season–and all this happens while we constantly remind ourselves to take spring ball with a grain of salt. And for good reason; as soon as the team takes the field for fall practice, spring is just a footnote.

However, this spring is a little different.

The head coach is the same, but for all intents and purposes this offseason has played out as though there was a complete staff overhaul. Both coordinators were replaced, a new strength program, and a new special teams coordinator. All three phases are being led by someone different than the season before. The offense will still be a spread, yes, but they will be uptempo, with a new quarterback. The defense is now a 4-2-5, with a couple positions that didn’t exist the last three seasons.

And with every spring, young players will be given the chance to fully introduce themselves to Notre Dame fans and try to develop established roles within the 2017 team. Basically, it’s time for the redshirts to show what they’ve been doing for the last year.

Here are  few players we should be most excited about:

Chase Claypool, Wide Receiver

My first prediction of the year: Claypool starts at the X position and turns into a star for the offense a la Jeff Samardzija in 2005. Everything is there for him: he’s 6’5 225, he runs like a deer, he’s built like a defender and he’s great with the ball in his hands. He was given the “raw” label out of high school and the biggest question in my mind as far as his impact on the field is has he picked up the nuanced parts of the game enough to become a dominant player? Obviously, I think he is going to, hence my hot as lava take to start off my analysis. It would also help if he became more comfortable catching the football, I hear it is an integral part of the receiver position, but I expect this will not be such an issue that it will keep him off the field.

He played a bit role last season, mostly special teams and a cameo at tight end against MSU that worked so well they never used it again, because 2016. I expect him to be a major player at wideout this spring and with a new position coach to impress, I expect he’ll do just that.

Tony Jones Jr., Running Back

Jones caught a lot of buzz during fall practice last season for his performance in practices. It was a lot of the old “Hey, you know who looked really good today? Tony Jones.” At the time it was nice to hear, but with the depth at running back heading into last season it was just something to file away for later.

Well, it’s later.

Jones was mostly viewed as strictly a power back out of high school, but he showed a little more burst than expected in practice and surprisingly good hands. The fact that he still has power as the main part of his game, something the other backs on the roster don’t have, gives him a natural opportunity during spring ball to carve out a niche for himself. It’s difficult to say how much of a factor he’ll be in 2017–remember Dexter Williams looked great in spring ball last season and inexplicably logged only 39 carries during the year–but it will be the first extended look of Jones we’ll get as fans and someone to pay close attention to.

Khalid Kareem, Defensive End

Kareem was an early enrollee last season, but lacked the requisite size to be a legitimate contributor on the defensive line. We saw him in flashes both in the spring and on the field in 2016, but not enough of a look to get a feel for what he’d be as a player. Defensive line development has to be the most important running plot for the 2017 team and the former Alabama commit will be front and center of everyones focus during spring ball. Does he have enough burst to be an edge player? Is he strong enough to play inside? He compared to Isaac Rochell out of high school, and it’s unfortunate we never got to see Rochell under this defensive staff. If Kareem were able to provide Rochell-like production as a sophomore when Rochell registered 39 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks, I’d have to think the coaches would take that.

The good news for Kareem is he’ll be working against a very good offensive line all spring, and he has a defensive coordinator who has done a lot more with a lot less.

Tommy Kraemer, Offensive Line

There was talk of Kraemer making a play for time on the offensive line as a true freshman, but that was shut down pretty quickly and never developed into anything that was considered to be realistic. Most freshman don’t start for Harry Hiestand, he recruits and develops players too well, and Kraemer eventually gave way to Colin McGovern and Mark Harrell. However, McGovern has since moved on, and Kraemer is expected to be prime to battle for a starting spot on the right side of the offensive line, be it at guard or tackle. To be honest, it would be a disappointment if this didn’t happen; he was the highest rated recruit in the 2016 class (and would have been this year as well, by far) as a borderline five star player and would give the line its highest starting pedigree. A starting line of McGlinchey, Nelson, Mustipher, Bars, and Kraemer would be a group where the lowest composite rating is .9123 (Sam Mustipher, the no. 216 player in the country in his class).

Maybe most importantly, I’m sure the coaching staff wants him to win the job, given his pedigree and his potential, so he will be given a great chance. Tracking his development will be a key storyline come spring ball.

Spencer Perry, Rover

One of the players who had to be the most excited about the move from Brian VanGorder to Mike Elko is Spencer Perry, mostly because he added a position that seems to be specific to his skill set. Perry isn’t really a safety and he isn’t really a linebacker. But, he is a really good athlete who should have a role on a winning defense. The rover position provides that for him. He is at his best when he is allowed to play downhill without any deep half responsibilities and allowed to unleash the fury that is his playing style. He’s most comparable to a heat seeking missile, when he sees the ball he is able to get to their in a hurry and arrives with incredible force. Watching him track the ball carrier on high school film was a sight to see.

The fear was he’d just be a great athlete without a role at Notre Dame, and now he has one that was built for a guy like him. He’ll have some competition though; Dru Tranquill also looks like the perfect fit for this role, as well as fellow sophomore DJ Morgan. It’s going to be very intriguing to see if Perry can grab onto this role and run with it.

Brandon Wimbush, Quarterback

New quarterback, new coordinator. His development will likely have more to do with Notre Dame’s success than any other player, and it will be the focus of spring football coverage every single day. The team is going to play a lot faster than they have in the past, with a lot of run-pass-options, which favors Wimbush in that he’s a mobile guy who’s a constant threat to hurt a defense with his legs, a la someone like JT Barrett at Ohio State. Notre Dame has had a few mobile quarterbacks lately, but none as dangerous as Wimbush.

There is one basic question that everyone will be asking after every rep and every practice: is Wimbush ready to be the man at quarterback for Notre Dame in 2017?

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  2. I agree, this spring, and the Blue-Gold Game, will be watched more than most. I too am curious to see what changes are made and how players react.

    It’ll be important that we don’t read too much into the BG game at the same time, good or bad. Most of the attention will be more for curiosity than anything else.

    The player I’ll be watching for will be Wimbush. He will have a big role into whether ND succeeds or fails next year, and frankly, other than some meaningless playing time 2 years ago, I can’t say I know what to expect out of him at this point. So of all the players, he’ll probably be the one I keep the closest eye on in the Spring. One thing that will be nice is barring something unforeseen, this year everyone knows who the QB is. After last year’s Who’s the QB game that should help hopefully.

  3. Every move Kelly has made since the disaster that was last season seems to be a good one. A revamped staff – especially at making these kids stronger in the 4th quarter, and they seemed to recover as well as could be expected from losing 6 recruits from the 2017 class.

    Now’s the test – what do you do with what you’ve got? The one and only test of a coach.

    We say this every year.

  4. Love this time as potential is the discussion point.Brandon has a monster arm, that a spread offense typically does not require, so it will be interesting to see the play calling. Kizer was asked to make a lot of 35 yard throws for >5 yard gains last year.

    But one item, OLine; once again ND has elite talent, once again the thought is, they should dominate, and once again, how great a coach Harry is. At some point, all the hyperbole has to present on the field. Defensive line should be the one with question marks.

    ND has yet to translate that OL talent to dominance on the field. Last year was a series of 3rd down breakdowns, lack of being able to run in 4th quarter, critical offsides and lack of consistency. ND fans need see that breakthrough this year. The line will need to dominate against Georgia as the defense will be challenged.

    1. BBoru , agree with you on HH. The O- line hasn’t been consistent since he was hired. Finally an epic running game in 2015 led by Prosice and Adams–two new running backs no less. Yet from what I witnessed was the talent of these newbies getting yardage on their own merits–not an O-line blowing up holes for them. Red Zone running game — not much. No trust in the boys up front ? Hence , a QB option–and what opponent didn’t know this was coming? Add to that is no threat of a tight end in red zone or for that matter anywhere else—what a waist of a potential weapon in an offense. Lot’s of work to go for Irish up coming season–and I’m optimistic , looking forward to the fun/excitement of new season , changes made at coaching that will instill a new outlook/positive mind set to players on the field.

      1. I don’t think the lack of consistency has been because of HH so much as it’s been because of Kelly. His game plans never allowed the O-line to establish itself in games because he was unwilling to commit to running the football.

        HH has proven he can develop talent, and his lines have shown the ability to open holes. It’s just really hard to establish control of the line of scrimage when your top backs are only getting 15-20 carries a game (and when most of those carries seem designed to set up the pass by turning 2nd and 10 into 3rd and 5).

        An opposing Def that only has to “respect” the run, but isn’t forced to stop it, can also make it harder to pass. I hope Long makes a commitment to establishing the run part of our offensive identity. We’ve got the talent.

  5. I like all the moves Kelly made this off season. There is no reason I can see that Notre Dame shouldn’t be very good next year. The talent is there. Its time to produce or Kelly needs to go and maybe Jack also needs to go.

    1. I agree, Pete. Typically, I’m a BK-apologist. But I think Kelly needs to sack-up and show results for all his evasiveness. I’m done hearing excuses. Dude is in his 7th (?) year. And he’s had ONE unquestionably successful season. 5-years-ago. It’s time to deliver; nd I’m pretty confident BK can. GoIRISH!

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