6 Early Standouts from Notre Dame Spring Football ’18

We already took a look at the story lines from the first week of Notre Dame’s 2018 Spring practice.  Now we’ll take a look at some early potential standouts from the early goings.  Based on the way guys looked physically on the first day of practice, here are some players who appear to be ready to make a leap:

Dexter Williams and Tony Jones Jr.

Both look slimmer and more athletic. Jones Jr. changed his number to #6, and seeing him running routes out of the slot was reminiscent of Theo Riddick in 2012. He looked comfortable and quick, and was able to get separation from the safeties.

Williams also looked noticeably sleeker, with Kelly saying the drop in weight was an effort to keep him healthy. It’s impossible to guess what kind of role he will play in 2018, but we do know he has serious ability.

When gauging the ceiling of the 2018 team, these two guys and what they become are major factors.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

Apparently he’s an athletic marvel who moves like a sleek big game cat. He’s currently slotted behind Asmar Bilal at Rover, but Bilal’s career has gone by why of Ishaq Williams. He’s physically gifted, but the plays just haven’t been there. If Owusu-Koramoah emerges as a playmaker, it’s hard to see him not taking over the spot.

The thing that could hold him back is his lack of girth. He’s listed as being 210 pounds; Tranquill played this spot last season at 230, and a slimmed down Jordan Genmark-Heath is playing strong safety at 211. Is Owusu-Koramoah big enough to handle the position week to week? Perhaps not, but his potential is immense.

Jordan Genmark Heath

Speaking of the sophomore safety, he appears intent on inserting himself into the safety discussion permanently. He dropped around nine pounds in the offseason and is moving a lot better in man coverage against slot receivers. He showed a nice ability to come up and make plays in the running game in his short time against LSU, and some improved range in coverage could give him a leg up in a situation where range was not a feature in the Irish secondary last season. He also changed to #2, if you believe that sort of thing matters at all. There is just something about single digits.

Javon McKinley

Could this be the season McKinley’s immense talent and potential is realized? The thing about receiver is there is so much opportunity, but also so many bodies. It’s like being one shot off the lead in a golf tournament, but tied with seven other golfers. Sure, you’re close to the top, but you need to beat out a plethora of others. That’s receiver. McKinley theoretically doesn’t have to do much to get into the rotation, if not start, but there are a lot of people in the same spot.

The good news is, McKinley has positioned himself very well physically. He looks the best he has since his arrival in South Bend, and he has the pedigree to back it up. He put up phenomenal numbers against the best competition in the Golden State, it’s just a matter of bringing it all together.

Michael Young

Young is going to be my “irrational belief in his abilities” guy this offseason. I’ve come to accept it. I know it’s wrong to make too much of a few practice clips, especially when they are non-padded. But my goodness, does he look explosive. He came on at the end of last season, and was a hot topic in pre-season camp, so he’s been involved for a long time. Watching him run by Troy Pride, the teams fastest player and possible starter, continually on Tuesday was eye-opening.

It remains to be seen just how Notre Dame feels they can use Young. Can he play the X or W, a la Will Fuller? Do they want to put him in the slot, which lends itself to someone of his size? That also would give them the opportunity to give him the ball on jet sweeps and the like. Whatever the case, Notre Dame really has something in the sophomore receiver and I’m ready to overreact.

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  1. From the South Bend Tribune (in Sunday’s edition which announced a “study” on the South Shore Station. Yikes!!)

    On Friday, the senior announced via Twitter his intention to graduate in May and then complete a graduate transfer for his final season of eligibility.

    “I just want to thank the University of Notre Dame for the love and support they’ve poured into me,” Hayes tweeted. “ND is a special place to grow as a man on and off the field. I’ve learned so many valuable lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I’m going to miss the relationships I’ve established along with all the guys on the team. It’s nothing but love for y’all.”

    In 26 career games, Hayes — a former four-star defensive line prospect from Brooklyn, NY — made 39 tackles with one sack and four tackles for loss. After playing sparingly in his first three seasons, he finished with 27 tackles and a sack in 2017, starting all 13 games at the strong side defensive end position.

    On National Signing Day in February, Irish associate head coach and defensive line coach Mike Elston noted that Hayes’ decision to return for a fifth season had been far from a slam dunk. And now, it’s a sudden turnover.

    So, in summary, Hayes loves Notre Dame and Notre Dame loves Hayes.

    This is way, way more amicable than the typical divorce.

    Let the Kelly haters hate.

    Me? I like Kelly, I like Notre Dame, I like Jay Hayes and ENJOY Notre Dame football! That will NOT CHANGE!

  2. Who knows what the standards are? maybe he wasn’t dedicated to strength and conditioning being his last year. maybe he wasn’t practicing up to par. we know from ALL reports KHAHLID KAREEM had moved ahead of him as STARTER! KAREEM in a backup role last year had more SACKS and tackles for loss than JAY HAYES did in limited play. and don’t forget originally HAYES said he wasn’t coming back for his 5th year than changed his mind. I get the feeling maybe HE wasn’t happy or didn’t want to play in a backup role 5 years into the program! Lets move on and talk about who is still here rather than who”s not!! Still 3 over the limit so this won”t be the last man out!!!

  3. Jay Hayes is leaving to transfer.

    He had been passed by Khalid Kareem.

    But Kelly did two unusual things about Hayes:
    (1) ND is releasing Jay so he can transfer ANYWHERE
    (2) Kelly said “We love Jay. We wish him the best.”

    It doe not seem that Kelly throws the word “love” around often about departing players.

    “Jay understands the standards that we have here and he felt like a change would be better for him,” Kelly said. “We granted him a release for anywhere he wants to play.”

    “We gave him the opportunity to come back if he could meet the standards that we set here. I don’t know what his thoughts were, I can’t read into his mind. He decided to transfer. He’ll finish his degree this semester, so he’ll be a grad transfer and he’ll be immediately eligible. We love Jay, we wish him the best.”
    That is the excerpt from Kelly’s press statement.

    You gotta ask yourself. If Jay Hayes were your son, and Kelly said these things about him, how would you feel?

    I wish Jay well.
    I wish Notre Dame well.

    1. The “if he could meet the standards” and “Jay understands the standards we have here and he felt like a change would be better for him” quotes seem at odds with the “love” line. It implies that there was some concern about wether he could meet the standards and that he left because he couldn’t or didn’t want to.

      If I were a parent, I’d think it was a coach trying to justify losing a player in spring practice—and throwing my kid under the bus a little. Hard to know. It’s just a really odd statement. Unnecessarily odd, as he didn’t need any more than “he decided to leave; we’re in a scholarship crunch; we wish him the best and he can play anywhere.”

      From a football standpoint, I don’t think this hurts too bad if it’s true that Kareem has stepped up. Hurts depth, but, form once, we have enough depth up front on defense that this isn’t a killer. I always wanted to see Hayes move inside, anyway.

  4. Jay Hayes has decided to transfer. Kelly had kind of gaffe announcing it, but it seems to me like it’s a mutual decision. We need to free up the scholarship and he’d fallen behind on the depth chart.

    Not sure though. Anyone hear anything?

  5. ICYMI
    Courtesy of Eric Hansen (SBT)

    “I want them all to see themselves (CBs) as starters,” Lyght says.

    All five of the returning corps, that is: Crawford, Pride, Love, grad senior Nick Watkins and junior Donte Vaughn.
    And when most of the freshmen arrive in June, Lyght wants newcomers Noah Boykin, Joe Wilkins Jr., Tariq Bracy and DJ Brown to have that starter’s mentality as well.

    “In today’s age, I’m not a really big believer in the redshirt systematically,” Lyght said after Thursday’s practice.

    “It’s good for some players individually, but just as a general philosophy,
    I think if you have a really good player and then you redshirt him and he plays two years, he might leave anyway.
    So what’s the point of redshirting him? Just let him play and let him develop.”


    ” An even more dramatic leap in that area was tamped down by holes in the safety corps,
    which didn’t record a single interception last season, and an inconsistent pass rush that faded to a No. 83 national ranking in sacks by season’s end.”

    More sacks and more forced TOs will be key for D’ to be dominant.

  6. Watched the IRISH GIRLS WIN NATTY last nite with my 2 daughters, We screamed and hugged and went crazy!! THANK YOU LADIES FOR SHOWING THE SPIRIT, “FAITH” , AND HEART THAT IS NOTRE DAME!!! THE MOMENT OF CELEBRATION WITH MY GIRLS WILL LIVE WITH ME FOREVER!! GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Ndcrazymike , what crazy win it was for the Notre Dame women’s basketball team— National Champions ! The gal that hit winning shot to beat Miss State was the same player to hit winning shot to beat hated U-Conn in final Four showdown ! Head coach Muffie McGraw has now 800 career wins—and I would venture to say she will catch up to the lengendary Pat Summit of Tennessee (RIP). Footnote: Irish soph guard Jackie Young , who lit up U-Conn with 32 points in the semi—is the all-time leading scorer in Indiana high school basketball history (boys and girls). It’s great to see ND sports teams win Div 1 National Championships—but there is more to come as soon as this week. The Notre Dame Div 1 hockey team has made the Frozen Four (Final Four) –and plays Michigan April 5th Thursday on ESPN 2. The other two finalist are Ohio State versus Minnesota Duluth. The Irish are having their best hockey season in history. They won Big Ten Title —their first season that they joined this elite hockey conference. They entered the NCAA tournament — rated the # 1 team in the country. I must say , the gold hockey helmets look pretty cool on an ice rink. Anyway — I’m excited about the Irish football team and the position changes taking place this spring and antisipate more surprises come June with the new recruits on campus. Go Irish.

      1. Southside,
        I think she has 800 wins at ND with more than 900 wins overall…not sure.

        BGC ’77 ’82

    1. Is there anybody left who WIMBUSH hasn’t worked out with? Kids played football his whole life at QB and “STILL” cant read progressions or show any kind of FOOTWORK! They keep sending him to work with this guy and that guy, maybe its time to say he’s not that good!! We all saw last year how much QUICKER and accurate BOOK was than WIMBUSH. Wimbushes arm strength and running ability are off the charts, but u cant keep waiting for him figure it out!! LETS HOPE BIG THINGS COME FROM ALL THIS……..PRACTICE TIME!!!!

    2. I am involved in a couple of prison ministries and worked with a kid who was a major league pitching prospect, then wound up in jail for a brutal bar fight.

      But this kid, from a well-to do-family in southern California, was provided many resources from his family. This kid has a tendency toward violence, but is simultaneously cerebral and analytical. He RAVEd about Tom House, and had plenty of private sessions with House. RAVED. And then Mr. X
      went on in excruciating detail( I was bored) about the analytics and physics that House deployed in coaching and
      developing pitchers.

      I have not talked to Mr. X in a while, but can surmise what he would tell me: That House, with his analytical nature and his ability to translate principles of physics to practical coaching and muscle memory development would be able to easily help quarterbacks.

      We’ll see.
      poaotaanL. Thatill tellS [ph_d

      1. Duranko , I played semi-pro and every season we had a scheduled game versus Joliet Stateville Prison in Joliet , Illinois. We were treated like royalty from the inmates –serving us lunch in prison cafeteria –and their hospitality/ politeness carried onto the ball field. Wow , it was amazing they had their own ball park with-in the confines of a prison. The field/grass was in immaculate condition–akin to an MLB facility. Only noticable difference was that the left field wall was 30 ft high made of cement–and right field wall was a block house for death row inmates. The Joliet Prison ball players were really good. Of course , we didn’t know what/why they were serving time. It was a great experience though I’ll never forget. I also , as an AAU basketball player was able to play against Michigan City , Indiana State Prison. Same experience at Joliet–inmates treated us nicely etc and the prison team was really good. Bottom line here –is that sports can be a saviour to these inmates — essential road to re-hab to turn their life around.

  7. What, Ball St. not worthy of a mention, Here come the Cardinals! At least the Irish have one Cardinal they can beat this year. The games most worrisome are both Navy and USC on left coast.

  8. Southside,
    I agree with you that ND does not have a soft schedule. Normally, I would not bother to say that (stating the obvious), but I saw a silly analysis on one of the sports network that claimed that ND has an easier schedule than ANY power five conference winner would have, and therefore could not make the playoffs even with a 12-0 season. Silly. I’ve been thinking about that segment for two weeks. Michigan, Wake Forest, Pitt, Stanford, VT, Florida State, USC, and yes, NAVY…the ACC schedule by itself is pretty brutal.
    You can already tell that the ND haters are scared! Well, you have plenty of reason to be scared, boys!

    BGC ’77 ’82

    1. Sorry, I left out our “breathers” – Vanderbilt and Northwestern…not the best teams in their conferences, but not to be taken lightly!

      BGC ’77 ’82

  9. Until we make our special teams special( block punts, extra points , return the ball to the house), we
    Will never win a national championship. It is a difference maker in a close game, and KELLY continues to ignore them.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. He can no longer afford a ham-and-egger, recently promoted grad assistant.

      He should seek out somebody who had prior, successful experience as a special teams coach.

      It would be preferable if that coach has a football family pedigree, in which he would have been steeped in the traditional
      importance of special teams.

      It would be optimal, of course for Kelly to get off his duff and even try to get a coach who had prior head coaching experience.

      Oh, wait, Sean! Kelly did that.

      Polian was special teams coordinator at Baylor, coordinated special teams at Notre Dame, at Stanford under both
      Harbaugh and David Shaw, and at A&M under Kevin Sumlin.
      Polian was the head coach at the Mountain West’s Reno Wolfpack.

      When Polian was hired he was exclusively special teams coach without an attached position responsibility.

      “Kelly continues to ignore them.”

      Your post is simultaneously inaccurate, hysterical and nonsensical. Do better, Sean

      1. Duranko,
        Our special teams (other than the kicking and punting) are still dormant. As I said in another post, Coach Polian stopped the bleeding from 2016…I mean we did not lose either possessions or entire games because of a ST screw up in 2017! That in itself was an achievement! But SEAN is right about one thing…every time we won a NC, it seems like there was one game where our Special Teams exploded on somebody – just think of that stop on a Hurricane fake punt in the ’88 Miami game…that was HUGE – and it changed the tenor of that game.
        So let’s improve…for that day in 2018!

        Bruce G. Curme ’77 ’82

      2. By the way, in that same ’88 MIAMI game, we stopped a two point conversion attempt and then recovered a tricky onside kick MIAMI tried on us…but we saw it on tape because they needed to use that onside kick at Michigan two weeks before in a big comeback win for them. How is all that for a ST effort by Notre Dame?

        BGC ’77 ’82

    2. I don’t think we can blame special teams on Kelly. He’s hired a good special teams coach.

      I think it just comes down to having enough playmakers. It’s hard to find someone who can block a punt when you don’t have anyone who can get to the QB. And we just haven’t landed anyone electric to return the ball yet (always wondered why Williams wasn’t given a shot to return kicks).

      Our kicking has been pretty strong. Overall, I think our special team play has been ok. Not a strength, but not really a major weakness.

  10. WiMbush could become WiNbush if he gains confidence. Gotta believe the talent’s there. After working with the QB Guru (name?) I am ready for a confident, poised man at QB. That’s what we need. GoIRISH.

      1. Southside , It is what the Irish need, but is it going to happen? With the defense and running game we have we only need about a 55% completion rate to annihilate our foes. I want that rate (as a minimum) from my QB. And if Wimbush can do it, all the better.

        Bruce G. Curme
        La Crosse, Indiana

  11. I see LIL MACNAMARA says he found the place he was looking for in MICHIGAN!! Sounds believable the coach is on the HOTSEAT, they’ve had more OFF COORDINATORS in the last year than most teams have in 5 years, and so far HARBOUGH has done nothing in 3 years but lose every meaningful game MICH. has played!! QBS have suffered most under HARBOUGH, check the stats!!! Good luck lil macky!! GO IRISH!!!!!!!

  12. It’s early in the morning and I’m at a weekend wedding party where they’ve been serving mimosas, so forgive any typos while I let my optimism shine:

    We’re going to be good this year. 4-8 was a fluke. We’re about to have 10 wins in 3 out 4 years. But it’s better than that. I remember how how those Holtz teams felt. I was a little kid; but I remember KNOWING that Notre Dame could play and beat anybody.

    I’m not saying we have that level of talent now. But we’re having conversations about how we replace 1st round draft picks and about where are potential All-Americans should line up. And I’m sitting here KNOWING that Notre Dame can play with anybody and win. We could have in 2012. We could have in 2015 (injury/suspension bug bit hard that year). And we could have in 2017. Yes, we fade in November. Yes, we got blown out at Miami.

    But we had a double digit loss to Stanford in 1992. Penn St. beat us by 22 in 1991. Those were great years! And look where we were in ‘93! I’m not saying we’ve reached the level of those legendary years under Holtz. We aren’t elite. But we’re top 10. By almost every measure, we are within reach. Could we say that in ‘07? ‘09?

    We aren’t #BAMA (one of those guys is here, friend of the groom) or Ohio St. But we don’t want to be. Really, deep down, we don’t want to be those guys. We are Notre Dame. And we are good. And we can, once again, play with anybody. So this spring, let’s all enjoy a simple chant together: Here. Come. The. Irish.

    1. HOPEFULLY the chant will b HERE COMES THE OFFENSE!!! IRISH need a big year from ( whoever ) plays QB!! Last year the DEFENSE was a ? This years team needs to find consistency at QB and RB!!! ALOT OF ? THIS YEAR!! CHIP LONG HAS HIS WORK CUT OUT FOE HIM THIS YEAR!!!!

  13. Hank,
    I grew up in South Bend (just like almost all “fac brats” do). I hope you understand that every dish washed at ND, every sheet washed at ND, every blade of grass cut at ND, every fire sprinkler installed and every brick cemented at ND, all of it was done, and is done to this day, by good people from South Bend, Mishawaka, Granger, etc.
    Without the people of South Bend, Notre Dame would be a log cabin, a log chapel, and an outhouse. Who in hell do you think built the place – Holy Cross priests?

    Bruce G. Curme
    La Crosse, Indiana

  14. When you say a player has “arrived in South Bend” what the hell does that mean? No Notre Dame sports team has played in South Bend for over 45 years. All the athletic facilities that student athletes participate in at Notre Dame are located in Notre Dame, Indiana. Please make a mental note of this and stop giving South Bend credit for anything Notre Dame related!

    1. It’s about time Hank. By golly , to think Santa Claus lives in the North Pole — nothing can be farther from the truth. Ya ever hear of Santa Claus , Indiana ? This is where Santa lives. Go ahead look it up.

  15. YES the Defense will b solid this year barring injurys, the HUGE unknown is the offense!!! WHEN your question marks are QB, RB, WR, AND REPLACEING not 1 but 2 all-americans on the o-line you have alotta work to do! Please stop with the talk of how WIMBUSH looking better in spring practice it was 1 week! He had a month off b4 LSU bowl game and that didn’t help a bit!! IF u recall last years BLUE-GOLD GAME BOOK played better than WIMBUSH!! We desperately need Wimbush to improve his upside is off the charts but its gonna take more than 1 week of throwing the ball around!! IM with the live practice to let the QBS get hit feel real pressure!!

    1. The real questions are at QB and the “O” line. We have a guy who can run the ball (DW) and certainly have a couple of guys who can catch it if it’s anywhere near them (MB and CC). While there may be some depth issues at running back and wideout, we’ve got the starters, if only the coaches let them play!
      Can we replace two AA’s in the “O” line and settle the QB issue? I think we will, and we’ll win 11 games with them though clearly nobody can replace Quentin. I still say that with our depth and quality at defensive positions, we are in good shape by any sane measurement: I’m telling you guys this again – we are only going to need about 21 points per game to win! (Assuming our “O” doesn’t give up “pick sixes” and can move the ball a little bit when we are pinned down deep).
      Plus we have a fine punter and Yoon. We are good to go people! Hit the weights and make all your dreams come true…just like last year only stretch it into November this time.
      Besides my 11-1 prediction, I have one other prediction – 2018 is going to be a very sad year for ND haters!

      BGC ’77 ’82

      1. I’m all in on the 11 wins Bruce. I don’t think Irish schedule is easy by any means. First game against Michigan–beat them and road blocks ahead are the usual scheduled rivalries Stanford/USC. I’m not saying other teams are pushovers — just that Stanford/USC are always a pain in the ass in October or last game in November. Irish need to beat these two in same season—to get to pay dirt.

  16. The past few seasons have seen a huge improvement in depth-talent and now Strength & Conditioning. There is serious competition at all positions and many guys will be playing at those spots on Saturdays with good replacements rotating in and guys who are bigger and stronger .

    Each position has depth to alternate different types of abilities and create mismatches or take away weaknesses depending on the down and distance. We have to use a lot of guys to stay strong and fresh in November when the big money playoff spots are in play.

    QB play does not have to be spectacular….just very efficient and error free….the play calling and talent will take care of the rest. We made huge improvements last year in the Red Zone–especially scoring TD’s—that has to continue.

    Looking forward to the Spring Practices and reports…..lots of heated battles going on. “Iron sharpens Iron…”

  17. Our two hyphenated sophs, Genmark-Heath and Owusu-Koramoah, are just the first robins of the athletic spring that is arriving at Notre Dame with the 2017 recruiting class. The “outer shell” of the defense with Griffith already there, and Derrik Allen,
    Shayne Simon and Paul Moala arriving in June complement the athleticism at linebacker with Jack Lamb and Ovie Oghoufo.

    In today’s spread offense world you need players on the outer shell of the defense that can collapse and close space quickly.

    The defensive “architecture” stabilized when Elko and Lea arrived and will continue with Lea’s ascendancy.

    But the pipeline for defensive talent is filling up very nicely at safety, rover and linebacker.

    The defensive roster that will show up at Culver in August is leaps and bounds better than the defensive roster of 2013-2014. This may start to be fun.

  18. What I like is the overall development of the strength and conditioning program. Players are progressing physically l, decisions are being made about player weight, and the players are following through with that.

    Tough to predict what that means for any of these players—but it bodes well for the team as a whole.

  19. Two players’ development I’d be interested in hearing about are NG Ewell and S Gilman.
    What a difference their development could make.
    And there seems to be the potential for more depth in the lines.
    How well the lines evolve, and if they can approach dominance in the trenches, would make things much easier for the QBs, RBs, and LBs.

    1. MTA /Duranko , glad that you guys are focusing on the D–and the players you mention. I realize popular story is about the QB contest–but to get to through a 12 game schedule knocking on door to playoffs come November–Irish will need a strong D. I like the “trending up” of what can transpire ahead. You know who the players are –and I’m excited to see some new faces comeforth to help out. Go Irish !

      1. Southside, what has me additionally geeked is that, except for linebacker, we have true depth, waaaaaaaaaayyy more
        than we had in 2012. With Gilman and Allen and maybe Genmark-Heath and perhaps Griffin, 2016 starter Studstill
        and 2017 starter Elliot may struggle for snaps.

        Ogundeji is good to go, per Elston, but he is the fifth DE. Riddle me this, southside, when was the last time
        that Notre Dame had a “problem” which consitituted finding enough playing time for the third string defensive end????

        Remember, the great Bill Walsh is on record as saying that the key to winning big games is being able to generate an
        effective pass rush in the Fourth quarter. Without rest and without staying under 50 snaps, the pass rush will not be there when you need it most. DEPTH AT DL!

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