5 Evolving Storylines on Offense for Notre Dame this Spring

Notre Dame fans have received many blessings the last two football seasons, the latest being the amount of full coverage allotted to the media for spring practice. Normally we are treated to four or five full and open practices for the media to attend. Open practices are the best way to find out how the team is progressing, what players are performing well/not so well, and it comes from the point of view of multiple reporters. No coaching spin to parse through afterwards. This spring Brian Kelly has touched us with eight of the last 10 practices being fully open to the media, the spring game being the last which of course is televised on NBCSN.

As you would expect, there has been a ton of coverage over the last couple of days, with Thursday and today’s practice being open. With that coverage, some general themes have emerged.

Here is what we have learned about the offense after six practices.

1. Ian Book Is The Man

There has been some thought to Phil Jurkovec applying pressure to Book this spring, if not a full competition. Well, that’s not happening.

Book has been sharp, has bulked up, and is looking to build off of what was an impressive first season earning the bulk of the starts. To the extent he is being pushed, it’s in his own pursuit to improve on his weaknesses from last season, namely being better against pressure and the deep ball.

Jurkovec is very much trying to find his footing in the offense, after spending the bulk of the regular season on the scout team. This is the first time he’s earning real reps, so the idea of him pushing Book who has 10 starts under belt and has only lost to the national champions as a starter is not going to materialize. And that’s fine, quarterback is going to be a strength this year.

2. Running Back Should Be Okay

Armstrong and Jones have looked good, especially Jones. The former has stepped up his game, which was somewhat expected do to the way he looked last season and how hard he works. The fact that Armstrong is looking strong isn’t a surprise. Jones was a wild card and at the moment he looks to be a positive player for Notre Dame. He’s been a bit of an enigma, but he’s played in a lot of games, performed in really big moments, and looks to be in great shape. Whether or not he can stay healthy is another matter, but things are looking up here.

It seems from the chatter that between Jahmir Smith, C’Bo Flemister, and Kyren Williams, Notre Dame will have at the very least a serviceable third back from game to game. If this is one of the teams weakest positions, the Irish will be in good shape this year.

3. Cole Kmet and Brock Wright Look Fantastic

Chip Long decided it was a good idea to call Kmet a once in a lifetime athlete during his media availability early in the spring, which is indicative of what he thinks of his ability and potential. Kmet lived up the words, at least as best he can at the moment, with impressive showings in both open practices, toying with defenders in both team and one-on-one situations. He appears set to make a leap to stardom.

The big surprise has been Brock Wright, who looked like nothing more than a glorified full back in his first season of action last year. Wright dropped 10 pounds following last season and is looking fluid while running routes, showing nice hands, and is winning one-on-one battles. Could we be seeing an Eifert/Niklas 2012 type tandem in 2019?

4. The 2018 Receivers Are Showing Up

After Miles Boykin declared for the NFL draft, all eyes turned toward the 2018 receiver class to help and fill the void. Notre Dame returns just Chase Claypool, Chris Finke, and Michael Young with any real game experience, and three wide receivers isn’t going to work in college football. They needed the youngsters to show up. And they have.

Perhaps the most notable has been Braden Lenzy, the super speedster who decided to dedicate himself full time to football this year and putting track on the backburner. He reportedly had hands issues last fall and has looked much better catching the ball in the spring, likely in part to him developing his upper body. His speed is still, of course, a major weapon that is on the Troy Pride level.

Lawrence Keys is not to be out done here, filling in nicely for Chris Finke in the slot with the second team. Keys earned plaudits from the coaches late last year, even prompting Kelly to mention him during bowl prep, which sparked speculation Keys might play a bit role against Clemson. He has continued his impressive play this spring, showing wiggle in the open field, a knack for getting open, and strong hands.

The Kevin Austin roller coaster has been interesting. On the one hand Brian Kelly won’t mention him while discussing the wide receivers, on the other hand he went out to practice on Thursday and looked dominant, according to multiple people there. So, this appears to “traits” type situation that if and when it gets worked out, the talent is apparent.

5. The Offensive Line Will Be A Strength

The offensive line was pretty up and down last season; dominant in some games, average in others. The principal figures return, with Jarrett Patterson taking over for Sam Mustipher at center. The biggest news is Robert Hainsey and Liam Eichenberg have been holding their own against Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem. Those are two of the best defensive ends in college football, so competing with them every day will only make them better.

Tommy Kraemer apparently looks the best he ever has after reshaping his body, and there is a ton of confidence in Aaron Banks at left guard. The move of Patterson to center is being reinforced every day and he is the favorite to start at the position as the team heads into the fall.

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  1. WERE still 6 months away from the opening game and have yet to play the BLUE-GOLD game. Any thoughts that positions or evaluations are etched in stone are still premature. These kids will still have the 6 months to grow and get stronger with coach BALIS, and learn their positions. We heard all last spring how much WIMBUSH had improved his accuracy and footwork only to see the same problems when the season started. IT”S good to get an idea what practices look like and position changes, but theirs still alotta time for improvement and changes. RB, LB, WR, DT, will be battles all the way up to SEPT. COULD”NT agree more with you PETE!!

  2. It’s great to hear that Book is getting better against pressure. I vaguely recall a QB for us who was blitzed and dogged a lot while he was a first year starter. When he started the following year, opposing defenses stepped up those tactics but he was totally ready for that stuff. I think that in the first game he burned somebody who blitzed him, and he was good at that for the rest of his career here. It might have been Brady Quinn…I don’t remember for sure. At any rate, it would be nice to see Book make that leap and very bad news for opponents.

    BGC ’77 ’82

  3. Offensive side looks to be better this yr. My concerns are the linebacker positions. Last practice it was noted Jeremiah and Paul Moala are getting reps at Rover. Shayne Simon is being considered at moving to inside. A lot of moving pieces.

  4. It sounds encouraging but I keep reminding myself it is spring ball and every player and team is great in the spring.Another thing all coaches are hyping their teams a nd players this time of year.How many times in 9 years have we heard Kelly rave about players and how their going to use them in the fall to create mismatches all over the field and it never happens.Not trying to be a downer but I’ll believe it when I see it.

    1. Agree Pete. Remember when the coaches were raving about Alize Mack having like a 100 yard catch radius and that literally nobody could guard him on our team, haha! How’d that pan out?

      The fall always determines this, not spring.

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