Thanks for nothing, shoulder pads.
In two tough breaks for the Notre Dame offense, starting tight end Cole Kmet and starting receiver Michael Young are lost for several weeks due to broken collarbones. First Kmet early last week and then Young during Notre Dame’s open practice on Saturday.
First, it’s an unfortunate development for the two athletes. Both have worked hard to prepare for the season and having to sit for weeks or months at any point is tough to deal with. Luckily for both, they should have their say in the season’s outcome eventually.
Second, taken in isolation, the two losses can be mitigated. Notre Dame has able replacements behind them and with a returning starter at quarterback, and two weeks left in the preseason, the team has time to adjust. But, taken together, the effects could be tougher to overcome.
Notre Dame is Down Two Frontline Players
There is no getting around the fact that at the time of the injuries, Kmet and Young had excellent camps. Regardless of who is behind them, these two were playing at a very high level. Young was making one-handed grabs against our top corner, and he was doing this practice after practice. It was no longer a flash in the pan; it was becoming routine, the last step in a players evolution. Kmet was uncoverable over the middle, even giving fits to Alohi Gilman, and possesses a skill set unlike any other tight end on the roster.
As mentioned above, Notre Dame has players to play in their stead and quality players at that. Young was replaced by a captain in Chris Finke, and Lawrence Keys, who entered for Finke in the slot, has been a fast riser since the spring. Brock Wright replaces Kmet, and while he isn’t the athlete Kmet is, he has slimmed down and is perhaps the better blocker of the two.
Still, for an offense who some believe could be the most high powered in terms of scoring in school history, losing two frontline players will have a definite effect on that. Young possessed the explosiveness Notre Dame has been looking for, and while we know Finke can dominate the slot, we don’t know how he’ll fare on the outside.
The same is true for the transition from Wright to Kmet. Kmet is a high ceiling player. It’s fair to wonder if Notre Dame can finally maximize the tight end position after failing to do so the previous two seasons under Chip Long. But, Kmet was the perfect tight end to find out with, someone with first-round pick ability. Wright can play at this level and play well, but Kmet is a starter at any school type talent.
Ian Book Might Need The Help
I don’t want to call it hype about Book over the offseason, but there was a good amount written about him raising his game and his view that he was amongst the best in college football. And maybe he is, but so far his practice performances have not been that.
Following Saturday’s open practice, The Athletic’s Pete Sampson told Tim O’Malley at Irish Illustrated he expected to see more of a top 10 quarterback in camp, and so far he has not seen that. He clarified that he doesn’t have any concerns about Book or the offense, and this was after the injury to Young, just that he expected to see a higher level of play.
What this tells me is Book might need that talent around him to be as effective more than previously thought. That he requires playmakers more than he’ll be a playmaker himself. Which is fine when those playmakers are around, more than fine actually. But, when those frontline players are chipped away, how much is the ceiling lowered?
Chase Claypool To The Rescue?
In the same conversation between Sampson and O’Malley, Sampson invoked the name of Michael Floyd when discussing the type of camp Chase Claypool was having. If it turns out Claypool can have a Floyd like senior season, then a lot of the concerns outlined above are mitigated.
That type of player raises the game of everyone around him with his mere presence. Finke is better, the running game is better, Keys et al are better, and more importantly, Ian Book is better.
I for one did not believe Notre Dame had that type of player on the offense this season, which was ok because of the depth of overall talent. Claypool turning into a first-round pick type talent would be a pleasant surprise, especially with Young and Kmet out for an extended period of time. And to think of the possibilities when those two players return? Oh please let it be before Georgia.
At this point, Notre Dame should be fine in their first two games. They’ll be huge favorites; they have a huge talent advantage and a much better program. Georgia is another story however, as it would have been regardless, so the effect on the season overall may not be much. However, if these absences stretch into week four against Virginia, that could be pushing the limits of the offense, especially if anyone else is lost in that time.