Recapping A Wild Start to the New Year for Notre Dame’s Roster & Staff

It’s been a wild end to 2019 and start to 2020 for Notre Dame and its roster and coaching staff.  No one would fault anyone for losing track of all of the comings and goings that have happened over the last few days, so we felt a recap was in order.  One was also in order since we haven’t been able to write individual stories on each since, and as we tell all of the English professors who love to point out grammar mistakes in the comments, this site is just a hobby for us. While we’d have loved to write posts about each one, well, real-life gets in the way sometimes.

Tony Jones Jr Heading to NFL

On New Year’s Eve, we got a bit of a surprise when Tony Jones Jr announced that he was entering the 2020 NFL Draft instead of potentially returning for a 5th year at Notre Dame.  Jones’s logic centered around the idea that he isn’t going to get a lot faster, so if that’s all that he had left to prove, he might as well face that challenge now.  Jones has shown that he is competent running back behind a good offensive line, he excels in pass protection, and can be used in the passing game.  He’s got the kind of all-around skillet that will give him a chance to stick in the NFL.

He’ll likely be a late-round pick at best, but more likely an undrafted free agent.  Remember, Josh Adams ripped off long run after long run in 2017 and ultimately went undrafted as well.

This is a significant loss for Notre Dame because Jones could have had a really nice role in 2020.  He might not have been a prototypical RB1 for Notre Dame, but he would have been an excellent piece in the offense that complimented incoming freshman Chris Tyree very well.  As is, Notre Dame returns Jafar Armstrong, Jahmir Smith, C’bo Flemister, and Kyren Williams in 2020.  There’s potential there, but also a lot of questions.  Lance Taylor has his work cut out for himself this spring and summer.

Cole Kmet Leaving Notre Dame Early

When we learned that Kmet got a 2nd round grade from the NFL Advisory Committee and still hadn’t made a final decision, the writing was on the wall – he likely wasn’t coming back.  This is a draft that is short on premiere tight ends, and despite the 2nd round grade, many think Kmet will be the first tight end off the board in April. If he is, no one should fault him for leaving early this year.  Given the premium placed on tight ends and the lack of elite ones in this draft, it shouldn’t shock anyone if he sneaks into the late first-round too.

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Tommy Tremble showed a lot of promise as a receiver this year with four touchdowns for the Irish and will likely be Notre Dame’s TE1 in 2020 with Brock Wright continuing his role as the second tight end and primary blocker.  Tremble will need to work on his blocking this off-season and spend a lot of time in the weight room to be ready.

Notre Dame also has rising sophomore George Takacs along with incoming freshmen Kevin Bauman and Michael Mayer.  There’s a ton of talent for the next tight ends coach to work with here.

Alohi Gilman Headed To NFL

This is another one that was expected for a while.  Gilman decided against returning for a 5th year and will instead prepare for the 2020 NFL Draft.  Like Jones, the only things that will prevent him from being drafted high right now are issues that will exist next year as well, no matter how well would have played in 2020 if he did return.  He isn’t going to get a lot bigger or faster in a year.  Gilman probably won’t wow anyone with his Combine numbers other than perhaps his bench press, and that wouldn’t change with another year of college football.

Gilman’s production did dip this year, so an argument could have been made that he still could have improved his stock by coming back, but either way, he was likely going to be a late-round pick/undrafted free agent.  That said, as ridiculous as this sounds, he’ll still be the kind of late pick/undrafted player who gets in a camp and then wins a job for his special teams skills and ends up having a long career.  NFL teams covet players like that yet refuse to spend anything other than late picks on them.

I’ve written a few times over the last two months that the graduate transfer of Isaiah Pryor was huge for Notre Dame because it was likely Gilman was leaving.  Notre Dame will have a safety room featuring Kyle Hamilton, Houston Griffith, and Pryor next year, along with some promising younger players like Ajavon Litchfield.  It would have been fantastic for Notre Dame if Gilman returned, but luckily the Irish should still be strong on the backend of the defense.

Notre Dame Adds WR Graduate Transfer Bennett Skowronek

With Kmet headed to the NFL, Notre Dame’s addition of Northwestern graduate transfer Bennett Showronek on New Year’s Day became an even bigger pickup for the Irish.  Brian Kelly hinted during his early signing period presser that Notre Dame might add another player on offense still, and that player turned out to be Skowronek.

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At first, people might have been confused about Notre Dame adding a grad-transfer wide receiver considering the talent in the Notre Dame wide receiver room, but with Kmet leaving for the NFL and Notre Dame also losing Chase Claypool and Chris Finke, Notre Dame will have to replace most of its receiving yards from 2019.  Claypool and Finke’s graduations also leave that wide receiver room very short on experience.

Skowronek missed most of 2019 with an injury that won’t impact him in 2020 but has 110 career receptions for 1,417 yards and 8 touchdowns in an offense that makes it hard to put up big numbers.  At 6’4″, 215 lbs; he’s also a huge target on the outside who figures to be a factor in the battle for a starting position on the outside.

Skowronek’s addition raises some questions about whether or not Javon McKinley will return for a 5th year.   None of Notre Dame’s other returning receivers – Kevin Austin, Braden Lenzy, Lawrence Keys, Micah Jones, Joe Wilkins, Kendal Abdur-Rahman – have more than 13 career receptions (Keys) or more than two touchdowns (Lenzy).

Ade Ogundeji Returning for a 5th Season

Notre Dame also learned on New Year’s Day that defensive end Ade Ogundeji will be returning for a 5th year.  This one was assumed for a while, but Ogundeji was non-commital about his return when asked in December.  Notre Dame already had to replace Khalid Kareem, Jamir Jones, and Julian Okwara this off-season, so losing Ogundeji would have been a massive blow.  Luckily, the Irish don’t have to.

Ogundeji came to Notre Dame extremely raw but has developed well and could be poised for a breakout 5th year in 2020.  He ended the year with 4.5 sacks and 7.0 tackles for loss, with most of that damage coming in the final month of the season.  He will start opposite Daelin Hayes next fall to give Notre Dame another outstanding pair of defensive ends.

With Justin Ademilola, Ovie Oghoufo, Isaiah Foskey, and Nana Osafo-Mensah all returning, the Irish are set even with losing a trio like Kareem, Jones, and Okwara.

Todd Lyght Leaving Notre Dame Staff

On the coaching staff front, we learned today that Todd Lyght will not be returning to the staff in 2020 but will instead be moving out to California to be closer to his family.  There had been rumblings about Lyght’s future on the staff, and those were proven correct on Thursday when Lyght announced he would not be returning.  His return to his alma mater will be remembered for outstanding coaching of the Irish cornerbacks, including the development of Julian Love, who was a finalist for last year’s Thorpe Award.

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Brian Kelly and Notre Dame will, however, have an opportunity to improve Notre Dame’s recruiting power with Lyght’s replacement.  While the former Irish legend excelled at the x’s and o’s of coaching the corners, recruiting at the position left a lot to be desired much the way it had with Autry Denson at running back before his departure last year.  Kelly knocked that hire out of the park with the addition of Lance Taylor last year.  He has the chance to do the same this year.

Notre Dame now has two open positions on the staff with Chip Long‘s departure last month in addition to Lyght’s.

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16 Comments

  1. Notre Dame will take a step back next year on offense. The loss of Kmet, Jones, Finke, and Claypool are huge . Book has been very good since taking the starting QB job away from Wimbush. But In my opinion Book has reached his ceiling as far as physical talent goes. With less proven weapons to utilize next year Book will take a step back. 9-3, 10-2 at best and no playoff appearance next year.

    1. Luckily they have 4 games to find themselves offensively. The D shouldn’t drop off next season so they should be alright even against Wisconsin. The Clemson game is going to test both sides. Win that game and it’s a playoff season. Lose close and maybe they slide in. Lose in a blowout and hello toilet bowl because there will not be any love from the committee as we saw this past year.

  2. Pity that things didn’t work out for Todd Lyght. Hard to understand how a coach with his credentials as a player could not relate to recruits. Of course, we fans never get the whole story.

    My favorite memory of Lyght was the win against Navy in the Meadowlands in 1990 when he returned a last ditch onsides kick for a TD with nine seconds remaining. Thanks, Todd, for all your contributions to Notre Dame.

  3. Frank , players leaving not big surprise. What main issue is the coaching staff. I’m in minority here — I’m in for Rees as OC/QB coach , Taylor as OC assistant/and RB coach on field. Rees and Taylor collaborated very well in nearly flawless bowl game. Quinn stays O-line coach. The 3 of them in sync — with out Chip Long— looks good heading into 2020. Oh , I guess lots of coaches are out there “with more experience” in years than Rees/Taylor. Kelly would be taking a risk on just anybody from outside–just based on longevity. Or take a risk on some young fresh minds –already on the staff–but yet know the offense , the players etc. What’s best for 2020 –is what I saw in the bowl game. BTW , anybody notice the absence of a “clapping of hands” from Book on snap from center. Even the announcers mentioned lack of errors by ND through out game. Signs of good things ahead.

  4. Well I, for one, am quite pleased that IAN BOOK is returning. He could leave this place next year with a ton of records to match our National Championship. All’s well that ends well.

    BGC ’77 ’82

    1. Notredame has a shot at winning a national championship next year but only if the offense is a lot better and that I think more than anything is going to depend on the hires on offense.I personally would like to see Kelly hire outside candidates.Leave Reese as qb coach keep Taylor and Del where they are. Bring in a great line coach and great oc. Then you have a shot and Clemson.

      1. I don’t think Kelly will change O-line coaches even with Harry on the market but they seriously need to improve next season on running the ball until the new receiving corps gets up to speed with Book. As much talent that they have it will take a couple games for them to find a good groove and Book to build trust. An OC hire other than Rees for now would help until he has a few more seasons under his belt and for the love of god open the wallet to keep coach Lea because I’m sure after next season there will be some HC jobs out there for him.

      2. Definitely need to hold on to Lea. I’m not only worried he might get a HC job, I’m actually worried he might get poached by a team willing to pay him more than he’s getting at ND. We can’t lost Lea.

        And I too hope they go outside for OC. Everyone’s saying ND is on the cusp of something special (I have my doubts about that as I’ve heard that line before)—but if that is true they will need an OC with experience and a pretty good track record. Going with Rees in that role, someone without a lot of experience, is NOT what you want to do if you want to compete for a NC. You don’t want to experiment with an OC while trying to compete at the highest level. If Rees is truly a great future coaching talent his time will come. But going that route next year when everyone’s saying the stars are aligning is not the time.

        Disappointed that Jones and Kmet are leaving. I’m less surprised about Kmet, as Frank noted, I think the writing was on the wall. But I held out hope he might come back. Jones is more of a surprise. I actually think another year of experience may have been beneficial for him. I still remember Darius Walker way back when leaving early and he ended up undrafted and his NFL career never really got off the ground.

      3. Pete , who are these guys brought in from the outside — you consider “great ?”— Is there a “Guru” , “Genious” from the college or NFL ranks. Kelly should stick with in house staff — take risk on what’s best for 2020–not some outsiders.

    2. Damian- Jones was a surprise when he announced he was leaving and that is going to hurt. I don’t think Armstrong can be a featured back. He is good but still runs high and ends up hurting himself when he tries to bulldoze the pile. Still shake my head at the VT game when they tried to power it in with him. Pass protection may be shaky at the beginning of the season but I think Smith or Williams will step up.

      1. Doesn’t look like he will be getting any playing time next season. Called it at the beginning of the season.

    3. Evident improvement re: Ian Book- hoping for even more next season . . .
      “In 2018, Book finished 5-of-21 (23.8 percent) for 209 yards and two touchdowns on throws more than 30 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. This past season, Book completed nine of his 21 throws (42.8 percent) at that depth for 376 yards and five touchdowns with one interception. Book also improved on throws between 21 and 30 yards past the line of scrimmage, which allowed Book to nearly double his production on throws beyond 20 yards between the 2018 and 2019 seasons.” I understand Claypool had a lot to do with that, but with Austin back and Frosh Johnson on his way, and the ongoing development of Lenzy, Wilkins and others, the opportunities should still be there. “ In his first year as the starter, Book finished 17-of-45 (37.8 percent) for 536 yards and five touchdowns with one interception on throws beyond 20 yards. In 2019, Book went 32-of-58 (55 percent) for 973 yards and 10 touchdowns with two interceptions at that depth.
      Ian Book is the first Irish quarterback to ever have three 5 TD games in one season.”
      “Just the facts, M’am”
      Joe Friday, Dragnet

      1. MTA: Don’t confuse them with facts. BTW, Michael, the most telling fact of all is Book’s record as a starter! But we never see that listed in their posts, do we? Perhaps that is so because there is NOTHING confusing about that record! Here Come the IRISH for another National Championship.

        BGC ’77 ’82

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