The regular and post-season are over, the recruiting class is signed, and now the time for speculation and narrative begins. It’s the off-season, folks, get into it!
Can’t fully start this glorious time of year without some sort of preview, so let’s get the narratives started right away. There is an obvious storyline hanging over everything with new offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and running game coordinator Lance Taylor. Usually, the coordinators don’t make a list like this; there isn’t a lot to be gleaned in the run-up to spring ball and during formal spring practices from the coordinators, but this year the spotlight will be on these two throughout. Practices are going to be over analyzed, and body language will be read. It’s going to be a whole thing all winter and spring, which will at least make it interesting.
Can Drew Pyne Challenge Brendan Clark For The Backup Role?
As is well known by now, Phil Jurkovec is off to Boston College, which opens up the backup quarterback spot. Sophomore Brendan Clark figures to be the leader in the clubhouse for that role; he was named the scout team player of the year on offense last season as a freshman and looked pretty good in spot duty during blowout wins. Given his experience, his familiarity with the offense, and the coaches, he’s a logical choice to be the back up next season.
But, incoming freshman quarterback Drew Pyne enrolled last week as an early entrant, after coming off of a strong performance in the Under Armour All-American bowl game and strong senior season. He finished the campaign as a top 200 overall player out of Connecticut. His strengths are similar to that of entrenched starter Ian Book, accuracy, mobility, and anticipation. He isn’t drastically different than Clark, but Clark is the bigger, more physically imposing athlete. It will be something to monitor throughout the offseason.
Who Is The Odd Man Out?
Notre Dame enters the spring with five scholarship players on the roster at running back–juniors Jafar Armstrong and Avery Davis, sophomores Jahmir Smith and C’Bo Flemister, and freshman Kyren Williams. We also know elite running back recruit Chris Tyree will be arriving in June, making the roster number six, should everyone stick around. That’s a lot of bodies and not enough carries to please all of them. We aren’t certain, but Tyree is likely to be a serious factor the moment he steps on campus, so being lower than third on the depth chart puts playing time in real peril.
The only player certain to see real carries is Jafar Armstrong, who, despite his battles with health and inconsistent play, has touched the ball 145 times on offense and scored eight touchdowns. We also know the coaches planned to feature him heavily in 2019 before his groin injury, so they already think a lot of him. More than likely, he is the full-time starter.
Beyond Armstrong is a bunch of question marks. Can Jahmir Smith earn a permanent role as the inside running back and change of pace to Armstrong? Where does Kyren Williams find a niche on offense? Can Avery Davis make an impression to hold off the incoming Tyree? Is Flemister really a big-play running back? Will be fascinating to keep track of.
Are Kevin Austin and Braden Lenzy Ready For The Big Time?
There is a big difference between you are going to help us win week after week, and you’re going to be the reason we win week after week. Chase Claypool was the reason Notre Dame won games last year. Miles Boykin the year before that. Claypool is now gone, and there isn’t anyone on the roster who is obviously ready to take on his role. Braden Lenzy helped Notre Dame win last year, though it was in spot duty. Kevin Austin didn’t even play, so the leap from not being any kind of factor to being a deciding factor is pretty big.
Notre Dame doesn’t need either of these guys to be Claypool next year to win, they didn’t have that in 2017, for example, but they do need at least one of them to be very dependable next season. Can Lenzy become the kind of route runner and pass catcher to really become a complete receiver? Can Austin live up to the hype that has accompanied him in the last few months (and there has been a lot of it)?
People forget about Austin since it’s been over a year since we saw him play in a game, but as a reminder, he was a top 100 player who Clemson wanted on their roster badly.
It's been a while so we forget, but Kevin Austin is, like, really good. pic.twitter.com/pW6tKGJZ5o
— Greg Flammang (@greg2126) January 11, 2020
Can Tommy Tremble Raise His Game?
The growth of Tommy Tremble would have been a story line regardless of Cole Kmet‘s decision, but it is every more so now that Kmet has moved on to the NFL. Tremble was inconsistent last off-season but showed enough flashes to earn himself some positive buzz. Such inconsistency was not a red flag for the redshirt freshman, it was expected, but now it would be seen as concerning. He’s the best pass catching tight end currently on the roster, and as much as people love the potential of incoming freshman Michael Mayer, Tremble is the one with real game action and the one who will tell the tale of the tight ends this upcoming season.
What Are The Reports Like?
Last off-season, the main talking point was we can’t glean anything about quarterback Ian Book from spring ball, and therefore the luke warm reports about his play were dismissed. But, then, his play was luke warm during the season, and suddenly those reports from practice were telling. I’m looking for something similar this season from the line. They will return all starters and the top backup from last year. They are loaded with recruiting ranking talent behind them. If we hear things like “meh, they were ok” and “I expected a little more dominance,” it’s not the end of the world, but it would be disconcerting. We want to hear about consistency and cohesion. We want to hear about the improvement from the freshman in their second spring ball, the none Josh Lugg backups.
The supposed main crux of the issue with the offensive line, disunity from Long and Quinn, is now gone, so it’s time to see some improvement and consistency. They are experienced, and they are talented. The excuses should be gone.