When Brian Kelly held a Zoom press conference last week and was asked about which freshmen have stood out as being likely instant contributors he rattled off a few names, but one glaring omission was freshman wide receiver, Jordan Johnson. Some of the early practice videos, however, suggests the top-50 recruit is closer to the top than the bottom of the depth chart.
Here’s a quick clip that Notre Dame released of NC State graduate transfer Nick McCloud breaking up a pass from Ian Book intended for… Jordan Johnson.
First, great coverage and break on the ball by McCloud. With limited experience in the secondary other than TaRiq Bracy and 6th year senior Shaun Crawford, Notre Dame needs McCloud to be more like the 2018 version of himself as opposed to the 2019 version that missed most of the season for the Wolfpack.
Back to Johnson though. It’s one small clip, but it is significant that Johnson was going up against one of the potential presumed starting corners and taking passes from the starting quarterback this early in camp.
With the injury to Kevin Austin, there is an opening for playing time at wide receiver for the Irish. The conventional wisdom here is just that Northwestern graduate transfer Bennett Skowronek takes over for Austin until he’s back. Skowronek isn’t flashy, but he is a big, tall, reliable target who will move the chains.
Austin was expected to be much more than a chain mover though. He was expected to be a dynamic, game-changing wide receiver in a similar mold to what Chase Claypool provided in 2019. Johnson is seen as that kind of wide receiver as well. He is the highest-rated recruit in the last decade of Notre Dame football.
Now, usually when Kelly is asked the obligatory “which freshmen will see the field this fall” question early in camp he, like almost every coach, tends to be strategic in his answer so we shouldn’t read too much into the fact that he didn’t mention Johnson. He did mention Chris Tyree by name, but given the hype surrounding Tyree and the need at running back, he basically had to.
As of right now, the only two games Notre Dame has scheduled before October are a home game against Duke and a road game against Wake Forest (there’s still an option date with the Western Michigan game getting canceled). Austin conceivably should be back by Florida State’s visit on October 10 (that is not an official timeframe, but based on the nature of the injury and typical recovery time). Those two games that he’ll miss look like golden opportunities to get Johnson on the field early to see what the frosh has.
If Notre Dame can get Johnson some reps under his belt early in the season and have Austin back to full strength well in advance of Clemson’s visit on November 7, the Irish offense could be one of the best we’ve seen in the Brian Kelly era.