Notre Dame Football’s Depth Chart Release Offers Up Some Surprises

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly released the seasons initial depth chart and spoke about the team during a Monday press conference of the seasons first game week.

First, we made it, the season is here! Second, we finally have confirmation from Brian Kelly about where the team is and what we can expect heading into next Saturday’s opener against Duke.

Before getting into the particulars of the depth chart itself, it’s important to note the run up to the season was obviously a bit unorthodox this year with players missing practice due to COVID/contact tracing events. Because we don’t know who missed practice and how many practices were missed, we can’t know for sure how much COVID played a role in affecting who is starting where.

That said, let’s break this down a bit.

The Core Of The Team Is Intact

Quarterback Ian Book is listed as the starter and the projected starters on the offensive and defensive lines (plus their key backups) are right where you’d expect them to be. While this is unsurprising it also very important. Aside from COVID, players get lost to injury all the time in fall camp, and it appears Notre Dame has been able to avoid that here.

Good teams are built at quarterback and on both lines, three of Notre Dame’s greatest strengths in 2020. If want a reason to be optimistic about the season, these position groups are the place to find it.

Youth At Running Back

Redshirt freshman Kyren Williams has earned the starting role with true freshman Chris Tyree listed as the first backup. I’ve written about both players this offseason and this is a very good development in my eyes. They provide the best mix of natural running ability, versatility, athleticism, and big-play potential. They are also the team’s highest-rated running backs. This is what they were recruited for. Combined with the veteran offensive line, they should be set up for success in week 1 and beyond.

Surprises At Wide Receiver

The receiver depth chart definitely raised some eyebrows with the listed starters being Ben Skrowronek, Javon McKinley, and Avery Davis with Braden Lenzy backing up McKinley and Lawrence Keys backing up Davis.

There had been some talk about COVID affecting the receiver room, which could explain Lenzy and Keys being listed at backups, because otherwise it’s head scratching. These aren’t exactly inexperienced players and Lenzy is the teams most proven playmaker returning on offense. And Lenzy has done it against some of the best teams on the schedule, from multiple positions. This isn’t a knock on McKinley, who reportedly has had a very good camp, but Lenzy’s potential is immense. McKinley is the type of player that can help the team win. Lenzy is the type of player that can be the reason the team wins. Heck, I wrote a piece that Notre Dame should build their offense around him, so to see him in a non-starters role is surprising to say the least. We’ll see how that plays out.

As far as Davis over Keys, we have to believe that Davis has done things in practice not yet seen in games. Aside from New Mexico, Davis hasn’t exactly shown much and we’ve seen Keys perform as a starter and kick returner in every contest last season. This is another one to keep an eye on.

Another Surprise At Buck Linebacker

The buzz the last couple of weeks was Jordan Genmark Heath and Jack Lamb were going to be the players at Buck for the defense with the former being a run down player and the latter taking over on passing downs, as he did last season. To quote the immortal Lee Corso, not so fast my friends.

Shayne Simon and Marist Liufau were listed as the co-starters today, probably with a similar arrangement. Simon entered with a lot of fanfare as a very highly recruited player, but it took him some time to get his feet under him and to find a position. If he has done that now, playing alongside JOK and Drew White should certainly give him comfort and free him up to be a playmaker. Liufau has been highly thought of since he arrived on campus last summer and he’s apparently parlayed his athleticism into a role on the team. Between those two players and the incumbent starters White and Owusu-Koramoah, maybe the talk of this team being one of the fastest ever at Notre Dame wasn’t so outlandish after all.

Shortly after the depth chart we released, we learned that Genmark-Heath has decided to finish his academic career at Notre Dame this fall and then pursue other opportunities in football. He will not be apart of the Fighting Irish roster this fall.

Freshman Clarence Lewis Surging At Corner

In another pretty big shocker, true freshman Clarence Lewis might very well win the field corner job over presumed starter TaRiq Bracy. Brian Kelly spoke of Lewis today in comparison to Keivarae Russell in 2012, and I need not remind you Russell was a 13 game starter for that eventual 12-1 defensive outfit. If Lewis is performing at that level then Bracy has to be playing at a very high clip to beat him out, which is great for the defense as a whole and the cornerback group specifically.

The Shaun Crawford/Kyle Hamilton Safety Combo Lives

Shaun Crawford’s name was listed first on the depth chart under strong safety, so he will be joining Hamilton on the back end, opening up a number of possibilities for the defense. Kelly said Crawford was initially moved to safety for packages and then he went and won the position outright. Say what you want about Shaun Crawford, the young man will not be held down. I imagine this move was made easier by the emergence of Clarence Lewis at corner, making the five best defensive backs Nick McCloud, Lewis, Bracy, Hamilton, and Crawford. Meaning when Notre Dame brings five defensive backs onto the field, it’ll be four corners and Kyle Hamilton who doesn’t give up receptions. Oh and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. Did you feel a tingle down your spine as well?

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  1. Bruce,

    Brian Kelly’s strongest team, really? Can you please name me one “proven” gamebreaker on the offense at the skill position other than Lenzy who isn’t even starting?

    It may be a deeper roster, but it surely isn’t the strongest roster.

  2. I think we will all be pleasantly surprised by how well J McKinley plays this year. Healthy, I expect him to lead in receptions and yards from scrimmage. Out from under the shadow of Claypool, I think he will shine.

  3. I dont know why Braden Lenzy is not starting other than the fact it was due to missing some training camp. Last year when healthy he really started to emerge and has great speed. He made big plays both running and receiving. I dont want to be critical of Kelly because he has shown in the past to play young talent over experienced players. Got to get Lenzy and Tyree on the field together as much as possible.

  4. This is Coach Kelly’s strongest team, and by far, his deepest team. I’ve seen broadcasts of 4 games this year and 3 of the 4 were total massacres. I have not seen NAVY lose that badly in decades! This virus has got to be influencing the ability of some teams to prep for the season. If this continues (and I hope it doesn’t) perhaps the NCAA should introduce a continuous clock for the fourth quarter if any team is down by more than 35 points going into Q4 (a slaughter rule).
    It’s a little sad for me to miss the home opener in 2020. I’ve only missed one home opener since 1975.
    These guys are doing potentially dangerous work playing during the pandemic. But it is good for the morale of the country. We will not have to sit home every weekend watching a rerun of some game from 20 years ago that was not interesting to many of us back then, much less now. These college and pro football players may not realize it but what they are doing, although it’s only a game, may go pretty far in comforting the population. And grocers, mailmen, truckers, gas station employees, teachers and other “essential” workers are risking just as much or more, so the players are not alone by a longshot; heroes we can all count on. Sometimes “just doing your job” is enough to make you a hero.
    “Bat Breath” kills people…wear your masks and stay away from crowds.

    BGC ’77 ’82

    1. Great post BGC.
      Heroes come in all genders, shapes, sizes, and occupations. When we start paying them as “essential”, and providing them all with paid sick leave and health insurance, we’ll all be safer and the better for it as a society. Oh!, happy day! Let it be!
      I agree the apparent significant depth on this team at this point is a new and appreciated component of this 2020 team. The surprise SS starter Crawford could play out as an excellent decision, with what he’s overcome and his proven playmaking ability.
      I suspect the depth-chart demotion of starters like Bracy, Keys, Lenzy, and Lamb suggest they might have been CoVid quarantine related setbacks and lost prep time and, with the kind of depth this team apparently has, I’m not surprised. Or maybe SB Davis, WR McKinley, CB Lewis and Buck LBs Simon and Liufau just excelled to the point they have become the “best man in”? Regardless, I agree that the start of this season brings a degree of normalcy we all can appreciatively anticipate. Here’s hoping the season continues without substantial spikes and setbacks.
      And as Frank wrote, “Good teams are built at quarterback and on both lines, three of Notre Dame’s greatest strengths in 2020. If want a reason to be optimistic about the season, these position groups are the place to find it.”
      Go Irish.

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