Notre Dame kicked off spring practice for 2021 on Saturday. Following the first practice of the year, Brian Kelly met with the media and provided some injury updates for the Fighting Irish as they look to build on their second playoff appearance in three years this year. As expected, Notre Dame will be without several key players who they will hopefully have back at full strength for
Kyle Hamilton (S)
We’ve known for a while that Notre Dame’s best player and likely 2022 1st round NFL Draft pick would be at best limited this spring, but we learned on Saturday that Hamilton would be out for all 15 spring practices. Brian Kelly did say that Hamilton is improving and that despite not seeing action this spring, they have been working to put him in a leadership role for 2021.
Hamilton’s absence leaves many reps for the taking in spring, but the more interesting battle is still opposite Hamilton at safety. Houston Griffith explored a graduate transfer before returning to Notre Dame and likely has the inside track at this point though he’ll face some competition from DJ Brown.
With Hamilton out, there is an opportunity for one of the younger safeties like KJ Wallace and Ajavon Litchfield to start making their move for 2022 when Hamilton will likely be off to the NFL if all goes as expected this fall.
Kevin Austin, WR
2020 was, unfortunately, a lost season for Kevin Austin. He was widely expected to step into the starting lineup and pick up where Chase Claypool left off in 2019. That never happened. Austin got hurt in fall camp, tried to return in October, and ultimately reinjured his foot. The reinjury caused Austin to have off-season surgery that will shelf him for spring as well.
If Austin is ever able to stay on the field, the talent is there for a special player, but it’s getting close to wonder if things will ever fall into place for him at Notre Dame.
With Austin out and Javon McKinley and Bennett Skowronek getting ready for the NFL Draft, there are a lot of reps out there this spring. Seniors Lawrence Keys, Braden Lenzy, and Joe Wilkins have all flashed but have never been consistent threats. Sophomores Jordan Johnson and Xavier Watts, and early enrollee Lorenzo Styles are all worth watching this spring as well.
Jarrett Patterson, OL
Notre Dame football’s offensive line fell off last year after Patterson was lost for the season in November. He’ll be out again this spring with the same injury, and his absence is the most significant loss for the Fighting Irish this spring. The injury shouldn’t linger into fall camp, but it’s not hyperbole to say that Notre Dame’s offensive line rebuild in 2021 hinges on Patterson.
Patterson is the only 2020 opening day starter returning in 2021, but the plan isn’t for him to start at center again in 2021. Patterson was recruited to be a tackle and that is where’ll be lining up in the summer when he is healthy again.
We know Zeke Correll, the first-team center this spring, can play center from when he filled in for Patterson at the end of the 2020 season. We haven’t seen Patterson play tackle on the collegiate level yet, but the entire OL rebuild plan hinges on Patterson making a seamless transition.
Jacob Lacey, NT
Jacob Lacey was unable to build on an impressive freshman season last year after injuries slowed him. Lacey will sit out this spring because of a shoulder injury. Luckily, the Notre Dame football roster is deep and talented on the interior of the defensive line, but getting Lacey back at 100% for the 2021 season would certainly be ideal for the Fighting Irish defensive line.
Notre Dame is so deep on the inside of the defensive line that there is a good chance that the Irish experiment with kicking a DT or two outside where depth and experience are not quite as strong.
Notre Dame’s most significant loss on the defensive side of the ball is at ROVER, where Jeremiah Owusu Koramoah is off to the NFL. Paul Moala tore his Achilles in Notre Dame’s win over Florida State in October, but Brian Kelly said he would be able to participate in some capacity in spring ball. Kelly specifically mentioned Moala being able to take part in some 7 on 7 drills.
The entire linebacking corps will be fun to watch this spring, with new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman taking over the Fighting Irish linebackers’ tutelage. The ROVER position has been retained in name, but in practice, we won’t know how different the role might be in Freeman’s defense.
Brendon Clark, QB
This one shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has been following Brian Kelly’s comments about the quarterbacks since December. Brendon Clark will not be taking part in spring practice and the quarterback competition to replace Ian Book. Clark’s future remains in doubt after he was shut down in December with a knee injury. He’ll be re-evaluated in the summer, but unfortunately, it looks like things are trending more towards a medical hardship.
With Clark unable to participate in the quarterback race, it’s a three-man competition between Wisconsin graduate transfer Jack Coan, Drew Pyne, and early enrollee Tyler Buchner.