The Notre Dame football team is a little less than halfway through spring practice, with seven practices in and another seven prior to the final scrimmage on May 1st. While the Notre Dame beat reporters have not been able to attend any of the practices, the football team has been releasing three-minute videos to the public after each practice. Usually, we’d never be getting access to this kind of footage, with numerous shots of team scrimmages, one on one’s, and seven-on-seven actions. So, while it’s been bad for the beat, it’s been great for the casual fan.
Because of this access, it’s a lot easier for us to make some of our own observations, rather than rely on others to tell us what they see. So let’s do that now, starting with the offense, position by position. And before we get into it, I just want to point out that the video clips do not portray a team that is going through the motions of spring practice. Everything feels competitive and high level. It could very easily be just the way it’s edited, and if so great job by them, but it has stuck out every time.
Brian Kelly said the quarterbacks were competing for a shot to start and he told no lies on that front. Drew Pyne has consistently gotten reps with the #1 unit and has looked pretty good from what has been released. There is a tendency to say “well it’s a three minute highlight video, of course he looks good” and that’s true, but if the plays aren’t happening then they can’t be shown. For example, a perfect dime for a touchdown to Lawrence Keys while sidestepping the rush is just good football, no two ways about it.
All in all, Pyne strikes me as hitting the “I won’t freak out if he’s got to play in real games” mark at this point, which is an important development if he is ultimately the backup.
Brian Kelly said today Jack Coan had a stronger arm than they anticipated, and he sure has shown it off in the clips, with deep ball after deep ball. Over the past couple videos, Coan has seen more and more of the one’s so far, and is the odds on favorite to win the job. And let’s be honest, that’s what he was brought in to do. He’s reportedly looked good, has shown strong leadership and chemistry with the offense, and he can really spin it. So far so good at quarterback at the moment.
Kelly also said Tyler Buchner has made the biggest improvements since spring started, noting he also had the most to learn. He’s picked his game up according to Kelly over the last couple of practices, which is obviously nice to hear. He’s predictably behind the other two at the moment, but he slings the ball pretty well and has been a playmaker with his arm more than once. A long way to go for him, but continued improvement is important.
Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree are just exciting. They are fun to watch, fun to think about, fun to draw up schemes for, it’s all just a fun time. Both can run inside, outside, block, catch, and are ultra competitive. Kyren Williams was looking for contact crossing the goal line in scrimmage for goodness sakes.
Interestingly we’ve seen a good amount if clips with Tyree being used for jet sweep motions with Williams in the backfield and Tyree coming from a slot position, which opens up a ton of possibilities in the run game, the RPO game (which we’ve seen a lot of), and the passing game. The more these two are on the field, the better, and with Tyree gaining a years worth of experience, a heavier load makes a lot of sense for him.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
This wide receiver group is very interesting because they are all standing out at the moment. We’ve seen a ton from Xavier Watts in the clips, Jordan Johnson, Lawrence Keys, and Braden Lenzy have all been singled out by Kelly as having great springs so far (and we’ve seen them making a bunch of plays as well). In every video Joe Wilkins is making some kind of play and Avery Davis has been lauded for being a leader of the group. It’s been an impressive spring all around, but there is a lingering question of what exactly Notre Dame has here. It will likely not be till fall when (if?) Kevin Austin is finally healthy and there’s been a summer of development. At the moment though, there is a lot of excitement in the air.
One area where there is no kind of question is around tight end Michael Mayer, who is ready to be a star. He’s all over the field, he catches everything, he’s targeted a bunch, it all looks great. If they shut him down for the rest of the spring I’d be fine with it, we know what we’ve got.
Early enrollee Cane Berrong has been earning very positive reviews so far, with George Takacs and Kevin Bauman looking good as well. I’d say the latter have looked good enough to where three tight end sets aren’t out of the question when Notre Dame wants to get big, but I think a base two tight end set is a thing of the past with the emergence of Tyree and the receivers, plus the departure of Tommy Tremble.
The story of the spring is the play of Tosh Baker and Blake Fisher at left tackle, especially Fisher. Baker had some momentum from the previous season on his side, plus a year in the weight room, so his ascent in play wasn’t all that surprising, though it was needed given the amount of turnover on the line. He seems like a player for the Irish at one of the tackle spots in the fall.
The wild card is early enrollee freshman Fisher, who most had pegged to be a guard, but has been sharing first team reps with Baker all spring. Not only has he impressed the coaches, but the onlookers at practice as well, former players and the like. Fisher has apparently looked good to the point where it’d be an upset if he didn’t see the field regularly in 2021, and it’s become old hat to point out he’s working with the first team in the video clips since it happens every time.
Given the absence of Jarrett Patterson for the spring, Notre Dame’s best lineman who is going to start somewhere, the rest of the line is in flux until we see where he ends up. But, if Notre Dame has two guys who can play left tackle, and both have positional flexibility, it’s possible we see all three on the field at once come the fall. Stay tuned for that.