Hope Springs Eternal: Can Speed and Youth Boost Notre Dame in 2023? 

Spring football – just like baseball – is when hope springs eternal. The 2023 Notre Dame football team is veteran – with 18 returning starters from the January 1 Gator Bowl plus experienced and previous starter cornerback Cam Hart – and returning to health during this season of rejuvenation. 

In addition to the experience the Irish already had, they brought in significant transfers in quarterback Sam Hartman, defensive lineman Javontae Jean-Baptiste, safety Thomas Harper, and wide receiver Kaleb Smith. 

Still, Irish fans are filled with happy and halcyon thoughts of autumn days when speed and power dominated the House that Rockne built – days filled with punt returns from Rocket Ismail and power runs in the 90s by Jerome Bettis. Those days might not be far off. 

The Irish are loaded with skill players with speed and power – youth that has yet to break out but that has begun to bud, even blossom this spring. 

Tobias Merriweather’s deep ball spring practice catch, when covered tightly by fellow sophomore corner and pre-season All-American Benjamin Morrison, went viral amongst Irish faithful. He had shown glimpses of his bursts of speed in last season’s Stanford game when he hauled in a 40+ yard touchdown. Sophomore running back Jadarian Price, recovering from a torn Achilles, should be healthy this summer and have his bounce back. He may compete with senior running back/receiver convert Chris Tyree and Morrison for the fastest man on the team, and he is a home run waiting to happen.

Word out of spring camp is that sophomore running back Gi-Bran Payne is also making strides and is pushing the veteran backs Audric Estime and Logan Diggs. Freshman Jeremiyah Love has top-level speed as well. 

Freshmen receivers Braylon James, Jaden Greathouse, and Rico Flores Jr. have shown flashes in spring practice and bring a new element to the vertical game, especially with Hartman throwing the deep ball. 

On the defensive side of the ball, the freshman and sophomore linebacking corps are pushing the more experienced lads, and speedsters like Jaylen Sneed, Drayk Bowen, and Jaiden Ausberry, all top recruits, can fly around the field, cover sideline to sideline, and reach the backfield when called upon. The cornerback room has also elevated its talent level – with Morrison joined by Jaden Mickey and freshman Christian Gray. 

Estime, quite fast himself, will undoubtedly bring the power game. Receivers Smith and Jayden Thomas can play with physicality and have the size to beat smaller corners. 

Such a combination of speed and power on both sides of the ball, not to mention the offensive and defensive lines (an article is forthcoming), might give long-time Irish fans nostalgia for days when the Irish not only blocked punts but returned them for touchdowns and for days when Notre Dame was a top offensive power. 

Recent champions Georgia and LSU had high-powered offenses with highly-skilled receivers and running backs. They also had fast and loaded defenses. Spring is a time for hope, optimism, and maybe even nostalgia. 

Summer may be a time to temper expectations. 

Fall is when we’ll find out if all of these pieces can be put together into explosive offensive and defensive units. In the meantime, watching practice clips and hype videos is fun. If Merriweather can beat Morrision – sic, if Hartman can beat Morrison – that duo just might beat Ohio State’s, SC’s, and Clemson’s corners when the lights are on. 

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  1. Notre Dame will be more entertaining to watch this season with a top-notch QB, provided the offense is designed to properly take advantage of it.
    They might still lose some games, but they’re more likely to at least be competitive, entertaining losses than before….and if so, that is an improvement.

    Here’s why getting pumped up about playing for the national championship this year isn’t a good idea:
    Every other team has made improvements at lots of posoitions in the off-season, too. And more than (the magic number) 4 of those teams were already head and shoulders better than ND already.

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