Redshirt freshman linebacker Jaylen Sneed led the gold team with 7 tackles, and his redshirt freshman counterpart Nolan Ziegler led the blue team with 10 tackles. Though the blue team did give up 24 points, the speedy youngsters on defense are starting to emerge.
On the offensive side, Head Coach Marcus Freeman addressed the ongoing quarterback battle.
When asked to put the quarterback competition in perspective, Freeman noted that it is still a battle. “No, I think we still have a quarterback battle. You can’t determine winning or losing based off one practice… practice 15,” he said. “There’s a lot that goes into a quarterback battle but also quarterback play – we’ve got some protection issues, we’re dropping balls – I’m always going to defend the quarterbacks.”
“Both of them [graduate transfer Sam Hartman and redshirt sophomore Tyler Buchner] are tremendously talented.”
Hartman impressed fans and his coach alike with his pinpoint passing, his 13-16, 189-yard, two-touchdown day that shredded the blue team’s defense. His longest pass was 46 yards, so he showed that he is more than capable of hitting the deep ball.
“I don’t want to downplay the performance that Sam Hartman put on either,” Freeman said. “He played really well. It’s good to see Sam play well in his first real game-like experience at Notre Dame Stadium.”
Buchner struggled a bit more, but, as Freeman noted, he didn’t receive much help from his offensive line or some receivers who dropped balls. On one play, he specifically didn’t receive helpful advice from his head coach.
“He’s consistently improved… I don’t know what the stats will say… protection, we didn’t protect that well on that side of the ball, with the blue team. We had some dropped balls,” Freeman said.
“I told him I gotta take responsibility for the pick (thrown to redshirt senior safety Xavier Watts). On third down, I told him it was cover 2, and it ended up not being cover 2.”
Freshman wide receiver Jaden Greathouse was all over the field, targeted by Hartman 13 times for 11 completed passes and 118 yards, with a long of 21. He also had 18 yards after catch, showing he has both the route-running and strength to be a difference-maker as a freshman.
“He stuck out. He played well. All three of those freshmen (receivers Greathouse, Rico Flores, and Braylon James) will play for us this year,” Freeman said.
“It’s good to see Jaden step up today… all three of them have been really, really good additions throughout the spring. That wasn’t just a one-time performance.”
The Irish are about four months from 2023’s first game, in Week 0 in Dublin, Ireland; they are a month and a half from summer workouts and fewer than three months from fall practice.
Freeman was asked what he noticed about his second year of spring ball and the difference from his first year. “Second year in the same system, same scheme, same coaches, a lot of the same players, they’re at a different level than they were last year,” he said.
“Last year, they were still trying to figure out what this [Defensive Coordinator] Al Golden scheme is and how to run it. Offensively you’ve just seen a great progression… from us naming Gerard Parker [Offensive Coordinator] to the new additions to the coaching staff to Sam Hartman. I’m most pleased with the offense with the progression from one to fifteen and with the defense with the ability to practice at a high level and be consistent throughout the spring.”
There’s still time to get better, but Freeman senses the urgency. Week 0 will be here before you know it.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to perform at a high level on Week 1 – or Week 0, for that matter,” Freeman said.
Can the Irish make a leap in Freeman’s year two? Freeman knows the clock is ticking, and he’s asking his team to put in the work to become more consistent than they were last year.
Continuity (with the hire of Parker) and experienced players who have been in Freeman’s and Golden’s system, the development of the young guys Freeman has brought in, and consistency just may lead to the year two jump Freeman is looking for.