We’re going to be national champions!
Ok, I didn’t like the scrimmage that much, but as far as spring games go, it was an enjoyable experience. There were a lot of things that happened, both good and bad, but I decided to focus on the good in this write up. Unless you’re a beat writer for the football team, this is everyone’s first extended look at the team. Why nit pick on the bad things when there were so many bright spots to point out?
This isn’t to say the team is a finished product by any means. They need to improve everywhere. But, it was a scrimmage in April, and the players realize that more than anyone. The intensity level just isn’t going to be there, so there is no point in stressing out over “X” player didn’t look that great to me. Unless it was one of the quarterbacks, and thankfully it wasn’t.
1. The Play At Quarterback
A lot of the talk surrounding Brandon Wimbush was his ability to raise his completion percentage to the 50’s, after completing 49% of his throws last season. He finished Saturday’s practice 19-33, for a 58% completion rate that featured a variance of pass attempts. He didn’t raise his percentage throwing screens and dump offs. He was accurate deep, on crossing routes, and on slant routes. All of those throws gave him trouble at times last season, and one wonders if Equanimeous St. Brown was watching somewhere and asking himself “where was that guy last season?”
Wimbush clearly has a chemistry with Miles Boykin, who he hit on a 45 yard pass, a 64 yard touchdown, and a nifty back shoulder throw up the sideline on 3rd and long to extend a touchdown drive. Wimbush having a security blanket in Boykin may be the best development of all this offseason. There was never the sense he had a great deal of chemistry with any one player in 2017. It could make a big difference in key moments next year.
While he was more accurate than most of last year, he still looks off balance a lot of the time while throwing the ball, and that’s a concern for me. He made some nice throws off of his back foot, but was needlessly leaning back, or he would be leaning one way and not fully planted. That makes me think he’s not fully confident in what he is seeing. In a real game, with higher stakes and charged up nerves, that can lead to errant throws and incompletions. And we’ve seen Wimbush let the moment get to him.
Ian Book looked more of the same, which is a solid player who can do what Wimbush can do, but scaled down just a little bit. Book becomes the best option when Wimbush is chucking the ball all over the yard. Book finished 17-30, 57% completions. If they are both going to throw 30+ passes and finish around the same percentage, it’s Wimbush every time due to his athleticism and bigger arm. He can make throws Book cannot. But, Notre Dame can win with Book, which makes the position overall very healthy heading into the summer.
2. Avery Davis And Jafar Armstrong
When position changes are announced, you always wonder if they are just plays to get guys involved because they won’t play elsewhere, especially the case with Davis. But, what we saw on Saturday shows both of these two should be factors in the fall.
Armstrong looked dynamic with the ball in his hands, scoring untouched on a 25 yard run, and taking a swing route out of the backfield and juking defenders for a nice gain. He has nice size and has some good wiggle to him. He reminded me a lot of Theo Riddick out there, though Armstrong has better physical skills. If this was your first time every watching Notre Dame football, you’d think #8 needed the ball more than #6.
Davis appears to have taken the move to running back/slot receiver very well. He looked and moved like a guy who is happy playing the position, which was nice to see. He caught the ball well and was slippery moving through defenders at various times. The only thing with Davis is it’s easy to see him playing and making a contribution, but whose snaps is he taking? Does he play over Armstrong? Does he take snaps from Chris Finke or Michael Young? Would he get Braden Lenzy’s snaps when he arrives in the summer? The good news is, if he does hit the field, I think he can do the job.
3. The Athleticism At Receiver
There were some drops that no one wants to see, but overall this is a group that is dangerous and can get open. I already talked about the play of Boykin, and Chase Claypool was frankly dominant. If he wakes up tomorrow and says “I’m going to do everything I can to be a first team all-American next year” then it’s going to happen. He possesses a skill set rarely seen in football.
Chris Finke, Michael Young, and Javon McKinley all made nice plays receiving, although Young’s fumble after a big gain was disheartening. This group is only going to get better with freshmen receivers Kevin Austin, Braden Lenzy, and Lawrence Keys coming in the summer. Should be a really nice season in the passing game if Wimbush can deliver the ball.
4. Jerry Tillery, Te’Von Coney, and Drue Tranquill
Not too much to say other than I’m glad these three decided to play football for Notre Dame in 2018. Makes a big difference. That’s it.
5. Ade Ogundeji
With the loss of Jay Hayes at defensive end, Ogundeji officially joins the rotation on the defensive line, and he acquitted himself nicely with six tackles and two sacks. The pass rushing moments were the best to see. It’s supposed to be his forte and a pass rushing threat opposite of Daelin Hayes or Julian Okwara is important. The question for Ogundeji is can he go from a couple snaps a game to around 30 and be effective? Time will tell on that, but we at least know he can be effective out there.
6. The Overall Athleticism On Defense
One of the best developments of the spring for me was the transition of several safeties to the linebacker position. Jordan Genmark Heath, Isaiah Robertson, and DJ Morgan all have moved to either Buck or Rover. This is how elite speed defensive units are built. Those guys can always add weight while bringing their physical skills to the position and next thing you know you have four players on the field who were either current of former safeties. That sort of move has already paid dividends with Drue Tranquill and I think it’s in keeping with the times of how football is being played now.
In another move I like a lot, Notre Dame now has three former corners playing the safety position in Nick Coleman, Houston Griffith, and Alohi Gilman (who started his Navy career at corner). Continuing the theme of getting athletes on the field and with the game is played today, more guys who can cover and are more adept in coverage is at a premium. Notre Dame is adapting it’s defense and style to fit the game and they have the pieces to do it. Of all the positives I saw Saturday, the most positive was how many times I saw a play and said “hey I like that guy, he can play.” This is a really deep roster, much more so than in the past.