We all know the top line storylines to watch during Saturday’s Notre Dame Blue – Gold Game and the major position battles to watch such as linebacker. Notre Dame’s annual intrasquad scrimmage, however, is also a great opportunity to get a glimpse of some players who the Irish will be counting on down the road, if not this fall. Here’s seven backups the Irish will need in the future
Tommy Tremble (TE)
Much of the focus at tight end this spring has rightfully been on Cole Kmet and his potential to make the position a weapon in the Notre Dame offense again. Not a whole lot of time has been devoted to Tommy Tremble as Notre Dame’s 3rd tight end though and maybe it should have been.
Brock Wright is finding his niche in the offense as the second tight end in more of a traditional inline blocking role. Recent reports out of spring ball, however, indicate that Tremble is going to force his way onto the field in 2019 and that his speed is going to be a problem for almost any defense to account for.
Chip Long loved using multiple tight end sets in the past but hasn’t had a chance to really do that at Notre Dame – at least not in a capacity where both tight ends are legit receiving threats. He might be able to do that this year. Look for Tremble to get some good looks this weekend.
Joe Wilkins (WR)
There’s been a ton of digital ink spent talking about the Notre Dame wide receivers this spring. Chase Claypool is looking like a legit #1. Michael Young is establishing himself as a starter. Chris Finke has been uncoverable (if that’s a word). Braden Lenzy’s been flashing the elite speed he’s always had. Lawrence Keys has been making strides as the backup slot receiver. Kevin Austin might be the best of them all if he puts it all together.
All the while, rising sophomore Joe Wilkins has been quietly having a strong spring as well. The converted cornerback isn’t the “best” at any one characteristic such as Lenzy being the fastest, Claypool the biggest, etc. Wilkins has just been pretty damn good in all areas.
How much, if at all Wilkins plays this fall still largely remains to be seen. The spring game is a prime time to get Wilkins some playing time this weekend though to give the staff an idea of what he can do in a game situation.
Josh Lugg (OT)
The Irish line took a predictable step backwards last year after losing Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey to the NFL. This year, the Notre Dame offensive line is reportedly going to be pretty good. Four of the five starters return and Jarrett Patterson has been running as the first team center since practice #1 and hasn’t looked back.
Part of the reason for all the optimism on the line is that there is some quality depth behind a starting five that has elite taent. Junior to be Josh Lugg is a big part of that depth as one of Notre Dame’s key backups. Trevor Ruhland will be the Swiss Army Knife of the reserves assuming he’s fully healthy in the fall, but Lugg will be the guy that Notre Dame turns too should they need a long term replacement similar to how Aaron Banks stepped in last year following the injury to Alex Bars.
With some of his classmates and now younger players like Patterson in the starting lineup already, Jeff Quinn will need to keep Lugg engaged and ready to step in when needed. Lugg would be starting at a lot of schools right now already so that will take some coaching on Quinn’s part.
Derrik Allen (S)
Allen arrived last summer with a lot of fanfare as a fringe 5-star player. Most services felt he was just outside that classification. As such, expectations were sky high last fall. Allen struggled adjusting to the college game and in picking up the defense though and didn’t see the field even on special teams.
With Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman firmly locked in as the starting safeties, there was never going to be a realistic chance of Allen challenging for a starting role in 2019. This year is absolutely crucial though for his development as Notre Dame needs Allen ready to start in 2020.
Early reports out of spring practice were that Allen was still struggling a bit, but recent reports indicate that maybe the light is starting to come on for Allen and that his development is about to kick into gear. He’s easily one of the most intriguing defensive reserves to watch for on Saturday.
Avery Davis (CB)
When Brian Kelly announced that Avery Davis was moving to corner to open spring practice, the move was met with a bit of skepticism. Just 13 months ago Davis was a quarterback. Then he moved to wide receiver / running back and was supposed to have a prominent role in the offense. That never materialized after some early season struggles.
The move felt like a last ditch attempt to get his athleticism on the field. Well, the move looks like it might have paid off. Davis is considered the frontrunner, right now, for the slot cornerback position. At least until Shaun Crawford returns and Notre Dame sees how he looks after his third major injury.
Davis will very likely be lined up as the top slot corner on Saturday and how he handles the position will be interesting to watch. He’s got very little experience playing corner so there should be some growing pains. If they are minimal, it’s a good sign.
Ovie Oghoufo (DE)
Notre Dame’s top four defensive ends are locked in and will give Notre Dame one of the nation’s strongest groups. Who saw that coming just two years ago? The player to watch here though is rising sophomore Ovie Oghoufo. The converted linebacker moved to DROP DE this spring and has been impressing ever since.
Still just 230 lbs, Oghoufo still needs a lot of time in the weight room to be ready to be a frontline player, but looked towards 2020, Notre Dame will be replacing three of those four top DE’s. They will need Oghoufo ready by then. All signs are pointing to that happening with Brian Kelly even going so far as calling him the next Julian Okwara for Notre Dame earlier this spring.
In a game like the Blue – Gold game where just getting near the quarterback results in a whistle, Oghoufo should show Irish fans a glimpse of the potential he’s been flashing to the staff all spring.
Last on our list, but certainly not least, is early enrollee Jacob Lacey. With limited depth on the interior of the defensive line this year, Notre Dame was going to need a freshman to provide some depth. Thankfully Lacey was an early enrollee and thankfully he’s shown up ready for such a role.
Lacey has been impressive all spring in terms of strength and being physically ready to play – a rarity for true freshman interior linemen. Like any true freshman the lingering concern will be not if, but when he hits the freshman wall. Until then, it will be interesting to watch how Lacey handles himself on Saturday against what we know will be a strong Notre Dame offensive line.
There’s plenty of other players to watch on Saturday as well, but these seven players will be key for Notre Dame in 2020, if not in 2019 already.