A lot of the time, freshmen are fun to talk about in the preseason, but give way to the experience once camp begins. Take last season for example. Most of the contributions Notre Dame saw from their rookies were on special teams (Jordan Genmark Heath/CJ Holmes), and in spot duty at receiver (Michael Young). The lone player who made a big impact on a game to game basis was offensive lineman Robert Hainsey, who rotated series at right tackle with Tommy Kraemer.
This season figures to be different as there are a number of true freshmen with a legitimate opportunity to make significant impacts on the field, outside of solely on special teams. Here I am going to give my percentage chances of the freshmen most frequently mentioned to be in the mix for playing time.
Often, the odds of a freshman earning their way onto the field fluctuate throughout fall camp; this space will be updated weekly throughout camp. Things are a little different with the new rule allowing players to compete in four games, while retaining a year of eligibility. I’m looking at the chances a player contributes on a week to week basis, not solely in spot duty while essentially redshirting the season.C;b
Houston Griffith, Safety: 100%
Griffith is currently the only lock on the roster to be a part of a regular rotation, if not earn a starting role outright. He has a number of things going in his favor: he enrolled early, he’s physically big enough to compete, he’s versatile, and the coaches love his game. Coach Kelly lauded his “functional intelligence” in his opening press conference, coach speak for he understands the game of football and possesses excellent instincts.
He’s going to play, a lot, the only question is if he beats out Jalen Elliott for the starting role, opposite of Alohi Gilman. Practically, it doesn’t really matter, my guess is all things being equal, Griffith and Elliott end up playing close to the same number of defensive snaps in 2018, as Elliott has also been playing at a high level.
Griffith, who was the top rated player according to the 247 composite rankings, appears to proving the experts correct.
Kevin Austin, Wide Receiver: 80%
Austin has been impressive through the summer and in the opening days of camp, and with his size and speed combination, it’s likely he finds his way into the receiver rotation. The biggest question for him will be consistency catching the ball, an area veterans Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool have struggled with throughout their careers. Austin showed tremendous hands as a high school player, that’s an area where he can separate himself from the others.
It’s difficult to say how much his time on the field will translate into stats, there are other variables at play there, e.g. play calling, quarterback play, who he is sharing the field with, etc. But, he is a gifted football player, with the size and strength to compete now. There is a chance he gets outplayed by someone like Javon McKinley for snaps, but if McKinley plays well enough to do that, then the coaches would find room for both of them in the rotation. Good chance this percentage moves up throughout camp.
Jahmir Smith, Running Back: 70%
This would be 100% if it wasn’t for C’Bo Flemister mounting a challenge over the summer, but given Smith’s arrival in the spring, size, and skill set as a pass receiver, odds are he will earn the primary backup spot behind Tony Jones Jr., with Jafar Armstrong being a change of pace player, entrenched at #2 no matter who else is in the rotation. The return of Dexter Williams looms, probably after week 4, but the chances of Jones Jr. not getting banged up at some point aren’t very good, and their doesn’t appear to be someone the coaches feel can handle the lions share of carries no matter what. I see Smith being a factor for Notre Dame’s fortunes this year.
Shayne Simon, Rover: 70%
Simon has gotten huge reviews for his work over the summer, which makes me think there is a 30% chance that Asmar Bilal and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah play well enough to keep Simon off of the field entirely. In other words, it’s possible but unlikely. Simon’s athleticism and strength is hard to turn away, he’s basically another Tranquill, though not quite as big, and likely a little better in coverage. Plus, he’s got the natural football ability coaches love, same reason Griffith is such a lock to see the field.
A plus for Simon, again like Griffith, is the absence of a rock solid incumbent. It would be a lot more difficult if Owusu-Koramoah and Simon were competing for time behind Tranquill. Those aforementioned players could both supplant Bilal and share the position between the two of them. I just don’t see Simon being left behind.
Phil Jurkovec, Quarterback: 50%
I wish it was lower, I really do. But, if Brandon Wimbush struggles to the point he needs to be removed from a game, especially early in the season, the coaches can go with Book in the short term, but with Jurkovec sitting there waiting for his turn, in that situation Jurkovec is going to be the guy. The only reason this is the case is Jurkovec has turned heads in the workouts leading into camp. He has impressed people. And let’s be honest, if Wimbush struggles, the team will need something to rally around, and the freshman quarterback will be just that.
Bo Baur, Linebacker: 30%
If he earns the back-up middle linebacker role, this number is going to go way up. Notre Dame wants to rotate their players, even their stars, so if Bauer is Coney’s backup, then he is going to play. He’s not their yet, but he is trending up.
C’Bo Flemister, Running back: 30%
He’s probably behind Jahmir Smith at the moment, and I can’t see the coaches going four deep for the season, especially whenever Dexter Williams returns. Even with injuries, it would be an uphill battle for him to be an impact player for Notre Dame. However, if he was to pass Smith on the depth chart, Flemister has a real chance.
Lawrence Keys, Wide Receiver: 20%
Keys looked good in the first two practices, showing wiggle in and out of routes and good hands. He’s got a ton of bodies ahead of him, though, and his play would have to take a couple of steps forward without a number of injuries. He’s done well enough for people to take notice though, which is meaningful.