Brian Kelly officially kicked off Notre Dame football’s 2019 training camp on Friday with his first press conference of the summer. Official practices start on Sunday in Culver Academy where the Irish will conduct five full practice sessions before returning to campus. One of the hot topics on Friday was the injury status of several players coming back from off-season injuries/surgeries. For the most part, the Irish enter camp as healthy as could have been expected.
Aaron Banks Is Full Go
One of the most significant injury concerns this summer was the off-season foot surgery for starting guard Aaron Banks. Foot injuries for offensive linemen can be scary because they can linger… and linger. Big men and foot injuries are not a great combo.
Luckily for Notre Dame, Kelly said on Friday that Banks’s surgery went well and his recovery couldn’t have gone better. Kelly said Banks is a full go. It wouldn’t be surprising if he was eased into action a little so they don’t rush things. Any concerns that he wouldn’t be ready for the opener, however, should be firmly put to rest.
Trevor Ruhland surprised, in a good way
Another question along the offensive line was Notre Dame’s utility man lineman – Trevor Ruhland. Kelly said, however, that Ruhland has been a great surprise this off-season and it sounds like he could be a factor. Given his injury history, he will not be a potential long term starter. He could, however, be called upon in a pinch if Notre Dame’s a fill-in for a game or two.
If Notre Dame were to need a long-term replacement as they did a year ago when Alex Bars was lost for the year, don’t expect it to be Rhuland. Because of the toll injuries have already had on him at a young age, he’s more of a spot-starter and short term replacement when needed. Having him, even in that limited role though, is a plus.
Chase Claypool’s Ankle is Fine
Notre Dame’s expected top wide receiver, Chase Claypool, had off-season ankle surgery but Brian Kelly said he was fine heading into camp. Kelly did mention that they will likely ease him back into action over the first week of camp so that he is peaking for week one against Louisville.
It will be very interesting to see who gets any extra reps with Claypool “easing back” into action – especially with the uncertain status of Kevin Austin. Kelly did not do much to add clarity there on Friday.
Shaun Crawford, Donte Vaugh fully cleared
Fifth-year senior defensive back Shaun Crawford is fully cleared after suffering his second ACL injury and third major knee injury overall in his young career. Crawford is expected to be the top nickel back for the Irish this fall if he can stay healthy. The problem is, he has only done that once in his career back in 2017.
Crawford was a disruptive force when on the field. Given the injury history though, it is safe to wonder if he can recapture that 2017 form. At the same time, it’s impossible not to be rooting very, very hard for Crawford to regain that form after all he’s been through.
Senior cornerback Donte Vaughn is fully cleared as well after playing part of 2018 with a torn labrum that required off-season surgery. He missed all of spring practice as he recovered. Many will write Vaughn off after his rough second quarter in the Cotton Bowl, but that would be a mistake.
Jamion Franklin Cleared, but is Hunter Spears?
Brian Kelly confirmed that sophomore defensive tackle Jamion Tackle was cleared, but he was a little less clear on freshman Hunter Spears. “Spears had a really good summer for us,” Kelly said after saying Franklin was “full go.” Having a really good summer doesn’t necessarily mean that Spears is a full go.
Getting Franklin back is critical for Notre Dame’s rotation on the interior of the defensive line as we’ve written about a few times this off-season.
It’s not surprising to me that Kelly was less committal on Spears. He suffered two ACL injuries during his high school career, so it makes sense to be overly cautious with him. It would be nice if Notre Dame could get some reps out of him in the fall given some questionable depth in the middle, but I wouldn’t count on it.