At his introductory press conference opening spring practice on Friday, Brian Kelly made a number of announcements. He spoke on injuries, position moves, roster fluctuations, who would be featured, etc. There were some fairly obvious revelations–this is a big spring for soon to be sophomore quarterback Phil Jurkovec being one of them–and some interesting ones, such as Avery Davis moving to defensive back.
But, the two moves that caught my eye, one anticipated and one not, were the announcements of Chase Claypool moving to Miles Boykins boundary spot, and Houston Griffith moving to boundary corner from safety.
People openly speculated about Claypool taking over for Miles Boykin. Boykin was Notre Dame’s go to target last season, and Claypool seemed in line to succeed him. The conventional wisdom on Griffith was he’d stay at safety, given how well he played there last spring and the number of options Notre Dame had to do battle for the second corner position.
There will be some debate about both of these moves, especially Griffith, but they are both key to getting the most out of these two spots on the offense and defense in 2019.
Claypool is a pretty polarizing player. His narrative of being a guy who is complacent and doesn’t “bring it” every day in practice and games has colored the expectations people have set upon him. He’s mostly seen as not a #1 receiver, and not because of his ability, but of the belief he can’t handle it. Everyone concedes he’s got some of the most physical ability on the team, but we REALLY need Kevin Austin or Braden Lenzy or Lawrence Keys to step up in the absence of Boykin.
Nonsense. Claypool can do this.
He has improved his reception totals every season from five, to 29, to 50 last season, as well as his touchdowns from 0 to 2 to 4. The conventional wisdom is he can’t be a 60-70 catch guy, but if he continues to build on his previous seasons, I wonder why that is. Especially now that he’s Notre Dame’s best receiver. And moving him to the boundary should unlock some of the explosiveness that he and the offense has a whole haven’t been able to display on the passing game.
Claypool was targeted on a number of deep throws last season, with big catches against Syracuse and Northwestern immediately coming to mind, but they were situations where he had to turn and make the reception, not run underneath it for a bigger play. Because he was to the field side, which is a longer throw for a quarterback to make, and with Ian Book not possessing a huge arm, he can’t get the ball over the top when throwing to the field side.
In both the Syracuse and Northwestern receptions, he is running by the defenders, but then has to stop and turn. He makes the catch and the play ends. If either one of those balls is thrown out front of him, it’s a catch and run situation. Now Claypool gets to run those routes on the boundary, Books short side, which is much easier throw for him to make to lead him into a big play. And what happens when you’ve got an accurate, but not strong armed quarterback leading a big, streaking receiver down the boundary sideline? Big plays.
When Julian Love decided to take his talent to the NFL, my first thought was Houston Griffith. He was signed as a corner, reportedly wants to play corner, and there was an opening. Most thought he’d stay at safety, which is understandable, there is a lot of appeal to a player of his skill set playing in the middle of the field. But, his best position in the defense at this point is exactly where they moved him.
The first thing this move does is keep Troy Pride to the field, where he played last year and excelled. I never really like taking a player away from his strong suit to cover up a deficiency somewhere else. The thinking was, the next best corner is also a field corner, TaRiq Bracy, so just move Pride over. Maybe, but in a way, you’re weakening two positions. So by moving Griffith, you’re keeping Pride in his best spot, with Bracy to play behind him, and giving Griffith, DJ Brown, and Noah Boykin the chance to go at it on the boundary.
The second thing is Griffith is perfect to play in Love’s spot. He’s got very good size at 6-0, 200 pounds, and is a very physical player who loves to mix it up in the run game. And this is what he wants to do! He wants to be a corner and never underestimate what playing the position you want does for a player.
A secondary of Pride, Griffith, Gilman, and Elliott, with oh by the way true freshman Kyle Hamilton coming in to replace Griffith at safety. (Which is another reason to make this move, by the way. Hamilton and Griffith should not be competing for the same spot. Need both on the field.)
This moves gives Notre Dame the chance to get the most talent on the field at the same time in the secondary, while keeping everyone at their best positions. It’s what they call in the business, a win-win.