The Notre Dame football team will begin their quest later this week to earn a playoff berth and chance at a title. Fall camp will open at the Culver Academy, and there will be reports upon reports about how the team is doing, interviews, and speculation. It’s truly a great time of year. Football is (almost) back!
Here are the most interesting battles, scenarios, and big picture items position by position. It can be hard to digest all of the content coming out of fall camp, see this as a guide to navigate your way through.
What Percentage Of Reps Is Phil Jurkovec Receiving?
According to reports from summer practices, Jurkovec has been more than impressive, with a source telling The Athletic’s Pete Sampson that “the Jurkovec thing is happening”. Meaning he will be what everyone thinks he can be.[Related: How many games will Phil Jurkovec play in for Notre Dame in 2018?]
But, in the world of quarterbacks, reps in practice are the only thing that matters, and if he is getting a paltry share of them, then, barring injury, he won’t be a factor for Notre Dame in games over at least the first month.
There is reason to believe he won’t be receiving those reps as well. Notre Dame has to get Wimbush ready, he is the top priority, and Book is someone they see as an emergency option to be inserted in the event of an injury or poor play to the starter. While he’s been in the program and may not “need” the reps as much as Jurkovec, he’s far from a finished product. It does the team a disservice if he isn’t sharp and ready to go.
However, if you see Jurkovec at least splitting reps with Book, it’s in play for him to win the backup spot. And winning the backup spot could mean the Jurkovec era is just around the corner.
Is Dexter Williams Getting First Team Reps?
There has been a lot of speculation around the status of Williams since a rumor surfaced he would be suspended for the first four games. We can be pretty sure Brian Kelly won’t ever confirm this. He didn’t with Kevin Stepherson last season. We’ll know how much validity the rumors have based on which teams he is running with.[Related: Meet Notre Dame Football’s new starters for 2018]
If he’s taking handoffs early from Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book, his availability for Michigan could be a little more rosy than previous considered. If he’s mainly working with Jurkovec, then for all intents and purposes he will be out and unavailable for the opener.
Without having to get too much into it, this would be a very bad thing. Not a death knell by any means, but it makes the task much harder.
What Is The Chemistry Between Chase Claypool And Miles Boykin With Brandon Wimbush?
There are a lot of fun angles at receiver: Are the freshman getting reps, what are the different lineup combinations, etc. But, the most important storyline is whether or not the top two targets in the receiving corps are meshing with the starting quarterback.[Related: Notre Dame has the depth to replace Equanimeous St. Brown in 2018]
Unfortunately, this is not a given. Wimbush didn’t have particularly good feel for any receiver last season, although he was most efficient throwing to Claypool and Boykin in 2017. Wimbush is looking to take the next step in his passing performance and how he ended the season, his ability to develop an on-field rapport with his top cohorts is the key.
Are Cole Kmet and Alize Mack dominant?
The potential for a huge advantage at tight end in 2018 is exciting. Chip Long loves to feature his tight ends, Kmet and Mack are two highly rated players, and it can kelp mitigate the losses at offensive line.
Mack is entering his senior season, and this is his last chance to become what he was billed to be, which is the next installment of great Notre Dame tight ends, while Kmet is seen as one of the rising stars on the Irish offense. No one would be surprised if Kmet was a breakout star this season. But, potential is often dangerous and points aren’t scored based off of what could be. Given how much field time these two are likely to see within Long’s preferred two tight end sets, they are one of the biggest keys to success on the entire team.
Is The Starting Lineup Really Set In Stone?
Following 2013, Notre Dame lost left tackle Zach Martin and left guard Chris Watt to the NFL draft, and it took the Irish four games to figure out the lineup they wanted to compete with on a game to game basis, with numerous alignment shifts after an inconsistent start.
A similar dynamic could play out this season, with a number of players capable of playing in various spots, and the uncertainty of what they have in players such as Liam Eichenberg at left tackle and Tommy Kraemer at right guard, the latter of which played mainly tackle in his first season as a starter.
They ended the spring with a line of Eichenberg, Bars, Mustipher, Kraemer, and Hainsey, but if they start tinkering with the starting lineup, that could be a signal of unease with their starting lineup, with little margin for error in week one against Michigan’s vaunted front seven. Notre Dame and their new offensive line coach Jeff Quinn can’t afford to miss with their lineup combination at the outset and will not be allowed to ease in a new group. They will face their toughest test in the opener.