Notre Dame returners a lot of starters this fall. In fact, that alone is the number reason for optimism in South Bend for year nine of the Brian Kelly era. Even with plenty of returning starters though, the Irish will be ushering in a number of new starters this fall and how they perform could determine if the Irish build on last year’s 10 wins or if there’s another off-season of speculation in South Bend.
Today we’ll take a look at some of the new faces you will see in the starting line and what to expect from therm.
Khalid Kareem – SDE
There is quietly a little bit of hype building for the junior strong side defensive end who Notre Dame beat Alabama for on the recruiting trail. And why not? Most feel that part of the reason Jay Hayes decided to use a graduate transfer was because Khalid Kareem was going to take his job. Hayes is projected to start for last year’s runner up Georgia this fall.
In a reserve role last year, Kareem collected 5.5 TFL and 3 sacks. For a defensive line in dire need of negative plays, Kareem provided them in small doses. Most notably, Kareem had perhaps the best game of his career in Notre Dame’s beatdown of USC. As a full time starter in 2018, Notre Dame is counting on a lot more out of him. He has the pedigree to deliver too. Over his last two seasons of high school football he registered 34 sacks.
Even with some lofty expectations though, remember this. In Notre Dame history only five players have ever registered 10 or more sacks in a season.
Tony Jones Jr – RB
I don’t know if Jones will end the season as a starter for Notre Dame, but I am reasonably comfortable that he will start the season as one.
Brian Kelly will be asked about the status of Dexter Williams later this week at his fall camp opening presser, but don’t expect him to be any more forthcoming than he was last year at this time re: Kevin Stepherson. Is there a chance that Williams starts the season on the “active” roster and lines up against Michigan? Absolutely. There has just been too much speculation this off-season to think there isn’t a good change he won’t be either though.
Enter Tony Jones Jr. The last two fall camps Jones has impressed when the media has attended practice only to limp through the regular season hampered by injuries. If he stays healthy, he has the chance to have a great year. We’ve seen glimpses of the back he can be. For Notre Dame to have the kind of season it’s capable of though, they need Jones to be that back every week – not just a couple times a year.
Alohi Gilman – S
Unlike Kareem who quietly has some hype building, the Alohi Gilman hype train left the station a while ago. Notre Dame could have really used Alohi Gilman last year when Irish safeties struggled in virtually all aspects. Alas the NCAA, in it’s every flip flopping wisdom, did not grant the waiver.
Notre Dame safeties didn’t record a single interception in 2017 and were not the surest of tacklers either. That will change this year with the infusion of talent including Gilman and hot shot freshmen Derrik Allen and Houston Griffith.
The future at safety for Notre Dame is clearly Allen and Griffith. With Michigan coming to town to start the season under the lights of Notre Dame Stadium though, expect Gilman to be manning the back end of the Irish defense. Gilman was a standout as a frosh for Navy before transferring last year. Had the NCAA granted him that waiver he would have started for Notre Dame last year.
Gilman will bring some stability to the position for Notre Dame in 2018 while the youngsters develop. In fact, don’t expect Gilman to just be a warming the position. He will be an impact player for Notre Dame this fall.
Troy Pride Jr – CB
Like Khalid Kareem, Troy Pride Jr’s development played a major role in a former Notre Dame starter using a graduate transfer. In this case it was Nick Watkins. Pride has had blazing speed since he arrived on campus and now entering his junior year he seems poised to have a breakout campaign.
By the end of the 2017 season Pride was more or less already a starter. While Watkins is no longer here to compete with him, he will still have to hold off nickel Shaun Crawford. Crawford is finally healthy heading into a season and will push Pride. Still, Crawford is so good in the slot that it would be surprising to me to see him end up on the outside over Pride.
Notre Dame will have its best trio of cornerbacks in sometime this fall with Julian Love on the verge of stardom joined by Pride and Crawford.
Liam Eichenberg – OT
Notre Dame is replacing two starters on the offensive line, but they really will only have one brand new starter. Tommy Kraemer and Robert Hainsey both played so much last year at right tackle that neither can be considered a true new starter this fall. That leaves Liam Eichenberg as the only really green offensive lineman this fall. And he took could be headed for more of a rotational role similar to Kraemer and Hainsey last year.
If a rotation is in the works, sophomore Josh Lugg will be Eichenberg’s partner in crime at left tackle. Eichenberg did a really good job in the spring of starting to separate himself, but Lugg is right behind him.
The success of the Kraemer/Hainsey combo in 2017 could prove enticing too. Notre Dame will lose Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars in 2019. An Eichenberg/Lugg combo gives Notre Dame more experience heading into 2019 and would keep both players – neither of whom has played extensively – fresher come November this fall.
Michael Young – WR
Michael Young still needs to secure a starting spot for Notre Dame before he can be considered a new starter, but I think it’s only a matter of time. Miles Boykin, Chase Claypool, and Young appear to clearly be the best three receivers on the roster right now. The only question to me is who starts opposite Boykin on the outside? Young or Claypool?
Young only caught four passes for 18 yards as a true freshman last year, but he had an impressive spring and looks poised for a classic Brian Kelly sophomore wide receiver breakout. On paper, he is a more prototypical slot receiver at 5-10 as opposed to Claypool’s 6-4. That said, using taller slot receivers for matchup advantages has been en vogue.
The one wildcard here could be a freshman like Kevin Austin coming in and forcing his way onto the field the way Michael Floyd forced his way onto the field in 2008. Austin is built like Floyd and is considered an advanced route runner for an incoming freshman.
Even if Austin forces his way on the field, no other Irish receiver other than Braden Lenzy has Young’s over the top speed. And Lenzy is a true freshman. So, xpect to see Young in some sort of starting capacity this fall.
You may notice one position with a new starter that we haven’t gotten to. ROVER. That’s because that is a whole other topic that we’ll dive into in another post. If there is only one real question mark about the new starters for Notre Dame in 2018 though, the Irish should be in pretty good shape.