The thing about being a redshirt is once that decision is made, they pretty much cease being members of the program, for all intents and purposes, for as long as the season goes. They can’t play, therefore we never see them, and no one talks about them, save for a few comments here and there by the coaches. As the months go by, they fade from people’s minds, and the new recruits pass them up in terms of fan interest. Such is the way of redshirting.
As spring ball gets underway, those players gain new life, as now they have no restraints to the field, and they have been itching to prove themselves key to the football team. Here are some who could become key figures to the success of the 2018 season.
Josh Lugg, Offensive Line
If you’re a frequent listener of podcasts, you’ve heard positive things about Lugg for months. The former top 150 player from Pennsylvania figured to be one of those battling to replace Mike McGlinchey at left tackle. With word that former right tackle Robert Hainsey is moving to the left, you figure Lugg will move to the right, and likely cross train at tackle and guard. The assumption is Liam Eichenberg has a bit of a leg up on Lugg, given his near miss last season in his battle with Tommy Kraemer, and his extra year in the program. And lets not forget, Eichenberg was also a very highly ranked recruit (80th nationally per 247) who will be fighting not to lose out to someone younger than him. But, the reviews on Lugg are what they are, and with no incumbents in front of him, and a new line coach, the path is as clear as it can get at a school that recruits as well as Notre Dame does.
Jeremiah Owusu-Karamoah, Rover
The move of Drue Tranquill to Buck could be as much about Owusu-Karamoah as finding a better fit for Tranquill. Good things have been said about the freshman from Virginia for a long time, and like incoming freshman Shayne Simon, Karamoah seems to be an ideal fit for the hybrid linebacker/safety position. He needs to make a move now, because Simon won’t be on campus until the summer, and the Tranquill move isn’t set in stone. He doesn’t possess the girth of Tranquill, but is perhaps a little more athletic. He can solidify his spot in the lineup with a good spring and cement Tranquill at Buck. A little bit of a struggle will open the door for Simon or even a move of Tranquill back in front of him. Yes, he’s got senior Asmar Bilal currently in front of him, but as we’ve seen throughout his career, he can be outplayed.
Alohi Gilman, Safety
Gilman isn’t technically a redshirt, but he did have to sit out last season due to the transfer rules and the effect is basically the same. Brian Kelly stated on signing day that had Gilman been made eligible prior to the season, he’d have been a starting safety. First, who knows if that’s true, Brian Kelly says lots of things. Second, whatever the case, neither starting safety over the course of the season solidified their spot in the lineup. Gilman is a solid tackler who we don’t know a ton about in the passing game. His aptitude in the tackling department could be good enough to earn him a starting spot, even he displayed some shortcomings in the passing game. Excellence in one facet of the game could be good enough.
Jafar Armstrong, Wide Receiver/Running Back
With the losses of Notre Dame’s top two receivers from last season, an opportunity is there for everyone in the receiving core, including the 6 foot, 215 pounder from Kansas. It could be an interesting spring for Armstrong, as Kelly eluded to him getting a look at running back due to the attrition at that position in the offseason. Armstrong is a thick guy who didn’t play running back in high school, but was very adept as a kickoff returner, so finding holes with the ball in his hands isn’t anything he hasn’t done before. Kelly compared Armstrong to a Theo Riddick/CJ Prosise type of player, and that kind of skillset can be a way for Armstrong to carve a niche into the Notre Dame offense. Like most of the people on this list, he had been impressive throughout the fall and into the offseason. With classmate Michael Young making an impact late in the year, with his touchdown catch in the bowl game against LSU, the little thought of receiving group from 2017 could be major players on the 2018 team.
Javon McKinley, Wide Receiver
A junior who redshirted last season, the time is now for the highly touted prospect out of California. Injuries have slowed him down a bit, he broke his leg last fall, and he just hasn’t been able to jump start his career the way some others have. This is his chance to really make a mark on the roster with the aforementioned departures at receiver. He has the size at 6-2, 220, and he has the pedigree as one of the most prolific receivers in California high school history. It just needs to happen for him. Without any inside info, he must feel the urgency now, with highly touted receivers Kevin Austin and Braden Lenzy arriving in the summer, and Micah Jones already on campus. He can’t lose ground to players two years younger. Look for a lot of activity out of McKinley this spring.
Darnell Ewell, Defensive Tackle
Ewell was expected to make an early impact on the Notre Dame team in 2017. In fact, of the three defensive tackles signed in last years class, it was Ewell who many penciled in as the one most likely to see the field. Instead, he came in physically unprepared and was never a factor for playing time. Honestly, I’m skeptical of a player coming on in a big way when he showed up for the first season out of shape. It just doesn’t lend itself to catching up to the progress of his teammates.
Brian Kelly said Darnell Ewell starting to show some explosiveness into his football skill set. Encouraged, but sort of tempers enthusiasm with the sophomore.
— Irish Illustrated (@PeteSampson_) March 5, 2018
But, Kelly had some nice things to say about Ewell in his opening press conference, and there is a place for him to get some snaps with Jerry Tillery moving out of the nose tackle position. It’s one thing to play behind Tillery, another when it’s Jonathon Bonner. With Jayson Ademilola and Ja’Mion Franklin coming in the summer, Ewell needs to feel that sense of urgency or he’ll get left behind.