One of the smaller surprises of the 2018 season, of which there were many, was how small a factor the 2018 recruiting class ultimately played in its success. On one hand, it’s no surprise a ton of freshman didn’t play key roles on a 12-0 team. Usually those two things don’t correlate. On the other hand, prior to the season it was expected that as many as 7 or 8 would see significant time on the field. That number ultimately landed on four–Houston Griffith, Kevin Austin, TaRiq Bracy, and Jayson Ademilola. Of those three, Griffith saw the most time, with so-so results, with Ademilola being the most effective. All of this obviously led to some questions about how good the 27 man, 10th ranked class really was.
Four months later, there is some compelling and consistent evidence that the 2018 group is coming into its own and right on time.
Kevin Austin, Lawrence Keys, and Braden Lenzy
I’ve written a lot about Keys recently and how good he has looked to the coaches since he arrived. It is no surprise he has continued to make noise on offense in the spring, firmly putting himself in the mix at receiver.
Austin has had an up and down career so far. He played a lot last season, but was left off of the travel squad the final two weeks and became a none factor over the last month. Rumors he was in the dog house persisted, but he has earned rave reviews from those in attendance on a couple of occasions, and I’m going to assume he finds his way out of the dog house and plays a big role in 2019.
Lenzy is the wild card here, and he made news prior to the spring when he decided to forgo running track this year and focus solely on football. For a former state champion sprinter from Oregon, this is no small sacrifice. It has so far paid off. He looks better catching the ball, is using his speed as one would hope and has shown increased toughness.
All three of these players will have a role in the offense next season.
Patterson went from a guy competing to get onto the two deep at either guard or tackle to the runaway starting center in, like, a day. It was move no one saw coming, yet it made total sense from the start and barring injury he will be the 5th starting offensive linemen on day one. He obviously hasn’t been perfect, but the coaches are excited, as are the beat writers in attendance.
In another surprise, Griffith was moved from safety to corner, replacing Julian Love on the boundary. The surprise shifted from the move itself to how good Griffith has looked. He reportedly struggled last spring at corner, in various aspects. The thought was he just wasn’t a good enough athlete for the position at this level. However, he changed his body in weight room, has labored over his technique, and has looked much better. So much so that the competition to replace Love has ended and Griffith is cemented as Notre Dame’s starter, opposite Troy Pride.
He might start at the three technique or he could back up Myron Tagovailoa Amosa. Whatever the case, Ademilola will be in the rotation, which will be heavy, and be a de facto starter throughout the season. He’s been compared to Sheldon Day, obviously a very good thing, and on a per snap basis was one of Notre Dame’s most efficient run defenders. Will play a major role next season.
The top 100 linebacker got off to an extremely slow start last season due to injury, and he took the traditional redshirt route. He has put on extra pounds of muscle in the winter and has looked very good at linebacker this spring, either at Buck or Mike. He has been especially effective against the pass, and has earned a niche role for himself in that part of the game. Will definitely play, might even start, in 2019.
Right now, he’s the teams third corner, which means he’ll definitely see the field a ton next season, either backing up one of the other corners, or at the nickel spot. Bracy has reportedly added weight to his frame and has had some outstanding practices. He was always able to run, the question was could he hold up physically. He has taken major strides to proving he can so far.
Moala was moved to Rover in the last week, backing up Jeremiah Owusu Karomoah, and has apparently been a big hit there. He’s solid against the run and obviously has good skills against the pass. Neither of these guys has a ton of experience on the field (Moala actually has the most, just none at the position), so a regular rotation is expected.
On The Brink
He’s an injury away from the being the full time starter and heir apparent at quarterback. Luckily, he’s looked good so far this spring, with a heavy propensity to push the ball down field, which is very fun. He’s also a good runner and has shown a better understanding of the offense. He’s not at the level of Book in terms of accuracy, knowledge of the offense, and decision making, but he’s immensely talented. He was compared by BGI’s Bryan Driskell in a recent podcast to Everett Golson prior to 2012. Which should honestly tell us something about how good Ian Book looks right now.
In a battle for the third running back spot with freshman Kyren Williams and classmate C’Bo Flemister. Basing on reports, it would appear Smith has the leg up on Flemister and possibly Williams, so I’d bet he is the one who gets the work. Notre Dame’s third back last season was Jones Jr. and he tallied 89 total touches. Maybe Smith doesn’t get to that many, but Jones Jr. and Armstrong have both missed time to injuries to it could happen. His receiving skills also help him here.
Pretty stunning he’s in this spot. He went into spring as the presumptive starter at Rover. After early struggles, he was quickly moved to Buck and has struggled there as well. My guess is he will work his way into the rotation, but other players have looked better than him so far. I wouldn’t rule him out by any means, and with all his talent the light could go on and he’s a starter again, but right now it’s not happening. Linebacker is really a crap shoot at the moment so anything could happen.
He’s been given a ton of time at safety this spring and the results have been mixed. Similar to Simon in that there is so much talent here he could make a move quickly, and there is room to be the first safety behind Gilman and Elliott. Really could do well to make good use of the remaining spring practices and spring game. Will very likely see his way onto the field in 2019 though.
Notre Dame likes to use three tight ends in games, and Tremble has flashed over the last week. Brian Kelly described him as their H back player, and that’s a nice niche to forge for him to get onto the field game after game. Is a good athlete who has improved as a blocker. The question is how well he can play to give himself a consistent role.
Not Sure How They Fit Yet But They Are Good
Joe Wilkins and Ovie Oghoufo
The consensus is these are two talented players who are good enough to see the field but are log jammed behind talent at their positions. If I had to pick one player who would see meaningful time this year, it’s Oghoufo. He’s got a skill, pass rushing, that can always be used by any team at any level. The opportunity to put him out there and turn it loose might be too good to pass up.
Wilkins is fast, can get open, and has good hands. There are just so many bodies in front of him at the moment, but it only takes one chance to make a case for himself to be in the rotation. I’m not predicting it, but it wouldn’t be out of no where.