In a fortuitous turn of events, NDOB was granted media access to the Irish’s recent spring practices. The following is an unbiased recap of what we saw on the field, and is in no way colored by the natural rosiness that usually comes with the first practices of the year.
As expected, Ian Book retains a strong grip on the starting quarterback job. Every incompletion he logged was a thoughtful throwaway, and every interception showcased his arm strength in a way he never really flashed in 2018. Meanwhile, Phil Jurkovec was solid but unspectacular, evidence of the lack of a “me-first” attitude from the backup, purposefully shelving any talk of a quarterback controversy for the sake of team chemistry. His wonky sidearm delivery also allowed him to curve a pass (like in that movie where they curve a bullet, you know the one) around a defensive lineman’s outstretched arm, into the waiting hands of Cole Kmet. In case you hadn’t heard, Cole Kmet also plays baseball.
New RB coach Lance Taylor has already elevated Jafar Armstrong’s game — imagine a Theo Riddick/Christian McCaffrey hybrid, but better, and you’ll come close to picturing where he’s at right now. Emboldened by his perfect-regular-season-clinching catch and run against Southern Cal, Tony Jones has started to catch every ball thrown his way with his crotch. Doesn’t seem like a practice that will endure throughout the year, but it’s certainly a nice trick to have in your back (front?) pocket, and one that may baffle opposing defenses in crucial moments.
An open secret around campus is that Kevin Austin has been in and out of Coach Kelly’s doghouse for a while now — nothing too serious, just typical 18 year old shenanigans (skipping class, partying, what have you). This is actually good because it shows that he’s cool as hell, and not a nerd or a cop. Also he’s the next coming of Michael Floyd, but in a way that will make you forget about Floyd’s post-ND career foibles. Chase Claypool (the previous coming of Kevin Austin) has asserted himself as the team’s top wideout by making a point of getting chippy with every single defensive back opposing him. Chris Finke keeps grinding away in the slot, not letting the fact that he’s literally half as fast as Lawrence Keys and Braden Lenzy deter him in the slightest.
Cole Kmet is your new God, rendering the concept of “Tight End U” completely obsolete, a folly of past hubris, ash and dust. Word around the Gug is that Kmet kept growing over the offseason, catapulting himself into NFL shape in the weight room, and that he’s more the heir to Paul Bunyan himself than Tyler Eifert. He will almost certainly be the first tight end to seriously challenge for the Heisman since Notre Dame’s own Ken MacAfee all the way back in 1977. To the chagrin of Rock’s House, Brock Wright is no longer a fullback, finally playing the position he was recruited at, and playing it well.
Jeff Quinn’s offensive line, is, well, they’re big husky boys. You know, they all kinda look the same and it’s hard to tell them apart when they’re on the field together. Sometimes they rotate between positions but it’s exhausting to keep track of that kind of thing, and honestly, do you guys care? Really? At a certain point a starting lineup will be set — you don’t need to give it that much thought for at least several months. Let the coaches sort this one out, trust me; it’s a little weird to pay that much attention to offensive line rotation anyway. It’s spring! Go outside.
Thank goodness Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem are back, right? Phew. The Irish upped their total sacks from 24 to 34 year-over-year, so consider it a black mark on Clark Lea’s legacy if they don’t stay on pace to record 44 in 2019. The loss of Jerry Tillery looms large, but look for freshman Jacob Lacey, who will literally be able to eat you or me after a little time in Matt Balis’ S&C program, to gradually fill a bigger role on the line.
The good news: Notre Dame has several scholarship linebackers on its roster. The bad news: everything else. Asmar Bilal is the only returning significant contributor. We’re at the point where losing Drew White (?) to injury is significant cause for concern. I continually get Jordan Genmark-Heath and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah mixed up due to their J. Something-Something names. I’m not saying it’s time to panic, but panicking wouldn’t be the worst idea.
Alohi Gilman is limited in practice, but that’s fine, and it’s also probably fine that the reasonable expectation throughout the fanbase is that he’ll have something approximating the best year a Notre Dame safety has ever had in 2019. I bet that’s fine. Another thing that is also fine is that Troy Pride has to step in and instantly be Nü Julian Love from the get-go. Love was only the statistical best corner the school has ever seen. Houston Griffith will also certainly make the leap from talented but often out of place freshman backup to All-America candidate sophomore starter. QB-RB-CB Avery Davis is also an NFL prospect, a totally normal thing to think, and then to follow up that thought by saying it out loud, to members of the media, who will then repeat that thought to the rest of the world. It’s good to set reasonable expectations for 20 years olds, and that is what we’re doing! We are all having a good time here.
We are declining to comment on the specialist positions at this time.