Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Versatile Offense Not Slowing Down

August 29, 2019

Camp injuries could have threatened to derail Notre Dame’s offense well before Monday night’s opener at Louisville.

The Fighting Irish saw both tight end Cole Kmet and wideout Michael Young Jr. endure collarbone injuries that require extended recovery periods.

Instead, with at times as many as three tailbacks on the field deployed into different positions, and Ian Book’s growing command of the Chip Long offense, Notre Dame is seeking just to plug-and-play against the Cardinals.

“I think we have a lot of players who are capable of a lot of things and the way we learn our offense is by schemes and not just by certain positions,” said redshirt-senior wideout Chris Finke. “So we’re able to plug guys in wherever we might need to and wherever we feel like might be the best for them that week. Guys are being asked to step up in different places and I think we have a capability to do that.

“It helps a lot, being that if for example, I need to go to the outside receiver instead of the slot. Or if Chase (Claypool) needs to do it, or anybody like that, we know that we can fill in. We understand the offense as a whole instead of just memorizing it at one spot.”

Tony Jones Jr. and Jafar Armstrong are the Irish’s top two running backs, but the Irish also are working those players around the field along with freshman Kyren Williams.

“I think it really just shows how many backs we have and how athletic they are,” said Book, who is preparing to make his 12th career start. “That they can go out there and make plays receiving the ball. I think this year we have a ton of backs that can play, big group of those guys.

“So any way we can get them the ball, we can. If they can catch it, we’re going to do that as well. I think it just kind of shows the level and really how many guys are in that group as well.”

Part of the Irish’s offensive versatility stems equally from Book’s increasing command and the coaches’ growing trust in Book, who’s thrown an interception just once every 35 pass attempts across 22 career appearances.

“I think everyone’s really taken the next step,” Book said. “Nothing specific but I think chemistry, even between me and Coach (Tommy) Rees and Coach Long, maybe trying some different things now that it’s been a couple more games under my belt.

“Even that way, and then with the guys, having guys step up and have chemistry with all those guys, just another year in the offense. As that goes, it’s just going to keep picking up.”

Coach Brian Kelly, for his part, isn’t altering expectations for the Notre Dame offense --- after some deadpan humor.

“No, we can't. We're not going to show up on Monday,” Kelly joked of the Irish’s ability to adapt to the camp injuries. “Of course, we've got 85 scholarships and we've got some really good depth there. Look, injuries are going to be part of this. If you're relying on one or two guys, you're not going to have a very good season.

“We feel like we've got some flexibility and depth that will overcome it. We think (tight end) Tommy Tremble has done a great job filling in there, can do some really good things. Joe Wilkins has been called on, Lawrence Keys has been called on. We really like those guys a lot.”

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