Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Sunday Reflections | The Great, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

March 22, 2020

The football world is in a unique spot with the circumstances surrounding Covid-19. 

As it relates to Notre Dame, the Irish have done many good things and continued to go down weird roads in other areas of the program. 

The Great 
It might have been one practice, but it's evident the leadership of the 2020 team is there. 

The first day of spring ball usually is sloppy and a little chaotic.  Notre Dame's practice on March 5th was competitive, crisp and extremely sharp. 

Ian Book, Brock Wright, Liam Eichenberg, Robert Hainsey, Tommy Kraemer, Daelin Hayes, Ade Ogundeji, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Drew White, Kyle Hamilton and even Isaiah Pryor had much to do with that.

That has continued throughout the spring as players have sought out training on their own. Some players traveled across the country to workout with fellow teammates, but the consensus is Notre Dame's guys have continued to work despite being off-campus. 

Will that translate to 12-0? No, but the players know it's the foundation. 

The Good 

Yes, Notre Dame lost the commitment of 2021 four-star receiver Deion Colzie a few days ago, but decommitments aren't a trend at Notre Dame. 

Composite wise, the Irish are short of Brian Kelly's top five goal as they are currently No. 7 and out of the top 10, Notre Dame is tied with Texas and Oregon with the least amount of commits. 

If you're looking at rankings, the Irish are in a good spot right now and the final size of the class will likely hurt the final ranking. 

Now, if you like ratings, Notre Dame is doing great. The Irish would be the No. 3 class in the country with its commits having an average of 94.43. Only Clemson (95.59) Ohio State (95.09), Georgia (94.56) and Michigan (97.91) would be higher. 

*Michigan only has two commits and Georgia has three. 

That's an excellent foundation for the Irish with several top targets still on the board and a few commits about to rise in the rankings. (Well, Tyler Buchner will probably drop since he's the leader at the Elite 11.) 

Landing any combination of Will Shipley (.9874), Dont'e Thornton (.9765), Thomas Fidone (.9583), Brock Bowers (.9568), Nolan Rucci (.9905), Rocco Spindler (.9761) and Ceyair Wright (.9637) would all bump the Irish. 

It's clear the defensive recruits aren't ranked quite as high, but it's hard not to get excited about the pure athleticism of some of the prospects at the top of the board. You can see why Notre Dame and other top programs are after these kids instead of some of the higher-ranked recruits.

Now, Notre Dame needs to land some difference-makers on defense like a Smael Mondon as that's what is missing from Clark Lea's defense. 

The Bad
As with every program, Notre Dame needed spring ball. Clemson and Stanford seem to be just about the only programs (that matter) who got in enough work for it to matter. The Tigers got in nine practices, while the Cardinal practiced eight times. 

The Irish offense needed reps in Tommy Rees' offense. Now, it's not as if Rees was changing the entire offense, but the new wrinkles reps required, work and installed. 

The positive here is Notre Dame's offense returns a plethora of experience. Lance Taylor's running back group might not have a starter, but they've all played minus Kyren Williams. The receivers needed reps, but they've all played outside of Xavier Watts and Jay Brunelle. Tight end will be fine and the offensive line returns essentially six starters. 

The lack of reps of Brendon Clark isn't good, but if there is going to be a season, he'll get enough in fall camp. Kelly and Rees can cater a practice schedule around one person to speed up development, so that's not a  huge issue for me. 

The defensive line will be fine. The two and three-deep have experience. It likely hurt Jordan Botelho's chances of getting on the field early, but he would have needed to jump a few guys who have already made plays in games. 

Linebacker has experience as Drew White, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Jordan Genmark Heath, Paul Moala Bo Bauer hand Jack Lamb have game reps. 

It isn't good for finding a Buck to replace Asmar Bilal. If Genmark Heath, Marist Liufau, Jack Kiser or JD Bertrand weren't the answer, then Moala or Owusu-Koramoah aren't going to get many reps there in fall camp. 

The chance for Liufai, Kiser, Bertrand and Osita Ekwonu to gain reps hurts their development. 

Notre Dame's secondary is the group where it really hurts not having spring ball. The cornerback position is wide open as TaRiq Bracy and Shaun Crawford are the only ones returning with game experience. 

Sophomores Cam Hart, Isaiah Rutherford and KJ Wallace needed to learn the defense, experience the defense and gain a ton of reps in drills and 11-on-11. 

That won't happen. Those guys can do 1-on-1 work at home, but they will lose 15 chances to be immersed in the defense. Those reps can't be duplicated as it trains their eyes. It allows them to gain comfort in adjustments, checks and simply seeing things develop in front of them. 

Lea played a ton of match-man concepts last year, which means the ability to read, diagnose and then match the pattern is crucial to the success of the defense. Those essential reps are lost for Notre Dame's young defensive back group and it will be interesting to see if Lea goes simple with his defense to account for the lost practices.

It also doesn't allow Mike Mickens the chance to know his group and vice versa. The relationships can be built in meetings and over the phone, but accountability, comfort and trust will be hurt by not having spring ball. The Mickens and his players needed to mesh and figure each other out this spring and that won't happen. 

For safeties Litchfield Ajavon, DJ Brown,  Houston Griffith, Kyle Hamilton and Isaiah Pryor, it also as they all needed reps. Hamilton got plenty of game action a year ago, but sometimes we forget he's still technically a freshman. He has a lot to learn and could have been in the same boat as Owusu-Koramoah, where Lea could have used 15 practices to move them around the defense in certain situations. 

The other safeties lack game reps for Notre Dame. Pryor has experience, but in a different defense and one he didn't have a ton of success in, so learning Lea's defense made it a significant spring for him. 

The Ugly 
Notre Dame's Social Media. 

It's not good and even those who dislike Social Media have made comments recently. 

I do think there are some talented people Notre Dame has to run it, but there seems to be zero strategy and the message is all over the place. 

Social Media isn't the most significant thing in the world, but other programs have maximized it for their benefit. 

Even Notre Dame's Irish Connection videos and other content have taken a considerable decline in the last nine months or so. The video clips are just as good as other schools, but the production is lacking. 

Notre Dame doesn't have to be flashy or gimmicky, but it's hard to watch at times. Every ICON video from the fall was mostly the same and there were plenty of storylines there. 

It's clear Notre Dame connecting with its fanbase isn't a priority, but I think there needs to be some connection there. 

They don't have to copy Clemson, but I can tell you this, the Tigers fanbase feels like they are part of the program where I'm not sure you can say that about Notre Dame. 

Once again, Notre Dame needs to be different because they are different. However, take 20 minutes to watch these two videos and tell me which one engages you more and which one would catch the eye of a high school recruit if you sent that in a text. 

Both videos are from a road trip to Louisville. 

Notre Dame at Louisville 

Clemson at Louisville 

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