Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Who Could Surprise in 2020?

May 23, 2020
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As the college football world tries to get back to normal, Notre Dame will turn its attention to preparing for what could be a special season.

The Fighting Irish are loaded with experience, young playmakers and a quarterback who has seen everything, but hasn't hit his ceiling.  

Notre Dame will need a few players to step into more prominent roles to hit the College Football Playoff goal and here are three who might be flying a little under the radar. 

Isaiah Foskey might be the sexy name on the defensive line, but junior Justin Ademilola has patiently waited in the wings, developed and will have his chance to earn quite a bit of playing time. 

The 6-foot-2, 250-pounder has played in 12 games during his career, including being part of the game plan against Clemson in the 2018 Cotton Bowl. 

A year ago, Ademilola played in eight games where he racked up nine tackles and one tackle for loss to go along with recovering a blocked punt against Stanford. 

Ademilola gives Notre Dame flexibility as he can play either end spot, but I think he'll get the chance to backup Ade Ogundeji at the five-tech. 

Perhaps the greatest strength of Ademilola's game is his ability to get to the quarterback, which you can never have enough guys do. Could he find a way to get into a sub-package in addition to snaps behind Ogundeji? Notre Dame will need to find guys who can create havoc on third down and Ademilola can fill that role. 

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During winter workouts and following the first spring practice, there was a buzz about a safety. Ok, maybe two safeties as Kyle Hamilton always has buzz, but it wasn't about graduate transfer Isaiah Pryor or Houston Griffith. 

It was redshirt sophomore DJ Brown, who played in nine games in 2019 and made seven tackles.

The 6-foot, 188-pounder had a very productive winter and some around the program felt he was in line to have a big spring where he would challenge for a starting role. 

Brown had two interceptions during Notre Dame only practice of the spring as he picked off Drew Pyne in one-on-ones and then Brendon Clark in 7-on-7. 

It's not enough to predict Brown to win the starting job or to have a breakout season, but it was a small positive and backed up some of the buzz heading into spring ball. 

Finding a starter opposite is priority No. 1 for defensive coordinator Clark Lea, but we also saw how valuable three productive safeties could be in his defense. 

It's tough to know exactly what Notre Dame has at the safety position outside of Hamilton. Pryor has question marks in coverage and consistency tackling while Griffith, Brown and sophomore Litchfield Ajavon lack experience at the position. 

Brown will get his chance in fall camp to build off his momentum and could very well find himself in the mix. 

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Notre Dame fans saw flashes of redshirt sophomore receiver Lawrence Keys III in 2019, but they also saw him disappear at times. 

The New Orleans native finished the season with 13 receptions for 134 yards and six rushes for 45 yards. He also returned 13 kickoffs for 194 yards with a long of 45 yards.

Keys battled through a foot injury following game three, where he didn't record a catch for over a month. 

The good news is the 5-foot-10, 173-pounder came up big against Georgia and showed the ability to make tough catches throughout the year. (Remember that 28-yard catch in Athens?) 

Keys will now have the opportunity to take on a much larger role with Chris Finke gone as offensive coordinator will need a starting slot receiver. 

At times in practice, Keys has looked similar to Finke as he's essentially unguardable in 1-on-1 situations (Yes, the drill favors the offense, greatly) and has made some big-time plays during team periods. 

Notre Dame didn't need Keys to be the star last year and while he might not be the No. 1 option for Ian Book in 2020, he will have the chance to play a vital part of the Irish offense. 

 
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