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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

May 28, 2020

ISD’s Matt Freeman, along with information from John Brice and Christian McCollum, put out a quick post yesterday on the status of when Notre Dame football players will report. Though there were only a few nuggets in there, there were promising in terms of things getting cleared up soon.

Several members of the team are already back in town with more expected to return this weekend. It all seems to be leading to getting workouts and other team activities started sooner rather than later.

I can only imagine how excited people will be when the first report comes out about how workouts are going. That information might be something that gets overlooked in a typical year as people wait to read practice reports in August. But this isn’t a typical year and we’re not even sure the media will have access to practices before the season.

There’s a chance we might know very little about this team heading into September other than stuff we already expect to happen.

Running back is a massive question mark heading into the summer. Receiver is less so in terms of talent, but how that talent will work itself out is a different story. The skill positions could make or break this Notre Dame offense and we might not know much about those spots other than what we hear from sources.

The secondary is littered with young players and two graduate transfers who could become starters. The Buck linebacker job is wide open after not having a competition in the spring. There’s almost too much talent on the defensive line and someone will be left out of the rotation by the time game one arrives. Again, we may have to rely exclusively on what we hear rather than what we see this summer.

I hope that by the time we reach the heart of summer, I’ll be on my way to South Bend to nod six feet away from Matt while we watch practice. I’m not counting on it, though.

Everyone wants football right now and a couple of months from now we’ll all be more anxious to watch. For us and for you who read practice reports, there may not be a football fix until we actually reach the season. That’s going to feel different, but should at least get everyone excited to play Navy, which isn’t the most thrilling matchup every year.

2. The pandemic has hurt Notre Dame as much as any program in recruiting this cycle. Recruiting can’t be talked about without it being mentioned because it crippled their plans this year and it’s fair to say that the class would look different than it does if all of those planned visits were allowed to happen.

That’s true, but no matter what the circumstances, Notre Dame should be recruiting better on the offensive line than they are. It’s completely fair to criticize Jeff Quinn and the staff and their efforts. This is a strong cycle for the offensive line and even if Notre Dame lands Rocco Spindler‍ to go with Blake Fisher‍ and Pat Coogan‍, Notre Dame shouldn’t be having to dig so deep on prospects that aren’t considered elite.

They just had three former Notre Dame offensive line make 1st team All-Pro in the NFL. When people bring up “O-line U”, Notre Dame deservedly gets mentioned. This and tight end are the two positions they should never have to reach when offering a prospect. They are already targeting the kind of recruits that would normally have to camp at Notre Dame to earn an offer.

It’s fair to acknowledge that the cancelled visits had an impact on all of recruiting, but no matter what the circumstances, Notre Dame shouldn’t ever be in a position to not land elite offensive line recruits.

3. It’s different on the defensive line with the standard being lower despite recent success recruiting and developing by Mike Elston. But Notre Dame adding a commitment from Jason Onye‍ and signing Alex Ehrensberger, who I would both deem as long term projects with high ceilings, does make me think about taking prospects like them in back to back classes.

Here’s a list of the 3-star defensive ends Notre Dame has signed since 2011:

Chase Hounshell

Romeo Okwara

Jacob Matuska

Jonathan Bonner

Kolin HIll

Jhonathan Williams

Ade Ogundeji

Jonathan MacCollister

Kofi Wardlow

Justin Ademilola (ISD had him as 4-star)


Okwara and Bonner are the only multi-year starters out of that group. Bonner would have been a rotation player if they had recruited better at defensive tackle. They certainly hit on Ogundeji and Ademilola should break into the rotation this season, but it’s not like they had a lot of success with the group as a whole.

The standard isn’t as high as it is with offensive line recruiting, but with the way things have ticked up in the last few years on the defensive line, it probably should be higher than it is.

I’m not saying people should be up in arms about Notre Dame taking a commitment from a project this cycle, but they have recruited well enough that projects won’t last long unless the projects develop faster than expected.

4. Notre Dame has 23 players drafted in the first three rounds under Brian Kelly. 21 of them were ranked as 4 or 5-star recruits.

If a player is drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft, chances are he made a pretty big impact in college football.

This is a very to the point way of saying that taking exceptions with 3-star prospects that are long term projects is okay, but doing it every year isn’t a sound strategy if you’re trying to add impact players.

5. ESPN’s Todd McShay put out a list of his “way-too-early” top-32 prospects for the 2021 NFL Draft ($) and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah made the cut at 17. Obviously it’s not just Notre Dame fans who took notice of his play last season. Penn State’s Micah Parsons was the only off the ball linebacker ranked higher.

Also on the list was Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence (1) and Justyn Ross (12), Wake Forest receiver Sage Surratt (24), USC defensive tackle Jaf Tufele (26), and Stanford cornerback Paulson Adebo (29).

Lawrence, Ross, and running back Travis Etienne may be the best at their respective positions in all of college football. With them all being on the same team, it’s pretty obvious why Clemson is going to be the toughest matchup for the Irish in 2020.

It is noticeable that Clemson doesn’t have a defender in that early top-32, though. There isn’t a Isaiah Simmons, Dexter Lawrence, or Christian Wilkins on their defense. Don’t get me wrong, they will have talent on all three levels, but they don’t have a clear game-changing talent on this year’s roster.

The defense is built more to be loaded in 2022 than it is for 2021. Circle that as something to look back on when November hits because it’s going to be tough to keep points off the board for Notre Dame in that game, but this defense may be a slightly more vulnerable (than usual) with less difference-makers who are ready to jump to the NFL.

6. I was listening to the Barton and Bud podcast this week, specifically because I saw they answered a Notre Dame question. Barton Simmons and Bud Elliott are two people I respect in the industry so I was interested to hear their take on Notre Dame’s recruiting ceiling.

Simmons hit on something that I know we have talked and written about on ISD, but he really hit the nail on the head with one observation that I believe is often forgotten: when Notre Dame offers, no other program fears that offer.

It’s true. Whether it’s because they are stuck in that tier just below elite status right now or it’s because they don’t have anyone on staff that is considered one of the best recruiters in the country, Notre Dame isn’t a program that can immediately be a threat to land any prospect with an offer.

That’s the stratosphere they need to enter in recruiting. It’s what they need to get to in order to get over the hump on the field. There have been so many improvements within the program over the last few years when it comes to evaluation and development, but they still aren’t at a point when they can go head to head with top dogs and realistically expect to win a recruiting battle for any top-50 prospect.

Everyone knows that not every recruit is going to be a fit for Notre Dame, but there are definitely some that could be and the Irish are never true contenders for them. That needs to change and we’ll know it has when kids start saying “it’s a big offer” about Notre Dame and mean it.

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