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Notre Dame Football

Brian Kelly Confident in Notre Dame's Pass Rush & Pass Catchers

August 19, 2020

Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly had some concerns about the Irish pass rush heading into fall practice as Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara are in the NFL. 

Kelly knew he had a ton of potential in the wings, but it needed to develop and flash early in the fall as the Irish didn't get spring ball. 

Through a week, Kelly seems exceptionally pleased with what he's seen and he wasn't afraid to give junior Ovie Oghoufo praise. 

"Ovie, not many people saw what he was capable of last year because he was stuck behind some really good players," Kelly said of his edge rusher. "Ovie is going to make an impact this year as a pass rusher. He's had a great first five days. Arguably as good as anybody that we've had out there." 

It's not just Oghoufo as fifth-year defensive end Ade Ogundeji and Isaiah Foskey drew praise along with Daelin Hayes. 

"We knew that Ade was arguably at times one of our best pass rushers last year," stated Kelly. "Isaiah Foskey. There are four guys there coming off the edge that are going to be impactful. Not a lot of college football teams who can talk about four guys that can get to the quarterback that we feel good about."

Notre Dame did lose 14.5 sacks combined between Kareem, Okwara and Jamir Jones, so the production will need to increase as Ogundeji, Oghoufo and Hayes combined for 6.5 sacks in 2019. 

It's also worth noting, linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah returns at Rover and led the Irish in sacks with 5.5 last fall. 

On the other side of the ball, receiver clearly has a ton of talent, but it's raw and Notre Dame lacks experience from the group. It’s not easy to replace Chase Claypool, especially when the replacement isn’t available. 

Kelly and Notre Dame might not have a set No. 1 guy heading into the year as junior Kevin Austin Jr. sidelined with a foot injury.

Northwestern grad transfer Ben Skowronek has drawn rave reviews since arriving in June for his play, but also leadership and how quickly he's meshed with the team. 

"Every year we have guys who can step up and make plays for us," explained Kelly. "This will be no different. We know Kevin Austin is out for a little bit. I think (Javon) McKinley is going to make plays for us. Ben Skowronek, fifth-year transfer, is going to come in and make plays for us. Avery Davis is a veteran who is going to make plays for us. So I think there's a lot of guys." 

In addition to receiver, the tight end position at Notre Dame is deep and can help get the Irish pass game with Austin out of action despite losing Cole Kmet a year early to the NFL. 

"You lose a great tight end (Cole Kmet), and we've got Tommy Tremble and Brock Wright, (Micael) Mayer and (Kevin) Bauman, George Takacs," Kelly said. "The tight end, wide receiving corps, every year we talk about guys moving on. And that's what we want." 

Notre Dame fans may have concerns about who will step up, but Kelly doesn't seem worried. 

That quiet confidence might have to do more with knowing he has a veteran quarterback heading into his third year as the starter in Ian Book. 

Book will definitely be counted on to bring the inexperienced talent along and if there isn't a true No. 1 target, the California native has proven he can spread the ball around.

"We want to recruit really good players, develop them, they have great years," said Kelly. "We just think it's another year where guys are going to step up for us and make plays. It won't be just one. It never is. One guy may be the big playmaker, but we think we've got a lot of depth at the position that can definitely step up and make plays for us."

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