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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

September 3, 2020

This is 2020.

This is reality in college football for the teams still playing. An entire position group could be wiped out for a period of time and make it nearly impossible to practice. No game on the schedule can be guaranteed to be played at the assigned date because of this and coaches just have to do their best to adjust to it.

Playing without an offensive line might not be an option, but there are other ways around having a position group being stuck in quarantine. One of those ways is having players training at multiple positions and that’s something Notre Dame seems to be doing right now.

At first glance, it was a bit surprising to see that Osita Ekwonu and Kendall Abdur-Rahman were both moved to running back. But considering the circumstances, it’s probably a smart move to prepare the roster to be as flexible as possible.

It’s a high school mentality to have several players play at multiple positions. That mentality may be a necessity in order to get through certain weeks during the season (or in this case, preseason).

Ekwonu isn’t going to be at the top of the depth chart at running back or linebacker. So why not have him as a possibility at both in case of emergency? KAR has Avery Davis and Lawrence Keys competing for the starting job in the slot. There’s Xavier Watts there too. The position is deep enough that it makes sense to work KAR at running back whether the move is permanent or not.

Ekwonu played both ways in high school and averaged over 7.0 yards per carry as a junior and senior. KAR was a high school quarterback and was a dynamic runner.

Notre Dame has similar flexibility with Shaun Crawford and KJ Wallace on defense. Both can work at corner and safety with Brian Kelly mentioning that Crawford could start opposite Kyle Hamilton. Crawford, who worked at safety last year as well, was a star safety in high school. He had 91 tackles and produced a ridiculous 35 Havoc plays his senior season. Wallace was a two-way star at his high school and played primarily safety on defense.

It’s smart to take advantage of their versatility when there might be a situation where that versatility will be needed.

This is going to be a theme this year at several positions. Notre Dame has had players on the offensive line for years train at multiple spots. This fall that is going to be to their benefit. The fact that Ade Ogundeji can slide inside to 3-tech, like he did last year at Stanford, helps a lot. Where we would have seen someone like Jacob Lacey only work at nose in most years, this might be a situation where he gets some work at 3-tech as well.

There was some head scratching by Notre Dame fans when Kelly announced that Ekwonu and Abdur-Rahman had moved to running back. It’s less so with KAR, but definitely more peculiar with Ekwonu. Depth is going to be tested this season like it hasn’t been any other year, though, and the staff needs to be prepared for any worst case scenarios.

This isn’t a time for specialization. It’s about doing what you have to do to practice and play from week to week.

2. It’s nice to see Kelly praising what running back Kyren Williams has shown so far and from what was said, it appears that he will be a prominent player in the backfield.

"Kyren Williams has really emerged as somebody that we feel right now has gained an advantage as the top back right now. Now, he's going to require some assistance at that position from a number of other guys; we're not going to feature just one back. But Kyren's done a great job.”

He clearly put in a lot of hard work to get to this point, but don’t forget that Williams was getting reps with the ones working in the backfield and the slot heading into week one of last year. He could have played and contributed at some point in 2019. The staff just chose not to use him.

He would have had a bit role last year even if he did play. Now he might be ready for a lead one.

I noticed that a lot of reporters who cover Notre Dame were reminding everyone how much they liked Williams after Kelly’s Zoom call on Tuesday. I don’t think they had to do that because pretty much everyone liked him.

He might have been the best pure football player they signed in 2019 and his skill and toughness remind me of Theo Riddick.

3. I think I might have had Abdur-Rahman rated higher than anyone else when he signed with the Irish. I gave him a grade of 92. 247Sports had him as a 4-star as well with a grade of 90. Ranked as an Athlete, Rivals didn’t have him in the top-50 in that group of prospects and ESPN had him outside of the top-40 for them. 

We’ll see if this move to running back is just for depth or if there’s more to it, but to me, this is a guy that needs to be given a chance to touch the football. He’s too explosive of an athlete to not give him an opportunity.

Kelly mentioned him as a pleasant surprise with his “ability to see things and some really good vision and break some big plays for us”. He had seven touchdown runs of 60-yards or longer as a senior. If Notre Dame is going to have an explosive running game, it can’t all be Chris Tyree.

That’s one reason why I really want to see KAR with the ball in his hands because having multiple home run threats in the backfield changes the ceiling of the offense.

4. Kelly also mentioned defensive end Jordan Botelho and defensive tackle Rylie Mills as the two freshmen defensive linemen who have stood out and could play this year. And this is where normally I would write that it’s great that both could play and also great that they won’t have to when you consider the depth in front of them. Think Isaiah Foskey last year.

But these aren’t normal times and they might have to be on the field at some point, even in a year where Notre Dame may have a crowded defensive line rotation.

So this is where I write that it’s great both can play because Notre Dame might need them to in an uncertain year. It’s a good luxury to have if the program wants to continue to have an advantage at the line of scrimmage against some mediocre offensive lines in the ACC.

5. Anyone who has read 6 Thoughts regularly knows that I wasn’t a very big fan of Doug Flutie as an analyst during Notre Dame games on NBC. It would be fair to call it consensus that fans who regularly watched home games would have preferred someone else.

Everyone got their wish with NBC adding Tony Dungy to the booth where he will work with Mike Tirico. It’s not the obvious choice given that Chris Simms seemed like he could have made the move from studio/field to the booth, but I think it has the chance to be a good one nonetheless.

Dungy and Tirico have good chemistry from working on Football Night in America together. That’s one big obstacle they have already overcome because the chemistry never seemed right with Tirico and Flutie, no matter how hard Tirico tried to set up his partner for success.

Dungy is clearly a knowledgeable football mind and I’ve liked him in the booth in the rare times he has done games. I think Notre Dame fans are going to like him (until the first time he points out a call that should have gone against the Irish) and I’m confident they’ll like him a lot more than Flutie.

6. Someone asked the question on the board earlier this week about whether or not we’ll find out about players missing games due to Covid-19 before gameday or if we’ll find out on the day of. The way things have been handled so far, I don’t see any way we’re finding out about players not being available before unless it’s enough to cancel or postpone the game.

As for finding out who may be missing in a given game week before the day of the game, good luck with that. Coaches aren’t going to want to volunteer who will be out for competitive reasons and they aren’t going to be willing to share why they are out.

Think of the whole Dexter Williams situation where everyone knew he was going to be unavailable for the beginning of the 2018 season and yet it was not anything Kelly or his staff could talk about. They certainly aren’t going to be talking openly about players who have contracted Covid-19 or players who are out due to contact tracing.

So if you’re someone who is really looking forward to college football returning because you like to lay a few bucks down on games, this may be a year to stay away from that as much as you can. You may put down some money not knowing that a team is missing a couple of key pieces and then only finding out about it just before kickoff.

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