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Notre Dame Football

5 Potential Breakout Candidates this Spring

March 9, 2021

Great players usually breakout first in the spring before they shine on Saturdays. We only need to look at recent Notre Dame teams to know that’s how it often starts.

Chase Claypool, Miles Boykin, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and Drue Tranquill are a few players who capitalized on a strong spring to become great players in the fall. With the Irish losing plenty of production and experience, there are several candidates who could potentially breakout over the next couple of months.

Here’s five who jump out at the top of the list:

OT Tosh Baker

A top-100 prospect from the 2020 recruiting class, the former high school basketball star has had tremendous physical development over the last couple of years. He’s a big time athlete who has all of the tools to be the next great left tackle for the Irish.

This spring he’ll have a wide open crack at winning the job now that Liam Eichenberg is off to the NFL.

Baker has garnered Ronnie Stanley comparisons for obvious reasons and it was year two for Stanley when he emerged as a starter at tackle opposite Zack Martin. Baker might not have the luxury of doing a one year apprenticeship on the right side like Stanley and Mike McGlinchey, but if he can take hold of the left side this spring, it would seem inevitable that it will be the start on his path to becoming one of the best in the country.

LB Marist Liufau

Liufau could have been a breakout player if Clark Lea was still around for one more year, but the addition of Marcus Freeman at defensive coordinator might make it a lock. That’s because there’s a good chance that the marriage between scheme and skill set can be a beautiful thing for Liufau.

He flashed big time as a blitzer last season, especially in the North Carolina game, but still only blitzed on 13.0% of pass plays. Freeman’s starting inside linebackers at Cincinnati blitzed 18.7% and 32.7% on pass plays last season.

Unleashing Liufau rushing the passer seems like a surefire way for him to make a big impact this spring and beyond.

CB Clarence Lewis

There weren’t a lot of bright spots from the 2016 season, but the flashes from Julian Love were one of them. Love went through some growing pains on the outside, but had seven Havoc plays and gave everyone a sneak preview of the playmaker he’d become.

Lewis had nine Havoc plays in 2020 despite playing 151 less snaps than Love did as a freshman. That’s one reason why it’s a safe bet that Lewis is going to be primed for a breakout in his first spring practice for Notre Dame.

He ended last season as a starter at corner and could end this spring as one of the better defenders on the team.

Vyper Jordan Botelho

So much of this has to do with opportunity and versatility. Botelho can do a lot of things that Daelin Hayes could and Hayes is off to the NFL. This opens things up for Botelho to join Isaiah Foskey to follow in the footsteps of Hayes and Julian Okwara.

His motor is not in question. The edge he plays with is prominent. The biggest thing we’ll have to see with Botelho will be if he can harness all of that energy he showed screaming down on kickoffs into a bigger role within the defense. If he doesn’t do so this year, it won’t be because he lacks the talent.

If he can refine his game and play under control a tiny bit more, the sky's the limit for him this spring.

WR Lorenzo Styles Jr.

Normally I would never choose an early enrollee for this, but Styles has the kind of talent that I believe is undeniable. That’s why we could see him grab some attention away from some other veterans much like KJ Stepherson did in the spring of 2016.

There are a handful of receiver candidates who would emerge in March and April. Styles should be included in that group and could provide an instant impact this season.

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