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Notre Dame Football

5 Players Who Need to Step Up this Spring

March 12, 2021

There are over a dozen Notre Dame players who could be in line to have a breakout spring, but there are a handful of players who are in need of a breakout. If not that, then a bounce back.

I’ve highlighted a few backups who are going to have stiff competition for starting spots this season and a couple of players who were starters at the beginning of 2020 who will need to step up if they’re going to earn back those starting jobs.

If none of these guys have great springs, it might not have a significant impact on the team as a whole. It’s more important for them than the team and they risk the chance of staying stagnant or being buried down the depth chart if they don’t make a splash.

WR Lawrence Keys

There was a lot of buzz about Keys during his redshirt season that carried over into the spring and summer of the next year. He stood out in practices making several big plays and when Michael Young was injured in fall camp, it was Keys who was elevated to the starting lineup with Chris Finke shifting over to X.

He failed to make an impact in those early games and has dealt with some injuries as well. It was supposed to be him that took over the slot receiver position when Finke graduated, but Avery Davis ended up grabbing hold of it instead.

Keys hasn’t been able to break through with his speed like many hoped he would. For his career he’s averaging just over 10 yards per reception and only seven of his 18 career catches have gone for 1st downs.

It’s now going to be his fourth year in the program. The wide receiver group is looking for playmakers so there is an opportunity there for him to make a move. There are so many who are going to be fighting for snaps, though, that if he doesn’t stand out this spring, it’s unlikely that he’ll be in the mix in the fall.

DE Justin Ademilola

Ademilola is going to be in the defensive line rotation this season just like he was last year. However, it’s not a given that he’ll be elevated from the second team to a starter. He needs to earn the starting job at the “big end” for Notre Dame.

There’s going to be some competition for that spot. It could come from Notre Dame shifting Isaiah Foskey over there if Jordan Botelho steps up at Vyper. It may be that Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa slides over from his 3-tech spot and becomes the starter. There’s also some inexperienced talent like NaNa Osafo-Mensah and Alex Ehrensberger who could make a move.

Justin was solid all season against the run, but every edge defender wants to play on 3rd down so they get a chance to rush the passer. He was average getting after the quarterback with only a 9.1% pressure rate. He’ll need to show out and prove he can make an impact there to go from the rotation to being a starter.

LB Shayne Simon

Simon already looks like he may be destined to be a depth piece at Will linebacker after an up and down 2020. He played his best game of the season in the first Clemson matchup, but a lot of other games he was either not noticeable because he wasn’t aggressive enough or missed too many tackles.

Marist Liufau played almost triple the number of snaps at Simon the last two games, so things aren’t exactly trending well for him heading into this spring.

Before anyone counts him out, it’s good to remember that Notre Dame has had individuals make the leap after overcoming some struggles. Jalen Elliott was a starter as a sophomore at safety and looked primed to be replaced as a junior before stepping up with a great season. Asmar Bilal was potential over production for most of his time in blue and gold and then finally had things click for him in his last year.

It could be the case for Simon, but it needs to start with a great spring ball. He does get a fresh start with a new coordinator and position coach, so we’ll see if he can take advantage of it.

CB Cam Hart

This may seem premature for a player who still has plenty of eligibility left, but there is a wide open opportunity at the boundary corner and it would be huge for Hart to seize right now. That’s because there are young players who are going to push for that spot as well.

They brought in two early enrollees in Philip Riley and Ryan Barnes who will be trying to get in the mix and Ramon Henderson is going to be a better spot to compete after a redshirt season. There’s also the possibility that Notre Dame may look to move Clarence Lewis from the field to the boundary because of the ability he showed playing the run.

Physically, Hart checks all of the boxes that anyone would want for the position, but he’s not all that different from the others. If Hart takes control of that spot this spring, he could set himself up to be a multi-year starter. If he doesn’t, one of the others competing for it could be slotted in there for the next few years.

CB TaRiq Bracy

Everyone is aware of what happened to Bracy last season. He was burned in the Clemson and North Carolina games and eventually replaced by Lewis in the starting lineup. He only played five snaps the rest of the season after that.

Some Notre Dame fans may have already given up on him and have nightmares of previous corners who never regained their confidence. That may be the case with Bracy, but his play as a sophomore in 2019 is reason enough to believe he could regain his form.

He gave up 7.7 yards per target that season and led the team in pass breakups. His PFF grade was higher than Troy Pride’s.

Bracy would seem to be stuck behind Lewis at field corner, which is why it’s critical he has a bounce back this spring. If he plays well enough, it could possibly make the staff consider flipping Lewis to the boundary.

The Irish are looking for answers at cornerback. It would help if someone who has experience like Bracy could be part of the solution.

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