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Notre Dame Football

5 Big Questions Before Spring Ball

March 26, 2021
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Spring ball starts tomorrow for Notre Dame. Unfortunately, we won’t be seeing any of it until the Blue-Gold game on May 1.

While it’s less than ideal for the media this spring, it should make the spring game more intriguing as we’ll learn some things that day we won’t know before then. We may be in for some surprises after the Irish get done practicing over the next month.

With that in mind, here are five big questions about the team this spring that we will hopefully gain some insight into when this is all done.

Will Tyler Buchner be a contender for QB1?

From the day Jack Coan announced he was transferring to Notre Dame, he became the early favorite to be the starter against Florida State this fall. It’s as simple as him having experience and everyone else lacking it.

Early enrollee Tyler Buchner has less experience than even a typical freshman. An injury as a sophomore and the pandemic postponing his senior season means he has played far less snaps than anyone would hope he would have.

There’s still plenty of Irish fans who want to see what he can do, though. Anyone who watched his junior highlights has to be excited about the kind of athletic plays he is capable of making. The other quarterbacks may have more polish, but only Buchner can make a play like this.

via GIPHY

Is he going to get meaningful reps to compete for the starting job this spring? Or is this going to be all about him learning the offense and building up his mechanics?

The Blue-Gold game will tell us the answer. If he’s working at all with the first or second string in the first half of the game, then he’s likely in the mix. If he’s only going to see time with a running clock competing against other young players in the second half, then it will be obvious where he stands on the depth chart.

Will young players in the secondary be ready to ascend?

This question along with the pass rush is going to determine how good the defense can be under Marcus Freeman.

They have to come out of the spring with healthy competition at corner and safety. That means someone like Cam Hart needs to step forward and prove he can play at a high level. If not him, then perhaps it can be Ramon Henderson who can go from long athlete to quality cornerback.

The hope is that Houston Griffith finally becomes the guy he’s supposed to be at safety. If he does or doesn’t, it would help a lot if KJ Wallace looked like someone who was in the mix to start or play as a third safety.

Philip Riley, Ryan Barnes, and Justin Walters are on campus as early enrollees and in a normal year they are in a situation where they were just getting acclimated. Notre Dame is going to need them to hit the ground running so someone from that group can push for snaps or provide depth this season.

How different will the offense look?

Notre Dame loses a ton of experience on the offensive line and Tommy Tremble’s tenacity was part of the identity on offense last season. Without him and especially without Ian Book, how is that identity going to change?

It’s consensus that the Irish have the talent at receiver to be more diverse with their personnel than they were, but Notre Dame is still “Tight End U” and Michael Mayer may actually be the best receiver on the roster. He could be the focal point of the passing game much like Tyler Eifert was in 2012.

There’s a lot of directions Tommy Rees could explore this spring with great talent in the backfield giving him the option to play with two backs on the field more as well. He’s not going to show his hand that much in the spring game, but it will be interesting to see and hear how he has tweaked things from last season.

Who will replace JOK’s playmaking?

37.5 Havoc plays in two seasons. It’s about as good of a two-year run as we’ve seen from a defender over the last decade.

Whether it was forcing fumbles, big hits in the backfield, or covering slot receivers, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was a unique playmaker. There isn’t a player on the roster who can do everything that he did.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t playmakers. Kyle Hamitlon was and still will be someone who gets his hands on the football. It just won’t be this spring as he recovers from an injury.

It would be significant to find another couple of players that show they can consistently create Havoc. Perhaps it’s Clarence Lewis at corner who did a tremendous job at breaking up passes as a freshman. There are a few candidates at linebacker who should have greater opportunities to make plays in the backfield in Freeman’s defense too.

Finding a game wrecker or two or three would be a big deal as well. Notre Dame didn’t have a defensive lineman finish with double digit tackles for loss last season. They had three in 2018 and having that same kind of level of play up front would help the young players in the secondary quite a bit.

Is there a Claypool or Boykin ready to breakout this spring?

Miles Boykin had a dominant spring in 2018. Chase Claypool one upped him the next year. Kevin Austin seemed poised to join them in 2020 before the pandemic hit.

Who’s next? It’s very much up in the air and there are at least a handful of candidates, which is much different than the scenarios with Boykin and Claypool. They were supposed to step up and did so.

Someone needs to be “the guy” at receiver or else any thought of having a more explosive passing game will seem like a wish rather than an expectation.

 
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