Story Poster
Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

April 1, 2021
6,619

How Ian Book threw on this Pro Day is going to matter a lot more than how his athletic testing went, but it still says a lot about him as an athlete when looking at his overall numbers. Baker Mayfield seems to be the comparison for Book in many instances because of their size, but strictly as an athlete, his numbers are closer to former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.

No one is going to compare Book to Watson as a quarterback prospect, but the testing does emphasize what a great athlete Notre Dame had at the position. There’s a reason why he was so good at escaping the rush and what he did as a runner has to be included with how he impacted the game.

In his three years as the starter he averaged 88.7 carries and 539 yards per season. That’s less than Brandon Wimbush (166 and and 916 in 2017), but more than enough to show the kind of dual-threat Book was.

He scrambled quite a bit. They ran plenty of quarterback draws and quarterback sweeps with him. His running was a big part of the offense.

One thing we didn’t see a lot from him was zone read. We saw some of this with the fake where he ran for a touchdown to clinch the Northwestern game, but that was more of a call to keep than a read.

via GIPHY

I don’t know the reason for it, but they ran a very limited amount of zone read. Or maybe they did and Book chose to give rather than keep on many occasions.

Obviously the 2017 offense for Notre Dame left a lot to be desired, but the threat of Wimbush as a runner on those read plays helped them create big plays in the running game. This long Josh Adams run was a great example of that with three defenders sliding out worried about the quarterback run.

via GIPHY

Jack Coan and Drew Pyne aren’t the same level of athlete that Book is. They are the two who are the frontrunners to be QB1 this fall. I do think that Pyne is a much better athlete than some realize, though.

I wouldn’t expect to see quarterback sweep be a regular part of the play sheet, but he can run the zone read.

via GIPHY

I think Notre Dame has to be better at making defenses defend every inch of the field and that includes play-action, RPOs, and zone read. I don’t know why we didn’t see the latter more with Book. Perhaps we’ll see it more without him even if the next quarterback isn’t quite as athletic as he was.

2. I know that Notre Dame fans are excited about Marcus Freeman’s recruiting and like what they hear about his philosophy on defense. I also know that everyone understands that he has big shoes to fill when it comes to what Clark Lea did with game-planning and adjustments.

We have a track record at Cincinnati to go off of in that department and he did do a great job of tweaking his game plan from week to week. I wrote back in January about how he attacked certain offenses differently:

Freeman blitzed starting quarterbacks only 28.4% of the time last season. That’s not a high number and the reason it isn’t has to do with how Freeman, smartly, called games against certain offenses.
When playing SMU and the Air Raid, there were plenty of drop 8 and Shane Buechele was only blitzed on six of 53 drop backs. When they played UCF, they only blitzed Dillon Gabriel three of 57. It was clearly the right call in those games as Cincinnati held SMU to 3.41 YPP, by far their lowest average of the season. UCF averaged 4.27 YPP, which was also their lowest average.
Those offenses along with Memphis were three of the most explosive in the country. Cincinnati held them to an explosive play every 23.3 snaps.
Contrast those games with Georgia where Freeman blitzed JT Daniels on 21 of 41 drop backs. They weren’t going to get pressure against UGA rushing three or four and had to blitz more.

As for in-game adjustments, his defense was consistently good at keeping points down after half time.

Last season they gave up 2.4 points per 3rd quarter (4th). The previous two years they finished 24th and 9th.

For what it’s worth, Notre Dame finished 5th, 17th, and 36th the last three years.

3. I loved this from Freeman talking about toughness as a fundamental on the Make Defense Great Again podcast. My Dad, a high school coach for 33 years, would agree.

“Playing hard and playing physical is a fundamental that can be taught, that can be improved on. People say, “You can’t get this guy to be more physical.” Yeah, you can. You can work on it. You’ve got to find different ways to help that kid improve being physical in block destruction, in tackling, in ball disruption and those things are fundamentals of defense that we really work”

Players like Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Kyren Williams, and Tommy Tremble already have that fundamental as part of their games. Not everyone does. I’m interested to see how much he and the staff can bring that out with certain players.

TaRiq Bracy is someone in particular who I think could benefit from being more physical. Think of all of the 50/50 balls that Bracy has struggled with in the last few years. Think of some of the releases he has given some players on those vertical routes. If he’s a more physical player who is better at ball disruption, he’ll have a chance to be better than he showed he was last season.

4. Nick McCloud was a pleasant surprise at cornerback for the Irish. They had a need at boundary corner and the graduate transfer filled it. A starter at NC State prior to Notre Dame, he was a solid player in the ACC who elevated his game with the Irish.

I don’t think anyone would have said this guy is a blazer, though. No one expected him to run an unofficial 4.37 at Pro Day yesterday.

When someone runs much better than expected, it forces scouts to go back to the tape to re-evaluate. A lot of scouts are going to be doing that with McCloud.

That time might have taken himself off the undrafted bubble and transitioned him to a day three pick and that would make him the first graduate transfer to be drafted from Notre Dame.

5. I know it seems weird to most that a tight end with 35 career catches left early for the NFL with two years of eligibility remaining, but it makes perfect sense to me for a couple of reasons.

The first is that what Tommy Tremble does as a blocker, and how versatile he is in that respect, is not something that is easily replicated. That’s why he’s going to be one of the top tight ends off the board and why a guy with only 19 catches last season could be a day two pick.

The second is that he had only 52 targets the last two years. He talked about the staff selling him on getting more involved in that part of the game, but how much more would that be possible?

Michael Mayer had 59 targets in 2020. That number is only going to go up. He’s not seeing the ball less this season. And let’s say that the Irish have a true WR1 emerge much like they had with Chase Claypool in 2019. Claypool had 108 targets as a senior. That was 49 more than Javon McKinley had in ‘20 and he tied for the team lead in targets with Mayer.

There’s only one football and Tremble may have seen his targets grow slightly if he came back, but there’s a ceiling on how much more the ball would go his way. That’s a huge reason why it wasn’t an obvious choice for him to stay in school.

6. Unless the boss asks me to, I’m not going to be breaking down in extreme detail the practice video that Notre Dame is sharing with us.

For one, it’s mostly one on ones and not actual team drills. Two, the team stuff is shot in a way that only shows where the ball is. That’s great for a highlight package, but not great for looking at what actually happened on a play.

I think everyone should be careful to not overreact to the videos, especially these early practices without pads. I will admit that it’s encouraging to see early enrollee Justin Walters making plays on the ball in coverage, though.

I don’t believe anyone can feel all that confident in their evaluation of Walters as a recruit based on what was publicly available to view. This is what I wrote about his ceiling when he committed:

Walters is long and for someone who is listed at 170, he sure doesn’t play like it. He projects as a physical box safety and his skill set is similar to former Notre Dame safety Alohi Gilman.
I think he can develop into an impact player as a run defender. How he progresses in coverage will determine his ceiling.
Can he succeed in man coverage? Can he flip his hips and play deep? Can he have more Havoc production? The answers to those questions will tell us if he can become a solid player who can start at strong safety or if he can become an elite player at the next level.

I liked how physical he was and the way he could scream down the alley versus the run. I questioned his ability to recognize routes in coverage and how smooth he was out of his transitions.

I wanted to see more of him as a senior and didn’t get the chance to (Illinois is playing their football season this spring).

If he’s someone who can consistently find the football in coverage, that changes the player he can become at Notre Dame. We saw a few highlights and have no idea if he blew a coverage the next play or if he’s getting beat in one on ones. We don’t know anything more than what the program has elected to show us.

Walters was a 3-star prospect on every recruiting service. We’ll see if he can be an example of how the pandemic took away chances for players like him to prove they were better than their ranking.

 
×
subscribe Verify your student status
See Subscription Benefits
Trial only available to users who have never subscribed or participated in a previous trial.