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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

April 8, 2021
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It would be great to get an All-22 view or even more of a TV copy look at some Notre Dame practice clips, but we get what we get these days. So we’ll have to stick to overreacting to super tight close ups that look good on highlight reel plays like the catch Avery Davis made at practice on Tuesday.

via GIPHY

There are some other small things that can be taken from these videos, though. Something like Jordan Botelho, likely as a Vyper, being matched up in coverage against Michael Mayer on one play. Or the alignment of Rylie Mills on a couple of plays where he found himself in the backfield.

On one snap, Mills had a sack on Drew Pyne after beating Andrew Kristofic with Mills lined up as a 3-technique (outside shade of the guard). On the final play where he got pressure, Mills was lined up at 5-technique (outside shade of the tackle) and beat Quinn Carroll on an inside move to get pressure on the quarterback.

via GIPHY

Before anyone asks, I don’t believe this means Mills is playing some “big end” in the base defense. Based on every other play we’ve seen from him, 3-technique defensive tackle seems to be his position when they play four down.

It appears that Notre Dame is lining up in a 30 front on this play and my guess is that this is Marcus Freeman’s “Dollar” package.

It’s great to see Mills showing up on these highlights. He looks massive and from the flashes we saw last season from him as a freshman, it’s not surprising. I think people should take note of Howard Cross as well (lined up as the nose) who beats the center with a quick arm over move on the same play. They aren’t players who are expected to be starters, but they are going to make an impact this season.

I heard from a source that Cross and Jayson Ademilola were very disruptive in Notre Dame’s scrimmage this past Saturday. Both of them are undersized, but have the potential to make a ton of plays in the backfield because of their ability to get lateral and explode up the field. As a defensive line guy, it’s exciting to hear about these guys shining and it makes a lot of sense to move Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa to the “big end” when there is this kind of depth at defensive tackle.

Freeman had defensive tackle Cortez Broughton at Cincinnati in 2018 when the Bearcats were still playing four down. He was a game wrecker who finished the season with 16.5 tackles for loss. I’m sure Freeman sees some of what he had in Broughton in the guys Mike Elston is coaching at defensive tackle right now, which is one reason why playing four down still makes sense with the talent on the roster.

I don’t know if one guy is going to be a double digit TFL machine for Notre Dame like Sheldon Day was in 2015. It’s a far safer bet that the Irish will cause a ton of Havoc at defensive tackle by committee.

I’d set the over/under for TFLs from the position at 25 and it would not surprise me one bit if they hit the over.

2. Former scout and current NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah released his latest mock draft and it always interests me to see how many former 3-star (or lower) recruits make the list. There were 14 of them this time around and one of them was Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (who I had as a 4-star on ISD).

Another one of the 3-stars could have ended up in South Bend, but the Irish never offered. That would be Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye, who was a Boston College commitment, and badly wanted an offer from Notre Dame. He wanted it bad enough that he showed up to Irish Invasion to work out and try and earn it.

I was there that day and watched him work out for former defensive line coach Keith Gilmore.

I could see why they didn’t offer at the time. Although he did show impressive twitch in the workout, he didn’t look like he had the frame to carry a lot more weight and looked a bit tight changing directions. Throw in that he was from Rhode Island and how raw he looked on film and I can understand why the offer never came.

He ran a 3-cone drill at the camp and I promise you it looked nothing like this.

I guess it was a bad day because he’s put up freakish athletic numbers in testing and it translated to the field. He’s considered by many to be the top edge rusher in this draft class.

The Irish have not lacked talent at defensive end the last few years, but potentially adding a player who developed into a first round pick is a massive “what if”. There is no doubt he would have made the defense better.

This was the same class that Notre Dame ended up taking Kofi Wardlow and Jonathan MacCollister so they weren’t afraid to take on a couple of developmental prospects. They just took the wrong one that cycle.

3. Another former 3-star who is projected to be a first round pick by Jeremiah is Virginia Tech offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw. I actually did a breakdown of him as a prospect for a Virginia Tech site when he made his commitment.

Darrisaw had zero FBS offers at the time. He was someone who gained a lot of weight from his junior to senior season. He had really light feet, but was all caps RAW with his technique.

Here’s what I wrote about his potential:

This is the obvious reason why Virginia Tech is taking a chance on Darrisaw. They see the athletic upside along with the power he plays with. They think they can develop those tools he has and turn him into a very good player.
I like what I see from him in terms of his upside. It's a risk taking him because he has to put in the work to be a starter or great player down the road, but I believe it's worth taking because there aren't any physical limitations to him becoming a starter one day. They just have to coach him up.
It's not that much different than taking a defensive tackle who hasn't played much on the offensive line and projecting him to that side of the ball. They see an athlete with the right kind of traits they are looking for and it could pay off in a big way if they are patient with his development.

Virginia Tech had him placed at Fork Union Military Academy for a year to gain more experience and he was starting as a true freshman (sophomore age) in 2018 for the Hokies. When the Irish played them in 2018 in Blacksburg, I could see the upside, but he struggled that night despite Julian Okwara only playing half of the game (he was ejected for targeting).

Darrisaw gave up four pressures that night. He gave up six over the course of the entire season in 2020.

To me, he’s a perfect example of not just development, but getting the opportunity to develop. He played 785 snaps that season and improved as it went on.

The lack of offers and how it turned out shows that everybody whiffed on his evaluation. Everyone could use a first round left tackle and they could have had someone like him if they recognized his potential sooner.

If he chose a school with better depth on the offensive line would he still have become the player he is now? It’s impossible to say, but I suspect it would have been a much tougher road to get there if he ended up somewhere else.

4. I’m unbelievably jealous of this analogy that former scout and current NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks came up with regarding Mac Jones. If the other first round quarterbacks are super powered Avengers, Jones is Iron Man.

“(Jones’) powers are the suit. You take the suit off, he doesn’t have any super powers. And the suit to me has been the supporting case of Alabama or whatever. So I say, look, he’s not a first round talent. I wouldn’t grade him as a first round talent.”

As someone who is a huge MCU fan, that analogy is *chef’s kiss*.

What Brooks is saying is absolutely true too. Jones doesn’t have the elite arm. He’s not a unique athlete. He was throwing to the best receiver in college football, had an All-American in the backfield, and was protected by the best offensive line in college football. He had gadgets that no one else had at their disposal.

There is another way to look at it that should be of interest to Notre Dame fans. It could be argued that Jones’ super powers are intelligence and accuracy. (Related: the fact Tony Stark is a genius who created an Iron Man suit in a cave should show that his super power was intelligence as well)

Plenty of other Alabama quarterbacks had the same kind of talent around them. Other than Tua Tagovailoa, no one else has been close to as good as Jones was for the Crimson Tide.

That brings it back to Notre Dame’s quarterbacks. The two guys battling it out for the starting job right now, Drew Pyne and Jack Coan, are more Iron Man than Captain America. They don’t have a super soldier serum to boost up their traits. For these guys to succeed in the same way Jones did, it will be about whether or not they have the suit (supporting cast) and if they have Tony Stark level football intelligence.

(Before the Tyler Buchner stans jump in the comments, yes, he has some of those Avenger super powers the other guys don’t. He may not be ready to fly yet and that part matters too.)

5. A lot of what will matter for Notre Dame is the supporting cast on offense. The backs are going to be very good, but how good the line can be in a transition year and how good the receivers can be with very little returning production are the two biggest things to figure.

Here’s some clear evidence that supporting cast matters: in 2019 with Chase Claypool a consistent deep threat, PFF had Ian Book fifth in the country in adjusted completion percentage on deep throws. In 2020, Book finished 54th in that same category.

Any guesses as to who finished fourth in 2019? It rhymes with Mack Doan.

Yup, Coan had a really high adjusted completion percentage in 2019. He didn’t throw it deep very often (147th in percentage of deep ball attempts), but when he did, he had Quintez Cephus to throw to and he was one of the best contested catch receivers in the country.

6. Kendall Abdur-Rahman entered the transfer portal and it made a lot of sense as to why that happened. He’s likely not going to be the last Notre Dame player to enter the portal this spring or summer. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few more looking for a new opportunity.

This is why the question of how many recruits the Irish will sign each cycle has become pointless. 12 players who were on the roster last spring are no longer on the team after entering the transfer portal. Ovie Oghoufo was the only one who played any snaps against Alabama and he was also the only one who was projected to be a contributor this fall.

No one would need to take a hard look at the roster to see that there will be some individuals at the end of this spring who know they aren’t going to be playing this year for the Irish and some may see the writing on the wall that they’ll never get an opportunity to play significant snaps.

12 might seem unusually high in one year and for Notre Dame, it is. It’s pretty much standard with other high-profile programs, though.

Georgia, LSU, Penn State, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M, Florida State, Oregon, and Michigan are among the programs to have 10 or more players transfer out of the program in the last year. This is becoming the norm and Notre Dame is part of that now.

Some might not like it, but the program has adapted rather than being caught flat-footed.

How many will Notre Dame sign in the 2022 recruiting cycle? The answer is always fluid and the number could be adjusted again after spring ball is over.

 
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