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Notre Dame Football

5 Important Developments this Spring

April 20, 2021
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We’re ⅔ of the way through spring ball and though we won’t get to see more than highlights until the Blue-Gold game on May 1, but we have learned about some important developments with this 2021 Notre Dame team.

All five of these are really good signs for what the ceiling of the program can be this fall and the most important one so far has to do with the O-line.

Zeke Correll winning the center job

Brian Kelly pretty much confirmed that the center job is now Correll’s and the reason that’s important is because of the flexibility it gives Jeff Quinn now that Jarrett Patterson won’t be playing there.

Patterson could literally start at any position up front for the Irish. What’s best for him and what’s best for the team isn’t determined yet. He could be the starting left tackle, but then that pushes out Tosh Baker and Blake Fisher with Josh Lugg likely playing right tackle. It could open things up for true freshman Rocco Spindler, though. He’s been getting first team reps at left guard and pairing him with the group’s best player is probably the move to make if that’s the direction they choose for Patterson.

Of course, they may choose to play Patterson at guard and maybe they pair him with one of those young tackles. There are a lot of possibilities now with him not being stuck at center, which is also why Kelly said there’s a priority in finding another option. They don’t want to weaken another position by moving Patterson if Correll ended up getting injured.

Correll or any other player at center gives Quinn the most flexibility with finding the best five players up front. That’s really good news for Notre Dame’s offense.

Braden Lenzy stepping forward

This is also a significant development for the offense. Lenzy’s chance to build on the promise of his explosive display in 2019 was put on hold due to injury. Him stepping up to where he is one of the receivers leading the way is exactly what the Irish passing game needed along in addition to Lawrence Keys and Joe Wikins having strong springs.

Though Kevin Austin is expected to compete to be WR1 when he’s healthy, Lenzy remains the only receiver on the roster who has produced big plays in games. Even if he only replicates what he did in 2019, it makes the offense much more dangerous than it was last season.

Two-man quarterback race

Tyler Buchner is getting more reps and showing growth. It was very encouraging to hear Kelly speak about his impressive recall ability and the future does seem bright for him.

Despite the excitement he’s generating, it really appears to be a two-man quarterback race with Jack Coan and Drew Pyne splitting most of the first team reps. It might seem strange to say, but having two players in a tight race to win the job out of spring is an ideal scenario for Notre Dame.

We knew Coan’s floor was high. He was going to come in and be competent at the very least when trying to win the starting job. We didn’t know as much about Pyne other than everything we heard about his work ethic and improvement as a freshman. He looks like he has taken another step and has made some throws that many might not have believed he could make.

Coan can win games for Notre Dame this year. If Pyne is right there with him in this competition, then it’s clear he can win too. This should be an interesting battle to watch the rest of spring and in fall camp.

Jordan Botelho showing maturity

The front seven on defense was going to be a strength even after losing two future NFL Draft picks at end and a Butkus Award winner at linebacker. They’ve recruited and developed too well for there to be a significant drop off.

However, the pass rush was a potential concern, particularly on 3rd down. It wasn’t as good as it was the previous season with 3rd down defense dropping to 70th in pass efficiency all the way from the fifth the year before.

A lot of that had to do with the pass rush taking a step back. Notre Dame was 42nd in sack rate last year after being 13th the previous season.

They want to get back to that 2019 level and one of the key pieces in achieving that was going to be Jordan Botelho. He has the talent to make a difference, but he needed to show the maturity after a bit of rough transition to Notre Dame.

He has been doing that according to Mike Elston and that’s given him a chance to flash as a pass rusher on the field this spring. He’s winning off the edge and as a blitzer from the inside in the “Dollar” package, which is going to be seen a lot on 3rd downs.

A year of growth for Botelho could mean a year of Havoc for the Irish pass rush.

Nickel corner progress

Slot corner has been a problem for Notre Dame in recent years whenever Shaun Crawford wasn’t healthy. Now he’s gone and he needs to be replaced. It looks like they’ve found a couple of options that might work in KJ Wallace and TaRiq Bracy.

As Matt Freeman reported, Bracy has maybe been the best corner on the team this spring. It’s not just him showing up in highlights picking off passes. He’s been good all around and it’s easy to envision him matching up with small, quick slot receivers.

We’ve been hearing Wallace is also having a strong spring playing the nickel and his ability to blitz, tackle, and cover makes him a logical fit.

Notre Dame is going to face some teams who spread it out in USC, Purdue, and North Carolina where a nickel is going to have to be on the field for most of the game. It’s a good sign that a couple of options are emerging and that both are playing well this spring.

 
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