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Notre Dame Football

5 Notre Dame Camp Battles to Watch

July 16, 2021
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There has been so much focus these past few weeks on key recruiting commitments that it’s easy to forget that Notre Dame is less than two months away from playing football again. That means college football teams are only weeks away from diving head first into fall camp and it’s going to be exciting for a return to normalcy in that setting.

We’ll get to see players in practice that we haven’t seen since 2019. A lot has changed since then, but one thing that always remains the same is the competition that camp brings out at several positions.

Both sides of the ball for the Irish need to establish their identity heading into the season, but before that comes battles to win starting jobs at several positions this August. There are too many to list with Notre Dame having to replace so much production. These five stick out as ones that I’m most looking forward to seeing play out.

Both guard spots

Both starting guard spots are up in the air, so I didn’t feel it was appropriate to list just one. Nothing is set in stone after the spring, especially with the addition of graduate transfer Cain Madden. He’ll be one of the primary contenders and there may be as many as six other possibilities.

That’s a lot for two spots, but it immediately gets whittled down once Jeff Quinn and the staff decide where they are going to play Jarrett Patterson. If he’s playing guard, it could very well be him and Madden. If Patterson is playing center, then that adds another interesting element to the competition.

Zeke Correll won’t just be the backup at center. He will get a chance to at least compete at guard if he’s not the starting center. So that leaves Madden, one of Patterson or Correll, and a group of players with far less experience.

The possible leading contender from the others is the one who has spent the least time on campus. True freshman Rocco Spindler impressed in the spring and the future could become the present with him and Blake Fisher playing together on the left side. There’s also Andrew Kristofic, John Dirksen, and Quinn Carroll who shouldn’t be counted out as well.

My guess is that the first group on the O-line will be a fluid situation early in camp and then it will get whittled down to three or four contenders for the two guard spots fairly quickly. The only certainty would be Patterson if he’s playing guard.

It should be a very interesting battle to watch and may not be settled by the time camp is over.

Vyper

Big things are expected of Isaiah Foskey this season now that there is a clear path to playing time. He has to win a starting job at Vyper first before he gets anointed as the next great edge rusher for the Irish and Jordan Botelho isn’t going to make it an easy decision based on what we’ve seen and heard.

This is one of those good problems for Mike Elston. It could be very similar to Daelin Hayes and Julian Okwara in 2018 where both of those players were featured on third down with Okwara eventually becoming the starter. Hayes still played almost 500 snaps that season, though, and whoever loses the starting battle here will get plenty of chances to make an impact.

Slot receiver

No one seems to be really talking about this competition. Perhaps they should be with the kind of spring Lawrence Keys had because it sure appears like he has a chance to be featured more as a big play option this fall.

If he does, he’ll more than likely be taking snaps away from Avery Davis, who was solid with a splash of spectacular in the slot in 2020. Notre Dame hasn’t rotated a lot at receiver in recent years. This could be the season that changes if they want to get both Keys and Davis involved more.

Davis has done more on Saturdays, but not enough that Keys can’t emerge. It would be a good thing if the competition is too close to call and the two of them were factors when it came to producing explosive plays in 2021. Keys had several deep receptions in the spring.

Safety

Who’s going to play next to Kyle Hamilton? This isn’t exactly literal because I expect Hamilton to be lined up all over the field and utilized in a variety of ways under new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman. If he’s going to have the freedom to use Hamilton in multiple roles, he’ll have to have someone who is reliable playing as the other safety.

It’s supposed to be Houston Griffith’s time and perhaps it will be. DJ Brown is certainly not laying down and handing Griffith the job, though. It could be that these two split the position. I wouldn’t count out KJ Wallace either because the former cornerback has the ability to line up and cover man to man in the slot, which is also why Wallace is competing in the nickel.

Early enrollee Justin Walters did enough in the spring to suggest he’ll be pushing to be in the two-deep at the very least and he’s someone to watch out for this August. He’d be at the top of the list of freshmen who could make a surprise move this summer.

Cornerback

I think most will have Clarence Lewis and Cam Hart penciled in as starters heading into camp and it may just end up that way. Tariq Bracy and Ramon Henderson could at least make things interesting.

With the way Freeman called his defense at Cincinnati, I’m positive he’ll want to come out of camp with at least three corners who could be considered starters. If he gets four, then that would be welcome news for him running something similar to what he had so much success with the Bearcats.

Lewis, a sophomore, and Bracy, who lost his starting job to Lewis, are the most proven in the cornerback room. That leaves plenty of opportunities for some players to make a move including some freshmen like Caleb Offord (redshirted last season), Philip Riley (enrolled early), Jojo Johnson, and Chance Tucker. We’ll see what happens with Ryan Barnes as well and whether or not he moves to safety and sticks at corner.

Cincinnati had a top-five pass defense last season and a huge part of that was cornerback play. This position battle might be the most important outside of quarterback.

 
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