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Notre Dame Football

A Critical Spring at Receiver, D-line and Cornerback for Notre Dame

January 19, 2022
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Notre Dame still has some positions to fill with the coaching staff, but the 2022 roster is pretty much set now that we (mostly) know who is staying and who is leaving. TaRiq Bracy has the option to stay for an extra season, but he has not yet made his intentions known if he’s coming back or not.

Even if he’s back, Notre Dame needs to have some competition at corner. They have a couple of other spots that need some help and a lot of it can be addressed with player development this spring.

Wide receiver

Having Braden Lenzy, Avery Davis, and Joe Wilkins all decided to come back is huge for the receiver room as it doubles the number of players that they have returning. Combined with Lorenzo Styles Jr., Deion Colzie, Jayden Thomas, and true freshman Tobias Merriweather, they have a chance to be a pretty strong group.

Or it could be a group that is an injury or two away from disaster. So much is going to depend on Colzie and Thomas can make a move this spring. Styles is on the path to stardom, but the other two need to prove they can play much bigger roles. If not, then Merriweather’s arrival in the summer will be that much more important.

Even if the Irish were able to add another 2022 recruit to the mix, that likely wouldn’t help much for this year. They also don’t want to take someone who is the next Khari Gee or Devin Aupui that doesn’t last a year at Notre Dame.

They need more depth and could use some competition on the boundary, but until we hear that there are realistic options in the transfer portal, then it’s best to focus on the development of players like Colzie and Thomas.

Defensive line

There are questions on the defensive line that need to be answered this spring. The starting group has a chance to be fantastic and the 3rd down personnel could be even better, but building quality depth is something that has to happen.

The main issue is at defensive end where a move by Rylie Mills feels like a necessity even if that isn’t his best position. It wasn’t Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa’s best spot either, but they needed him to move there. Mills would be the favorite to start over NaNa Osafo-Mensah or Alex Ehrensberger unless one of them makes a significant jump with their level of play. They need them to be much better or else they could be in danger of early enrollee Tyson Ford leapfrogging them in the rotation.

If the staff doesn’t like what they see, they could always clear up the log jam at Vyper by moving Justin Ademilola or Jordan Botelho to the other end. Ademilola was playing that position in 2020. It’s an option that could solve the problem of finding more snaps for both of these players as well. 

If Mills is moving outside on standard downs, he will definitely be an interior rusher in sub-packages, it creates some uncertainty at nose tackle and 3-tech. Jayson Ademilola is back and will start at 3-tech and Jacob Lacey would presumably be the backup, but that means the starting nose tackle job is essentially handed to Howard Cross. Lacey and Cross may be better suited to play 3-tech, but Notre Dame may not have a choice of where to put them.

It all depends on Aidan Keanaaina and Gabriel Rubio and whether or not one of them can become a factor at nose. Notre Dame needs it to happen.

Cornerback

Depending on what happens with Bracy, Notre Dame could have their top three corners back for the spring. Even if Bracy returns, they still need some competition at the nickel and the boundary. Even under the assumption that Bracy, Clarence Lewis and Cam Hart will be better, they don’t have anyone else who has proven they can contribute.

Ryan Barnes, Chance Tucker, Philip Riley, and Jojo Johnson all redshirted. Jaden Mickey and Jayden Bellamy are both early enrollees, although Bellamy may play safety. There could be as many as six corners with zero experience competing in the spring and having half of them pushing for playing time would be a critically important development for Notre Dame’s defense.

Receiver has been on the mind of many this offseason, but cornerback shouldn’t be overlooked because the Irish need young players to make significant progress and prove they can play at the level Notre Dame needs them to.

 
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