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6 Thoughts on a Thursday

June 30, 2022

Basketball is such a different game than football because lineups are so fluid. A team’s best five or “crunch time five” might not be their starting five.

That’s not how an offensive line would ever be treated in football.

The best five are the starting five. They aren’t subbing in someone to close out games. They roll with the best and that’s their group, even if some others might get in the mix in some instances.

Who the best five is for Notre Dame is a mystery at the moment, but things seem to be leaning towards Zeke Correll, playing center, being one of the best five. That would lead to Jarrett Patterson, a three-year starter at center, to play guard.

Patterson should be welcoming that. Center-only prospects in the NFL Draft can have limited options. If he proves he can play guard at a high-level as well, then that could greatly help his draft stock.

From the “no duh” department, Correll would clearly love that too as last year showed it’s just center for him if he’s going to be a starter.

If you’re penciling in those two in addition to Blake Fisher and Joe Alt at offensive tackle, the last open guard spot could get very interesting. It leaves two starters from last season, Josh Lugg and Andrew Kristofic, battling it out on either the left or right side. However, it’s not certain that either of the two are in the best five for Harry Hiestand.

The safe choice is Lugg. We know what he is and know what he isn’t. There is a baseline that he hits, even while playing through injuries.

Even though Kristofic played a lot down the stretch in 2021, I’m not quite sure we know how good he can be yet. The easy assumption is that with experience he’ll be better and has a higher ceiling than Lugg.

I think the average Notre Dame fan would lean towards him over Lugg, but they aren’t in there evaluating this on a day to day basis. I don’t believe Kristofic will be a starter if he isn’t better than he was last season. I think that’s a fair assumption.

Then there’s the field with Rocco Spindler and Michael Carmody as the two who I would view as most likely to push to start. It’s more of an unknown with them at the moment, but they are near the top of the list for me as individuals who I'm hoping to see have great camps even if neither ends up as a starter.

I don’t know how it will play out. I just know that Correll being one of the five best is a good thing as long as Patterson can make that successful transition to guard. It should make the line deeper and that other guard spot even better because the competition for that starting job should be a good one.

2. My good buddy Chris Wilson came up with a fun thought experiment on Twitter that’s explained in this tweet.

For the most part, people understood the assignment of not picking obvious choices like Michael Mayer and Isaiah Foskey, who we already know can/will play at an All-American level, and made other selections.

Mine were 1) Tyler Buchner 2) Blake Fisher and 3) Cam Hart.

I thought about Lorenzo Styles Jr., but there are so many good receivers that he could play at an elite level and still not get All-American recognition. There’s a bunch of others I considered as well and that’s what made it a fun thing to pick.

I want to focus on picking Hart for a moment because if Hart, or any Notre Dame corner, is being considered as one of the best in the country, I think that elevates the entire ceiling of the defense. It either means he has incredible ball production (think Julian Love) or he is locking down top receivers (like no other Notre Dame corner has done in recent years).

This leads into what Notre Dame is likely to do over the next week, which is to earn commitments from Christian Gray‍ and Micah Bell‍. I don’t know that either will become one of the top corners in college football, but both have the potential to develop into a player that is that good.

That’s pretty much all you can ask for.

Cornerback has been one of the most difficult positions to recruit for Notre Dame for a very long time. Too long of a time. Things appear to be changing in that department, though, and I think it’s the final step for Notre Dame’s defensive transformation.

They have built a very good defense over the last five seasons. Landing these kinds of corners every cycle can get them to take that next step towards great.

3. Notre Dame picked up a good one in 2024 wide receiver Cam Williams‍ and it would have been significant no matter what state he’s from, but it is nice to see them landing an elite prospect out of Illinois. They aren’t going to land them all, but when the Irish are rolling, they should land most of them.

It probably didn’t get discussed enough at the end of the 2022 cycle that Notre Dame ended up whiffing on Kaleb Brown and Tyler Morris, two very good receivers out of Illinois. I know it was news at the time when Brown ended up at Ohio State and Morris ended up at Michigan. I know my response was that losing recruits from the Midwest like that hurts, but it won’t matter if they land Tobias Merriweather and CJ Williams.

They only landed one of them so it ultimately did matter.

When Notre Dame is really recruiting at its best, it’s not just about doing well nationally. They dominate their recruiting base and part of that base is Chicago/Illinois when they have top prospects. Landing a commitment from Williams this early in the process is important because of that as well.

4. Michigan was a contender for Williams just like they are a contender for 2023 O-linemen Charles Jagusah‍, who is announcing today. Things are pointing to the Wolverines finishing second for Jagusah just like they did for Williams. They probably finished second for CJ Carr‍ as well.

But in the land of college football recruiting, second is brutal. There are no moral victories. It’s a Ricky Bobby mentality. If you’re not first, you’re last.

Things are going pretty rough for Michigan in general in recruiting. It’s not just them taking Ls from Notre Dame. Michigan State and Ohio State are destroying them right now. Jim Harbaugh’s program is currently 13th in the Big Ten recruiting rankings with only one 4-star committed.

Mike Elston has one defensive lineman committed and he’s a 3-star. Al Washington has had four 4-stars commitments in the 2023 and 2024 class and held onto the commitments Keon Keeley and Brenan Vernon on top of that.

I know that many Notre Dame fans are gloating over this and I’m just here to say that everyone is going to get a chance to continue to gloat for a while. It’s not early in the 2023 cycle anymore. I’m not sure they have any chance of putting together a great class and to even put together a decent one might end up being a struggle. After they finally pushed through to make the College Football Playoff last season, it’s a pretty crazy development.

5. Braden Lenzy had five rushes or receptions of 40-yards or more in 2019. To put that into perspective, only Josh Adams in 2017 and Will Fuller in 2015 had more in a single season during the last decade. (Kyren Williams also had five in 2020)

Lenzy hasn’t had one over 40-yards since then.

There wasn’t enough from Lenzy in 2019 to suggest he was on the path to be another Fuller in terms of overall production, but Lenzy looked like he might be ready to match Fuller’s big play production. It’s doubtful that will happen this season.

Can he get back to what he showed in ‘19, though? The kind of plays he made can break a game open.

I honestly have zero expectations for Lenzy heading into fall camp. There are very few players on the team who have shown that kind of ability on the field that he has and if he shows a few glimpses of that this August, then that would be a very exciting development for the Irish offense.

6. I might not have any expectations for what Notre Dame will get from Lenzy in 2022, but I have high expectations for several players throughout the roster. If I listed all the names, it would be over a dozen players who technically aren’t coming back as returning starters.

I know the 2015 season was one of those years where there was a lot of excitement about the team heading into the summer. A lot of that had to do with established starters returning. This team has some of that with, but it’s more about the anticipation of seeing young players coming into their own (Joe Alt, Lorenzo Styles, Rylie Mills) or players returning from injuries who missed last season (Blake Fisher, Marist Liufau).

I’m trying to remember another Notre Dame team like this one where there were so many of those types of players and the one that comes to mind is that 2012 team, which had some established key players returning, but wouldn’t have reached the heights that they did without major contributions from players like Stephon Tuitt, Everett Golson, KeiVarae Russell, Bennett Jackson, and Matthias Farley.

That is one of the things that made that team special. It wasn’t just about Manti Te’o, Zack Martin, and Tyler Eifert being great. They needed plenty of unproven talent to emerge as well.

One reason why I’m excited to see Notre Dame take on a program on the level of Ohio State early in the season is that it should reveal at least a few individuals who are ready to be prime time players for the ‘22 season. If they show up big on the road in that environment against that level of competition, they are going to be on their way to a great season.

How many unproven players are going to show out against the Buckeyes on September 3rd? I can’t wait to find out. Men’s ND Trucker Snapback

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