Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

4 That Need a Big Spring

February 28, 2017

Next to the first game of the season, my favorite day as a college football fan is signing day. That day represents hope. The new additions to a roster are always exciting and it's fun to imagine what most of these recruits could become as college football players.

Could is the appropriate word for many reasons. Will doesn't work because we just don't know what they will become. There are no guarantees for even 5 star prospects. Some never become what we think they will be and there are always some who come in with high expectations that never end up seeing the field.

These four players were not all expected to be difference makers when they signed with the Irish, but most felt they would become contributors at the very least. So far these players have not been able to see the field much for various reasons. There is still time for that to change, though, as long as they show they are progressing to the point where they won't be passed on the depth chart.

For that not to happen, I think all of these players are in need of a big spring to keep them in the mix for fall camp.

Nick Watkins

Watkins was thrown into the lineup against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl at the end of the 2015 season because of injury. He finally got a chance for some extended playing time with his first career start. Heading into last spring he was in a good spot to win the starting cornerback job opposite Cole Luke.

Unfortunately, an injury took him off the field and it was expected he would return healthy to compete by camp. It did not work out that way after his recovery from a broken arm didn't go smoothly. He was forced to go back in for surgery and missed the 2016 season.

During that time others stepped up in his absence, most notably three true freshmen. Three guys who weren't even on campus at this time last year now have more game experience than him going into his fourth year.

Watkins has to come back this spring and show he can beat them out to be one of the top three corners. If he doesn't, then a move to safety might be in his best interest. He has two years of eligibility remaining, but he'll need to get in the mix to come back for a fifth year. It starts this spring where he needs to play catch up and prove he can be a factor in 2017.

Josh Barajas

Three 4 star linebackers signed with the Irish in the 2015 class and so far one has become a starter and a second has made his way into the two deep. The other is Barajas and he has yet to play any snaps in the defense in his two years on campus. When we have seen him in practices, he never looked like he was that close to earning legitimate playing time.

Two years in is too early to give up on a player, but it's simply reality that Barajas will need to show progress this spring to avoid getting lost in the shuffle. Right now it seems clear he is behind Nyles Morgan, Greer Martini, Asmar Bilal, and Te'von Coney on the depth chart. If he doesn't get to the point where he is competing with those four, then he will be in danger of being passed over by younger players like Jonathan Jones and Jamir Jones. Then in the fall a couple of others will be added to the equation and Barajas could end up in linebacker purgatory.

He needs to show something this spring or else he may never see any significant time on Saturdays.

Brandon Tiassum

There are plenty of unknowns on the defensive line. They need players to take a step forward at just about every position. The biggest unknown is at one technique where we don't know much about the healthy of Daniel Cage and we haven't seen anything on the field from the players who are supposed to back him up.

Tiassum is one of them and, like Barajas, he is two years into the program and has never been close to playing. Even the practice reps we've seen him take have been few and far between. He hasn't exactly shown out in any of those opportunities either.

Mike Elston, the original defensive line coach who had recruited him, is back coaching that position group. Maybe that and some potential gains with the new strength and conditioning staff can give him a chance to make a jump entering his third year? He'll need to show progress because true freshmen Darnell Ewell and Kurt Hinish are going to be there in the summer to potentially leap over him on the depth chart.

Hopefully he is in good shape and is ready to play with better pad level. If that's not the case, then Notre Dame is really going to need add someone like Scott Pagano as a graduate transfer for this season.

Miles Boykin

Boykin is the most experienced out of this group in terms of actual playing time. He hasn't been a starter, but saw action in plenty of games last season. He even recorded a touchdown against Virginia Tech.

He had plenty of opportunities to play last season and he did show plenty of exciting flashes in practice. He also dropped 20% of his total targets and if that doesn't improve, he may find himself sinking down the depth chart.

I don't think anyone is expecting Boykin to play over Equanimeous St. Brown at W. The question will be whether he can hold off Chase Claypool. There is also former 4 star Javon McKinley that was originally recruited to play the W. If McKinley makes a jump in his first spring, providing he is healthy, then Boykin could be in a battle with him for reps as well.

There is no doubt Boykin has a high ceiling if he can hang on to the football. Corey Holmes did as well, but his issues with his hands were never corrected during his time at Notre Dame. Now he is transferring.

Boykin is very talented. He needs that talent to shine through this spring.
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