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Photo by Matt Freeman
Notre Dame Football

Freeman Discusses Injuries, Freshmen Contributors, Navy Prep

August 12, 2023

On Saturday, Marcus Freeman spoke in front of the media shortly after the offense defeated the defense in a jersey scrimmage, retaining the blue practice jerseys. 

It was his second press conference since fall camp began. 

Injury Updates

During fall camp, four scholarship players have consistently worked out in the pit: tight end Kevin Bauman, defensive end Aiden Gobaira, wide receiver KK Smith and cornerback Chance Tucker.

Unfortunately, Bauman and Gobaira are out for the season due to partially or fully torn ACLs. 

Tucker has missed time on and off due to an Achilles injury.

“He practiced a little bit,” Freeman said, “but then we pulled him back.”

Smith is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.

“KK’s still expected to return at some point during the season after his shoulder surgery,” Freeman said. “After that, there’s no guys that we say will be out.”

On the bright side, freshman running back Jeremiyah Love, who was limited to individual drills on Tuesday, participated in Saturday’s scrimmage. 

“We had some guys practice today that have been out a little bit,” Freeman said. “Jeremiyah Love looked really good just seeing him out there, who’s been out for a week or two. 

Others could return at some point shortly. 

Tight end Eli Raridon tore his ACL last fall. During fall camp, he’s participated in individual drills and hopes to be full-go by the season opener against the Midshipmen. 

“We’re still on that same timeline,” Freeman said. “We’re just continuing to phase him into more and more at practice.”

Linebacker Nolan Ziegler missed the last two weeks of practice due to an undisclosed reason, but he was present on Saturday and is still a member of the team. 

“He’s here with the program,” Freeman said. “He’s just dealing with some off-the-field issues, but he’s a part of our program, and he was at practice today.”

Freshmen Contributors

This time last year, the Fighting Irish had taken a significant hit due to injuries. JD Price (torn Achilles) and Avery Davis (torn ACL) were already lost for the season due and Jarrett Patterson had suffered a left foot strain that would keep him out of the Ohio State game. 

Thus far, Notre Dame’s potential starters have avoided serious injury (feel free to knock on wood). 

Still, Freeman isn’t taking any chances. He’s put a greater emphasis on developing depth in fall camp by giving young players more and more reps. 

“We’ve made sure to truly develop our twos and our threes,” Freeman said. “Our twos don’t have a lot of game experience, so that was something that I kind of challenged the coaches with. 

“It’s easy to always rely on those guys who have played a lot of ball. They know what they’re doing, but what we need to do is develop the depth of our team.”

That includes a handful of freshmen, each in a prime position to contribute meaningful snaps this fall. 

On Saturday, Freeman confirmed that Rico Flores and Jaden Greathouse will be part of a seven-man rotation at wideout. 

“Those two young guys I would see having to help us immediately,” Freeman said. “They’ve shown the ability to do so in practice.”

There’s also a chance Braylon James, perhaps the most physically gifted receiver on the team, could earn game reps later in the season. 

Three fifth-year linebackers lead Notre Dame’s defense in JD Bertrand, Jack Kiser and Marist Liufau, but Freeman says younger players will also play.

That includes freshmen Drayk Bowen and Jaiden Ausberry, two blue-chip linebacker prospects that enrolled midyear that are already repping with the second-team defense. 

“Those two guys are both freshmen you’re truly going to count on,” Freeman said, “and we’ll see what Zinter ends up doing as the season progresses. But we’re going to need a lot of people out of that linebacker room to play multiple positions.”

Lastly, Notre Dame needs a fourth corner to emerge and backup Ben Morrison on gamedays. 

Right now, it appears that spot could go to freshman Christian Gray, who experienced an uptick in second-team reps due to Tucker’s injury. 

“It gave Christian valuable reps versus really good wideouts, and I’ve seen him perform,” Freeman said. “He’s really developed some trust in Coach Mickens and myself to say, ‘Okay, I can be the fourth corner.’”

Freeman Commences Navy Prep

The defensive freshmen referenced above may be ready to contribute this fall.

However, that doesn’t mean they’ll see the field on Aug. 26 against Navy’s triple-option, an offense that poses unique challenges compared to the other 11 teams Notre Dame will face in 2023.

“We have a good idea of the guys who will play a lot versus Navy,” Freeman said. “It isn’t like we haven’t done Navy (prep). I’ve been working with the Navy scout team the entire fall camp. We do it at night, me and a couple of GAs. I think the Navy scout team will be ready to go.”

Notre Dame kicked off Saturday’s jersey scrimmage with the first-team defense facing the program’s scout-team version of the Navy offense. 

“I thought it was good just that our defense could get a feel for the speed there we’re hopefully going to be practicing against,” Freeman said. “I’m not ready to say who’s going to be the starters on the defense versus Navy.”

“That’s to be determined, but we have a good idea of the guys we’re going to be counting on during that game.”

The preparation will ramp up over the next two weeks. 

“Defensively, it’s time to really turn your attention to Navy,” Freeman said. “We’ve been doing normal defensive things that you’ll defend (against) for the majority of the year. We haven’t been doing much Navy-specific defenses. So now, your attention will truly turn to defending the triple option and what Navy’s offense will present.”

Of course, a key to Notre Dame’s preparation will be keeping starters healthy and available for the actual game. 

The good news is that two weeks out from the season opener, the most physical days of fall camp are over. 

“We have to be smart now. We can’t have injuries for no reason,” Freeman said. “That’s that fine line. How do you push them with the physicality that we need to have but also understand that we have to be at our full potential as we get ready to play in Dublin, Ireland.”

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