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Notre Dame New Year's Resolutions

January 1, 2024
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Happy New Year. 

Notre Dame football deserves a few days (or weeks) off after starting the season in Ireland and finishing in El Paso while experiencing just about every emotion one can have over 13 games. 

Marcus Freeman lives and dies by the word enhance and Notre Dame can definitely improve the program in a few areas in the coming months, but also the big picture. 

OFFENSE 

- Notre Dame has made productive strides to improve the receiver position over the last 12 months, including signing transfers Kris Mitchell and Beaux Collins. The 2024 recruiting class is strong and follows a very good 2023 class.

The next step is to sign another top 2025 recruiting class. Derek Meadows‍, Jerome Bettis Jr.‍, Daylan McCutcheon‍, and Talyn Taylor‍ have all been to campus multiple times, so that’s the base, but new receiver coach Mike Brown will likely add a few more names to the board. 

When it comes to the current players, Brown will need to continue to develop the room. Perhaps the most important player will be Jaden Greathouse. The Texas native proved he could be productive in the slot, but the next step for him is to develop on the outside. Notre Dame has a log jam at slot and Greathouse can provide value for himself and the team if he can master an outside position. 

Now, Greathouse isn’t the only one who needs to take on more, but his five touchdowns as a true freshman are a statement to his ability to make plays.

- One can argue the offensive line’s development over the next nine months is the most important piece to the entire team. Joe Alt, Blake Fisher and Zeke Correll are gone, which means it’s a line light on experience. Pat Coogan, Rocco Spindler, Billy Schrauth and Ashton Craig got valuable experience this year, but the tackles will be inexperienced. 

The unfortunate piece for Notre Dame is they won’t have time to grow as they’ll face a good defensive line at Texas A&M to start the season. Joe Rudolph has his work cut out for him, but there is talent there. Would a little Irish luck help in that one of the tackles (Charles Jagusah) takes the job and never looks back with more reps? Absolutely. 

I also would at least toy with Coogan at center to find the best five. There is no denying Schrauth and Spindler give more size and power at guard, so if Coogan is the better center, it would open the door for Notre Dame to get its three best interior guys on the field. 

Rudolph needs to find the best five and figure out positions similar to this year where Coogan ended up at guard. 

- The running back room has Jadrian Price and that’s all that needs to be said. The only resolution for McCullough is improve the Irish backs in pass pro. It was up and down this year, but it was also the first year of real action for Price, Jeremiyah Love and Gi’Bran Payne. All three proved to be productive backs with the ball, which is the most important piece, but protection Leonard will be key.

- Quarterback will be interesting. Riley Leonard isn’t coming to Notre Dame to sit behind Steve Angeli, who delivered a good performance over the weekend in the Sun Bowl. There is a great benefit for Angeli to stay and I think he sees that. 

Leonard’s ability to be a run threat is perhaps the most exciting piece to the puzzle because it will lead to Notre Dame getting favorable coverages and defenses must account for him, which hasn’t been the case in recent years outside of Tyler Buchner. 

Regardless of that, Notre Dame’s quarterback room looks deeper than it has been in years and that’s a great thing for 2024 and beyond. Gino Guidugli will also need to develop the youth on the roster to be ready for 2025, but judging by Angeli’s improvements, it seems like Notre Dame has a quality quarterback coach. 

Retention is key for Notre Dame, but development is more important. Leonard needs to master the offense, while Angeli, Kenny Minchey and CJ Carr need to make jumps. 

- Mike Denbrock needs to be given full control of the offense. It doesn’t mean Notre Dame has to go away from having a collaborative effort from the offense staff, but Denbrock knows what it takes to win the SEC and that matters. 

And that control also goes to recruiting. Denbrock knows the type of athlete he needs to win against the SEC and he needs to have input there too. 

As it relates to Denbrock’s playcalling, he just needs to let it fly. Be risky and aggressive. Let the playmakers make plays as he did at LSU. 

DEFENSE 

- It starts and ends with the defensive line and Al Washington needs to find a way to get after the passer a bit more. There were flashes from Jordan Botelho, Javontae Jean-Baptiste and Howard Cross III, but more pressure with four is key for Notre Dame moving forward. 

RJ Oben should immediately help given his experience and production at Duke. Notre Dame signed Cole Mullins, Loghan Thomas and Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa can help off the edge from day one. 

The big picture goal and need for Notre Dame is to get bigger up the middle. Currently, Notre Dame and Ohio State are in a similar boat where they have NFL talent, but not the massive bodies you see at Alabama and Georgia. 

- Notre Dame needs to commit to playing its youth at linebacker despite the challenges it may bring this spring. The young Irish linebackers bring athleticism and speed to the second level and that’s been missing from the roster despite getting good play over the years. Jack Kiser’s return is big for the Irish, but he can and should be used as a chess piece due to the fact he play all three linebackers. 

And no, it’s not calling for Kiser not to start, but Notre Dame should allow two young guys to develop whether it’s Drayk Bowen at Mike or Jaylen Sneed or Jaiden Ausberry at Will or Rover. KVA brings another piece to that puzzle, given he could start at Will from day one. 

It’s a great problem to have, but Al Golden needs to let these young guys get tons of reps in the spring and give them a chance with more rotation in the fall. 

- Cornerback is simple. Commit to Mike Mickens financially. He’s proven his worth. 

- Outside of Xavier Watts, Chris O’Leary has his work cut out for him, but the good news is he’s proven he can develop the room. Adon Shuler will benefit from more reps in the spring and he’s done some good things when he got into games. 

If Notre Dame can get another safety through the portal, it would be smart to bring in another body as they are light on numbers when you look at how raw the incoming freshmen will be. 

If there is a resolution here, it would be to land two more safeties in 2025. Ivan Taylor’s early commitment allows Notre Dame to be picky, so if they can be patient with Ethan Long, JaDon Blair and others, but a three-man class would be solid. 

- I’d also look hard at finding ways to keep Max Bullough around Notre Dame for a long time. He proved to be a fine linebackers coach and embraces what Notre Dame is about as a program. 

RECRUITING 

- First and foremost, Notre Dame must ensure Chad Bowden stays in The Gug. If that’s a financial commitment or a larger role with personnel, Notre Dame needs to do it. It’s clear the Irish are recruiting at a high level and Bowden is a significant piece to that, whether it’s the evaluations, recruiting strategy, or even relationship building. 

The energy and passion Bowden brings is second to none and it’s something Notre Dame needs more than other programs. And perhaps the most important piece with Bowden is his conviction in who Notre Dame is taking. Fans have had questions about more than a few players, but after senior seasons, no one had questions. 

- Notre Dame’s next step in recruiting is to tap into that next tier of player. NIL is part of that and it seems like the program and the collective are on the same page here. Notre Dame didn’t suffer decommitments in the final minute of the recruiting cycle and then had success in the portal right away. 

Notre Dame needs to continue to push for those kids like Keon Keeley and Peyton Bowen moving forward despite the drama that will follow. A positive sign there is Deuce Knight. How many folks thought Notre Dame would pull him out of Mississippi? Not many, but they did. Pushing that needle more will lead to more kids like Knight choosing Notre Dame with this staff.  

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