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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

March 14, 2024

Notre Dame has had a lot of very good offensive lineman over the last dozen years. The thing that has separated the very good from the ones who were truly elite was consistency.

Zack Martin was the model. Ronnie Stanley followed next. Quenton Nelson added his own level of physical dominance after that. Joe Alt is the next one of that group.

He earned it over the course of his three seasons at Notre Dame. There was no left tackle better in college football, which is a big factor in him being considered the top offensive tackle in the upcoming NFL Draft.

I asked ESPN’s Matt Bowen his thoughts on Alt as an NFL prospect and this is what he shared.

“I think he’s a potential top-five pick. The team to watch is at number five is the Chargers. The Chargers need offensive line help. That can be a landing spot for Alt right away. If it’s not the Chargers, I cannot see him getting out of the top-10. I think he’s too talented.”
“You have to start with the physical profile: incredible frame. 6-9 321, over 34 inch arms so he has the size, he has the length. Obviously he can handle speed to power rushers. A term I use is he can handle power down the center. He uses his length at the point of attack to run speed rushers around the hoop and run them past the quarterback.
“I think he has excellent footwork for a prospect of that size. I think he is real fluid with his lower-body. He’s not a waist bender He’s real fluid with his lower-body and can mirror, change directions to when he is going against rushers…because when he gets to the National Football League you’re going to see a Myles Garrett who is power rusher then you’re going to see a Brian Burns who can bend and change speeds on the edge. You have to be able to match multiple types of edge rushers in terms of size, speed, counter moves like a Nick Bosa…speed to power, the best in the league. (Alt) has the traits, with game experience as he develops as a pro athlete, to be a starting left tackle and plays a lot of football in that league for a long time.”

The tl;dr version is that Alt checks just about every box imaginable to be able to eventually block the top pass rushers in pro football. He has special tools and the thing that made him so great at Notre Dame was how that translated to consistent effectiveness.

He was so consistent that any time he got beat it was a memorable play.

It stood out when South Carolina’s Jordan Burch beat Alt with a bull rush during the 2022 season because that kind of thing never happened to Alt. It was memorable when Louisville’s Mason Reiger put Alt on his butt (with some assistance from Alt’s feet getting caught up with Pat Coogan’s) because no one had seen that happen to Alt before.

It reminded me a lot of Ronnie Stanley against Clemson’s Shaq Lawson in 2015. It was almost shocking when Stanley got beat by Lawson with a spin move that forced a holding call. It was like seeing a rare animal in the wild. It was such an anomaly that it felt like it needed to be documented when it happened.

Stanley allowed only one sack and had a pass block efficiency of 98% in true pass sets in his final season at Notre Dame. Alt also allowed only one sack and had a pass block efficiency of 98.1% in true pass sets last season.

Having that level of consistency at one of the most valuable positions on the field makes everything easier on offense.

Expecting Charles Jagusah to step into Alt’s shoes at left tackle and be at that level this season is asking a lot. That's the bar that Jagusah should be aiming for, though.

Even as a freshman who took over in the middle of the season, it was evident Alt was on his way to where he ended up because he continually held up against edge rushers as the season went on. That’s what people should be hoping to see from the heir apparent at LT for the Irish.

Everyone progresses at their own rate. Liam Eichenberg experienced some ups and downs in his first season as a starter at left tackle for Notre Dame, but found a higher level of consistency in his final two years. It may be that Jagusah follows that path.

The faster he gets to that Martin/Stanley/Alt level, the better the offense can be in 2024. They might just need it to happen right away because of the pass rushers they are set to face this fall.

2. Whoever is playing offensive tackle on the left or right side is going to have their hands full against this schedule. 

It starts with week one against Texas A&M where they might have the best collective set of edge rushers in the country. Shemar Turner (24.7% win rate vs TPS, 36 pressures total pressures) and Shemar Stewart (27.3%, 26) are coming back for the Aggies and they have added a couple of more to the mix. Nic Scourton (30.6%, 42 pressures) has transferred in from Purdue and Cashius Howell (30.5%, 44) has transferred in from Bowling Green.

Notre Dame better run the ball well in that game because they don’t want to get into many 3rd and long situations against that group.

Louisville is loaded on the edge too with Reager and Ashton Gillotte (24.7%, 58 pressures!) returning plus they added Tyler Baron from Tennessee (24.3%, 41). Gillotte and Reager combined for nine pressures against the Irish last season.

Jared Verse is going to be playing Sundays next fall, but Florida State convinced Patrick Payton (44 pressures) to stay after he entered the transfer portal. They also are bringing in Sione Lolohea from Oregon State (33 pressures) and former 5-star edge Marvin Jones Jr. from Georgia.

Even Miami (Ohio) has a pass rusher worth monitoring in Caiden Woullard (24.7%, 59 pressures) and we’ve seen some MAC defensive linemen prove they can get after it against better competition.

When you see what they are going to face against A&M and then later on with two new starters at offensive tackle, it makes a lot of sense that they added a quarterback who runs like Riley Leonard.

3. It was a tougher gauntlet with the defensive tackles they faced last season and it showed with the interior of their line struggling to handle Clemson (Peter Woods, Tyler Davis, Ruke Orhorhoro), Ohio State (Michael Hall, Tyliek Williams), and Duke (DeWayne Carter).

Louisville presented some issues when they moved Gillotte inside as a 3-tech as well.

The good news is that I don’t think they will face anywhere close to what they did in 2023. I believe the center and guard play will be better, but they also won’t have to deal with as many game-wreckers.

A&M lost their top three defensive tackles from 2023 and weren’t able to land any transfer close to what they did to play outside. FSU better develop some young players because they are losing both starters and didn’t land the same kind of immediate help inside that they were able to in the last couple of transfer cycles.

Outside of Bear Alexander at USC, a disruptive yet inconsistent talent, there isn’t anyone close to a top tier returning D-tackle that they’re set to face. Purdue’s Mo Omonode is an intriguing player and Harvard transfer/Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List member Thor Griffith is a player to watch at Louisville, but I wouldn’t classify any of them in the same category as any of the previously mentioned DTs from Ohio State, Clemson, or Carter.

Let’s say Notre Dame’s guards are only slightly better than they were last season. They might end up looking A LOT better because the players they have to block shouldn’t be nearly as good.

4. Whether it’s by ranking as a recruit or production as a freshman, Notre Dame has been searching for another Michael Floyd since he left with most of the program’s career receiving records. Every top program is in pursuit of that same type of immediate impact receiver, but having someone come in and be a star as a freshman at the position is incredibly rare.

It’s one of the reasons why programs aren’t shy about adding more experienced transfers because they have shown the ability to help an offense right away.

Three of Daniel Jeremiah’s top-four prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft are receivers. Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr., Washington’s Rome Odunze, and LSU’s Malik Nabers are elite talents. None of them played like it in year one in college. Harrison had 11 catches. Odunze had four catches in six games. Nabers had 28, but no one would have labeled him a difference-maker that season.

Go back to most of the recent first round picks at receiver and it’s the same story. They eventually blew up on the field, but it didn’t happen early on for them.

That’s how it’s been for all of the future WR1s for Notre Dame over the last decade as well. They have had true freshmen receivers contribute, but none of them have come close to Floyd’s 48 catches and 719 yards in his rookie season for the Irish.

This is something that needs to be kept in mind when it comes to this year’s freshmen receivers. Cam Williams flashed with his speed in his first spring practice and the consensus for everyone watching was that Micah Gilbert was a day one standout. That rarely happens for any receiver. I have been covering the team for ISD since 2015 and freshmen like Equanimeous St. Brown, Kevin Austin, and Jaden Greathouse made it look like it was possible they could help the offense that season, but the only true standout at receiver as a true freshman was Kevin Stepherson.

There’s never been anyone who was a cut above immediatley like Kyle Hamilton was at safety. (Note: we weren’t able to see Michael Mayer in camp as a true freshman during the pandemic)

There’s so much evidence that backs up why everyone should temper expectations for Gilbert or Williams. Whether it’s the scarcity of big plays produced from freshmen receivers at the Power 5 level, the lack of production from those who were ranked as 5-stars (six from the 2023 class combined for 51 catches with 31 credited to one of them), or what we have and haven’t seem from freshmen at Notre Dame in recent seasons, no one should get crazy predicting big things for Gilbert or Williams. At least not right away.

It’s fine to predict big things for the future, but hoping for something more this fall is asking too much. Even Stepherson, the Voldemort of Notre Dame football because of how awkward it is to even mention his name, didn’t come close to the impact he should have had in year one because of other factors outside of his talent.

The hope should be for players like Greathouse and Jordan Faison to make that big year one to year two jump or that a healthy Jayden Thomas is the player everyone thought he’d be this fall. It’s also why the portal is and will remain important. No one wants to take three receiver transfers every year, but if a team is looking for production and has questions about the roster, the portal is a better bet to provide instant impact.

5. It’s been interesting to see a number of running backs get paid during free agency this year in the NFL. It’s not like they are getting crazy contracts, but there has been a market for the top guys and that hasn’t been the case in recently

I’ve seen it suggested that the main reason behind it has to do with teams not liking the backs available in the upcoming NFL Draft. There isn’t a single back in Jeremiah’s current top-50 and The Athletic’s Dane Brugler doesn’t have one listed in his top-100 until he gets to 70th.

There are seven after that, one of whom is Audric Estime (87th). Estime is such an intriguing projection because he really is throwback in a lot of ways. He’s a tremendous runner after contact who can make something out of not much of anything.

He also has a lot more juice than that 4.71 at the NFL Combine would suggest.

He wasn’t often utilized as a receiver, though. He didn’t drop a single target in the last two seasons, but he didn’t offer a lot more than a check down option other than throwing the ball to him against zero blitz packages. Out of his 17 receptions last season, only three went for first downs and he isn’t someone who teams will look at to beat man coverage.

With teams filling needs at running back in free agency and Estime not going to be everyone’s cup of tea in terms of what they are looking for, I think he may end up sliding down the draft a bit more than many expect him to.

It may not matter a couple of years from now and it hasn’t for Kyren Williams. It would still be disappointing for one of the best runners in the draft to end up selected later than he should.

6. I think Notre Dame would more than likely be fine this season at defensive tackle without Gabriel Rubio.

But with Rubio? They might have the best top-three at the position out of any four down team in the country.

He was very good last season and would have been better if he was healthy all season. Being limited to nine games meant he only played 136 snaps (15 .1per game). Out of the returning defensive tackles from Power 5 programs, he finished ninth in PFF’s grades out of those who played a minimum of 100 snaps. (Howard Cross finished second and Ryle Mills finished sixth)

Rubio took a massive jump last offseason and not being there for spring ball isn’t a good thing. It doesn’t mean he can’t take another jump this offseason, though.

Having him back means having another starting caliber player who can play the run at a very high level. The Irish are breaking in some new inside linebackers this season. It’s a lot easier to do that with the guys who they’ll have playing in front of them. He makes them better for this year and the next one when Cross and Mills will be in the NFL.

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