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Notre Dame Football

Marcus Freeman Gives Injury Report, Thoughts on WRs and Safeties, Pete Bevacqua

March 23, 2024

Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman delivered two key injury updates following the fourth practice of the spring on Saturday. 

Quarterback Riley Leonard, who had tightrope surgery earlier this winter, will be out for a few weeks after another surgery on Friday to prevent a stress fracture, while receiver Deion Colzie is set to miss some time due to a finger dislocation. 

Freeman was hopeful Leonard’s injury wouldn’t linger long as he hoped the transfer quarterback would return to practice in some fashion before the Irish complete spring practices. 

“Riley Leonard will be out the next few weeks due to an additional surgery he had on his ankle on Friday to address a stress fracture that was beginning to develop,” stated Freeman. “Basically, the surgery was to exchange the current plate in his ankle with a new one. The doctors thought it went extremely well. The overall prognosis and health of his ankle is excellent. 

“We’ll see when he can get back. We’re aren’t putting a timetable. We know it’s going to be a few weeks. We’re not saying he’s out for the spring. There could be a chance he could come back and participate in some capacity during spring ball.” 

For Colzie, it’s more about healing over anything long-term, yet with his position, it’s crucial for him to be able to use his fingers to catch the ball, so a timetable isn’t necessary set as to when he would be full go. 

“Deion Colzie will also be out for a few practices,” said Freeman. “He had a dislocated finger that required surgery to fix. He’s expected to return sometime next week in some capacity. Again, I don’t see him catching balls next week, but I expect him to be back out there next week.” 

With Leonard sidelined for the time being, it does open the doors for the other three quarterbacks on the roster. Steve Angeli has starting experience, but not a ton of staters reps. Kenny Minchey and CJ Carr simply need reps to develop and gain comfort with the speed of the college game, which they’ll be able to get over the next month. 

“Right now, we’ve had Steve with ones, Kenny with the twos and CJ with the threes,” explained Freeman. “If we only go ones and twos with certain parts of practice, Kenny and CJ will rotate a little bit. That’s probably the plan going forward.

“We know Steve is ahead of the other guys just through experience, the evidence he’s shown us. It’s kind of made it simpler for Coach Guidguli to script reps. It’s ones, twos and threes.” 

When it comes to naming the starting quarterback, Freeman acknowledged the process has been hindered as the staff won’t get to see live reps from Leonard at this stage.

Is it a significant delay or issue? Not in Freeman’s mind as the competition and extra reps can benefit the room. 

“At some point, we have to name a starting quarterback, and not having Riley for spring ball has kind of changed the process to being able to do that,” said Freeman. “All I’m going to say is at some point, we have to name a starting quarterback. When we feel we’re ready to do that - is it fall camp? Is it after spring ball? I don't know. We gotta continue to look at the body of work.

“I love competition, so the ability to have a quarterback competition is exciting to me because I think it makes everybody better. I also understand as Coach Denbrock and Guidulgi will say, we need the continuity between the quarterback and the offensive line. At some point, we’ll name one, but I don’t know when that time will be.” 

Notre Dame’s receiver makeover is almost official as the core of the room is going through spring ball. The graduate transfer additions provide Notre Dame the ability to keep more players in their best position over playing them in a certain spot because of need, which alone can improve the Irish offense. 

“Each guy has probably a natural skillset,” explained Freeman. “‘Hey, am I a slot guy or an outside receiver?’ The ones who are versatile are the ones who have the opportunity to help you at multiple different positions. That’s what you see with a guy like JG (Jaden Greathouse). His skillset as he came in was built to be a slot, but he had enough skillset to help us on the outside.

“(Jordan) Faison is probably more of a slot guy. Jayden Harrison is more of a slot guy. Some of those other guys are taller, longer - JT (Jayden Thomas) and some of those guys. The more depth you have, the more opportunities you can say, ‘Hey, if your best skillset is being a slot, stay in the slot.’ At the same point, the more versatile you are, the better opportunities you have to play.” 

Safety Xavier Watts will have the focus of offensive coordinators this fall, but he needs a partner in the Irish secondary. Graduate transfer Rod Heard II is watching practice as he can’t play until he graduates from Northwestern later this spring. 

That opens the door for three soon-to-be sophomores in Adon Shule, Benjamin Minich and Luke Talich to get plenty of reps this spring. In fact, they’ll probably be able to get more reps than most realize as Notre Dame can somewhat let Watts take some veteran days with his body of work. 

“They’ve been really impressive,” Freeman stated. “I’ve been really impressed with Adon and Luke and what they’ve done, especially getting some reps with the ones. Those dudes in four practices have really improved. 

“Ben has gotten more reps with the twos, but he’s shown a lot of growth too. All three of those guys are going to help us in some way. I don’t know what the roles will be this year. I’m really pleased with how they’ve performed in four practices.” 

The steps forward are a good sign and needed one, but what makes it more impressive to Freeman is they have also embraced a new coach. 

“They have a brand new coach with Coach (Mike) Mickens and Coach (Marty) Biagi,” said Freeman. “To see the way they’ve really bought in and performed in these four practices - I’m really pleased.” 

Notre Dame will officially have a new Athletic Director on Monday, as Pete Bevacqua will take over for Jack Swarbrick. Notre Dame has prepared for the change, with Bevacqua shadowing and being present on campus since last July, so the change won’t be a drastic one for Freeman. 

“This passing of the baton has been going on for months,” said Freeman. “You’ve really been working with both of them - Jack and Pete in terms of, ‘Hey, what’s going on with the College Football Playoffs, TV deals and different things like that.’ 

“The unique part will be if Jack’s not here, which he ain’t going to be able to stay away. I told him he can have my office. He’s going to be around here. He’s a phone call away. That’s the thing with myself and Jack Swarbrick. Although he might not be my immediate boss anymore as Pete will, he’s always been a mentor and a phone call. He knows I’m going to blow him up if I have questions. He’s a phone call away and we’ll always have a relationship. I’ll always use the wisdom he has. It’s been great with Pete in this transition. I’m excited for the next steps for Notre Dame football.” 

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