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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Finding Scheme & Position Fits for Talented Pieces

April 15, 2024

Entering the spring, Notre Dame knew it would have a loaded running back room. Jermeiyah Love, Jadarian Price and Gi’Bran Payne returned with experience, while two fresh faces, Anyeas Williams and Kedren Young, entered by way of early enrollment. 

Heck, it even led to Deland McCullough advising graduate student Devyn Ford he should consider a move to safety with the depth at the position. 

Fast forward through 11 practices and the initial thoughts haven’t changed. In fact, the room might even be deeper than expected, which includes Love practicing with the receivers at times and Young being limited with a hamstring injury. 

Marcus Freeman knows the talent he has in the running back room, but right now, it’s not time to figure out a depth chart. Notre Dame’s focus is finding ways to get the backs the ball. 

”I don’t know what the clear rotation is going to be as we go into College Station, but we don’t need an answer to that right now,” stated Freeman. “We’ve got some talented dudes in that room. We gotta find ways to get them the ball. In order to prove to us that you’re going to get the ball, you gotta continuously be trusted to do your job.

“I love what I’ve seen in terms of protection, in terms of executing, but it’s a long way to getting to College Station. We’ll get to that point and we’ll talk about reps and how we’ll get them the ball. We’ll have discussions of how do we get all these playmakers on offense the ball? We’ve got to find different ways to do that.”

The guys in front of the running backs are also in competition. Notre Dame’s offensive line is looking to replace Joe Alt and Blake Fisher while also having competition on the interior. 

During Saturday’s jersey scrimmage, the Irish offensive line was up and down, which is expected at this time of the year. Notre Dame was able to run the football, but they also didn’t rip off big plays. They protected the quarterback while giving up sacks where guys were untouched. 

Is it a concern? Yes and no. Notre Dame has to find answers, but there is time to do that and find favorable schemes to cover up areas of weakness. 

That’s where the competition will come into play during summer and fall camp. Can Aamil Wagner step forward to challenge Tosh Baker?

Rocco Spindler started 10 games in 2023 before he suffered an ugly knee injury against Clemson and had to have an additional shoulder operation. He’s played both guard spots this spring, and Freeman expects him to be in the mix to start. 

“You’ve got a competition at right tackle and Roccco is trying to get back to being 100 percent,” explained Freeman. “At some point when he's 100 percent, you're going to have a competition with him somewhere on the inside. (Charles) Jagusah has pretty much been the No. 1 at the left tackle.

“You're trying to create competition, but understanding, as an offensive unit that you need that consistency in those five guys. I'm trying to get them both, but listen, I want to see them be able to run and pass the ball.”

Freeman also let the offense have the benefit of a friendly whistle on Saturday. The defense likely had a few more sacks than were called, but that was intentional. It not only allows the full play to be put on film, but allows the offensive line and quarterbacks to get more work than just having a close play being blown dead. 

“I want to keep them protected and make sure that we're keeping our quarterbacks healthy, but I did feel some pressure,” stated Freeman. “A lot of times, when you really look at it, if you can get those defensive guys to run behind the quarterback, that quarterback is going to step up and deliver the ball.

“It'll be interesting to go back and look at the film, but it doesn't matter who's at quarterback as much as do the tackles execute and do their job? Is the quarterback able to step up and get rid of the ball?”

On the other side of the ball, it’s been sophomore linebacker Jaiden Ausberry who has thrown his name into the mix of being someone who needs to be on the field. Similar to running back, Notre Dame’s linebackers appears to be a deep and talented group. 

Ausberry has worked at Will and Rover during his career, but he has also started to play a little nickel since Clarence Lewis's departure.

”He’s just done such a good job at what we’ve asked him to do,” Freeman explained. “We gotta put him at different places to see how we can get him on the field. That’s a compliment to him and what he’s done. It was really probably over the last two or three practices we said, ‘OK, let’s try Jaiden Ausberry at a couple different positions because we’re not going to be able to keep him off the field.’

Will that hold when Rod Heard II and the rest of the freshmen cornerback class arrives in June? We’ll see, but defensive coordinator Al Golden is known for finding ways to create schemes to fit his personnel and that bodes well for the Louisiana native. 

“He’s a talented individual,” said Freeman. “That’s what spring’s about. Being able to move your pieces around and saying, 'OK, how do we formulate the scheme around the pieces?’ It’s not vice versa. It’s not here’s our scheme. This person has to fit into it. It’s OK, ‘let’s get the best players on the field and formulate the best defense around those pieces.’

“Ausberry is doing a great job.”

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