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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

April 18, 2024

The spring transfer portal window has been open for a few days and it’s not exactly overflowing with elite talent.

That wasn’t unexpected. It’s been the norm the last few spring windows as well.

For good programs, it’s about rosters slimming down rather than trying to fill holes. That’s where Notre Dame is at right now. They’re organizing the depth chart and figuring out where everyone fits.

With spring ball just about at its conclusion, I’d say they found a lot of answers to the questions they had before practices started.

The rotation on the defensive line is stronger and better than it was a year ago. The young linebackers who have to replace JD Bertrand and Marist Liufau look like they’ll be able to handle it just fine. Players who Notre Dame needed to take a step, like Adon Shuler and Jaylen Sneed, have done so.

The receiver situation is light years beyond where it was last spring. They are better and faster. The young backs are as advertised. The quarterback room is as good as we thought it was. While they still have a couple of things to figure out with the offensive line before the season, they are building and not desperate like they were in 2021.

Would Notre Dame take a legitimate starting caliber offensive tackle if there was an opportunity to land one? I’m sure they would. Outside of that, anyone they would look to add to their roster would more likely be for depth or for the future.

They addressed needs through the portal already in the winter. That plus the fact that some early enrollees are putting themselves in a position to contribute this fall means the Irish are coming out of spring in a better place as a team than they’ve been since 2019.

There are still mountains to climb for Marcus Freeman as a head coach, but he’s done what he’s needed to when it comes to building the roster. From 2020-2023, there were problem areas on the roster each year that were a result of poor recruiting and development during the tail end of Brian Kelly’s tenure. Freeman and his staff have dug the roster out of that hole.

I think he would admit that there’s still work to be done and even one poor recruiting class can create new holes that need to be plugged. Landing a few more top of the board recruiting targets can cover up some things as well.

The Notre Dame roster is in great shape. It’s been a while since I could feel confident enough to say that.

2. As ISD’s Matt Freeman pointed out yesterday, it makes a lot of sense that Notre Dame would be exploring adding a corner in the spring portal after losing Clarence Lewis.

Lewis was an insurance policy at multiple positions. He could play nickel and had started games at both field and boundary. When Thomas Harper was hurt last season, Lewis stepped in. If Benjamin Morrison isn’t quite ready at the beginning of this season, Lewis was capable of sliding up to be the third outside corner.

Former Rice corner Tre’Shone Devines is visiting Notre Dame today and he’s an intriguing option. He has only one year of significant production, but finished with 13 passes defended and 15.5 total havoc plays (pass breakups, interceptions, forced fumbles, and tackles for loss).

He has credentials playing outside, but he only played 17 snaps as a slot defender last season, so the suggestion that he could play nickel is more of a theoretical one than something he’s shown on film. I would put him in the Antonio Carter category where there is potential to help, but he wouldn’t be brought in as a projected starter.

He would be a depth piece and that’s mostly what is going to be available during the spring portal. Fortunately, Notre Dame doesn’t need much more than that.

3. I was chatting with Irish Illustrated’s Tim O’Malley at the beginning of practice one day and he mentioned how there wasn’t exactly a ton of hype about Javontae Jean-Baptiste last spring, but he supplied plenty of substance during the fall.

He led the team in tackles for loss, racked up 38 pressures, and was elite as a run defender.

There was nothing to report on Thomas Harper while he was recovering from shoulder surgery. He ended up being a terrific fit in the defense while replacing TaRiq Bracy at nickel.

At least for me, it’s a reminder to not get caught up in what did or didn’t happen in the spring for transfers like Riley Leonard, Kris Mitchell, Jayden Harrison, Jordan Clark, or RJ Oben. It’s also a reminder to not forget that Rod Heard and Beaux Collins have a chance to play pretty important roles for Notre Dame this fall. It’s unlikely that every one of them is going to end up as the best version of what Notre Dame fans are hoping for this season, but the majority of this group could end up being key cogs for the Irish.

I’d bet a few of them will have a JJB type of impact when it matters.

4. I had Boubacar Traore down for three sacks in last Saturday’s jersey scrimmage. The only reason he didn’t have four is because he lost the race to the quarterback to Sneed on another play where he beat the offensive tackle clean around the edge.

You don’t have to be an expert on defensive line play to notice someone who keeps getting to the quarterback. The biggest reason I am bullish on Traore as a pass rusher is the variety of ways he can find ways to get to the quarterback.

Isaiah Foskey, the all-time leader in sacks at Notre Dame, could win as a pass rusher in different ways. His long arm was probably his most effective move, but he could win with twitch off the ball, could convert speed to power, and he added in more effective hand usage as a senior.

Here’s a thread of every sack of his from his junior season:

What I saw from Traore from fall camp last year and from the scrimmage on Saturday was a variety of ways he can get to the quarterback. He can win with a long arm, he can dust an OT with snap anticipation and his first step, and he can run the hoop like he demonstrated in his cameo against USC.

The thing that I think can separate him from even Foskey is his reactive athleticism. He has the lateral quickness to win when a tackle opens the gate for him on the inside and can finish when he does.

Foskey was someone who turned a whole bunch of potential into production at Notre Dame. We’ll see what happens with Traore, but he’s ahead of where Foskey was at this same stage of development.

5. If you read some of the quotes from Marcus Freeman, Al Golden, Max Bullough, and Jack Kiser in this piece I wrote about Kyngstonn Villiamu-Asa, then you’re aware that KVA has lived up to the hype this spring in terms of being ready to compete immediately as a freshman.

Those quotes were extremely complimentary, but I heard even more glowing remarks about him while I was in South Bend from other sources as well.

There have been other freshmen who were similarly hyped up by people around the program in the 10 years I have covered the team for ISD, but the only one who I heard similar kind of things about was Kyle Hamilton. That’s pretty good company to be included with for KVA and I promise it’s not hyperbole from me.

That’s truly how excited people are about KVA’s potential at Notre Dame.

6. I guess the hype train has already left the station with CJ Carr. That tends to happen when there’s one full practice open to the media and the player performs like he did.

For what it’s worth, we heard that he performed very well when the team scrimmage the previous Saturday as well. So from that perspective, he’s continuing to build on what has been a very good first spring ball for him.

I think some people might have forgotten that Carr was ranked as a consensus top-50 recrui. He was in the top-50 for 247Sports, ESPN, Rivals, and ISD. He also was committed for a long time, but didn’t see his ranking dip significantly like Notre Dame’s two other most recent much hyped quarterback recruits Tyler Buchner and Phil Jurkovec.

Those two players had bumpy starts throwing the ball in practice with the Irish. It’s been the opposite for Carr. That doesn’t mean he should be anointed as a star yet, but it’s definitely encouraging.

Everything he showed that made him a highly ranked prospect has been what he’s shown at Notre Dame so far. The natural arm talent. The ability to escape the rush and improvise. The athleticism. There was a reason why I and others wrote that he could potentially become one of the best quarterbacks in college football. Maybe (mostly) everyone is guilty of not continuing to emphasize that enough long after he was committed.

He’s clearly benefited from all the extra reps he’s received with Leonard being out. Steve Angeli and Kenny Minchey have as well. Under different circumstances, we might have seen only a handful of reps from Carr in a spring scrimmage. We got to see quite a bit from him and it was more than enough to be excited about where can fit into the quarterback competition for 2025.

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