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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

April 25, 2024
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Finding a plug and play offensive tackle, who can immediately play at a high level, in the transfer portal is darn near impossible.

Out of PFF’s top-50 Power 5 offensive tackles in the Power 5 last season, only five of them were players who transferred in for last season.

Finding any offensive tackle transfer who can play close to the level of Joe Alt or Blake Fisher, Daniel Jeremiah’s top ranked and ninth ranked OTs in the NFL Draft, is even more difficult. Out of the 14 tackles Jeremiah included in his top-150 prospects, only two of them were transfers. (Tyler Guyton from TCU to Oklahoma and Kingsley Suamataia from Oregon to BYU)

The answer for Notre Dame at OT was always going to come from within the program. They have to hope that they get what they want from the position this fall from Charles Jagusah, Tosh Baker, Aamil Wagner, or maybe even true freshman Guerby Lambert.

If it doesn’t work out as well as they want it to, they can’t blame it on the quality of the recruiting. Each of those four were ranked in the top-11 offensive tackles in their individual recruiting cycles.

The only thing they could point to is not signing more offensive tackles to compete there, which is why adding a recruit like Josh Petty‍ might seem like a luxury considering the three they already have committed in the class, but it’s the right move to try and add more potential offensive tackles.

It’s a pretty common belief that adding as much talent as possible at every position should be the approach for a program like Notre Dame. That’s not always feasible, but I do think the goal should be to oversign at specific positions in each cycle with offensive tackle at the top of the list because of the scarcity of good ones available as transfers.

Teams can find quarterbacks in the portal. Four of the top-six quarterbacks in this weekend's NFL Draft were transfers. Three of the top-four edge prospects for Jeremiah were transfers. We know teams can find quality receivers each season in the portal. There are 12 wide receivers who transferred schools who are in Jeremiah’s top-150.

Those are positions where teams can afford to miss in recruiting. They can fix those mistakes, at least temporarily, with transfers.

Offensive tackle is a position where they cannot afford to miss, so oversigning at that spot should be a priority.

2. I mentioned about three of the top-four edges in the draft being transfers, but this kind of blew my mind about defensive end transfers in general.

Out of PFF’s top-50 edges from Power 5 programs last season (300+ snaps), 23 of 50 were already transfers or elected to transfer this offseason. (Or 12 of the top-25)

It can be easy to look at specific Notre Dame examples like Javontae Jean-Baptiste (one of those 12) or RJ Oben and use them as evidence, but it goes deeper than that. I wouldn’t classify it as an unlimited supply of pass rushers. There will be options to pursue, though.

No one wants to have to look for edge defenders in the portal every year, but if Notre Dame has to again in December, chances are they will be able to find some help there.

3. Whenever a position gets described as “loaded”, it’s a good thing. Just about any program would love to have Notre Dame’s talent and the depth at running back this fall.

The only problem with it will be managing the snaps and divvying out the touches for JD Price, Jeremiyah Love, Gi’Bran Payne and potentially the two freshmen, Aneyas Williams and Kedren Young.

Obviously one of the goals should be to keep these players happy and on the roster going forward, but there’s also decisions to be made when it comes to who gets the bulk of the work and when.

Audric Estime deservedly had the most opportunities at running back last season. He had a combined 226 rushing attempts and receiving targets, which came out to 58.5% of what the top-five backs accumulated during the regular season. It does seem like those carries and targets will be distributed a little bit more evenly this fall.

It was a three-headed backfield in 2022 with Estime (35.2%), Logan Diggs (37.5%), and Chris Tyree (27.3%). I could see it looking close to this in terms of percentages with Price, Love, and Payne in 2024, but one of the reasons Tyree’s percentage was as high as it had to do with him being targeted as a receiver 24 times.

Love, who also practiced in the slot this spring, would be the likely Tyree in this scenario. Under Mike Denbrock in 2015, CJ Prosise had 32 targets as a running back. I think we could see Love finish with close to 40 targets this season and I think that could separate him slightly from everyone else when it comes to opportunities this season.

4. The vibes around wide receiver are drastically different than they were a year ago when Notre Dame’s big transfer addition, Kaleb Smith, didn’t even finish spring ball and neither did Lorenzo Styles Jr.

They are deeper, faster, and have more help on the way this summer. I don’t think they are close to what Mike Denbrock had at LSU last season, but they are moving in the right direction. The fact that they could lose players who helped them last season like Chris Tyree and Rico Flores and for those players not to be missed shows just how different it is at receiver.

There’s a lot to be figured out with just how good the receivers can be for the Irish. I still don’t have a handle on who will settle in as the top three or four targets this season because there’s still pieces that were missing from the spring. We might not even have it exactly pinned down before the season starts.

I don’t know if they will have a truly elite player this season or not. Maybe it will simply be a collection of good players. If I had to choose someone to become a true WR1, by far the top candidate for me coming out of the spring would be Jaden Greathouse.

It’s not just the way the coaches talked about him or the physical and technical improvements from him. It’s not just that he looks quicker and more dynamic after the catch. It’s all of that with the final play of the Blue-Gold game as cherry on top.

Yes, it’s me who constantly preaches to not overreact to a spring game, but it’s the specific scenario of that final play that shows their belief in Greathouse and added to my belief in him.

4th and 4 and a first down ends the game. He’s the target. Steve Angeli didn’t even think about anyone else. The defense was bracketing Greathouse and Adon Shuler was looking for this. Angeli, with a great throw by the way, still fit it into Greathouse.

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He was the one the coaches chose to close out the game when they needed it. That’s pretty much what being a WR1 is all about. The defense knows you’re getting the ball and it doesn’t matter.

It’s a long way from closing out the spring game to doing this on a November night against USC, but this is where it starts.

5. Notre Dame finished sixth in the country in pressure percentage (fourth amongst Power 5 programs) last season. They finished eighth in PFF’s pass rush grading.

I think the pass rush will be even better this season.

That might be getting overlooked because of the questions yet to be answered at offensive tackle, but I believe this is similar to Notre Dame’s cornerbacks last season. The receivers didn’t face a better group all season than the ones they faced in practice. I think we might be able to say the same thing about Notre Dame’s pass rush and the offensive line this season.

Howard Cross was the best individual pass rusher on the team last season and he’ll be back presenting problems to teams who have to block him one on one. Everyone got a glimpse in the Blue-Gold game of RJ Oben and should understand why he racked up 93 total pressures in the last three years at Duke. Boubacar Traore is going to be a problem for opposing tackles to deal with all season as well.

A slimmer Jordan Botelho looks more like the pass rusher he was in 2022. Rylie Mills finished sixth in pass rush win percentage for defensive tackles versus true pass sets last season. We didn’t get to see a lot of it in the Blue-Gold game, but Jaylen Sneed was unleashed as a pass rusher more frequently in the previous week’s scrimmage and he’s reached a different level.

They have the personnel. They haven’t had this many options to play on 3rd down since 2019 when they kept plugging in players after Daelin Hayes and Julian Okwara were lost for the season. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah wasn’t even a regular on 3rd down that season.

Al Golden and Al Washington are going to do a great job formulating a pass rush plan every week and they have the players who can execute it.

Good luck to all the opposing quarterbacks they’ll face this fall.

6. There hasn’t been a ton of action in the spring portal window from a Notre Dame perspective.

As Marcus Freeman said, they’ll add a punter. Adding depth at cornerback would be ideal after losing Clarence Lewis. Outside of some others who might end up entering from Notre Dame, I don’t expect any kind of significant roster movement.

That could change with some surprises over the next five or six days, but that doesn’t seem likely because Notre Dame isn’t in a position where they are desperate for transfers.

It’s a much different story with a couple of the more prominent teams the Irish are facing this season.

It’s not surprising that Texas A&M continues to rework their roster after Mike Elko’s first spring. They already have three commitments since the window opened and want to add more. Seven players have entered the portal with the intention of leaving A&M as well, but the majority of them have been nudged out of the door.

Elko wants to add more and we’ll see where that goes. They’ve added 27 players since the beginning of December and while I don’t think this will continue forever while he’s in College Station, he’s probably going to end up with over 30 in his first year.

Louisville has added 26 transfers since December. They added 25 last season. I’m not knocking the strategy that worked for Jeff Brohm. They surpassed expectations in his first year there and a major reason for that were the transfers.

However, they’ve already had four transfers who’ve decided to re-enter the transfer portal along with two returning starters on defense. It might be that most of this group didn’t like how things were going with the depth chart in the spring, but I doubt these were players who were cut. Someone like Tyler Baron, a productive pass rusher at Tennessee last season, would have helped their defense a lot.

We’re so early into the transfer portal era of college football that we can’t properly assess if teams can sustain success by relying on the transfer portal.

Florida State has experienced a lot of success with it while rebuilding their program under Mike Norvell. It’s been mixed results for Lincoln Riley at USC.

Lane Kiffin might be doing better than anyone with the portal at Ole Miss, but Brian Kelly hasn’t managed to build a defense with it at LSU. It helped propel TCU to the College Football Playoff for one season. They followed that up getting embarrassed by Georgia in the national title game by losing to a bad Colorado team and not making a bowl game the next season.

Louisville’s transfer haul last season included two of their top three leading tacklers, a starting defensive end, three of their top four receivers, their starting quarterback, two starting O-linemen, and a back who accumulated over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. They need the same luck with this group of transfers because only one of those players is back this season.

A&M has a better foundation of talent in place than Louisville had and a lot of their additions could be about filling out the roster as opposed to relying on the type of contributions that Louisville received last year, but they are a much stronger team than they were because of all the new faces. That plus defensive Nic Scourton could end up being the biggest impact defender out of any transfer this offseason makes them tougher to beat than they looked when they lost a lot of those former 5-star recruits.

I don’t know how good Louisville is going to be this season. I wouldn’t touch a win total bet for them because it could really go either way.

I don’t know how good A&M is going to be this season. I know they are going to be dangerous, though. Just not as dangerous as they’ll likely be in a few years once Elko has his roster in a position where they don’t have to rely on as many transfers like they have to now.

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