Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

3 Big Stories to Watch During Spring Ball

March 13, 2018
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No pads, 30 minutes of media access, and an opening press conference.

Last week was the spring ball appetizer for Notre Dame. After everyone gets the week off for spring break, they’ll get into the meat of spring practices next week.

That’s when we’ll get more access and also when we’ll start to learn some things about the 2018 Fighting Irish. There will be some separation in certain position battles. A few players will surely surprise with their improvement. We’ll likely see some players jump up another level from good to elite too.

It should be fun to watch it play out.

These are the three of biggest stories I’ll be following closely during Notre Dame’s spring ball. Everything doesn’t have to be figured out by the end of April, but the arrow needs to be pointing in a positive direction heading into the summer. It will be if they get the right answer to these three questions.

Brandon Wimbush in the quick game

I guess I could have just chosen the quarterback battle, but to me, the most interesting part about Wimbush and if he will win the quarterback job is directly related to the quick game. I went back and watched every throw he made against Michigan State. He looked like a different player than the one we watched the rest of the season.

He completed 70% of his throws in that game. He didn’t even scratch 60% in any other. It was by far the sharpest he looked mechanically and he made some plays even when he was forced to throw off platform.

The big difference in that game that I saw compared to the others was how on point he was in the quick game, which is generally a predetermined read (a one-step drop out of the shotgun) that is thrown within ten yards of the line of scrimmage. He was nine of ten on those throws and seven of those he gave the receiver an opportunity to gain yards after the catch because of his ball placement and how fast he the ball was out of his hand. It wasn't like he was perfect in every aspect, but he was very good.

via GIPHY

It was a completely different story the next game against Miami (Ohio).

He finished seven of eighteen (38.9%) and missed more than a few easy completions. It was fairly obvious that he was in his own head.

If we see Wimbush be accurate in the quick game in 11 on 11 situations this spring, then it’s a good sign that he can take the lead in the quarterback race heading into the summer. If we don’t see that, then Ian Book will have a chance to gain a big edge in the competition.

There can only be one (number one wide receiver)

I guess technically a team can have two big time options that can rotate as number one targets like Golden Tate and Michael Floyd (when healthy) in 2009 or even Floyd and Tyler Eifert in 2011. Still, there seemed to be a pecking order then. Tate was above Floyd and Floyd was above Eifert. But it sure is nice to have options if one isn't playing as well as the other.

It doesn’t appear that the Irish will have those kind of options this year. I could be wrong, but two guys will have to take huge steps for that to happen. Right now the Irish are just hoping for one.

2017 was the first year since 2007 where it was clear there was no number one receiver on the roster. Some of that had to do with the play of the quarterback. Just as much was on Equanimeous St. Brown not being that guy that he was expected to be.

This spring is a new opportunity for someone to emerge now that St. Brown is gone. Who that someone will be is the biggest question.

With Chase Claypool limited with what he'll participate in, the next leading returning receiver is Miles Boykin. He had a nice game in the Citrus Bowl, capped off by ">one of the best catch and runs you’ll ever see, but he caught nine passes the rest of the season. He has a lot to prove to go from there to being a potential number one.

Everyone is excited about the potential of Michael Young, but he only had four catches as a freshman. It’s rare for a slot to be a top guy too. The tight ends don’t even have a clear cut starter at the position so it would be more than a leap to suggest someone could emerge as a go-to player at this time. Overall at wide receiver, the water is extremely murky.

There is talent. It’s just unproven talent. Which is why if Boykin doesn’t show out, Claypool or a true freshman like Kevin Austin (arrives in June) might be the best bet to be a number one this fall.

Can the defense dominate?

With ten starters back, things seemed poised for Notre Dame’s defense to look as good this spring as they have in a long time.

There are still things that need to be figured out, though.

How will the defense look with position switches for Jerry Tillery and Drue Tranquill? Will other positions switches (Jamir Jones at Drop and Isaiah Robertson at Rover) be as beneficial as Tranquill’s switch last spring? Can they find some more consistency at safety with young players pushing the veterans? And the biggest question of all, can the defense take another step in the right direction under the leadership of Clark Lea as coordinator?

The answer could be yes to all of those and if it is, we may not see the kind of progress people are hoping for on offense because the defense might dominate.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing if it happens. With more questions on offense, it would be huge if the defense found some answers in the spring that can propel them to a different level. Getting there early may give the offense more time to figure things out during the fall with the defense being relied on early in the season.

A dominant spring from the defense might very well forecast great things to come for the Irish in 2018.

 
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