Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

5 Key Role Players in 2018

June 12, 2018

The value of an All-American candidate and someone deeper down the roster is different, but every football team needs role players. They may not be flashy and they are not stars. They may only play a handful of plays in a game or sometimes not play at all. But they are important when it comes to the long haul of a football season.

Just like with starters, some role players are more important than others. Not better necessarily, but more important for various reasons. Here are five that I feel will be key role players for the Irish this season.

Notre Dame won’t need them to be stars to win a lot of games in 2018. They will just need them to do their job well when called upon.

Ade Ogundeji

With no Jay Hayes, Ogundeji immediately was propelled up the depth chart. The way he performed this spring, he might have already been heading that way. But instead of his contributions being seen as a bonus, he’ll now be counted on to be in the defensive line rotation.

Khalid Kareem is ready to start at defensive end. It’s not a good thing that the job was sort of handed to him, though. That’s why it’s important that Ogundeji pushes him. Mike Elston needs Ogundeji to prove he can be an every down player when called upon so Kareem doesn’t have to carry a huge load of minutes every week.

The role beside Jerry Tillery inside to rush on the passer in Notre Dame’s nickel package is up for grabs right now as well and Ogundeji is a candidate to win that job. He flashed from the interior this spring and earned himself a look in fall camp. If he is used in that role too, then it would be fair to say that he’ll be one of the most valuable non-starters on the team.

Michael Young

Miles Boykin came out of spring being touted as the number one receiver and Chase Claypool appears to be the number two behind him. Cole Kmet and Alize Mack received rave reviews for how they looked in March and April too. Because of them, Young was a bit of a forgotten player at receiver.

Chip Long and Del Alexander are likely going to need Young to play an important role in this offense, though. His skill set is different than those other big targets. While his speed can be utilized to possibly stretch the field and threaten deep, what he can do after the catch is more critical in my opinion.

The offense badly needs a receiver that can convert a short pass into a long gain. They really didn’t have that player the previous two seasons and it hurt them. If Young can contribute in the screen game and make plays in space, the entire dynamic of the offense could look much different.

Anthony Miller played that role for Long at Memphis. Wherever he caught the football, he could turn it into a productive play. He also played the role of number one receiver, but the Irish won’t need that out of Young. They’ll just need a play or two a game where he catches the ball at seven yards and turns it into twenty or more. He has the skills to fill that role.

Josh Lugg/Aaron Banks

It’s cheating choosing two players here, but since there is no obvious next man up at offensive tackle, two is fine for now. One of them is going to be a play away from having a big role. For now, that one guy will have to always be on call to step in if something happens.

Jeff Quinn is lucky enough to have a fourth year player at guard in Trevor Ruhland if something were to happen to any of his interior starters. Notre Dame does not have that luxury at tackle so a second year player with no experience like Lugg or Banks will be thrown into the fire.

The next tackle in is a critically important role. That player is often on an island against edge rushers without any help. That’s why these two need to be ready at any given moment. There’s a chance that neither will be a critical down all season long, but they have to be prepared like that won’t be the case.

Kurt Hinish

Hinish might have physically transformed himself more than any other player on the roster from last fall to this spring. It wasn’t a surprise that his play took a big jump too. That had to be exciting for Elston to see because it’s going to help Jonathan Bonner and Jerry Tillery quite a bit.

Last year Tillery played way too much. Obviously he’s a player that the Notre Dame wants to have on the field all of the time, but he wasn’t given the chance to be as fresh late in games and late in the season because they leaned on him so heavily. 

That’s primarily because it was only him, Jonathan Bonner, and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa inside the entire year. Bonner ended up having to play both interior spots just to give Tillery more of a break. Hinish could not be counted on for more than a handful of plays as a true freshman. That looks like it will change and with him added to the players I just mentioned, Notre Dame should be able to close out games with their best players at their best more often.

Jonathan Jones

Greer Martini was the third inside linebacker last season, but he ended up with 75 tackles, one interceptions, three tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles. That’s pretty great production and combined with Te’von Coney and Nyles Morgan, it was a more than solid group at Mike and Buck.

Jones does not have to be Martini in terms of tackles, but him showing that he can be competent enough to fill in at Mike or Buck will be important. Ideally Notre Dame would have someone else along with him getting snaps during games to give Coney and Drue Tranquill a rest, but it could end up being just Jones.

Coney and Tranquill won’t be able to play every snap at inside linebacker in 2018. They need at least one guy to help carry some of that load, which is why Jones is going to be an important piece on the defense this fall.

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