Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Young Irish Impressing Veterans

March 27, 2019
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Notre Dame is fresh off a College Football Playoff appearance and expectations are as high as ever in South Bend. 

The Irish return many critical pieces including one of nation’s top defensive lines along with quarterback Ian Book. 

In the Cotton Bowl loss to Clemson, the Tigers skill positions took over the game despite the Irish competing in the trenches. Notre Dame feels they have talent at receiver and senior receiver Chris Finke feels the young receivers have had an impressive start to the spring. 

“It’s fun to see them finally get some more reps,” explained Finke. “I remember when I was a young guy, spring ball is a time where you can show what you’re worth. I like the young guys we have. They all have the right attitude, they work for it and they want it. It’s nice to see them coming along.” 

Receiver isn’t the only position on offense breaking in some new talent on the depth chart. Quarterback Phil Jurkovec redshirted last fall, but he did get into a few games to gain some valuable experience. 

However, Jurkovec is now being tossed into the fire each practice and has impressed his teammates with how he’s learned the offense and made plays.

“He’s not the starter right now, but it’s his first time heading into being a No. 2 and getting a ton of reps,” said Finke. “He’s taken control of the No. 2 offense to feel it out and getting timing right with the receivers.

“Coming in as a freshman, it’s really hard to grasp the offense, especially for a quarterback. He’s got to know 2-3 times more than a receiver. He’s had a little time under his belt and he’s more comfortable knowing what’s going on and he’s making plays with more confidence. He’s got a rocket.” 

At tight end, junior tight end Brock Wright isn’t exactly a new face to the offense after playing his first two seasons in a limited role, but the Texas native is ready to become a more significant part of the offense with classmate Cole Kmet. 

“We’ve been in the offense with Coach Long for coming on three years,” Wright stated. “We have a better feel for the playbook and it’s all coming together the way they plan it out for us.” 

One area of focus of the Irish offense has been getting more yards after the catch as Notre Dame struggled to get loose a year ago. 

“You have to practice it every day,” Wright said. “Practice getting your feet up after the catch and breaking tackles. It comes with practice.” 

On the defensive side of the ball, Notre Dame has too many options at defensive end. Yes, it was weird to type out, but that’s the case as the Irish boast one of the nation’s top edge units. 

Redshirt freshman Ovie Oghoufo and early enrollee NaNa Osafo-Mensah have flashed at times this spring, which hasn’t surprised senior Daelin Hayes. 

Hayes will complete his fourth spring in a few weeks and believes Mike Elston will play the best player regardless of class, so each player has to be ready to contribute when their number is called. 

“With the depth, everyone is always fighting to get on the field,” explained Hayes. “You get everyone’s best. Bringing in a guy like NaNa and throwing him in the fire, he knows he could be on the field at some point. Coach always talks about ownership. Whether it’s 30 plays, 15 plays, 50 plays or 5 plays, you know you’re accountable to your teammates for the plays you make while you’re on the field.”

Perhaps the most significant move on defense was sophomore Houston Griffith moving from nickel to boundary corner. 

Griffith arrived at Notre Dame as a safety, but was forced to provide depth at nickel last fall after Shaun Crawford tore his ACL in fall camp. 

Troy Pride Jr. has been impressed with Griffith’s quick adjustment to the position, but the writing has been on the wall for those who see Griffith on a daily basis. 

“Houston was an All-American in high school,” Pride said. “He already had the tools and patience. He’s very good with his hands. He’s a fluid corner and does so many things well. If you look at the weight room board, he’s at the top. 

“He’s a natural athlete and competitor. Those traits are going to make you a good player.” 

Pride and Griffith don’t lack confidence and could form another dynamic cornerback duo at Notre Dame, which would be music to Clark Lea and Irish fans across the country. 

“We got this saying, ‘If you want to stay alive, stay away from 3 and 5.’”

 
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