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Notre Dame Football

Three Positive Developments From Notre Dame's Spring

April 23, 2019

Spring ball has passed for Notre Dame and now the Irish will turn attention towards Matt Balis’ offseason program and finishing strong in the classroom. 

Brian Kelly gave us a rare look at the development of the team this spring and after letting it sink in, I’ll be posting a few thoughts over the next few days. 

The receiver position was one of the most significant question marks entering the spring and the Irish answered those questions pretty quickly in my opinion. 

Notre Dame has more than plenty of talent ready to make big plays, but also remain a consistent force to move the chains. Chase Claypool has flashed for two years and this spring the 6-foot-4 senior settled into his own and looked like a true No. 1 receiver. There was a constant focus which led to consistent plays, including making tough catches and momentum-changing plays. We saw that come to fruition in the Blue-Gold game as Ian Book found him on a deep ball where Claypool had to adjust to complete a tough catch. 

“Outstanding and competitive,” Kelly said of Claypool. “The one thing that held Chase back a little bit was we’d see three or four of those plays and then maybe a bit of a drop-off. He’d get tired, banged up or fatigued. He’s now reached a new mental toughness level where he can do that play in and play out. 

“I grabbed Troy after and Troy was a bit down. I told Troy ‘That’s the life at press corner. You’re going up against – that kid could be a first-round draft pick.’”

Chris Finke was a better version of Chris Finke, which is exciting when you think about it. At the college level, the Ohio native could be a weapon and should be a weapon for the Irish, especially on third down. Finke looked a step faster and a step quicker, which in turn made him almost uncoverable in certain drills. 

Michael Young Jr. made a few explosive plays in limited touches last year, but he also had a couple bad plays, which limited his playing time at times. The Louisiana speedster seemed to turn a corner this fall as much like Claypool, Young was consistent and showed the ability to concentrate on the smaller details of the game. 

The sophomore receivers won’t break the receiver unit, but they have a chance to make Notre Dame into one of the nation’s best this year. Will they? I’m not sure, but there were moments from Kevin Austin Jr., Lawrence Keys III, Braden Lenzy and Joe Wilkins Jr. that made you think all four players can impact the Irish offense this year. 

“I saw their demeanor in the weight room every day,” stated offensive coordinator Chip Long. “You have that. You have a chance. I thought they did a nice job of really attacking the spring every day. I have a lot of confidence in them because I have a lot of confidence in Del Alexander. He’s been with me for a long time. Those kids know how to work. 

“You have two great leaders in Chase and Finke there. They get to learn from two great ones. When you have that, it helps with the transition. They’ve caught the ball well. That was a lot of my question marks with them, how are they going to be able to handle press? Getting knocked around. They’ve done a great job bringing that physicality and it’s shown up in their ability to make competitive catches 1-on-1.”

I would lean towards Austin and Keys being guys who can make big plays this fall and that’s not a dig on the other two. Lenzy battled a couple of injuries this spring but looked like a player when he was able to practice. Wilkins doesn’t have the pure speed of Keys or the natural athleticism of Austin, but he seems to find a way to make a big play. 

Chip Long wanted his receivers to make more plays after the catch and I would completely be shocked if this group doesn’t make a ton of big plays this fall. 

Rover, Rover, Rover
I had personally always felt Shayne Simon would be good at rover, but as felt his best position long-term would be inside backer. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah committed late to Notre Dame, but his high school film showed a player who Mike Elko coveted as the Virginia native caused havoc all over the field from a variety of positions. 

Owusu-Koramoah’s development allowed Notre Dame to move Simon inside and then Paul Moala moved from safety to rover, which also was a move Jamie and I saw coming in time. 
Moala was swimming the first couple weeks at rover, but at the end of spring ball, the Mishawaka (Ind.) native started to come into his own. He capped off the spring with a productive spring game and even admitted he embraced the move as soon as it happened. 

“It intrigued me a lot because I knew the position would require a lot more physicality,” Moala stated. “That’s something that would play to my strengths. I was really excited about the move.” 

Owusu-Koramoah is the quicker and more athletic player, but Moala adds a little more physicality, which should be a nice one-two punch for the Irish. 

Center of Attention
Notre Dame had a massive hole to fill in the middle of the offensive line as four starters returning, but the Irish needed to find a center. Sophomore Jarrett Patterson preserved his redshirt last year while playing in a few games at left tackle for the Irish and left a lasting impression this spring. 

Patterson was the focal point of glowing comments from the staff, but also his peers for his work ethic, consistency and development this spring. 

“It’s great we have Jarrett stepping in there,” said left tackle Liam Eichenberg. “It’s good to have a guy who knows what he’s doing and is a physical guy who loves to attack.”

Not only did Patterson show the ability to handle his assignments well, but there were few bad snaps, which is somewhat surprising for someone who has never played the position.

“His technique was advanced when he came in and he was able to ride that,” said right tackle Robert Hainsey. “The reason he was moved to center was how advanced his football IQ is and he understands our offense well. Even though he was at tackle, he learned from Sam, who was the best center in college football. He was always able to watch him and pick up things. That was extremely beneficial to him to come in and play that center role while some of our guys are down.” 

If Patterson can continue his rapid development into fall camp, Notre Dame could very well have a solid foundation at the center position for the next three to four years.

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