Blue and Gold Illustrated

June-July 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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14 JUNE/JULY 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY BRYAN DRISKELL N otre Dame had its largest re- cruiting class of head coach Brian Kelly's tenure in 2018, and it also was one of the high- est-ranked groups. The 27-man haul was the third best (No. 10 on average) under Kelly according to the 247Sports composite list, trailing only the 2013 (No. 5) and 2011 (No. 9) classes. The 2018 group made a minimal impact last fall due to Notre Dame's strong veteran group, but heading into 2019 it will be tasked with pro- viding significant minutes. Sopho- mores are conspicuous throughout the two-deep now, and will be given a chance to earn playmaking and starting roles at numerous positions. If the class ends up as good as it was ranked, then it could provide the spark needed for Notre Dame to make another College Football Play- off run. If the class doesn't quite live up to its billing, depth could become an issue for the Fighting Irish. PASS CATCHERS GALORE There are other positions that could have more on-field success this fall, but the pass catchers are the headlin- ers. If the group can turn some of its potential into production, the 2019 Irish offense could be potent. Notre Dame signed four wideouts in the 2018 class, but Joe Wilkins Jr. — initially recruited to play corner- back — moved to wide receiver dur- ing the summer. That now five-man group is being tasked with providing depth at the very least in 2019, but the ideal situation is that it can pro- vide even more than that. He wasn't a highly touted recruit, and he's the smallest in stature, but Lawrence Keys III was the most con- sistent playmaker of the group dur- ing the spring. Keys tormented the defense from the slot, where he used his speed, quickness, precise route running and ball skills to consistently work himself open and make plays. Early in the spring, Braden Lenzy was showing himself to be a big- time deep threat outside. He has home-run speed and his route run- ning showed much-needed improve- ments. The issue for Lenzy is he has struggled to stay healthy. If he's go- ing to earn a role in 2019, he will need to stay healthy throughout fall camp. Kevin Austin struggled early in the spring, showing only flashes of elite skills, but his lack of focus kept him from standing out. That started to change late in the spring, and Austin was dominant in the closing days. What distinguishes Austin is he not only brings the speed and quick- ness that Keys (5-10, 172 pounds) and Lenzy (5-11, 184) likewise pos- sess, but Austin provides it in a 6-2, 210-pound body. If he can mature his game and stay locked in, he could eventually develop into a true game changer. Wilkins was a steady figure throughout the spring. He made plays in the slot and outside, and at 6-2 he also supplies good length and size to the depth chart. The Fort My- ers, Fla., native also displayed good after-the-catch traits, which separates him from classmate Micah Jones. It isn't just the wide receivers who will have a chance to impact the pass game. During the second half of the spring, sophomore tight end Tommy Tremble emerged as a downfield threat. He is a different kind of ath- lete than past Notre Dame tight ends, checking in at 6-3 and 237 pounds while also possessing vertical speed not seen before from Irish tight ends. Tremble mastered the opposing safeties and linebackers late in the spring, and if that carries into the fall he will be difficult to keep off the field. Fellow sophomore tight end George Takacs also concluded the spring on a high note, but barring an injury to Cole Kmet or Brock Wright, he's still likely a year away from major snaps. TRENCH WARFARE The pass catchers will get the head- lines, but the players in the trenches could have an even bigger impact on the 2019 team. Offensively, sophomore Jarrett Pat- terson moved to center after serving as the backup left tackle as a fresh- man. His transition to snapping was surprisingly smooth. Not only was he a pleasant surprise for the line, at times he was a standout. Patterson is untested, and it's un- known how he'll respond when the lights get bright, but it's easy to see why the staff is excited about his future. His quickness and ability to play in space brings a dimension that Notre Dame has lacked at center in recent seasons. It gives offensive coordinator Chip Long the ability to use more of the trap-and-pull schemes that he was often hesitant to use last year. There is still plenty of technical work needed from guard John Dirk- sen, but he earned the backup right guard role behind two-year starter Tommy Kraemer. Dirksen is a quality athlete and showed a willingness to compete and play physical football this spring. Sophomore left tackle Cole Mabry showed grit during the spring, but he's still just 273 pounds and is at least a year away from being physi- cally ready to handle the rigors of college football. On the defensive side, sophomore defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola has a heavy burden placed upon his broad shoulders. The loss of All-American defensive tackle Jerry Tillery leaves a massive void in the middle of the line, and Ademilola has been tasked to help fill it with projected starter and junior Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa. Ademilola was just solid for much of the spring and didn't make enough plays. The deeper it went into the spring the more plays he made, and Notre Dame desperately needs him to raise his game to an even higher level. More than any other interior player on the roster, he has the quick- ness and disruptive ability to be an impact big man in the middle. The defensive end depth chart is loaded, but one element that contin- PLAYMAKERS NEEDED Notre Dame's sophomore class will be tasked with adding impact production to the 2019 squad

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