Blue and Gold Illustrated

June-July 2019

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

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Page 26 of 55 JUNE/JULY 2019 27 from the 2018 crew, and that cohesion resulted in a strong spring perfor- mance. Junior right tackle Robert Hain- sey continued his steady play and emerged as a team leader. An an- kle injury slowed left tackle Liam Eichenberg at times, but he showed flashes of strong play. When he was limited by that ankle, the line had its worst practice of the spring. If Eichenberg can become a more con- sistent player, the tackle tandem can become a team strength. Senior right guard Tommy Krae- mer was in shape and playing his best football, while junior left guard Aaron Banks was strong in the run game. Especially aiding its success was the emergence of sophomore Jar- rett Patterson at center. 3. Safety What a difference a year makes for this position group, which was ranked eighth out of 10 units in this breakdown a year ago. A breakout season from then-junior Jalen Elliott, who led the defense with four inter- ceptions, and the presence of then-ju- nior Alohi Gilman made the safeties a strength of the 2018 defense. Gilman earned All-America honors from Pro Football Focus after finish- ing second on the defense with 94 tackles. It should be noted that the last Notre Dame safety to record at least 90 tackles was Harrison Smith in 2011, and his career is still going strong in the NFL. Gilman was a standout run de- fender and an opportunistic play- maker. Elliott was strong in cover- age and his run defense continued improving. The duo is prepared to become one of the best safety tandems in the country, but the youth behind the starters drops it behind the lines. A fall emergence from sophomore Der- rik Allen or incoming freshman Kyle Hamilton will be vital to establishing quality depth. 4. Wide Receiver Del Alexander's group didn't miss a beat after losing leading receiver Miles Boykin, who was a third-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. The ar- rival of senior Chase Claypool as a dominant force in practices led the way for a strong spring from this unit. Claypool was a matchup night- mare every time the Irish took the field, and his consistency was the biggest takeaway from the spring. Fifth-year senior Chris Finke was his typical solid self, and he was even stronger and more effective with the ball in his hands. Junior Michael Young was able to stay healthy, and the result was him making plays all spring long. Young's combination of deep speed and after-the-catch skills is something the offense desperately needs more of in the fall. Whether this unit moves up or falls back once the season starts will be de- termined by the talented but inexpe- rienced sophomore class, which had moments of brilliance this spring. Outside of Young, the majority of the big-play speed on the receiver depth chart lies with the sophomores. 5. Quarterback If this was just about starter pro- duction, this position would go up a bit. Senior Ian Book is coming off a season in which he went 8-1 as a starter and averaged 290.6 passing yards per game. He set a school re- cord by completing 68.2 percent of his passes despite struggling in the 30-3 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff (CFP). Essential to Book heading into 2019 is improving his game — and for much of the spring we didn't see that, which knocks down the rank- ing a bit. He started to get there late in the spring, and he finished with a strong performance in the Blue-Gold Game, but he will need to carry that into the fall if Notre Dame is going to make another CFP run. Depth is the greater concern here because sophomore Phil Jurkovec had an up-and-down spring that mirrored that of DeShone Kizer in 2015. His summer development is critical to establishing depth. 6. Running Back The loss of Dexter Williams — who Blue & Gold Illustrated named the offensive MVP in 2018 — might seem problematic, but Notre Dame is in position to overcome it. We saw glimpses of that last season when Williams missed four games while serving a suspension. Notre Dame totaled 171.6 yards of total offense per game from its run- ning backs when Williams played, Junior Jafar Armstrong, a converted wide receiver, has the talent and playmaking ability to elevate the running back group. PHOTO BY ANGELA DRISKELL

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