2019 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2019 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 46 of 163

BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2019 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ✦ 45 can be an explosive offense. When we touch the ball we're gone, not just in the run game, but in the pass game as well." BGI: What are your expectations for the offensive line now with four starters returning? Long: "I expect them to all be better and play at a high level. … I expect each player to improve in some aspect of his game. If that's not the case, then we'll find someone else who can. "I expect a very physical, big, powerful group that's going to play the game the way we want it to be played, similar to what it was in 2017. Now, are they going to have the star power of that group? No, but I want the mind- set that group had in this one. "I want a confident group that says the guy in front of me is going to have the longest day he's ever had in his life. That's the mentality I want. "Our guys are going to work hard, and they're going to have the mindset to be physi- cal. I want to add the confidence that we're go- ing to dominate you the way we did in 2017." BGI: Wide receivers Chase Claypool and Chris Finke are established, but who are some young pass catchers you expect to step up this season? Long: "[Redshirt freshman] Joe Wilkins, for whatever reason, is always wide open. He has really good instincts, great ball skills and good toughness, and is a guy I have full confidence in when he's out in the game. "He's just a steady guy, and the game's not too big for him. … People don't recognize him as being as good a player as he has a chance to be. "[Redshirt freshman] Lawrence Keys had a great spring. He's very explosive with very strong hands and can break a lot of tackles. He has really good instincts and is an absolute grinder who loves to work, loves to practice. He's the same guy day in and day out. "[Redshirt freshman] Braden Lenzy has the great speed and ability, and had a good spring. We have to get past missing time with ham- strings and things that usually happen to young wideouts. He has game-breaking speed and has done a great job transforming his body. "[Sophomore] Kevin Austin is a great talent. Plus, he had over a 3.0 GPA last semester. I am really proud of him in that aspect, and it's going to transition to him growing up and help- ing him on the field. … I expect him to have a really solid year if he continues to do the things we ask him to do — and does it every day. "They might not all have 100 catches as ev- eryone expects — there's only one ball — but I do see all of them trending up and improving." BGI: Where is wideout Michael Young heading into his junior season? Long: "Mike brings a great deal of knowl- edge. He's been in the offense a long time with me. He has great speed, a great gear. We saw that in the Wake Forest game when he took a screen 66 yards, one of our most explosive plays of the year. "It was all a mentality with Mike about at- tacking the day. It's about getting over injuries — you'll never play this game 100 percent — being able to fight through whatever is ailing you and still being able to play at a high level. "That defines a great player to me, and he did that. If he continues to do that he'll be the starting X out there when we get rolling." BGI: The skill sets of those players are much more diverse than what you've had in the past. What does such a wide array of talent do for you as a play caller? Long: "We can attack on different fronts, which is what I've always wanted to do. … We have an answer for whatever the defense wants to play, a different type of body if we need that, or a different type of speed to get on their weaker defenders so we can exploit that. "We can create that many more mismatches with tempo. … It gets safeties and lineback- ers out of the box. They have to defend the whole field now, and now that's going to cre- ate creases where our most talented group is, which is up front. "That's where we can take advantage of them, and that's what you saw in 2017 … and that's what you saw this past year with a bunch of big runs late with Dexter [Williams]. "We started working on the perimeter, and Florida State had to get out there and honor that. The next thing you see is Dex rolling right through there and splitting the safeties for a 50- yard touchdown." BGI: Where are areas where senior quarter- back Ian Book can grow his game? Long: "He can have a little bit more poise in the pocket defeating pressure. … He can be more confident in the deep ball down the field, down the middle, attacking the middle of the field. A guy might be slightly covered, but if he's 6-5 and the defender is 5-8 — that is not 'covered.' Give that guy a chance with the back-shoulder throw. "He has great confidence, but to be elite you have to make some elite throws and elite deci- sions. I think that's his next level. … "He can take a few more chances — not be- ing careless with the ball, but giving our guys an opportunity. He can have a little better pre- snap thought of where we want to attack them. "We beat a guy on a corner route, but let's get the ball to him so we're not catching it and running right out of bounds. Let's get it to him in a position where we can go score with it. That comes with getting older." BGI: What are your expectations for junior tight ends Cole Kmet and Brock Wright? Long: "Cole has great size, strength and power, and is an unbelievable kid. I expect him to take another step in his development and his confidence of running after the catch. "He's a bull, and that was a big emphasis in the spring. I was going to punish him if he got tackled one on one. … He loves to work, loves to grind and has just been a real pleasure to coach. "Brock made tremendous growth. Brock was already strong as an ox. I needed him to trim down and be able to stick and stay on his blocks, and maintain it and be able to play in pass protection. "He dropped about 12 pounds, and you could see a more confident guy with great speed, a guy who knows the offense really well. You can see him anticipate things and be able to react a lot faster. I am really proud of the spring he had, and I am excited to see how he's going to do in the fall." BGI: Redshirt freshman tight end Tommy Tremble showed promise in the spring. What does he bring to the offense? Long: "Tommy gives me great speed and great athleticism. He's probably one of our more physical players on offense. He doesn't know what he's doing half the time, but he's so naturally good. … He's just a really exciting player. "We want to put him in position to create matchups and attack a defense in ways that we haven't had in the past." BGI: What did you see from the running backs this spring? Long: "I saw a toughness, and I saw a de- meanor to get better each and every day. I saw a great transition from their drill work to showing up on film, and I just saw a more confident group. "We saw a physicalness in pass protection that I haven't seen in a long time. I just saw a daily grind to improve that I really, really liked." ✦ "We need to get back to being able to run the ball with power like we did in the past. We want to get that solidified first, and then we want to keep being more explosive. We want to be able to push the ball downfield and attack the middle of the field." LONG

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