2019 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2019 Notre Dame Football Preview

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62 ✦ BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2019 FOOTBALL PREVIEW WIDE RECEIVERS I f third-year offensive coordinator Chip Long could have a fantasy football camp at Notre Dame, he would be transported back to 2015 when the Notre Dame line had four future first- or second-round picks (Ron- nie Stanley, Nick Martin, Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson), a first-round speed merchant at wideout (Will Fuller), a second- round quarterback (DeShone Kizer) and a third-round running back (C.J. Prosise) that averaged 6.9 yards per carry in his career. No offense in head coach Brian Kelly's nine seasons had such a combination of ex- plosiveness with the run or pass, comple- mented by physicality. Under Long, the 2017 unit excelled in explosiveness — 20 plays of more than 50 yards, seven of them at least 69 — while the 2018 unit was more methodical. "We need to combine the explosiveness of '17 with the efficiency of '18, and how we were on third downs, the ability to move the ball, and the grit we had," Long said of his vision of 2019. Graduated running back Dexter Williams did provide three runs of more than 50 yards, and replacing that will be a challenge. How- ever, where Long especially wants to see more 2019 detonation is from the receiving corps. The 12.5 yards per catch averaged by Notre Dame last season was its lowest since 2011. That was the trade-off from quarter- back Ian Book's school-record 68.15 com- pletion percentage, which emphasized the quicker, short throws. Clemson exploited that in its 30-3 Cotton Bowl victory. While the other three playoff teams last year averaged 44 to 48 points per contest, Notre Dame was at a far more modest 31.4. "I don't think last year we really scared anybody," Long said. "There were a couple of games where our physicality showed up, but not consistently, and we weren't explo- sive. That caught up to us." Most of the speed and explosiveness was in the freshman receiving class, led by Braden Lenzy and Lawrence Keys III, who at the end of spring drills were recorded with 4.40 and 4.48 times in the 40-yard dash (ju- nior Michael Young also was at 4.48). However, last fall both Lenzy and Keys were listed at 170 pounds — a generous guess, per Long — and Lenzy had to battle head injuries both in the fall and this spring. Keys was a standout this spring, while Lenzy bulked up to 184 pounds and even skipped track season so he could be fully committed to football. In terms of raw ability, the 6-2, 210-pound Kevin Austin Jr. has the highest ceiling among the five sophomore wideouts and caught five passes last year for 90 yards, while the other four redshirted. "They've brought added speed and focus," Long said of the second-year players. "The weight they've put on and the confidence they have now — they understand what they have to do to play." The seasoned triumvirate of seniors Chase Claypool and Chris Finke — who combined for 99 catches last year — and Young com- prise the top tier. How much they can be augmented by the improving youth will help dictate if the overall unit can be more up to speed overall. ✦ GETTING UP TO SPEED A veteran receiving corps is complemented by developing youth SCHOLARSHIP PLAYERS (12) Listed after the class year is the years of eligi- bility remaining. W Receiver 83 Chase Claypool (6-4½, 229), Sr./1 4 Kevin Austin Jr. (6-2, 210), So./3 88 Javon McKinley (6-2, 215), Sr./2 17 Isaiah Robertson (6-1½, 215), Jr./3 X Receiver 87 Michael Young (5-10, 190), Jr./2 25 Braden Lenzy (5-11½, 184), So./4 18 Joe Wilkins Jr. (6-1½, 185), So./4 — Cam Hart (6-3, 190), Fr./4 Z Receiver 10 Chris Finke (5-9½, 180), 5th/1 13 Lawrence Keys III (5-10½, 170), So./4 80 Micah Jones (6-4½, 212), So./4 — Kendall Abdur-Rahman (6-0, 185), Fr./4 After catching six passes in 2017, Chris Finke, a fifth-year senior, upped that total to 49 last season. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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