Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 19, 2020

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

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Page 14 of 55 SEPT. 19, 2020 15 American starting cornerback KeiV- arae Russell during the 12-0 regular season. "I don't know if Clarence has the same raw athletic ability … but Clar- ence has clearly demonstrated that as a true freshman we could put him on the field at the same level, or possibly even higher, than the level KeiVarae had to play as a true freshman — and we did pretty good that year," Kelly noted. TOP SURPRISE ON OFFENSE The talk on offense throughout Au- gust and right into the opening week was sophomore running back Kyren Williams. He played early last season, including on kickoff return, but was redshirted after the fourth game. The 5-9 Williams had only four car- ries for 26 yards last season before sit- ting, but he redefined his body dur- ing the spring and summer, losing nine pounds to get down to 194, and established himself as the lead back. Meanwhile, freshman speedster Chris Tyree, the first Rivals top-100 back signed by the Irish since Greg Bryant in 2013, added nine pounds from his 179 listing last December — and also is the top kick returner. "We've made it pretty clear that Kyren Williams has kind of taken that lead position, and I think we have four other backs very capable of playing and will play this year," Kelly summarized. "I don't know if I've ever been blessed to have that kind of depth at that position. "Chris Tyree has been electric. He has been tougher than advertised and runs physical as well." HONORABLE MENTION SURPRISES Sixth-year senior Shaun Crawford has been the model of immense forti- tude, and he showcased it in training camp again. The strong safety position vacated by the graduated Alohi Gilman was expected to be a two-man race be- tween junior Houston Griffith and Ohio State graduate transfer Isaiah Pryor, but Crawford crashed the party. "We came into camp expecting him to be a place holder at that position," Kelly said of the 5-9 Crawford. "He went out and won that position. We are a better football team with Shaun playing the safety position." Similar to Gilman, Crawford doesn't possess prototype stature at safety, but he does provide supreme heart, smarts and playmaking skills. Meanwhile, the preseason favorites for the Buck linebacker spot to replace the graduated Asmar Bilal were senior Jordan Genmark Heath and junior Jack Lamb, who had an extensive role last year in sub packages before incur- ring a season-ending hip injury Nov. 2. Instead, junior Shayne Simon and sophomore Marist Liufau were listed as the co-starters the week of the Duke opener. Top returning tacklers Jere- miah Owusu-Koramoah, a preseason ESPN All-American, and Drew White headline a corps that has evolved into a strength. Lamb had a setback with his hip rehab that was "career threat- ening," per Kelly, but he is gradually beginning to return to action. "You're going to see multiple play- ers at [Buck]," Kelly said. "Drew has established himself at the Mike, but Bo Bauer has had his best camp bar none. … There were times last year where Bo, we felt there were some holes in his game. He's tightened up his game to the point where … we feel really good about where Bo is." Bauer was a stalwart on special teams last year, and this season soph- omore linebackers Jack Kiser and JD Bertrand could provide similar qual- ity depth in 2020 with the third group. "We have a hard time blocking those guys," Kelly said of the look they pro- vide on the scout team versus the top offense. "That's a really good problem to have when we have that kind of depth at the linebacker position." ADDING TO THE BACKFIELD STABLE Notre Dame's backfield added a pair of sophomores during the pre- season: Osita Ekwonu in a niche role, plus Kendall Abdur-Rahman. The 6-1, 236 pound Ekwonu will remain an inside linebacker but could be used in goal-line, short-yardage Sophomore Kendall Abdur-Rahman, who played slot receiver last fall, has shifted to running back, thanks to his prep experience as a run-first quarterback who rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a junior and senior. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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