Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2021 Issue

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

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18 MAY 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY PATRICK ENGEL N otre Dame isn't without press- ing questions this spring as it enters an offseason of transi- tion on both sides of the ball. After 2020, it should be grateful just to get to make progress toward solutions this April. Pressing questions couldn't be an- swered last spring when the world shut down. Now, though, 15 spring practices are back this year, but likely without any outside eyes on them until the Blue-Gold Game May 1. The Irish and head coach Brian Kelly don't need to have everything solved when they go on hiatus in May, but they'd like to have some clarity — especially in these five areas. JACK COAN'S ASSIMILATION Kelly is staging a quarterback com- petition to replace three-year starter Ian Book, but it's hard not to focus on one discrepancy between the can- didates. Wisconsin graduate transfer Jack Coan led the Badgers to 10 wins and a Big Ten West Division title in 2019. Sophomore Drew Pyne has three career pass attempts. As intent as Pyne seems on chal- lenging him, Coan should be viewed as the early favorite to start. He didn't bring his 18 career starts at Wisconsin to Notre Dame to sit on the bench. There's an opportunity for him to take. The intrigue lies in how quickly he can seize it. He needs to earn his teammates' trust as a leader. He needs to get comfortable in the scheme with an offensive line and receiver over- haul going on around him. "I can only imagine how awkward that situation must be as you're play- ing quarterback, the epicenter of the football team," fifth-year senior slot receiver Avery Davis said. "That's definitely pressure and it's some- thing he had to work on coming into it. I think he did a really good job." Navigating that awkward transition requires authenticity above all else. "You don't have to worry about pretending to be someone else," Kelly said. "Just be who you are. They know who you are. You have a lot of recog- nition for things you accomplished already in the Big Ten at Wisconsin. The guys know who you are. Be who you are. Be authentic. When you're authentic, guys trust you. "He came in here and has fit in extremely well because he has been authentic, been who he is and hasn't tried to pretend. Naturally, leader- ship will follow that position." PLAYMAKERS WANTED Kelly mentioned "playmakers" four separate times after Notre Dame lost to Alabama in the 2020 College Football Playoff. As in, the Irish need more of them. Their wide receiver corps will again be a new cast of contributors. Only one returner at the position, Da- vis, has more than 20 career catches. He will need some help around him. Senior Kevin Austin Jr., last year's projected breakout candidate before two foot fractures wiped out 10 games of his 2020 season, won't be full-go until fall camp. Classmate Braden Lenzy is participating in spring practice, his hamstring issues apparently behind him. The former track star is an early favorite to start at field receiver. With Austin out, senior Joe Wilkins Jr. has been working as the first-team boundary receiver. He had a steady but limited role in last year's offense, with seven catches. Can he play his way further into it? How much help can the offense get from sophomore Jordan Johnson, the for- mer five-star recruit who was entirely off the radar in 2020 as a freshman? Despite the unknowns right now, Kelly's concern level is low. He's bet- ting on talent to rise up. "We know what a guy like [receiver] Avery [Davis] can do, what tight end [Michael] Mayer can do," Kelly said. "I would argue we have more known commodities coming back this year than we did going into last year. That sorted itself out." OFFENSIVE LINE IN NASCENT STAGES Listen carefully to Kelly's com- ments on the offensive line after Notre Dame's first spring practice, and it is HOT TOPICS The top five storylines from Notre Dame's spring practices Notre Dame must replace four starters on its offensive line, and the Fighting Irish were experimenting with several different combinations during the early stages of spring practice. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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