Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2021

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

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28 PRESEASON 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY TYLER HORKA A ugust is as critical as any month on the college football calendar. Yes, for some it means the start of the season. Not for Notre Dame, though. The Irish's 2021 season begins at Florida State Sept. 5. Still, the eighth month of the year was incredibly vital for the Fighting Irish, even if it did not play a game that'll go down in the record books. Notre Dame named a starting quarterback. It got closer to finaliz- ing the offensive line, too. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees saw what he has in the two freshman running backs the Irish brought aboard. De- fensive coordinator Marcus Freeman found out what he's working with in a secondary that will be as pivotal a position group as any on the roster. And, perhaps most importantly, August showed head coach Brian Kelly how much of a chance there is for him to lead his team to the Col- lege Football Playoff for the third time in the last four seasons. Here's a breakdown of what Kelly and company learned about the Irish in the crucial month of August. 1. READY, SET, COAN It might have been a matter of time, but the words still had to be said and set in stone. They weren't until Aug. 14. Those words? Wiscon- sin graduate transfer Jack Coan is Notre Dame's starting quarterback. There was no grand announce- ment or viral video of Coan learning his designation as the team's starter. Kelly simply tweeted the news out of the blue on a Saturday morning. "Jack Coan will be our starting QB," Kelly wrote in the tweet. "All three quarterbacks distinguished themselves in the spring and pre- season camp. Clearly, each has the skills necessary to lead, but Jack proved to be more consistent and therefore, going into our opener, gives us the best chance for success." The three quarterbacks Kelly ref- erenced are Coan, sophomore Drew Pyne and freshman Tyler Buchner. Ju- nior Brendon Clark is still hampered by a knee injury he suffered last season. Pyne appeared to have the best chance of raining on Coan's parade and being named the starter, but in the end Coan did not transfer from a Power Five program to sit on the bench. This was a decision eight months in the making — even if Rees said it was one made solely on what happened in spring practices and the first month of fall camp. In the end it doesn't matter when or how the decision was made, though. It was made. Period. Coan will get the ball against the Semi- noles. He's prepared to get it in every game thereafter, too. "I feel like I've always had a good sense of who I am as a player and a person," Coan said. "I've tried to work as hard as I could and be a great teammate." 2. PIECING TOGETHER AN O-LINE It doesn't matter who's throwing the passes and handing the ball off. Notre Dame's offense can only be as good as its offensive line allows it to be. Fall camp was a significant time to figure out who is starting where along the line. A major component was finalized on the first day of camp. Senior Jar- rett Patterson returned to his usual post at center. Junior Zeke Correll manned the position in the spring while Patterson rehabbed an injury. It was believed Correll had a serious shot of holding onto the spot through the fall and into the season. Ultimately, though, Kelly said he could not justify Patterson losing his starting center duties. "It's a permanent thing," Kelly said. "He's going to be our starting center. We looked at a couple things — one, what's in the best interest of Jarrett Patterson first? "He's one of the top centers in the country, and it's hard for me to take a player and really put him in a position that could affect him down the road. He's done so much for our program." It seems Correll at left guard is a permanent thing, too. He played ex- clusively there throughout the first GAINING CLARITY Notre Dame answers key preseason questions in important fall camp practice sessions The offensive line puzzle started coming together during fall camp, most notably with senior Jarrett Patterson staying put at center and junior Zeke Correll sliding to left guard. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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