Blue and Gold Illustrated


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

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20 PRESEASON 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY TYLER HORKA N obody ever wants the new car smell to fade into noth- ingness, let alone some other distinct odor that reeks in comparison. For Notre Dame, so far, so good. The feeling of freshness brought on by naming Marcus Freeman the successor to Brian Kelly as the Fighting Irish's head coach stuck around through the summer and into fall camp. But even though it's still there, the novel nature of where this program is now compared to where it was a year ago isn't going to win football games on its own. What takes place between the white lines in August, meanwhile, can very much aid the effort to pile up victories in September and be- yond. Freeman and the Irish went into his first fall camp as head coach with a mission to improve and set the stage for a compelling 2022 sea- son. They believe they've done so. Here's what was gleaned about Notre Dame during preseason practices. 1. QUARTERBACK CLARITY Though he's a defensive mind through and through, and won't ever shy away from owning that, Freeman spent am- ple time this year c l o s e l y o b s e r v - ing Notre Dame's q u a r te r b a c k s. I t was always going to be his final say on who'd start under center for the Irish, and never in his decade-plus coaching career had he made a decision of that magnitude. Freeman took his time, weighed every factor, consulted his coaches and made the call on Aug. 13. Sophomore Tyler Buchner is now QB1 for the Irish. "It wasn't a seven-practice decision," Freeman said. "We looked at last year, we looked at the spring, the summer and the start of fall camp. An entire body of work. And we just felt like it was time. It was time to give the offense clarity on who was going to be the start- ing quarterback." Freeman noted Buchner's rushing ability, an element of his game Pyne does not have in his. Offensive coordi- nator Tommy Rees harped on Buchner's "ownership" of the Irish offense. He used the word over and over. Buchner grew up a lot from one fall camp to the next. He's viewed by ev- eryone in blue and gold as a complete quarterback, not just the signal-caller who could move the ball with his legs like he was as a true freshman. He's the guy. An "alpha male," per Freeman. It's time for him to act like it. "The goal for my personality is to have the utmost confidence in my- self, my teammates and this whole program," Buchner said. "I think having confidence comes from ex- ecution. So as long as I continue to execute and continue to stack good days, the confidence is going to go up." 2. WIDE RECEIVER ROULETTE Wide receivers coach Chansi Stuckey said his ideal number for scholarship players in his position group is 10. When graduate student Avery Davis went down with an ACL injury one week into fall camp, the number dwindled to seven — sort of. The same day Davis was lost for the year, sophomore Deion Colzie was spotted in shorts and a T-shirt with a brace on his left knee. Grad- uate student Joe Wilkins Jr. still had not taken a live rep in fall camp to that point either. So at the time, the number was five. Gulp. Colzie and Wilkins could both be healthy for the season opener against Ohio State Sept. 3. The number might be seven after all. Still, that's not a numeral Stuckey can be particularly pleased with. It has affected the way he operates practices, always looking for ways to give his guys an extra breather or a shortcut that isn't going to ad- versely affect de- velopment. It's not a favor- able position to be in. But it's the hand Stuckey has been dealt. "I try to find a lot of ways for them to catch balls while saving their legs," Stuckey said. "If we're running a 20- yard comeback, we'll just do the last five. They have the understanding, but they're saving their legs. "It makes other guys in the room have to be available. Henry Cook has to be available to get some reps. Conor Rati- gan has to be able to jump in there. We can't run our guys into the ground. We have to get them to Sept. 3." Cook and Ratigan are walk-ons. Notre Dame has seven of them at the receiver position. They've never been Marcus Freeman conducted his first fall camp as Notre Dame's head coach with the pressure of making a decision on a quarter- back competition. He went with sophomore Tyler Buchner as QB1. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER MAKING MOVES Notre Dame will leave fall camp practice sessions with more answers than it entered with in early August

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