Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 17, 2022

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

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8 SEPT. 17, 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED UNDER THE DOME OFFENSIVE FRESHMEN BEING EASED INTO ACTION The final stat line from Notre Dame's wide receivers in the opener is a call for more help. More playmakers. More skill on the field. The Irish wideouts totaled 3 catches for 117 yards on 8 targets in a 21-10 loss to No. 2 Ohio State Sept. 3. Yes, those 3 catches were explosive plays. Lorenzo Styles' 54-yarder set up Notre Dame's opening-drive field goal. The catch rate and target volume were problematic, though. Fixing that goes beyond the receivers, but it's clear now the Irish need more from that group than they got in the Game 1. The natural follow-up is wondering if freshman Tobias Merriweather's skill set might have helped. He's a 6-foot-4, 198-pound jump-ball weapon with top-end sprint speed among the Irish receivers. His acceleration after the catch and long strides were hard to miss in preseason camp. Sounds like something that could boost this receiving corps. But the receiver unit also needs more consistency and reliability. And per head coach Marcus Freeman, Merriweather isn't quite up to necessary levels in those areas. Merriweather made the trip to Ohio State but remained on the sideline for all four quarters. "He's continuing to progress," Freeman said. "Partway through camp — it could have been a hamstring, a knee — the typical camp injuries that prevent him from progressing at a faster rate. The coaches have to continue to gain confidence in him in terms of him being able to help our offense." In other words, Merriweather wasn't ready to make his college debut at the earliest possible time he could — which also happened to be the toughest game on Notre Dame's schedule. That's OK. The sky isn't falling with him. His skill set and potential haven't regressed. Never mind the thin receiver numbers, the idea of him playing this year remains alive and well because of his ability alone. "He has a lot of talent," Freeman said. "Between Tobias Merriweather and both those freshman tight ends [Eli Raridon and Holden Staes], at some point, that talent will catch up with the execution of what they have to do within our offense. They're going to help us. How fast that happens will be deter- mined by the execu- tion in practice." Even if Merriweather had built up the equity to play at Ohio State, it was likely to be in a small role. Wide re- ceivers coach Chansi Stuckey forecasted in August his freshman season would be a build-up, not a throw- him-in-the-fire situa- tion. The latter helps no one if the player isn't yet ready. "We're trying to get him to a place where midseason to end of season, he's a really reliable guy," Stuckey said. "It 's unrealistic for Game 1 against Ohio State, 70 snaps. You can ruin a guy that way. Bring him along, he will get what he has earned." — Patrick Engel The Fighting Irish coaches are high on fresh- man wide receiver Tobias Merriweather even though he didn't see any game action in the season opener at Ohio State. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER Notre Dame's backup tight end Kevin Bauman knew heading into this 2022 season that he wasn't going to steal many receptions or headlines from his classmate, preseason All-American Michael Mayer. No matter. After losing almost all his 2021 redshirt sophomore year be- cause of injury, Bauman is plenty at peace being Mayer's wingman this year. A four-star recruit from Red Bank (N.J.) Catholic High School, Bauman only played 39 snaps for Notre Dame last sea- son, mainly on special teams, after breaking his left fibula in the 2021 season opener against Florida State. With no time to sulk inside the talented Irish tight end room, Bauman worked, recov- ered and has become a versa- tile and valuable member of the Irish offense this season. A gifted blocker and receiver, Bauman will have to wait until this time next year to earn any starter status. Until then, this well-spoken young man is find- ing his own voice and an impor- tant place behind one of Notre Dame's all-time great tight ends. In an insightful gathering, Blue & Gold Illustrated along with other local Notre Dame media caught up Bauman shortly before the season opener at Ohio State. BGI: How did you stay positive during your injury recovery? Bauman: "I definitely took that opportunity to learn about the game of football and make sure that I was still finding a way to improve. Even though I couldn't physically be on the field, getting in the playbook, making sure I know every detail of every play." BGI: Describe Gerad Parker, your new position coach. Bauman: "Whether you have what you think is a perfect rep, or maybe not so good of a rep, [Parker] is always going to coach you up on those details. That's something I've never really had in my past. "Things that I wasn't necessarily thinking of that now are crucial points in my game. Wow, how was I not doing that before, when it is such a simple fundamental." BGI: Even with limited opportunities on the field, you've still become a strong leader and a mature voice for your group, why? Bauman: "Leadership comes in many different forms. Maybe some people think it's just that kind of vocal leader. Throughout this team, ev- erybody is a leader. And everyone has their own style. Whether that's lead by example. Or maybe that's loud and boisterous. "Just being able to have the platform that we do here at Notre Dame, and now being an upperclassman, it's a great opportunity to bring the other guys along and just show them how we do things." BGI: Beyond that? Bauman: "I think that has really drawn over to the academic side as well. To where, I can not only be on the football field, but also show them how we act in the classroom, how we act in the community. "So truly, just a well-rounded leadership that we have here." BGI: Describe playing next to one of the best tight ends in the country? Bauman: "When you have a player like Mike [Mayer], obviously him being just kind of that natural leader, just his ability to bring guys along with him. "But I'd still say his biggest strength is just going out there doing what he does and making plays." — Todd D. Burlage Five Questions With … JUNIOR TIGHT END KEVIN BAUMAN Bauman hauled in a 22-yard recep- tion in the season opener against Ohio State. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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