Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2024

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

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Page 20 of 55

BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM JANUARY 2024 21 10 minutes about what he was as a leader, how much he worked, how much everyone there at Arizona State loved him," Clark said. "We are really excited to be a part of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish family." O n t h e f i e l d , t h e 5 - f o o t - 1 0, 185-pound Clark is a versatile, aggres- sive defensive back very much in the mold of Harper. He posted 50 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and broke up 9 passes in 2023. In 2022, according to Arizona State athletics, Clark allowed a 40.0 comple- tion percentage in man coverage. That was good for 23rd in the FBS. "I wanted to spend my last year somewhere where I could grow as a stu- dent-athlete, and I don't think there's anywhere better for me to do that than ND," Clark told On3's Hayes Fawcett. "I'm going to play in an NFL defense surrounded by some of the best players in the country." WR KRIS MITCHELL FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL Then-FIU wideout Kris Mitchell lined up wide to the left at the 25-yard line against Sam Houston State. It was Oct. 18, the Panthers and Bearkats were tied at 27 in overtime, and Florida Inter- national needed a touchdown to win it. The ball was snapped and Mitchell ran a fade route. He reached a dead heat with his defender at the 14-yard line, but by that point, the ball was already out. If Mitchell is even, Mitchell is leaving and FIU quar- terback Keyone Jenkins knew it. He gained a step on the Sam Houston State corner, made the catch and won the game. Mitchell is coming to Notre Dame, and he's bringing a 99.5 PFF receiv- ing grade on passes thrown 20 yards or more down the field with him. His re- lease at the line of scrimmage, his ball- tracking skills and his ability to sepa- rate with the ball in the air at 6-foot-1, 175 pounds make him one of the better deep-ball receivers in college football. "Playing for Notre Dame is very iconic and means something every time you put that helmet on and walk on that field," Mitchell told Fawcett when he committed to the Irish Dec. 5. "You're not just playing for yourself or the team, but the whole nation. It feels good to be a part of something like that. "Also, being able to compete for a na- tional title next year is a dream of mine." Mitchell caught 64 passes on 100 tar- gets for 1,118 yards and 7 touchdowns during his breakout 2023 season. WR BEAUX COLLINS CLEMSON With Mitchell already in the fold, Notre Dame went to work on another top wide receiver target. Former Clemson wide receiver Beaux Collins committed to Notre Dame Dec. 10, going from one football powerhouse to another. "There's no other program with the exposure and respect they have week in and week out," Collins told Fawcett. "What also stood out to me was Coach Free[man] and the respect that he al- ready has throughout the program from the top down." Collins' addition confirms that Notre Dame's offensive personnel will be vir- tually unrecognizable from 2022, and he brings a lot to the table as a comple- mentary weapon. Despite only entering his fourth season, he brings three full years of playing time to the table and is coming off his most productive sea- son with 38 catches for 510 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2023. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Collins is a lengthy and savvy veteran who has more than enough speed to be productive at his size. Perhaps most importantly, acquiring Collins confirms Notre Dame is learning from its struggles at wideout last season. This new-look wide receiver room makes sense: Mitchell as the deep threat, Col- lins as the possession target, and fresh- men Jaden Greathouse and Jordan Faison as the playmakers in the slot. The group in 2023 did not, and it lacked the experi- ence that the '24 corps will have as well. "Joining up with other ballers on the offense is going to be a sight to see in the near future," Collins said. ✦ REMAINING PORTAL NEEDS (AS OF DEC. 12) Offensive Tackle With junior right tackle Blake Fisher entering the NFL Draft and junior left tackle Joe Alt almost certainly following him, Notre Dame is in a precarious position. Senior tackle Tosh Baker has not inspired confidence when he's on the field, playing 57 snaps in 2023 and receiving a 39.7 PFF offense grade. Sophomore Aamil Wagner is promising, but he still needs to put on weight. Sophomore Ty Chan has not been close to playing time in two years. There's no reason freshmen Charles Jagusah and Sullivan Absher can't become good players, but the position is too important to enter spring camp with this little returning experience. One spot up for grabs between these five guys, two of whom (Wagner and Jagusah) are recent top-100 recruits? Notre Dame can handle that. Two spots up for grabs? That would be a problem. Defensive End Javontae Jean-Baptiste, a wildly successful graduate transfer from Ohio State, is out of eligibility. Fellow graduate student Nana Osafo-Mensah is now a TCU Horned Frog. At strong-side defensive end, though, the returning experience is nonexistent. Duke redshirt senior R.J. Oben is the most likely candidate to fill this spot, having visited Notre Dame Dec. 8. He is 6-foot-4, 260 pounds — almost the exact same measurables as the 6-foot-4 ½, 260-pound Jean- Baptiste — and has 5, 4 and 5 sacks in the past three seasons, respectively. Safety Senior Xavier Watts, he of the 7 interceptions in 2023, can come back. As of press time, he's still deciding whether or not to do so. But even if he does, graduate student DJ Brown is out of eligibility. Senior Ramon Henderson and graduate student Antonio Carter II are both in the transfer portal. We've heard good things about freshmen Adon Shuler, Ben Minich and Luke Talich, but as far as returning players go, they are it. Shuler played the most on defense this season, and he got into four blowouts. Notre Dame has to add depth and competition at safety if nothing else. Kicker For the third straight season, Notre Dame is going after a one-year rental kicker. BGI's Mike Singer reported that South Carolina transfer kicker Mitch Jeter visited Notre Dame over the weekend of Dec. 9-10. Jeter is the top kicker in the transfer portal, according to On3's rankings. He went 92 percent on field goals over the past two seasons for the Gamecocks, making 23 of 25 attempts, including 3 of 5 from 50 or more yards. Another Wide Receiver? Really? After acquiring Kris Mitchell and Beaux Collins, Notre Dame might triple-dip at wide receiver? Yes, really. According to Singer, Notre Dame is interested in former North Texas star wideout Ja'Mori Maclin. Maclin, who confirmed to Fawcett that he has heard from Notre Dame, caught 57 passes for 1,004 yards and 11 scores this past season. He began his career at Missouri. — Jack Soble

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