Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2017 Issue

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

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Page 24 of 63 MAY 2017 25 one, Wimbush looked in complete control of the offense. He did not press in the open practices, he showed a command of the huddle and the game looked slowed down for him. He was pressured in the Blue-Gold Game, which resulted in some mis- takes, but Wimbush can use those as a learning experience while he pre- pares for his first season as a starter. Despite a few miscues, Wimbush impressed in the Blue-Gold Game while completing 22 of 32 passes for 303 yards and running for a score. ALIZÉ MACK JUNIOR TIGHT END Mack — who has legally changed his last name from Jones to Mack for family reasons — is Notre Dame's most talented tight end and makes this list for the second straight sea- son. After putting together a highly productive spring a year ago, an academic suspension cost Mack the entire 2016 season. He was able to practice with the team, but not hav- ing him on the field on game day hurt the Irish offense last fall. Mack is once again poised for a breakout season, assuming he can continue to stay on the straight and narrow in the classroom. He was last seen hauling in 13 passes for 190 yards as a true freshman in 2015. His talent has never been in question, but he has yet to emerge as the dominant force many hoped he would be when he signed. He took steps to becoming that player this spring, with head coach Brian Kelly even describing him as "uncoverable." Mack's academic suspension re- sulted in him starting the spring at the bottom of the deep tight end depth chart, with the coaches wanting to see him stay focused and disciplined be- fore allowing him to climb. The 6-4½, 245-pound tight end quickly rose to the top of the position group. By the middle of the spring it was obvious that Mack was the top dog at the tight end position, at least when it comes to the pass game. He and Wimbush connected early, and the tight end's ability to impact through the air was on display all spring. Long lined Mack up all over the field in an attempt to create good match- ups for the offense. What really separated Mack from where he was as a freshman were his improvements in the run game. He's bigger and stronger now, and he's worked to become a more effective edge blocker. With Mack now able to line up attached to the line, Long has more opportunities to get him matched up on linebackers and safe- ties, which is a major bonus for the Notre Dame offense. Mack caught five passes for 46 yards in the Blue-Gold Game. TONY JONES JR. SOPHOMORE RUNNING BACK Adams is locked in as the starting running back, but three often are used in games. Junior Dexter Williams had a quality spring and will be in posi- tion to compete for that role in the fall, but he'll have a hard time holding off the charge of the talented Jones. A strong spring has put the St. Pe- tersburg, Fla., native in position to earn major touches in the fall, with Notre Dame looking to up the tempo, which will necessitate a deeper rotation at all the non-quarterback skill positions. Jones is built like a power back, checking in at 5-11 and 224 pounds. He used his low build and strength to prove himself capable of grinding out the tough yards this spring. But he showed he's far more than just a power back — despite his size, Jones has arguably the best feet at the posi- tion. He's a nimble athlete that can make defenders miss in space and his balance allows him to keep churning forward after contact. Jones also showed off his pass catching ability this spring, adding a number of long pass receptions to his impressive résumé of long runs. If he can improve as a pass blocker, he could find himself as Notre Dame's top back on third downs. In the Blue-Gold Game, Jones car- ried the ball eight times for 45 yards and caught one pass for 12 yards. MILES BOYKIN JUNIOR WIDE RECEIVER Notre Dame is loaded at wide re- ceiver, and Boykin entered the spring tied for fifth in receptions among re- turning pass-catchers. He caught just six passes last season and did little to show that a breakout campaign was coming. It took a while for him to emerge, but by the middle of the spring Boykin had entrenched himself as a legitimate contender for serious play- ing time next fall. It began with his red-zone production, where the 6-4 pass catcher used his length and long arms to consistently out-play defend- ers for the football. By the second half of spring prac- tice, Boykin was making plays in normal situations as well. He isn't as athletic or as fast as the other players at the position, and that held him back his first two years. However, what the 225-pounder did this spring was learn how to better use his size to his advantage. He did a good job with his body positioning and high- pointing the football. The more he did that, the more comfortable Wim- bush was at getting the ball out to him, and Boykin did not disappoint. Boykin capped off his strong spring with five catches for a team-high 102 yards in the Blue-Gold Game. CHASE CLAYPOOL SOPHOMORE WIDE RECEIVER Boykin wasn't the only young receiver to put together a quality spring performance. One could make a strong case that Claypool has the best set of all-around athletic skills on the entire offense, and certainly at the wide receiver position. The Canadian has elite size, check- ing in this spring at 6-4½ and 224 pounds. What separates him from other big receivers on the roster is his athleticism. Claypool showed good speed for his size, but his agility and explosiveness stand out even more. He can make plays down the field with his size and speed, but he is also a legitimate after-the-catch threat. Claypool displayed impressive vision with the ball in his hands. He was able to turn short throws into bigger gains when the defense played off of him, and he was able to make defenders miss in space. He used his length as a weapon in the red zone, where he, Boykin, St. Brown and Mack all proved to be difficult guards for the Irish defense. The scary aspect about Claypool — at least from the perspective of Notre Dame's future opponents — is that he is still very much learning the game. The youngster still needs a lot of work as a route runner, but he did show some improvement during the spring. He was at his best work- ing across the field on crossing and drag routes, where he was able to frequently find soft spots in the zone. Claypool hauled in four passes for 63 yards in the Blue-Gold Game, and his 29-yard catch-and-run showed off his combination of size and athleticism. ✦

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