Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2018

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

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Page 30 of 63 MAY 2018 31 Notre Dame required a breakout spring from Bars in two areas. One, it needed him to fill the leadership void left by McGlinchey and Nelson. Two, he had to become a more reli- able player snap after snap. During the spring, we saw both from Bars. His on-field leadership improved, which is why Long and line coach Jeff Quinn decided to move him to the left side, where he can provide experience and guidance to first-year starter Liam Eichenberg at left tackle. Just as important, Bars was steady all spring with his effort, technique and ability to move defenders at the point of attack. JUNIOR OFFENSIVE TACKLE LIAM EICHENBERG Notre Dame played with a two- man rotation at right tackle last sea- son, which meant junior Tommy Kraemer and sophomore Robert Hainsey played starter minutes, giv- ing the Irish four players with start- ing experience. That left one open spot in the lineup. There were several players in com- petition for the fifth spot, and Notre Dame needed someone to earn it and not simply be better than other play- ers in contention. Eichenberg quickly became that figure. When spring kicked off, Eichen- berg was backing up Kraemer at right tackle, with Hainsey moving over to the left side. It didn't take long for Eichenberg to shake up the line. He spent all spring showing off the skills that made him BGI's No. 1-ranked player in Notre Dame's 2016 class. The size and length has always been there, but Eichenberg's enhanced confidence this spring al- lowed his power and athleticism to also show out. The Notre Dame defensive ends had a hard time with him all spring, and there were times when he was the team's most effective blocker, with only the need for a bit more consistency required for him to take his game to another level. Eichenberg's emergence resulted in the staff moving him to the left side, where he is tasked with replac- ing McGlinchey. It also resulted in Notre Dame moving Kraemer — a nine-game starter at right tackle last season — to right guard, where he will line up beside Hainsey. SENIOR WIDE RECEIVER MILES BOYKIN Boykin had a quality spring a year ago, but the 2017 season was not the breakout year for him. The Illinois native caught only nine passes for 151 yards in the regular season, but when the calendar turned to 2018 his fortunes changed. Boykin was the hero in Notre Dame's come-from-behind 21-17 vic- tory over LSU in the Citrus Bowl. His in-traffic, third-and-19 recep- tion set up the first fourth-quarter touchdown, and then his one-handed catch and run for a 55-yard score was the game-winner. That sent Boykin into the offseason with enhanced confidence and he carried that into the spring, emerging as the team's top player at his posi- tion. Boykin used his 6-4, 227-pound body to outmuscle defenders for the football all spring, and he played like someone who wanted to be counted on by his coaches and quarterback. Senior quarterback Brandon Wim- bush and Boykin developed quite the rapport this spring, and the better Boykin played the more confidently Wimbush got the ball out to him, even against tight coverage. The more plays Boykin made the better it seemed Wimbush played, knowing he had a dependable big man that could help get him out of trouble. That is something the Irish offense lacked in 2017. SOPHOMORE WIDE RECEIVER MICHAEL YOUNG There is a bit more uncertainty about the emergence of the rising second year player from Louisiana, but that has more to do with him missing time due to a concussion than it does with his play. When Young was on the field this spring he was a difference maker. Notre Dame does not have another receiver on the current roster that can do the things on the football field that he can with his explosiveness. With a year of experience in the offense under his belt, Young dis- played greater assuredness this spring, which allowed his speed and quickness to take over. The 5-10, 192-pound Young is a playmaker after the catch and he also demon- strated the speed and ball skills to stretch the field. Young was the lone wideout that could consistently beat junior corner- back Troy Pride Jr., who had a break- out spring of his own. The Notre Dame cornerbacks had a hard time handling Young's combination of athleticism, ball skills and strength. Notre Dame averaged 5.2 yards per completion on its 40 screens last season, a dramatically poor number. The Irish have a number of big pass catchers, but lacked an impact after- the-catch player. If Young can stay healthy in the fall, he should provide the unit with a much-needed boost in post-catch production. SOPHOMORE TIGHT END COLE KMET No player on the roster had more asked of him than Kmet, who partici- pated in all but one spring practice despite being a member of the Irish baseball team. He had registered seven saves through April 19, while also standing out on the practice field with the football team. Kmet has excellent size for the position, checking in at 6-5 and 255 pounds. The sophomore was stron- ger in the run game this spring, showing the ability to be an every- down player and someone that can handle the rigors of playing on the edge. What makes him such an impact- ful player, however, is his athleticism and ball skills. Kmet was a matchup problem for Notre Dame's lineback- ers and safeties this spring, showing smooth fluidity while also having the ability to use his size to gain leverage advantages. Kmet also flashed top-notch ball skills and playmaking ability. The Lake Barrington, Ill., native can stretch the field and also win isola- tion routes in the red zone. Senior Alizé Mack likewise had an outstanding spring, which is noth- ing new. Mack has been a constant spring standout for Notre Dame over the last three seasons, but his fall pro- duction has never matched up. The Irish staff is confident that Mack will have has his breakout performance. Notre Dame certainly needs that to happen, and Kmet's emergence this spring could actually facilitate that. He and Mack complement each other well, with both displaying the ability to handle the physicality of the run game and to line up wide and make plays down the field in the pass game. ✦

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