Blue and Gold Illustrated

June July 2018

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

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32 JUNE/JULY 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY BRYAN DRISKELL A t the conclusion of spring practice, here is how we see the position groups — ranked in order from strength to con- cern — heading into the summer. The rankings are based on the first unit and the depth behind it: 1. Cornerback — Junior Julian Love was a standout last season, earning second-team All-America laurels from Sports Illustrated after setting a school record with 23 passes defended. Classmate Troy Pride Jr. is the team's fastest player and he is coming off a dominant spring. In past years, a starting lineup of ju- nior Donte Vaughn and senior Shawn Crawford would have Irish fans feel- ing good about the starting cornerback lineup, which speaks to the amount of talent on the perimeter of the Irish defense. The arrival of four freshmen this summer solidifies the numbers. 2. Offensive Line — Despite the loss of two top-10 draft picks to the NFL, Notre Dame returns plenty of ability and experience. Fifth-year se- niors Alex Bars and Sam Mustipher are three-year starters who are ex- pected to be among the best in the nation at their position in 2018. Right guard Tommy Kraemer and right tackle Robert Hainsey both started, blossomed and are seasoned. The lone new starter is left tackle Liam Eichenberg, but the Ohio native might be the most physically skilled player in the lineup. 3. Defensive Line — Had Jay Hayes returned for his fifth year this unit might have ranked even higher, but even without him this is the deep- est front for Notre Dame in more than a decade. Senior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery is poised for a breakout season from a national standpoint, and the interior depth is outstanding. Junior drop end Daelin Hayes had a solid first season as a starter, but more pass-rushing impact is expected in 2018. Junior Khalid Kareem was productive off the bench last season, but now he becomes the main man at strongside end in place of Jay Hayes. 4. Linebacker/Rover — If this rank- ing were about just starters the line- backers/rovers would rank higher. Seniors Drue Tranquill and Te'von Coney combined for 201 tackles and 23.5 stops for loss a season ago, and rover Asmar Bilal — another senior — adds speed to the position. The concern is the depth, with soph- omore Jordan Genmark Heath shift- ing from safety late in the spring and junior Jonathan Jones totaling only 37 snaps last year. Notre Dame's four- man freshman class improves the raw talent at the position, but each rookie needs time to physically mature. 5. Quarterback — For all the criti- cism he received last season, senior Brandon Wimbush was still highly productive as a first-time starter. He accounted for 2,673 yards and 30 touchdowns, and when he was in rhythm the opposition could not stop the Notre Dame offense. Wimbush struggled in Novem- ber, which drags the current ranking down. Junior backup Ian Book proved more than capable of coming off the bench and rallying the offense, while incoming freshman Phil Jurkovec's future is unlimited. But success at quarterback in 2018 is dependent on Wimbush becoming more consistent. 6. Tight End — Inconsistency, in- juries and youth have put this posi- tion lower. If the ranking were purely about physical talent, this group would be in the top three, and Notre Dame needs the position to excel in 2018. Senior Alizé Mack passes the NFL eye test, but he has yet to live up to expectations. If that finally hap- pens in 2018, he'll provide the of- fense with outstanding production. Sophomore Cole Kmet progressed well in the spring and will see plenty of action in the fall. Sophomore Brock Wright and fifth-year senior Nic Weis- har would start for a lot of teams that are on Notre Dame's schedule this fall. 7. Wide Receiver — This position has provided mainly flashes, but collectively little output — and the production it has received has been spotty. The Irish are hoping that se- nior Miles Boykin can carry over his bowl game heroics and spring per- formance into the fall. Junior Chase Claypool must become a more focused and consistent player, and sophomore Michael Young needs to stay healthy and give the offense some after-the-catch juice. Freshmen Kevin Austin and Braden Lenzy will be hard to keep off the field. 8. Safety — Juniors Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman emerged as the starters on the back end this spring, and the hope is that the pair can im- prove the production at the position. Behind them are 2017 starter Nick Coleman (working at nickel), 2016 starter Devin Studstill and a pair of highly talented freshmen (Derrik Al- len and Houston Griffith). There is better depth and signifi- cantly more experience at the posi- tion, but it remains to be seen if that will result in better pass game pro- duction and improved tackling. 9. Running Back — When a team has to move a quarterback and a wide receiver to the position to compete with a pair of freshmen and two vet- erans who have yet to prove they can stay healthy, there is a problem. That is what Notre Dame faces this fall. Senior Dexter Williams was a home- run threat last season, but he couldn't stay healthy and has never been an overly focused player. Junior Tony Jones Jr. was also banged up in 2017 and has yet to break out. This is an ath- letic group, but it's without question the least proven unit on the roster. ✦ Positioned For Success The Irish defensive depth chart is strong Junior cornerback Julian Love is the top player at what is the most loaded position on the Irish roster heading into the summer. PHOTO BY ANGELA DRISKELL

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