Notre Dame Off-season: The Good, Bad & Ugly

Notre Dame Off-season
Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish stands in the tunnel in front of his team before the game against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Notre Dame Stadium on October 13, 2018 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

As the off-season for Notre Dame Football comes to a close, let’s recap the good, bad and “ugly.” Here are the cliff notes for the Notre Dame Football off-season.

Strong recruiting pipeline

Brian Kelly continues the trend of being one of the top tier recruiting programs in the nation. True to form, the 2020 class will include Five-Star WR Jordan Johnson, who committed in April 2019, as well as the signing of Chris Tyree, who is widely considered the top RB of the 2020 class. In addition, Kelly has quarterback Drew Pyne in the pipeline.

Now, the trio of Johnson, Tyree, and Pyne will have a lot of hype coming in and should be fun to watch. In addition to another top caliber recruiting class for Notre Dame’s head coach for the 2020 recruiting class, the 2021 class already has five four-star recruits committed.

QB2

It was a rocky spring game, to say the least for back-up quarterback Phil Jurkovec. Jurkovec went 15-26 for 135 and took 12 Sacks. He was dressed in a no-contact red jersey so the sacks he took were via defensive touches. Offensive Coordinator Chip Long summarized his spring game performance allegorically as “One’s [Ian Book] on advanced calculus, the other one [Phil Jurkovec] is still getting past algebra right now.”

He has since bounced back into the No. 2 position earning Brian Kelly’s practice Offensive Player of the Day award at the conclusion of the August 7th practice session.

Defensive Depth

While Notre Dame’s Offense typically receives the most attention, 2019 shows the emergence of a very strong defensive unit. Returning playmakers such as Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem, Alohi Gilman, Jalen Elliott, Shaun Crawford, and Troy Pride Jr. may be recognizable but look for training camp standout Kyle Hamilton to make an immediate impact if his number is called.

The Captains

Kelly announced team captains on August 10, 2019.

The seven captains for 2019 are Ian Book, Jalen Elliott, Chris Finke, Alohi Gilman, Robert Hainsey, Khalid Kareem, and Julian Okwara.

Now, some of these names may have been expected, but the feel-good moment is for Finke who walked on to Notre Dame in 2016 and became a reliable slot option for Book in 2018 – was named to captaincy as the first walk-on to become captain since linebacker Joe Schmidt in 2015.

The Honor Roll

Preseason awards do not always hold a lot of weight but are a sign of great potential. This off-season several players were placed on a variety of Preseason Watch Lists

Book – Maxwell, Davey O’Brien, Walter Camp Award

Okwara – Bednarik Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy

Kareem – Bednarik Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy

Jafar Armstrong – Doak Walker Award

Tony Jones Jr. – Doak Walker Award

Cole Kmet – Mackey Award

Jarrett Patterson – Rimington Trophy

Gilman – Jim Thorpe Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy

Liam Eichenberg – Outland Trophy

Tommy Kraemer – Outland Trophy

Elliott – Wuerffel Trophy

Kelly – Brian Dodd Coach of the Year

The Bad

First of all, injuries are an unfortunate part of football. Mackey Award watch list candidate Cole Kmet is the most significant loss thus far for the Irish. Kmet suffered a broken collar bone but Kelly is hopeful he will be ready to return against New Mexico. Notre Dame will need guys like Brock Wright and Tommy Tremble to step up in the absence of Kmet.

Notre Dame’s receiving corps took a blow at Saturday’s practice when Michael Young Jr, also suffered a suspected collar bone injury. No time table has been set on his return. The Irish will rely on a committee of young players to replace Young Jr’s veteran presence.

Next, safety Paul Moala had surgery to reattach a tendon in his thumb but is expected to return to practice as early as Tuesday, August 20, 2019, according to Kelly’s August 17, 2019 press conference. Kelly does not believe this is a major setback in his development.

Also, Notre Dame running back Jahmir Smith suffered a broken hand but resumed practice with a cast. Unlike Smith, Freshmen Offensive Linemen Quinn Carroll was lost for the season with a “significant knee injury”

Finally, the transfer of safety Derrik Allen – he will return home to Georgia and attend Georgia Tech. As of today, Allen is not eligible until the 2020 season. Allen cited the need to be closer to his family as his reason for transferring, but with Hamilton standing out in camp as a player able to make an immediate impact, it is probable that Allen saw greater potential for playing time at Georgia Tech.

The “Ugly”

Over recent years, the Irish have worn an alternate uniform at least once per season. For the 2019 ‘Senior Night’ against Boston College on November 23, 2019 – the Irish will wear a throwback uniform. The jersey pays homage to the 1988 National Championship team.

As with any alternate uniform, the style is often scrutinized. The 1988 throwbacks are neutral in comparison to jersey’s past including the Pinstripes jersey from 2018 pictured below. In addition, fans have mixed reviews on each of Notre Dame’s alternate jersey but the Pinstripes outfit was not easy on the eyes at first glance.

Practice Makes Perfect

On July 22, 2018, the Fighting Irish moved into their new indoor training facility.

The facility is said to be 111,000+ square feet. The decision was made to increase the roof peak so the ceiling did not interfere with kicking/punting.

According to Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, the decision to invest in the facility over locker room amenities. It was a bold move in the “arms-race” locker room era where other teams invested millions of dollars on luxurious locker rooms.

Swarbrick believes the new facility stays true to who they are as a football program.

Subsequently, the facility will also be used for the both of University’s soccer teams.

Buckle Up!

Notre Dame ranks 9th overall according to our latest preseason rankings – experts are predicting a 9-3 finish with losses at Georgia, at Michigan and either Stanford or USC.

Similarly, experts also had their doubts on last year’s team. Kelly has spoken highly of this team in comparison to the team of last year in terms of where they stand about halfway through their preparation for the season.

Additionally, the squad will continue training camp through August 25, 2019.

The first game is at Louisville on September 2, 2019, followed by a mini-bye before their home opener on September 14, 2019, against University of Mexico.

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