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Cause for Concern? The Biggest Question Marks for the Fighting Irish Offense in 2024

Written by Liam Farrell|Senior Staff Writer|Twitter/X: @LiamFarrell_IT

Photo by The Irish Tribune


As the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are two months away from facing the Texas A&M Aggies in College Station, the Irish come into the year as a relatively polished team. With many returning starters on the defensive front, along with retaining a large majority of position coaches, the Fighting Irish will bolster one of the top defenses in the country. On the offensive side of the ball, there was much more turmoil. The hirings of offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock and wide receivers coach Mike Brown were imperative for Marcus Freeman in his attempt to jumpstart a lackluster Irish offense. With that being said, there are still some major question marks before the 2024 season. The health of Riley Leonard, the instability of the offensive line, and the top receiving targets are questions that won't be answered until the first snap at Kyle Field.





The Health of Riley Leonard


The biggest splash Marcus Freeman made in the transfer portal was locking up prized recruit Riley Leonard. As soon as the Duke quarterback entered the portal, all signs were pointing at the Fighting Irish to be his next suitor. Leonard, who had an injury plagued season last year with the Blue Devils, is still recovering from an ankle injury that has forced him to get two procedures done within the past year. The latest TightRope procedure limited Leonard and forced him to be ineligible in the Irish's annual Blue-Gold game.


Nonetheless, when the 6'4" dual-threat quarterback is healthy, he is one of the best in the nation. In his full 2022 campaign, Leonard threw for 2,967 yards, ran for 699 yards, and had 33 total touchdowns. Leonard's rare combination of a bigger framed, yet mobile quarterback allows the offense to open up. He is an incredible arm talent, boasting top of the industry arm strength, and has no problem throwing sideline to sideline. In a revamped, Mike Denbrock led scheme, Leonard's game should soar to new heights. The only thing holding him back: Will he be healthy enough to last the entire season?


The reassuring answer to this question many Irish fans don't want to face is what waits in the wings. The Irish have an extremely bright future within the quarterback room. Steve Angeli is the assumed QB2, as he led the Irish to a Sun Bowl thrashing over Oregon State. Then there are Kenny Minchey and CJ Carr who were both top high school recruits and showed great promise in the spring game this past year. So, while a Riley Leonard led Notre Dame team might provide the best odds for a national championship, there are still more than capable options if Leonard's ankle cannot stand the wear and tear of the entire season.





The Offensive Line Unit


The offensive line has always been the identity attached to the Notre Dame football program. In recent years, talents like Joe Alt, Quenton Nelson, Mike McGlinchey, Zack Martin, and Ronnie Stanley have anchored the line. However, this year, there are new faces all along the front. Replacing the aforementioned Alt is Charles Jagusah, a consensus four-star recruit from the 2023 class that is primed to be the next Notre Dame great. Jagusah performed well during the Sun Bowl last year, but in the spring game, he was getting beat off the end by Duke transfer RJ Oben. While Oben might be one of the best pass rushers he might see all year, this sight was a slight cause for concern.


At the other tackle position, the hole left by Blake Fisher opting for the NFL draft left the Irish in a tough position. There is an ongoing position battle between graduate student Tosh Baker and redshirt sophomore Aamil Wagner. Baker is the bigger prospect, yet Wagner has a unique blend of size and speed that Baker lacks. It will be a tough battle throughout the summer workouts that offensive line coach Joe Rudolph will be monitoring vigilantly.


In the middle of the line, the question marks start to fade. Pat Coogan, Billy Schrauth, and Rocco Spindler are the names to known at the guard position with Coogan and Schrauth being the likely week one starters. Ashton Craig also jumped on the scene last year and took the center position away from Zeke Correll, who transferred to NC State.


With a tough week one environment on the road in the extreme Texas heat, communication on the offensive line will be imperative. This early test will be the main thing to watch for as the Irish try to put up points against an extremely athlete Texas A&M defense.





The Primary Pass Catchers


The last question mark on the offensive side of the ball is within the wide receiver room. The offseason was quite hectic for the pass catching department as there was an upheaval that found the Irish dropping wide receiver coach Chansi Stuckey and adding Mike Brown. The Irish also lost four receivers to the transfer portal and brought in three, along with getting three highly-touted high school recruits.


While the depth of the Notre Dame wide receivers has been the best within recent memory, there are still question marks as to who will be the difference makers. Notre Dame has lacked a legitimate big play wide receiver since Will Fuller, and the Irish need a gamebreaking talent at this position to keep up with the elite teams in the sport.


Jayden Thomas is the best candidate to move into the primary role, yet he lacks the speed to be an extreme vertical threat. The next best option is Kris Mitchell, the thousand yard receiver from FIU, who can take the top off a defense with his blazing speed, but his transition into Power-5 competition football still needs to be seen. Then there are Beaux Collins and Deion Colzie who look ready to take that next step into being an elite big-bodied boundary wide receiver.


Next, are the guys in the slot like sophomores Jordan Faison and Jaden Greathouse who can be extremely reliable for Riley Leonard over the middle of the field. While Notre Dame now has a plethora of options, they still need to find their guy to get them out of tough situations by being able to win a one-on-one matchup.


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