top of page

Make or Break Position Groups Heading Into Spring

Written by Liam Gaudet, Senior Editor - Twitter: @LiamGaudetIT


Photo by 247 Sports


As quickly as it ended, Notre Dame football is back for spring practice leaving fans hungry for a glimpse of the storied navy and gold. An offseason that featured a whirlwind of changes in the coaching staff and personnel on both sides of the football has created both hype and uncertainty under the dome, and there exist plenty of unanswered questions and queries. Obviously, the departure of Tommy Rees for Alabama rocked the boat in South Bend, mainly due to the fact that it was so unexpected given Rees’ passionate proclamation of loyalty to the program after Brian Kelly headed to the bayou over a year ago. Regardless, new offensive coordinator Gerad Parker has been afforded plenty of weapons and young talent to work with, so it goes without saying that the success of these offensive position groups will be contingent on Parker's ability. Additionally, Brian Mason has rightfully earned a spot in the NFL after running arguably the greatest special teams unit in the country last season, forcing seven blocked punts. Marty Biagi will look to build on this success as the new special teams coordinator by way of Ole Miss. Joe Rudolph has also taken over for the legendary Harry Hiestand who opted for retirement after returning to coach the Irish offensive line this past season as well. And finally, Gino Guidugli will serve as Tommy Rees’ replacement as the new quarterback’s coach, continuing the Cincinnati to Notre Dame coaching pipeline. It is important to keep all of these changes in mind when we dive into the position groups of focus, as these coaches may need an adjustment period when it comes to growing into a successful unit with unfamiliar players in an unfamiliar environment. So, without further delay, here are the position groups that have the ability to make or break Notre Dame’s 2023 football season.





Safety


It always seems that Notre Dame can never have its cake and eat it too when it comes to play in the secondary. Just when it looked like the play at corner was taking a leap forward with the emergence of elite talent like Benjamin Morrison, the depth at safety took a hit with the departure of senior Brandon Joseph for the NFL. The incoming transfer of Thomas Harper from Oklahoma State has injected some competition into the room, however, outside of DJ Brown there is a lack of experience and perhaps a cause for concern. Xavier Watts has bounced around since he arrived in South Bend, and is currently listed as a safety on the team roster, so hopefully the starting unit doesn’t have to undergo a large learning curve to start the season. It is also worth mentioning that this concern has stretched into recruiting, as the Irish lost two of their best recruits at the position in the 2023 class in Brandyn Hillman and Peyton Bowen. This is by no means a reflection on the recruiting efforts of Chris O’Leary, who has done an outstanding job on the trail, but more sheer dumb luck. This is a hole that could possibly take more than just a season to dig out of.


Linebacker


When I think of Notre Dame’s linebacker play, I’m often underwhelmed. What was supposed to be one of the team’s greatest strengths heading into last season turned into the achilles heel of the defense. JD Bertrand and company are looking to shore up the front seven this season, and their success will be pivotal considering the opponents on the schedule. Look for this group to gain its confidence early this season against Navy, who brandishes a run heavy option attack. Another player to keep an eye on early in this group would be Marist Liufau, who was praised for his high motor and physicality, but never really stood out that much outside of flashes that were few and far between. I’m hoping another season of experience will serve him well after a devastating knee injury earlier in his career. Jack Kiser will also return, and should hopefully develop into a much more polished player as well. If this group can’t get it done, look for the youth to step in and make a meaningful impact. Players like Jaylen Sneed and Prince Kollie have seen a fair share of action early on in their careers, and their athleticism is second to none at the position. It’s only a matter of their ability to read and understand the defense at the same level as some of the veteran players that remains to be seen. Hopefully Al Golden can unlock the true potential of the room this season.





Defensive Line


Are you noticing a trend yet? The Notre Dame defense is going to be by far the biggest question mark this season, and that continues with the defensive line. Isaiah Foskey blessed us with his return last season, but now there exist multiple holes to be filled after the departure of the Ademilolas as well. This position was one circled by fans on the transfer portal wish list, and subsequently rewarded with Ohio State transfer Javontae Jean-Baptiste, who saw modest success in a rotational role with the Buckeyes. It is the hope of all Irish fans that Al Washington is capable of waking the sleeping giants that are Jordan Botelho and Rylie Mills, who will likely serve as the cornerstones of the group. There is high praise coming out of camp early for Botelho who looks to bring his extremely violent play to fruition this season, and you couldn’t develop a more freakish build for a defensive lineman than Rylie Mills. If these two are able to find their stride for good this season, there is no bounds to what this team is capable of achieving


Photo by 247 Sports


Wide Receiver


I’m not going to cop out and put quarterback on this list, because I think we all know what Sam Hartman and Tyler Buchner are capable of. Wide receiver, however, is a group that will be crucial to the success of the offense as a whole. Without Michael Mayer on the field for defenses to account for and an elite quarterback to boot, the wide receivers will bear much more responsibility than in years passed. Wide receiver was circled on the recruiting board in the 2023 class, and Marcus Freeman delivered in explosive fashion landing a plethora of top-200 talent. We’ve seen Braylon James, Rico Flores and Jaden Greathouse making plays early in spring practice, and they will likely earn rotational roles heading into the season as well. Returning starter Lorenzo Styles will look to bounce back after a forgettable campaign, albeit some of the circumstances last season were out of his control. Jayden Thomas turned heads last season as a physical go-up-and-get-it receiver, which was a welcomed change to the Irish offense, so keep an eye on him heading into the blue and gold game. Tobias Merriweather is a very long and athletic receiver looking to earn some more playing time as a sophomore this season, as he flashed promise when on the field last season and has proven a consistent ability to get open when on the field. Additionally, Deion Colzie has slowly but surely built up a repertoire as a consistent pass catching option when targeted, even if those targets have been few and far between. Finally, Chris Tyree was seen taking reps at the slot receiver position, which could be a deadly addition given his speed and the depth that is present in the running back room. Any conjunction of these playmakers should provide favorable results given the talent that has begun to accumulate in the quarterback room, so now it’s time to see what these athletes are made of.




 

Note: This is an article that is testing out ads -


If you had a negative ad experience, please contact us so we can make it right:


Email: irishtribunecontact@gmail.com - Text: (269)-588-0514 - DM @theirishtribune (IG/Twitter)

Comments


Like Our Content?
Enjoyed This Article?
Share Below
The Irish Tribune
The Irish Tribune
Enjoyed This Article?
Share Below
The Irish Tribune
Enjoyed This Article?
Share Below
The Irish Tribune
The Irish Tribune
bottom of page