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Spring Jersey Scrimmage Q&A: The Good, the Bad, and the Carr

By: Luciano Antonini⏐Writer⏐Twitter: @LucciAntonini⏐Profile: @LucianoAntonini

Photo by Leyton Byler - The Irish Tribune

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- This past Saturday, The Irish Tribune had the opportunity to cover a full practice inside Notre Dame Stadium one week before Notre Dame football hosts its annual Blue & Gold game. While practice was business as usual: Warm-ups, positional drills, punt returns, etc. Notre Dame football put on a show for the media in the form of a "Jersey Scrimmage". The jersey scrimmage features the offense vs the defense, with special teams mixed in for the offense. The scrimmage was very similar to a regular game of football, essentially simulating a full offensive drive in their own territory, tasked to drive downfield and score a touchdown.

The Irish Tribune's Nick Kremer broke down the offense (Offensive Breakdown Article) while Connor D'Aquila covered the defense, that article will be out shortly. If you're looking for an in-depth analysis of how each side of the ball did, along with specific players, give those articles a read. We put out several different question polls across social media asking fans what questions they had regarding the jersey scrimmage. I'll be answering almost every single question Irish nation sent our way, and Nick Kremer and Pete Mulroy of The First & Gold Podcast will cover the most notable ones in their upcoming episode ahead of the Blue & Gold game. If you don't see your exact question listed, it was most likely answered under a similar question. With that being said, let the fun begin.

"Obviously [it's the] first practice, but are the rumblings of the offensive line struggling worrisome to you?"

This was spring practice #11, so there's been some time for the offensive line to get their hands dirty and improve on last season. Watching the jersey scrimmage, I do have to raise some concerns about the performance. The offense as a whole looked like it needed work, and the offensive line was a part of that. From what I recorded, there were at least 3 false starts, two of those being back-to-back. Apart from the false starts: The vast majority of the run plays drawn up were consistently stuffed at or near the line, leaving little opportunity for Jeremiyah Love, Jadarian Price, and others to make a play on the ground. There were also many times where the defensive front seven got in the backfield leading to sacks, TFLs, and even fumbles. I also recall several times where there were bad snaps, none led to any fumbles or turnovers, but a lot of noticeable low and high snaps throughout the scrimmage. Sam Pendleton appeared to be under center most of the time. I'm not going to sound the alarm because we're in the middle of April, but it is evident there's still work to be done.

"I didn't see much of Drayk Bowen? Was he there?"

Yes, sophomore linebacker Drayk Bowen was present at practice today and is one of the notable players on defense that stood out to me in the jersey scrimmage. Bowen was seen consistently getting to the backfield throughout the scrimmage. Bowen has the challenge of being a dual-sport student-athlete. LB coach Max Bullough discussed with the media recently about Bowen's baseball-to-football balance, noting that sleep is generally the area you have to sacrifice; so to see Bowen making plays in practice for football while being a part of the baseball team, shows a lot about his athletic abilities.

"Surprise players? Both good and bad."

Freshman WR Cam Williams really stepped up for the offense. The chemistry between him and QB CJ Carr was very much evident and even led to points on the board. I'd say looking at all of Williams' opportunities in the scrimmage, there was much more to look forward to than to not. There were some concerns in previous practices about William's presence, but today Williams seemed to silence those opinions, I'm very impressed with what he showed on the field. The offensive line as a whole was not the greatest, I gave all my thoughts and observations above, but as I said there's work to be done.

"Which position group looked the strongest?"

If I had to guess, I think everyone who watched the scrimmage would have their first choice be a position group on the defensive side of the ball, specifically the front seven (Defensive Line and Linebackers). Those guys were in the backfield more times than I can count on my hands. Boubacar Traore is my defensive MVP, maybe even the MVP overall.

"Does today's team performance impact your expectations for the season at all?"

I'd say no more than yes. Let's keep a few things in mind: QB Riley Leonard did not participate in the scrimmage, and it shouldn't shock too many people if he is QB1 heading into College Station, so not having your QB1 for this scrimmage should relieve some criticism on the offense's performance. I'd also like to add that we're not even halfway through April, so there's plenty of time to get things in order. If it were August and this happened, I'd be concerned for the offense, but I'm confident Mike Denbrock will figure it out, and a healthy Riley Leonard will make it better. In terms of the defense: Outstanding. At worst, they picked up where they left off last season. At best, they're even better than last season.

"How did the receivers and offensive line do?"

Moving past the offensive line, the receivers were pretty good today in my opinion. The quarterbacks gave the wideouts a notable amount of bad looks today with a mixture of high balls, overthrown passes, and passes that were out of the target zone. When the passes were good though, the wide receivers more often than not came down with the ball from what I saw. WRs Jaden Greathouse and Cam Williams were the two standouts today for me. Greathouse seems to be emerging as a guy who can be a consistent starter for Notre Dame and has shown a lot of flashes of greatness.

"How did the QBs look?" "How did CJ Carr look?" "Carr starting week 1?"

CJ Carr: Of the three QBs that participated in the scrimmage (CJ Carr, Steve Angeli, and Kenny Minchey), Carr looked the best. In defense of Angeli and Minchey, Carr was running with the 3's, and playing against the 3's (3rd string), but Carr performed the best overall, and it wasn't all that close either. Carr is the only of the three QBs to not throw a pick-six, let alone a pick at all, and even put points on the board, throwing a dreamer to Cam Williams in the endzone. It's hard to say if Carr would be ready for College Station, and I'd bet he'll start as QB4 at the beginning of the season behind Leonard, Angeli, and Minchey. But make no mistake, the Carr hype train hasn't slowed down, matter of fact, it's picking up speed, slowly, but nonetheless picking up speed.

Everyone not named CJ Carr: As I said, Leonard didn't participate. But Angeli and Minchey did not get any brownie points from the scrimmage. Both Angeli and Minchey threw pick-sixes to Xavier Watts and Jaden Mickey (I'd describe both those pick-sixes like the Julian Love pick-six against Michigan State in 2017), and Angeli threw another pick on the final play to Adon Shuler, but at least Shuler didn't take it to the house. Couple this with a notable amount of out-of-range passes and high balls, multiple sacks, a strip sack (In my book), and a few instances of the ball getting hit as it was released, there was more to be desired today out of Angeli and Minchey.

"How does the offensive line look vs the defensive line?"

It was night and day. The defensive line showed up and played like it was their last game. Junior Tuihalamaka and Boubacar Traore came to play, getting several sacks and TFLs throughout the scrimmage. I'd like to make the statement that the defensive line will be significantly better in 2024 than it was in 2023 (Even though the 2023 defensive line was great) if Junior and Boubabar become the players I think they can become.

"Is [Riley] Leonard playing next week?"

Most likely not. Leonard said in a recent group interview that he doesn't expect to have a significant role in the Blue and Gold game, due to it being the spring game, and it not being a smart idea to risk any more injuries. Leonard did say however he feels him actually playing would be "50/50" if it were a regular season game, so keep that in mind.

"Which player has shown the most improvement separating them from the rest in that position?"

CB Jaden Mickey stands out to me for that question. Mickey was one of the defensemen who ran an interception back to the house. Mickey also followed that up with a few important pass breakups and some good coverage in the scrimmage. I think Mickey has the chance to be an impact player on defense with the departure of Cam Hart to the NFL Draft, and the absence of Benjamin Morrison as of now, even with Morrison in the picture, Mickey has the chance to be a difference maker.

"How well did the QBs and WRs perform together? Also, who stood out from the two?"

In terms of who stood out from the two: CJ Carr and Cam Williams, Notre Dame fans should be happy about that. In terms of them performing together: I liked what I saw with Carr and Williams in the scrimmage. The chemistry is there, and it's good.

"Minchey or Carr"

From what I saw today, Carr.

"Who won?"

The defense won 43-32.

"If you had to guess based on today, who are the top 4 wideouts for the spring game?"

Jaden Greathouse, Jayden Thomas (If he can stay healthy), Jordan Faison (If Lacrosse doesn't keep him less involved in the spring game), and Deion Colzie. I'd make an argument for Jayden Harrison but he is currently dealing with a foot/heel injury. Micah Gilbert and Cam Williams likely won't be one of the top 4 guys for the Blue & Gold game since they're freshmen.

"Who is the best WR at the moment?", "How did the receiver group look? And was there a clear-cut WR1?"

Jaden Greathouse gave off the impression of a WR1 today. I'm not sure how the depth chart and target distribution will look factoring in Kris Mitchell, Jayden Thomas, and Jayden Harrison, but Greathouse impressed me. Jayden Thomas didn't participate in the scrimmage due to a hamstring issue, and Harrison is out with a foot injury. I can recall moments of every available WR getting reps in the scrimmage today, from Jack Polian to Micah Gilbert, but Greathouse and Williams were the two that stood out to me today. I think the WR room is in much better shape now than it was during the final months of the Chansi Stuckey era. WR coach Mike Brown has done a great job in developing these guys up to this point from what I've seen.

Looking at the bigger picture, I think this jersey scrimmage did its job of showing the coaching staff and the media where the team currently stands with its development. While there's work to be done on the offensive side of the ball, we saw some freshmen make a great impression, like Carr and Williams, the defense truly wowed me with how quick and explosive they were, especially the front seven's ability to get in the backfield. Notre Dame fans should be excited about Al Golden's elite defense, and the fanbase should continue to be optimistic about the Mike Denbrock-era offense. Once Riley Leonard is happy and some things are fleshed out, the offense should be it needs to come on August 24th at Kyle Field.


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