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Spring is in the Air: Notre Dame Football is BACK!

Written by Mike Stacey⏐Writer⏐Twitter/X: @MikeStaceyIT | Instagram: @mikestaceyit

Photo Credit: The Irish Tribune


Well, ladies and gentlemen, we are officially back to football season. Sort of...

This week marked the opening of Spring Practice and after what felt like an eternity, the boys in blue and gold are finally back at it, with a new season comes new expectations, the likes of which have never been higher for Coach Marcus Freeman. It is somewhat of a right of passage for storied ND coaches to find great success in their third season. Brian Kelly made it to the National Championship in year 3 before losing to Alabama in the title game. Lou Holtz, Dan Devine, and Ara Parseghian all won the National Championship in their third season to cement their names in Irish history. After consecutive 10-win seasons for Coach Freeman, this year's bar will be much higher, as anything less than a playoff appearance will certainly be considered a bust. Not only does Coach Freeman now have more experience, but he has a better coaching staff with the additions made in the offseason, highlighted by the addition of Coach Mike Denbrock. On top of great coaching, Coach Freeman has continued to improve the roster through recruiting and the transfer portal alike, and has the players in place to make a legit run this season. With that being said, let's take a look at the biggest question marks for the offense going into spring ball.


Wide Receiver:


I think the majority of Notre Dame fans can agree that the most glaring issue from last season was wide receiver play. Last year the Irish receivers simply did not put up enough numbers for this team to ever be able to compete with the elite programs. Notre Dame's leading receiver in 2023 was Chris Tyree, a converted running back, who finished the season with 484 yards and 3 touchdowns. Even with a dominant running game and tight end play, that is abysmal production from your wideouts that will never put you in a position to play for a title. To make matters worse, this offseason saw a mass exodus from the Wide Receiver room after Coach Stuckey was relieved of his duties. So how can the Irish possibly improve at the position this year? Well let's start with bringing in a guy like Kris Mitchell. Mitchell was a huge transfer pick-up that many Irish fans are hoping will turn into a number one kind of outside receiver for the Irish this season. After the first week of practice, it's been reported that Kris is already showing why people around the program are so excited about him. The kid can fly! And apparently, he is not the only one. Early reports have stated that the new-look Irish receivers are already showing a welcomed upgrade in the speed department. With Coach Mike Brown at the helm, the hope is we will also see much-improved technique this year from the wide-outs compared to last. The equation for success is speed + proper technique = a serious upgrade at the receiver position. Also, guys like Deion Colzie, Jayden Thomas, and Jaden Greathouse had their battles with injuries last season. If they can stay healthy along with some of the influx of talent from new arrivals like Kris Mitchell, Cam Williams, and the return of Jordan Faison who bursted onto the scene midseason last year, this position may take a giant leap forward.


Video by The Irish Tribune

Video by The Irish Tribune


Offensive Line:


We didn't get much footage or news after week one of practice from this group, but this is another position that has some question marks coming into the season after the departure of three starters from last year. Joe Alt and Blake Fisher have moved on to the NFL Draft and Zeke Correll has headed off to North Carolina State via the transfer portal. Those three were the starting center, left, and right tackles last season. Needless to say, those are some big shoes to fill (pun intended), especially when you are talking about a potential top-10 pick at left tackle in Joe Alt. Although the Irish will certainly be dealing with some inexperience on the line this season, they will not be short of talent. Let's start at the center position with Ashton Craig. Ashton is a former four-star recruit and saw action as the starting center late last season where he showed great promise. Even though it was limited experience, the expectation here is that he will be able to build off that and give the Irish a talented boost at center this season. Next to him will be the most experienced parts of the line, left and right guard. Returning will be last year's starters Pat Coogan, Rocco Spindler, and Billy Schrauth who took over for Spindler after his injury. This should be an interesting battle as one of these three will be left out of the starting line. I would think right now the edge goes to Schrauth and Coogan, but Spindler has plenty of talent to make a push post-injury. Right and left tackle will be filled by players with very little experience, but plenty of talent. The expectation is the highly rated Charles Jagusah will try the daunting task of picking up where Alt left off at left tackle. Charles did a good job in the bowl game and his first start last season against Oregon State. At 6'7 and 330lbs, Charles is in line to be the next great left tackle at Notre Dame. I am very excited to see how he improves as the year moves on. On the other side of the line, we should have a much closer battle between 6'8 Graduate Tosh Baker and 6'6 Junior Aamil Wagner. Baker got the starting nod in the Sun Bowl this past season, but expect these two to fight it out potentially right into the fall. Baker has Wagner in the experience department, but Wagner has him when it comes to his freaky athleticism. Will Wagner continue to develop his size and strength? Or will the steady vet finish what he started? This should be a good one to watch during camp!


Photo Credit: The Irish Tribune



Quarterback:


So typically when you talk about position battles, you are looking at who is going to be the starter. Well, let's not get carried away here, it is all but a certainty that Riley Leonard will be the starting quarterback this fall. He has the experience, the talent, and the dynamic ability to run and pass. The job is his. What is most intriguing to me, however, is who will be his backup and who will be on the roster after spring practice. I have a feeling the answer to my first question may potentially answer my second. Still, I hope that regardless of who wins the battle for the backup slot, all of these guys will remain on the roster because this is the deepest a Notre Dame team has been at the position in a very long time. I can't recall a time in my 30+ years as a fan that the Irish were deeper at the QB depth position in regards to guys who can play now. Aside from Leonard, you can argue that Steve Angeli, Kenny Minchey, and CJ Carr could all be starter material this season at another school, but fortunately, Notre Dame has all of these horses in their stable. So who is going to climb the depth chart? My guess is Angeli will win the number two spot. However, I would not be the least bit surprised if Minchey makes a move this Spring/Summer to jump him. Minchey is the more talented player all around, but as we have seen from Angeli in limited action, Steve has the confidence and decision-making skills to win at the helm. If Minchey can continue to develop in that department, look out, but for now I will predict the chart will look like this:


QB1: Riley Leonard
QB2: Steve Angeli
QB3: Kenny Minchey
QB4: CJ Carr

Aside from the obvious battle for number two, I can't wait to see the development of all of these players in general. It may be early, but after week one we are hearing that all of the QBs looked very good, particularly freshman CJ Carr, which is fantastic news. With so much talent, you can't help but hope and expect these players will only make one another better. And with Riley's injury history, depth at this position is going to be vital if the Irish want to improve their chances for a deep run this season. Fortunately, depth is something the Irish have plenty of, for a change.


Photo Credit: The Irish Tribune


Please feel free to leave your opinions on the position battles this spring in the comment section! Go Irish!


1 Comment


Guest
Mar 12

Great article 🍀

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