Exactly 59 days from today, the Irish will take the field at Notre Dame Stadium. Sure, they will be playing against themselves, but nonetheless, it will be somewhat-competitive football played in gold helmets.
For timing context, exactly 59 days ago, you looked beneath the Christmas tree to learn if Santa Claus left you season tickets, socks or coal. I got socks. They had some of that extra cushioning, so I considered them a suitable treat.
Whether you care about my argyles or not (you don’t), for many the Blue-Gold Game and Christmas morning hold similar excitement. That fact is apparently why Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick does not concern himself when groups of alumni publicly lament his decisions, or lack thereof.
“I never worry about that,” Swarbirck told the Indianapolis Star in an exclusive interview you really should read. Go on, click the link, it will open in a new tab. You can come right back here when you are done.
“The hardest job in athletics is trying to generate passion in your program. If that sort of stuff bothers you, you can’t be the athletic director, head coach or the quarterback at Notre Dame.”
That very passion will undoubtedly lead to frame-by-frame discussions of video snippets from spring practice, parsing of each and every word Irish coach Brian Kelly says in quick interviews after those practices, and extreme pessimism and optimism about the 2017 season.
In the Christmas spirit, what toys could bring the must excitement during the spring unwrapping? Personally, the gift I was unsure of always brought the most joy. I would rather open an unexpected book than know about a charcoal-gray suit. In other words, at least for today, let’s look past the offensive line, the running backs and the inside linebackers. Instead, let’s look forward to learning about…
Junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush showed heaps of potential in his only extended game action, against Massachusetts back in 2015. He finished 3-of-5 for 17 passing yards with 92 rushing yards on only four carries, including a 58-yard touchdown scamper.
“As you can see, he’s athletic,” Kelly said following the 62-27 victory. “He can throw the ball deep… He’s capable of pushing the ball down the field as well as running the football. We’ll continue to work with him, and he’s got a lot of talent.”
Wimbush also took three carries for 13 yards against Pittsburgh in November of that season, but then he sat out 2016 with Malik Zaire healthy to provide a more-experienced back-up option. Obviously, now it is Wimbush’s show.
That potential will not be enough anymore. It must translate to tangible results on the field. Spring practice may be only spring practice, but Wimbush reassuring his teammates and coaches of his abilities could do a lot for the Irish psyche over the summer.
Of all of the new assistants, defensive coordinator Mike Elko and his aggressive defensive scheme bring the most intrigue. The interest around new offensive coordinator Chip Long will escalate during the season, thanks to his supposed play-calling duties. Aside from that, though, Kelly indicated the offensive scheme would remain largely unchanged, only faster. On defense, however, spring practice should clear up a number of questions.
Primarily, how does Elko envision the rover position being deployed in the 2017 defense? Simply learning who slots there in the depth chart will bring some clarity. Senior safety Drue Tranquill is the most-likely candidate, leaving juniors Nick Coleman and Nicco Fertitta and sophomore Devin Studstill as the only experienced safety options.
Should Tranquill be deemed a necessity at the safety position, senior linebacker Greer Martini could be a possibility at rover. That would increase junior Te’von Coney’s role alongside senior linebacker and captain Nyles Morgan.
The five early enrollees (safety Isaiah Robertson, offensive linemen Aaron Banks and Robert Hainsey, running back C.J. Holmes and tight end Brock Wright) have a head-start on all the other incoming freshmen on earning 2017 playing time. For some—specifically the two offensive linemen—their stocked position group will make it still unlikely. For the others, a strong springtime showing may bring unexpected autumn opportunity.
March 8 is exactly two weeks away. The first pieces of Scotch tape will be peeled off then.