Freddy Canteen

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Questions for the Week: Ankles, Claypool and Notre Dame’s history at Spartan Stadium

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As always, these are questions with answers likely to come before Saturday night’s kickoff …

Will Cam Smith be healthy enough to get back on the field?
The fifth-year receiver suffered a sprained ankle in practice last week, limiting his reps throughout the week and keeping him from playing Saturday, per Irish coach Brian Kelly. That absence may have held more of an effect than was anticipated by anyone.

Certainly, Notre Dame’s receivers totaling three catches for 11 yards is not solely a reflection of Smith not being on the field. It is a sign of bigger issues, but that does not mean Smith would not have aided the cause. With his institutional knowledge of offensive coordinator Chip Long’s scheme from their days together at Arizona State, Smith has been consistent. His seven catches for 54 yards come from running clean, disciplined routes.

Getting him back onto the field could alleviate a slight bit of junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s accuracy issues. By no means would this eradicate the concern entirely, but even a small step in the right direction would be a welcome trend for the Irish at this point.

If Smith remains sidelined, did Chase Claypool do enough to maintain his spot as a starter?
Kelly answered this question Sunday, but it had already been worked into this concept’s draft and emphasizing it seems a valid decision.

Claypool will continue to see time, though more so at the boundary receiver position than the slot spot he worked at throughout spring and preseason practices. Of those three catches for 11 yards the receivers managed against Boston College, Claypool accounted for two receptions and eight yards.

“He was assignment correct,” Kelly said. “We saw him really grow in the areas that we wanted him to grow in.”

Along with Claypool, there was also some Michael Young innuendo last week. Will the depth chart now reflect that?
When Kelly discussed coming changes at receiver before the trip out east, he mentioned Claypool by name. He also seemed to imply another unexpected option could emerge.

“Guys are going to get banged up and we’re going to call on what I think will be outstanding depth at our wide receiver position,” Kelly said Thursday. “But we really do have to start to feature some guys that might not have all the experience but have a higher ceiling.”

At that point, Kelly knew Smith was injured, though perhaps he was still questionable to play. Kelly also presumably knew senior Freddy Canteen would need season-ending shoulder surgery this week. Those two bits could explain the first half of that paragraph.

The second half suggests Claypool would have company in the inexperienced with a “higher ceiling” category. With sophomore Javon McKinley intended to preserve a year of eligibility this season, freshman Michael Young is the most-likely candidate.

That presumption could be quickly confirmed in the Notre Dame depth chart this week.

How badly is Tony Jones’ ankle sprained?
Exactly a week ago, this piece wondered, “Through two games, are the Irish really still this healthy?” Through three games, the answer has become no.

Sophomore running back Tony Jones sprained his ankle against Boston College, only x-rays confirmed no further damage. As a running back, that injury can obviously be more than a nuisance and waiting for Jones to return to full health before playing him makes sense. If that takes longer than a week, it should lead to a bit more playing time for junior Dexter Williams. (more…)

Sunday Notre Dame Notebook: Canteen out for the season, Javon McKinley probably sitting also; Kelly on blocking strategy

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As Notre Dame struggles to find contributing receivers, the option have diminished by two. Irish coach Brian Kelly said graduate student Freddy Canteen will undergo season-ending surgery this week to repair a torn labrum and sophomore Javon McKinley is likely to preserve a year of eligibility this season.

Canteen started Notre Dame’s first two games before injuring his shoulder against Georgia. The Michigan transfer made one catch for seven yards. He does have another season of eligibility remaining, making a 2018 return likely, though not guaranteed.

In Canteen’s place, the Irish will turn more to sophomore Chase Claypool, though that may have been the case, regardless. Claypool made two catches for eight yards in Notre Dame’s 49-20 victory over Boston College on Saturday.

“He’s big, he’s physical, he’s got speed,” Kelly said of Claypool. “He needs to continue to grow at that position. We just like that he blocked very well for us. He was assignment correct. We saw him really grow in the areas that we wanted him to grow in.”

Kelly said Claypool will see time more on the outside of the field, rather than Canteen’s position in the slot. That alignment could hint at increased usage of the already often seen two tight end packages.

McKinley saw action in six games during his freshman season, recording no statistics.

“We didn’t get enough of his year last year, so I try to save a year under those circumstances for those guys,” Kelly said. “… If they’re still growing, still learning — I don’t want to accelerate them through the program unless they are squared away in terms of all of your traits.”

With or without Canteen and McKinley, the Irish still need to find reliable receivers, currently a vacuum best-exhibited by the passing total of 96 yards amassed against the Eagles. (more…)

Friday at 4: Four things to learn — Notre Dame at Boston College

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The knee-jerk reaction to Notre Dame’s loss last weekend was to lampoon the offensive line performance. The harsh judgment made sense considering the game’s sealing play came courtesy of a block so missed it would be both efficient and accurate to call it non-existent.

Even fifth-year left tackle and Irish captain Mike McGlinchey focused on that block. After all, he was the one who missed the block and it was his last snap, remaining his last snap until Notre Dame takes the field at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.

“You sit there all weekend and just watch that one play over and over and over again, and you kind of drive yourself insane,” McGlinchey said Tuesday. “But it’s one play. I guess I’ve got to work on the timing of my misses because it was a pretty brutal one.”

The greater concern this week in conversations with Irish coach Brian Kelly has been his receivers. Kelly knows what he has in his offensive line — a veteran group recently bested by one of the nation’s best defensive front sevens. For that matter, a veteran group now looking to redeem itself.

Kelly does not know what he has in his receivers.

What will Chris Finke make of his opportunity as a starter? Will someone else emerge as a viable aerial threat?
Finke saw four targets in the fourth quarter of the Georgia defeat. He caught three of them for 36 yards. Prior to that, the junior receiver had not been targeted so much as once.

That chance would likely have come eventually, but it arrived last weekend due, at least in part, to senior receiver Freddy Canteen suffering a shoulder injury. The injury combined with Finke’s performance earned the former walk-on a starting chance tomorrow.

Finke will not be able to sustain a three catches for 36 yards per quarter rate. (But can you imagine a 12-catch, 144-yard performance? That would silence any remaining Finke doubters.) He should, theoretically, be able to make an obvious impact in a full day’s work. Notre Dame needs him to.

RELATED READING: Offensive line notes, Irish ‘begging’ for No. 2 WR
Questions for the Week: A No. 2 WR, a RT decision & more
Kelly on Notre Dame’s sideline ‘fight,’ Chip Long’s play calling and shuffling WRs
Notre Dame looks for St. Brown to step up AND a No. 2 option, not OR
Kelly on Notre Dame’s WRs and TEs, namely on Claypool and Kmet

Notice how many of this week’s topics concerned the search for a receiver to complement junior Equanimeous St. Brown. (Also notice how few dealt with the offensive line.) This is Finke’s chance to showcase himself as that feature. If he doesn’t do so successfully, Kelly will have no choice but to trot out the next candidate, likely sophomore Chase Claypool.

It made sense to give Canteen a few weeks. Presuming he showed something in preseason practice, even if that something was simply consistent contributions, giving Canteen some time to show that in competition was rational. He had not done so by the time he injured his shoulder, a particular concern for Canteen after he lost more than a season to a shoulder injury when he was at Michigan.

It will make less sense to give multiple-week auditions to the next possibilities. If they had not shown what is needed in practice and the adrenaline of a game does not elicit such, then on to the next. This week is Finke’s moment. What will he make of it?

For that matter, is this the week junior tight end Alizé Mack finally shakes off the rust and shows the physical gifts which had so many encouraged by his return? Entering the season, the concern with Mack was his nagging hamstring injury. Now, the worry is his questionable-to-date hands. His athleticism alone makes him a must-play, but if he cannot be relied on in key red-zone or third-down situations, Notre Dame may need to turn to senior Nic Weishar even more. (more…)

Kelly on Notre Dame’s sideline ‘fight’, Chip Long’s play calling and shuffling WRs

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Perhaps it was during Saturday’s one-possession loss when Irish coach Brian Kelly most saw the differences between the 2017 Notre Dame team and its immediate predecessor, even though the close defeat was awfully reminiscent of a year ago. If that was the case, it took some distance from the moment for Kelly to realize, or at least properly voice, that insight.

“I just loved our sideline,” Kelly said Tuesday while discussing the fourth quarter against Georgia. “Being able to walk up and down the sideline and sense their fight, how they felt about the game. Just a different feeling for me, and one where at the time it’s hard to articulate those thoughts and feelings right after a game.”

Immediately after the 20-19 defeat, Kelly was asked a similar question about the close loss evoking memories from 2016’s dismal 4-8 finish. At the time, Kelly offered only a curt response.

He acknowledged the dynamics of that situation during his weekly press conference previewing the upcoming opponent.

“I probably could have handled it a little bit better, but in the heat of the moment, my thoughts were on the game itself,” Kelly said. “I stay in the present. In the present, I really like the way our team is put together.

“I don’t think much about last year. I think about how our team played on Saturday. So my vision and my eyes are on how that team showed grit and toughness, didn’t back off. We needed to make another play, no question. But our defense gave us three shots with 8:30 and less to go in the game to win it. We needed to make a play.”

That play could have come from slightly different play calling, but Kelly insisted he was pleased with the game called by offensive coordinator Chip Long.

Just like a better block from fifth-year left tackle Mike McGlinchey, better self-discipline by sophomore defensive end Julian Okwara or better play diagnosing from junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush all could have made the difference, a play call or two different from Long might have changed the outcome, as well. Then again, just like McGlinchey’s blocks for most of the evening, Okwara’s overall pass pressure and Wimbush’s touchdown run, Long’s play calls were part of what had Notre Dame so close in the first place.

“We had plenty of opportunities to score enough points to win the game through play calling,” Kelly said. “We would have liked a couple plays back here and there. We could have called a couple of better plays here and there, maybe executed better here and there.

“We look at it as an ‘all’ thing. In other words, we needed to coach a little bit better, make a couple more plays. We walk away as a group, meaning players and coaches alike, that maybe one more good play call, maybe one more good play, and we can win the game.”

Speaking of Okwara’s personal foul, Kelly put the onus on Okwara for giving the referee the opportunity to make the close call.

“We just felt like it’s too close to put an official in that position,” he said. “… It’s just a learning experience for Julian. He felt terrible. We told him, one play does not make this game.”

Finke starts; Canteen injured
The or designation between junior receiver Chris Finke and senior Freddy Canteen has been removed, raising Finke to clear-cut starter status. That is at least in part due to a shoulder injury suffered by Canteen. The Michigan transfer lost more than a season of playing time at his former school due to a shoulder injury, so exceeding caution very well may be exercised in this instance. Kelly described Canteen as “doubtful” this week, hence sophomore Chase Claypool slots in as Finke’s backup with junior Miles Boykin taking Claypool’s position on the two-deep behind junior Equanimeous St. Brown.

(more…)

Questions for the Week: A No. 2 WR, a RT decision & more

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A loss brings questions, even — perhaps especially — a one-point loss to a top-15 opponent. Most of those questions, though, will be answered on the field. Some, however, might be resolved before then.

Will a second receiver emerge behind Irish junior Equanimeous St. Brown?
More exactly, will junior Chris Finke move up the depth chart? Even that query, though, leaves room to evade the point, considering Finke is already listed as an “or” option along with senior Freddy Canteen in the slot. That two-letter loophole means Finke has been considered a starter, or co-starter, all season.

Finke finished Saturday with three catches for 36 yards while Canteen did not pull in any. Only one Notre Dame receiver had more receptions than the former walk-on, graduate student Cam Smith with four gaining 44 yards.

“Cam has made a couple of plays,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said Sunday. “We know what Cam can do, but we need other guys to step up and show some consistency.”

Finke could be that other guy. Removing a two-letter qualifier from the depth chart this week would indicate his role is going to expand, arguably deservedly so. At that point, perhaps opposing defenses will stop focusing so much coverage on St. Brown, part of the cause of interception such as the one pictured above.

Along with this conversation, sophomore Kevin Stepherson warrants mention. It may be doubtful he returns to the fold this week, but if/whenever he does, he will immediately be part of the search for St. Brown’s complement.

Will a decision be declared at right tackle?
The Notre Dame coaching staff, mainly Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, would likely prefer to see sophomore Tommy Kraemer and freshman Robert Hainsey rotate snaps for another week or two before settling on one or the other to lead the way the rest of the season. By no means did getting beat by Georgia’s talented defensive line reveal either Kraemer or Hainsey as the clear-cut better right tackle.

Nonetheless, it would not be too shocking to see one of the two named the right tackle moving forward. With some criticism already directed toward the offensive line — some of it justly and some of it reactionary — this could be a ripe moment to make that decision. Consider it something of a parallel to a Friday afternoon news dump.

On a pure-football level, giving the nod to Hainsey could fit in line with developing better pass protection, something Kelly discussed after reviewing Saturday’s film.

“What we have to do better is we have to sustain box and be more consistent in pass protection,” he said. “What we learned is we’ve got to obviously go back and be better coaching the fundamentals and we have to be better at our techniques.” (more…)