Friday notes: Assistants hit the road

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It’s officially the spring evaluation period for college recruiting. Thanks to a recent rule change, head coach Brian Kelly won’t be able to hit the hallways of high schools, but his assistant coaches will.

The Irish coaching staff will fan across the country, with each assistant working their region or position grouping for key recruits. Expect to see Bob Diaco on the east coast, Tony Alford covering Florida, Mike Denbrock on the West Coast, Chuck Martin covering the Midwest, Ed Warinner all across the country meeting with linemen, Kerry Cooks in Texas, Tim Hinton doing his best to lock down the state of Ohio, Mike Elston also working the Southeast as Charley Molnar sets sail to reel in an elite quarterback. There’s only so much time to be on the road, and with Kelly relegated to alumni functions and awards dinners, the assistant coaches will do much of the heavy lifting this spring.

Here are a few interesting headlines from a quiet week of Notre Dame football, as we cross the 120 day mark until the Irish kick things off against Purdue.

* Tim Prister at IrishIllustrated.com broke down the remaining offensive linemen in play for the Irish after receiving big verbal commitments from Matthew Hegarty, Jordan Prestwood, Conor Hanratty, and Tony Springmann.

The Irish have offers out to Maryland tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, Tennessee’s Antonio Richardson, Arkansas’ Brey Cook, Arizona native Cyrus Hobbi, Georgia tackle Watts Dantzler, Colorado tackle Brendon Austin, and Virginia’s Jay Whitmire, according to Prister. If I had to guess the next guy to pledge to Kelly and the Irish, it’d be Austin, although the staff would be happy to take any of the guys on this list.

* It seems Jimmy Clausen didn’t need to show up in a stretch Hummer to get people wondering if he’s still too cocky or a bad teammate. Arriving at Carolina’s mini-camp with a 12-pack of Cactus Cooler that was requested by star teammate Steve Smith, Clausen had all eyes on him during an impressive mini-camp. But it wouldn’t be a football season without some Clausen controversy, and PFT’s Mike Florio seemed to supply it, with a well-placed source claiming that Smith thought Jimmy was “a punk.”

Smith didn’t take too kindly to that quote and has been on a warpath denying a report he labeled “all BS.” He was eager to challenge Florio on-air earlier today, but Mike passed on the confrontation, knowing that he wasn’t going to give up a source that Smith would’ve demanded be named.

Regardless of all the manufactured noise, it was interesting that the reports that did come out about Clausen all kept the familiar theme of his questionable off-the-field personality. Some of the more interesting reports quoted veteran teammates who were surprised that Clausen would reach out to them with text messages and introductions, something maybe not that common with rookies, but something essential in a quarterback expected to lead. If you’re looking for a comparison, there’s no articles questioning Tim Tebow’s decision to reach-out to his new teammates, and Clausen is far closer to seeing the field that Denver’s new first road quarterback is. Jimmy will battle rumors until he’s actually given the opportunity to go out on the field and play football, which I’ve got a hunch comes sooner than later.

* Uber-freshman T.J. Jones is making some noise on the national scene with his surprise ascendancy to the top of the WR depth chart after only a semester at Notre Dame. The guys at Rivals.com took a look at the top early-enrollees who made an impact during spring practice, and they listed Jones and Oklahoma’s Kenny Stills as the two wide receivers that created the most buzz.

Here’s what they had to say about Jones:

Jones, whose first name is Tai-ler, moved his way onto the first team
midway through spring drills and stayed there the rest of the way. He
caught an 18-yard TD pass in the spring game. Notre Dame is looking for a
complementary receiver for star WR Michael Floyd, and Jones could be
that guy. His dad, Andre, was a defensive end at Notre Dame from 1987-91
and played on the Irish’s 1988 national championship team. His uncle is
Philip Daniels, a veteran NFL defensive end.

I’m eager to see what Jones can do out of the slot for the Irish. After watching him during the Blue-Gold game, it’s clear that he’s one of those athletes that won’t shy away from the big stage, a crucial trait for a true freshman that wants to see the field.

* The news that the Pac-10 and the Big 12 are in discussions on a possible collaboration for a television contract is interesting news on the conference realignment front. While Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is out looking for potential additions to the conference as a way to build their TV empire, the Pac-10 and Big 12 are taking creative looks at building their negotiating power with the TV networks without mortgaging the history and affiliations of the conference.

Both the Big 12 and Pac-10 have expiring TV contracts that pay them much less than the Big Ten and the SEC, so they’re looking for every possible way to build leverage, including building a TV network that takes advantage of the fact that six of the nation’s top 13 media markets are in the heart of Pac-10/Big 12 country.

While people consistently believe that the Irish either need to relinquish independence or merely go it alone regardless of the consequences, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe and Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott are looking at an outside-the-box solution that could give their universities the revenues needed to compete with the other conferences, while not hurting the other athletic programs at their respective universities.

It’s interesting now that Jack Swarbrick is moving closer to a 6-5-1 scheduling model instead of continuing to try and work with the ridiculous 7-4-1 template Kevin White installed, the Irish could put themselves in a better position to forge creative alliances that could be both lucrative for the university financially while also allowing them to hold on to their independence.

* One final note: It’s SHOCKING, just shocking, to see that NFL defensive rookie of the year and former USC Trojan Brian Cushing has been suspended for performance enhancing drug use. Rumors of steroid use have dogged Cushing since his days at USC, and pictures like this one have been around for years.

Cushing had appealed the suspension, but was rejected earlier today. Cushing will sit out the first four games of next season for the Houston Texans.    

300-pound defensive tackle Sean Sevillano joins Notre Dame class of 2024

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Notre Dame added its second defensive lineman commitment in two weeks with the Friday announcement from consensus three-star defensive tackle Sean Sevillano (Clearwater Academy; Fla.). The massive interior prospect is the first defensive tackle to join the Irish class of 2024.

And “massive” might not be saying enough. At 6-foot-2, Sevillano weighs more than 300 pounds. Keep in mind, he has yet to start his senior year of high school.

And while he is big, Sevillano does not play slow. If there is a hole in the offensive line protection, he is quick enough to get up the field and bother the quarterback, logging 22 sacks last season. If there is not a hole, his sheer size is likely to create one.

He uses his body weight to bring down ball carriers, content to drop his weight on them and force them to consider moving forward with 300 added pounds rather than using that force to knock through them. While that is an example of his size as an asset, some college running backs will be able to shimmy out of that trap or strong enough to even carry him for an extra yard, so some discipline to actively tackle will need to be developed.

In a similar respect, Sevillano’s size represents raw potential. He is already clearly strong, but if more of his frame becomes devoted to muscle, he could become a genuine collegiate force.

How much of that size and frame is immediately functional may determine if Sevillano is a day-one contributor for Notre Dame in 2024. Starting tackles Rylie Mills and Howard Cross both have eligibility through 2024, but both could also consider the NFL draft after this season. Cross, in particular, will be a multi-year starter and would be a sixth-year veteran in 2024; it may simply be time for him to move on. There are other players between Sevillano and Cross, namely current junior Gabriel Rubio and sophomore Donovan Hinish, but none with a bounty of experience. Furthermore, no defensive line rotation can ever be too deep. If Sevillano arrives on campus as a hard body to move, a situational role in goal-line packages could await him, but if he arrives as needing conditioning work above all else, it could be a season on the scout team while suffering under strength coordinator Matt Balis’s tutelage.

Sevillano chose Notre Dame over finalists Ohio State, Auburn and Miami, becoming the 17th Irish commitment and the fourth defensive lineman, following consensus four-star end Loghan Thomas’s pledge last week.

Notre Dame’s class of 2024 now ranks No. 3 in the country, behind only Georgia (with 16 commits) and Michigan (17), though not behind the Wolverines by much. Ohio State and Oregon loom at Nos. 5 and 6 with just 13 and 14 commitments, respectively.

Those team rankings will obviously continue to fluctuate plenty between now and the December signing period, but spending a second straight summer in the top five should reflect only well on Marcus Freeman’s continued recruiting emphasis.

Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 78 Pat Coogan, junior interior offensive lineman

Brigham Young v Notre Dame
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-5 ⅛, 309 pounds.
2023-24 year, eligibility: A junior, Coogan has three seasons of eligibility remaining.
Depth Chart: An interior offensive lineman through and through, expect Coogan to spend some preseason practices working among the guards before being listed as the backup center on the public depth chart, behind fifth-year Zeke Correll.
Recruiting: The recruiting rankings industry rarely respects centers, thus effectively capping Coogan’s ceiling at a consensus three-star prospect. Yet, Stanford and Michigan chased him until he chose Notre Dame, a clear choice all along given the Chicagoland product was a lifelong Irish fan.

CAREER TO DATE
Correll started all 13 games of 2022 after Jarrett Patterson did so at center in 2021, limiting any chances for Coogan. He appeared in just the snowy blowout of Boston College last season.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
Anyone pushing back against athletes making money off their name, image and likeness rights (looking at you, Eli Drinwitz) is missing many realities. One of them is that college athletes may be the best on-field instructors for high-school players, having recently been in those shoes, helping both understand what those younger players are trying to do and aid their credibility with the next wave of recruits.

Yet, college football players have been able to profit from teaching football camps only in recent years.

Their tutelage can and does extend further to far young players, again nothing but a good thing.

QUOTES
Coogan was viewed solely as a center while recruited, and his first couple of seasons at Notre Dame featured a similar outlook. New Irish offensive line coach Joe Rudolph gave Coogan a shot at guard this past spring, and while Coogan is unlikely to win a starting role over the likes of fifth-year Andrew Kristofic, senior Michael Carmody, junior Rocco Spindler and sophomore Billy Schrauth, the chance at competition may have reinvigorated him a bit.

“There’s been a really good battle at left guard, Billy Schrauth has been working along with Pat Coogan,” Rudolph said in April. “They’ve got the majority of the reps there. I think it really freed Pat up, going to guard. I’ve seen his footwork getting better and I think it’s a little more natural for him.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“A springtime meniscus injury that required surgery and cost Coogan nearly all of spring’s practices has him behind the proverbial eight-ball this year. That absence forced (former Irish offensive line coach Harry) Hiestand to take a look at Carmody at center, and Carmody’s athleticism shined. (That may become a theme for Carmody until he finds a permanent home on the Irish offensive line.)

“That likely elevated Carmody to the ‘break glass in case of emergency’ role at center rather than Coogan.

“There are worse fates. Coogan is only a sophomore, after all, and the entire idea of the emergency glass is to not be broken. Even if he had not injured his knee, Coogan was probably going to spend this season fine-tuning his game under Hiestand’s watchful eye.”

2023 OUTLOOK
Expect Schrauth and Kristofic to prevail as Notre Dame’s starting guards in 2023, and if the Irish have their way, the world will never genuinely know who their backups are. Of course, football likes to skew such plans, so it is more likely Spindler reveals himself.

In other words, Coogan will probably not find playing time at guard in 2023, and with Correll returning as a three-year starter and possible captain, finding it at center would depend entirely on injury.

Some action should await Coogan, presumably starting with special teams protection units, a clear step forward from not even seeing that last season.

DOWN THE ROAD
Correll could return in 2024. He will have the eligibility to do so. But instinctively, a three-year offensive line starter at Notre Dame is going to seek a chance in the NFL, and a three-year offensive line starter at Notre Dame will be given a chance in the NFL, though it may begin by earning a roster spot.

If Correll does make that leap, Coogan will be the presumptive leader to start at center in 2024, but early-enrolled freshman Sam Pendleton could challenge him. With a bit stronger recruiting profile, Pendleton may have a higher ceiling than Coogan. If he continues to take to the collegiate strength and conditioning program, and avoids a hard collision with the proverbial freshman wall in the fall, then Pendleton could be nearing Coogan’s level by next spring.

At the very least, that could lead to a more honest position competition than is usually the case in spring practices.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 90* Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90* Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 86* Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 85 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
No. 79 Tosh Baker, senior tackle, again a backup but next year …
Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth
Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience

Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 79 Tosh Baker, senior tackle, again a backup but next year …

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 23 Notre Dame Spring Game
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-8, 310 pounds.
2023-24 year, eligibility: A senior, Baker has two years of eligibility remaining.
Depth Chart: Baker had the misfortune of arriving at Notre Dame just one year before the increasingly-heralded tackle duo of Blake Fisher and Joe Alt. Thus, Baker remains a backup as a senior, presumably penciled in as the No. 2 left tackle behind Alt on the public depth chart but perhaps the immediate option at both tackle positions if injury befalls either Fisher or Alt.
Recruiting: The No. 5 offensive tackle in his class, per rivals.com, when he signed with Notre Dame, Baker fell to No. 13 by the end of the recruiting cycle, another example of recruiting rankings being fickle and confounding. Baker chose the Irish over the likes of Alabama, Michigan and Ohio State, a high-profile recruitment despite coming from Scottsdale, Ariz.

CAREER TO DATE
Baker had one chance at a prolonged starting career at Notre Dame despite Fisher and Alt bearing down behind him. His headstart was mitigated by the loss of strength and conditioning effectiveness felt by freshmen across the country in 2020; Baker quite literally could not log the 12 months of intense weight-room work that is a pillar for freshman offensive linemen. That made it less surprising when Fisher beat out Baker for the starting left tackle gig in 2021, making Fisher the second freshman to ever start on the Irish offensive line in a season opener, but then a meniscus tear in that very first half sidelined Fisher until the bowl game. Current senior, then-sophomore, Michael Carmody stepped in for Fisher until a sprained ankle forced Baker into action.

Alas, a concussion ended Baker’s starting cameo two games later, two games with middling success but encouraging enough success given Baker was a sophomore, as well. Alt then took over, and the rest has become history.

Baker missed just one week due to the concussion, but Alt was already off to the races.

2020: 2 games.
2021: 11 games, 2 starts.
2022: 13 games as a reserve, largely as field-goal protection.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
The life of an offensive lineman at Notre Dame has long seemed an enviable one: Eat effectively as much as you want, have a built-in close friend group of about a dozen other behemoths, dodge most of the spotlight that can make being a top-tier football player less enviable.

Scroll to the third photo in this Instagram post and see a few examples of that: Having fun at a minor league baseball game with other offensive linemen. Look closer, and realize Baker towers behind comedian Bret Kreischer, who while only 6-foot has made some of his fame on being a rather robust individual, himself.

On that note, the previous entry in this “99-to-0” series was on No. 83 Jayden Thomas, a junior receiver often referred to as a tight end last season by broadcasters. They were imprecise in that description, but their reasoning was clear. Thomas is a wide-bodied target. And now realize Baker stands 6.5 inches taller than Thomas and weighs 90 more pounds.

QUOTES
New Irish offensive line coach Joe Rudolph shares an ethos with his predecessor, Harry Hiestand: Always get the five best offensive linemen on the field together and figure out positions as need be from there. In that respect, Rudolph mentioned Baker could be a backup at guard as well as tackle. In other words, Baker may be Notre Dame’s clear No. 6 offensive lineman, and barring an injury at center, he could have a chance to play if any shuffling is needed.

“You have to concentrate on always having a plan together in terms of what are the things you need to address,” Rudolph said in April. “… You have to have trust that there’s a vision that sees you and always has a vision of trying to put the five best buys on the field together.

“Those things probably have to go hand-in-hand. That’s what I’ve shared with [Baker] along the way, told him I’d get most of his reps at tackle, but he’s absolutely someone that could go inside.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“No offense to Baker, but the Irish would undoubtedly not mind a season of relative health at left and right tackle, keeping him on the sideline. The run of injuries last year was unprecedented in recent times, and played a distinct part in Notre Dame’s early-season offensive struggles. Now with a young quarterback, a stable offensive line will be crucial.

“To some extent, though, having Baker as a backup provides some stability. His two starts last season were not stellar, but they were promising enough. He has all the makings of a strong left tackle, should that opportunity arise.

“It is more likely he spends the season working behind Alt and learning under returned offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.”

2023 OUTLOOK
Let’s offer some transparency here: While this space refrains from speculating on transfer candidates, it keeps an in-house list in an attempt to be loosely prepared for the chaos of the winter and spring transfer windows. Baker’s name was at the top of that list this spring.

Obviously, he did not transfer.

The logic was simple: He should be close to his degree and he could start for most Power Five teams. Furthermore, quality offensive line talent is rare in the transfer portal, so a generous response could have awaited Baker.

A few things can be gleaned by Baker not transferring: Rudolph was well-received this spring, the Notre Dame offensive line culture so maintained by Hiestand has not wavered, and Baker is satisfied with how he is treated, both on the field and off.

All that said, it is still hard to see Baker as a starter in Dublin or one at all barring injury. Alt and Fisher are clearly entrenched at each tackle position, fifth-year Andrew Kristofic has starting experience at guard and three other interior linemen are competing to start opposite him. Rudolph may say Baker could play inside, but at 6-foot-8, he is very much an outside body type.

Another year of support work likely awaits Baker.

DOWN THE ROAD
But then, and this may be the other thought to him not transferring, a starting role could await Baker.

It will be an absolute stunner if Alt does not jump into the NFL draft after this season. He should be a top-10 pick, if not top-5. Fisher may go with him, if he has an impressive enough season. At some point, some offseason research needs to be done on teams that have sent two tackles into the same draft’s first two rounds, first round and first 15 picks, just to set some historical precedent.

Regardless of Fisher’s choice, Baker should be the clear beneficiary of Alt’s success. While it has forced Baker to the bench for years now, with Alt gone after 2023, Baker should start in 2024. Maybe that is at right tackle with Fisher flipping to left, maybe not. Either way, outside of Carmody and Fisher, no one else on the Irish roster has any collegiate experience at tackle.

That carrot presumably played a significant part in Baker not transferring despite there undoubtedly being a market for him. And one strong season as a starter on Notre Dame’s offensive line could be enough to propel him into an NFL career.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 90* Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90* Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 86* Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 85 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth
Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience

Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience

Ball State v Penn State
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Entering spring practices, Notre Dame looked stocked at running back, returning two juniors who each rushed for at least 800 yards last season as well as a senior with 285 career touches. With three underclassmen supporting them, the Irish were wealthy in both depth and experience at running back.

But then Notre Dame moved Chris Tyree to receiver, in part due to that bounty at running back and in part to be more assured the speedster would find playing time regardless, and Logan Diggs transferred to LSU. One of those underclassmen, sophomore Jadarian Price, is recovering from an Achilles injury that, on a common timeline following that devastating injury, could hinder him yet in August and September, if not longer should there be any version of a setback. Incoming freshman Jeremiyah Love has yet to arrive on campus.

Junior Audric Estimé may look the part of a workhorse, but the Irish depth is no longer as thorough and the experience has quickly diminished.

Enter Penn State graduate transfer running back Devyn Ford, adding depth back into the Irish backfield and possibly some untapped talent with his Friday commitment. Ford fell out of the Nittany Lions rotation the last two seasons simply because younger players impressed. He had 131 touches in his first two seasons, gaining 622 yards and scoring six times.

Ford focused on kickoff returns in 2021, taking 12 for 258 yards, an average of 21.5 yards, while getting just 14 carries for 61 yards. Then he was only a special teams contributor in 2022 as a pair of freshmen took over the rushing workload (Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen combining for 1,928 yards on 323 carries) and the kickoff return duties (Singleton had 14 returns for an average of 24.9 yards and one touchdown). Ford’s on-field roles were gone, so he called it a season after just four games in order to preserve a year of eligibility, transferring with up to two seasons still ahead of him.

Ford arrived at Penn State in 2019 as the No. 1 running back in the recruiting class, per rivals.com, and the No. 40 overall prospect. As anyone would expect from a recruiting profile like that, he was also sought by Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State, to name a few, as a high-school prospect. Players with that background somewhat rarely hit the transfer wire, making Ford an intriguing lottery ticket for Notre Dame.

Bringing in Ford gives the Irish 83 scholarship players expected for this fall, two less than the NCAA maximum allowed.

He wore No. 28 at Penn State, digits currently unclaimed on the Notre Dame roster aside from walk-on receiver Griffin Eifert, so unless Ford is proactively seeking a fresh start in all regards, he may end up in those familiar numbers in preseason practices. But let’s use his transfer announcement as an excuse to rattle off his “99-to-0” thoughts now.

Listed measurements: 5-foot-11, 200 pounds per Penn State’s website.
2023-24 year, eligibility: Ford enrolled at Penn State in 2019, so he has played four years, but 2020 did not count toward his ticking clock thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver, and he stepped away from the Nittany Lions’ season after four games in 2022 in order to preserve an additional year of eligibility, meaning Ford has two years of eligibility remaining if wanted as he arrives in South Bend.
Depth Chart: Audric Estimé will start for Notre Dame in Dublin (88 days), barring injury. Behind him, sophomore Gi’Bran Payne is the most probable candidate to be the secondary Irish ball carrier, though he has his own history of injuries. Price should be given a lengthier runway to find full speed this season, a reason all on its own to want to bring in Ford. He could end up Estimé’s primary backup with an impressive preseason, but for now, presume Payne has that inside track while Ford begins his career in a gold helmet ahead of Love.
Recruiting: Some wondered if Ford’s collegiate career was concluded when he did not enter the transfer portal during the winter window. Instead, he entered the database in late April.

Notre Dame offensive coordinator Gerad Parker was Penn State’s receivers coach in 2019, Ford’s freshman year, giving the Irish some direct knowledge of Ford as both a player and as a person, as well as a connection while he looked for a new school.

CAREER TO DATE
Ford came out of the gates strong in Happy Valley before his playing time dwindled, the kind of start expected from a recruit of his caliber, no matter how his Penn State career ended.

2019: 12 games; 52 rushes for 294 yards and three touchdowns with five catches for 30 yards.
2020: 6 games; 67 rushes for 274 yards and three touchdowns with seven catches for 24 yards.
2021: 8 games; 14 rushes for 61 yards and three catches for 18 yards while returning 12 kickoffs for an average of 21.5 yards.
2022: 4 games; 7 rushes for 37 yards.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
If Ford spent a chunk of May in Paris, then delaying his transfer decision was an exceedingly understandable decision.

2023 OUTLOOK
Ford’s freshman year highlights show a player who should contribute for Notre Dame this fall. He does not run with the same force as Estimé — who does? — but Ford is an all-around back with able hands as a safety valve in the flat. Presuming he devotes himself to pass blocking, there should never be a moment when his being on the field gives away a play’s intention to the defense.

His tendency to keep his feet moving through contact allows Ford to maintain balance even after an initial hit, wearing out the defense a bit at the very least.

All of which is to say, Ford should be more than a place-filler transfer. Logically, at least one of Payne, Price and Love will be slowed by injury or fatigue this fall, a probability among any three running backs but a higher one among two with injury concerns and a third being a true freshman. If one of them gives pause, Ford will be no lower than Notre Dame’s fourth running back.

Because Estimé and Diggs were so durable last season, the Irish never leaned on a fourth back, but as often as not, one is needed. Consider the 2017-2019 averages from the fourth Notre Dame running backs in each season, taking 37.3 carries per season for 141.3 yards and 1.3 touchdowns. Those were backs by the names of Tony Jones Jr., Avery Davis and Jafar Armstrong, respectively.

Ford could add something similar to the Irish backfield in 2023. He certainly once had the physical skillset to do so. And if that becomes reality, no one should be more grateful than Estimé.

DOWN THE ROAD
Just because Ford will have eligibility in 2024 does not mean he will use it. That will be up to both the Irish coaching staff and Ford.

But given the likelihood Estimé heads to the NFL after 2023, keeping Ford around as an able body in the running back room would make sense. That may be where Diggs’ departure has the greatest impact. The odds were against both Estimé and Diggs having a strong enough 2023 season to justify jumping to the NFL, so one of them would have returned in 2024 and Notre Dame would have had four backs returning plus a freshman or two. (The No. 1 all-purpose back in the class, consensus four-star Aneyas Williams is currently the only Irish commitment at the position in the class of 2024.)

The Irish would now need Ford or yet another transfer to have those kinds of numbers, and the advantage of Ford will be familiarity.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 90* Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90* Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 86* Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 85 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth
Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience