With only 23 days remaining until the Irish season-opener against Temple, some clarity about Notre Dame’s starters should start to be expected. Following their first practice back on campus after spending the initial week at Culver Academies in Culver, Ind., Irish coach Brian Kelly revealed some of that clearer picture Wednesday.
The biggest offensive question comes at right tackle, and Kelly said sophomore Tommy Kraemer has established himself as the starter there over classmate Liam Eichenberg, who will move to left tackle to back up fifth-year senior Mike McGlinchey. Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand have the ability to move Eichenberg like that thanks to the emergence of freshman Robert Hainsey, an early enrollee this spring. Hainsey will back up Kraemer.
“Robert becomes kind of our guy that if we need to get in the game, he’s got a really good pass set,” Kelly said. “He’s got some strength and is a really good pass setter for us.
“Tommy, right now, is the guy that goes with the first group, and [nine] practices in, he’s still a work in progress, but he’s making progress for us.”
If Kraemer were to suffer a season-ending injury, it is still conceivable Eichenberg would take over the position, having spent all spring and some of preseason practice working at right tackle, but Hainsey at least allows the offensive line to have a full second-unit in practice.
Kelly also said junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown will start as the W, or boundary, receiver. Kelly has previously admitted the W and X, or field, positions will be largely interchangeable so as to expedite the up-tempo scheme preferred by offensive coordinator Chip Long.
Aside from St. Brown, the pecking order among the receivers remains in flux.
“Everything else is pretty fluid,” Kelly said. “We’re trying to mix and match and we’ve got a lot of really solid players. We’re just trying to take advantage of what they can do and their skill set and where they can best help our football team.”
Acknowledging the large number of possible options there, Kelly then got to the tight ends, where freshman Cole Kmet has apparently inserted himself into the conversation of possible contributors.
(Lack of) Injury Update
To date, and perhaps Notre Dame fans should find some wood to introduce their knuckles to, the Irish have remained largely injury-free in these practices. Junior tight end Alizé Mack suffered a mild hamstring injury, but was an active participant in Wednesday’s practice. Freshman safety Jordan Genmark-Heath has also battled a slight hamstring injury but was cleared for practice.
Senior safety Nick Coleman partook in all of the team repetitions as he works his way back from an ankle injury, while sophomore cornerback Donte Vaughn missed Wednesday’s drills after spraining his neck Tuesday when he missed a pad during a tackling drill. Kelly was unconcerned.
“He’s fine, but those are the kind of injuries you get in camp. That’s as severe as it’s gotten.”
Assuming Vaughn’s health moving forward, there is some levity to be found in a defender suffering an injury during a tackling drill lacking any offensive counterparts.