Let’s not call it a guarantee. Let’s call it, intentional foreshadowing.
Irish coach Brian Kelly made it clear he expects to see some new contributors at receiver this weekend when Notre Dame visits Boston College. (Again, kickoff has been moved to 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.)
“From a coaching standpoint, the first move is to settle into where these guys can best help us,” Kelly said Thursday. “Then I think everything flows from there. That’s the best I can give you on that. I think after this weekend, that question will clear itself up a little bit better.”
Through two games, the Irish have struggled to find a second target behind junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown. For that matter, they have also yet to break St. Brown loose as desired, finding him for only six catches and 96 yards thus far.
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Fifth-year senior and Arizona State transfer Cam Smith leads the Irish with seven receptions and his 54 yards is second to St. Brown’s total among the receivers. (Junior running back Josh Adams has more yards, 60, on six receptions and junior tight end Alizé Mack does, as well, with 58 on four catches.)
“We can’t take reps away from [St. Brown], and Cam’s played a lot on the outside,” Kelly said, setting up the difficult decision he and offensive coordinator Chip Long must make about where to insert the next option.
With those two out wide, the natural move is to find a piece at slot, most likely junior Chris Finke, who, coincidentally, is expected to get his first start this week. If simply looking for the next most-dangerous playmaker, that may be sophomore Chase Claypool, the only other name mentioned specifically by Kelly.
“We have to settle on where are we going to play certain guys?” he said. “We’re kind of in a flux. Where does Claypool fit? Here’s a young receiver that just needs some seasoning, some time. Is he an inside guy? An outside guy?
“… Quite frankly, we’ve made a decision and I don’t want to tell you what it’s going to be because I think that would compromise us a little bit.”
The only further clue Kelly offered indicated Claypool may be joined by freshman Michael Young. Whether that is the case or not, Kelly insisted it will be apparent after the tilt versus the Eagles.
“After this weekend, everybody is going to have a clear view as to the guys that need to be out on the field more and what our direction is going to be,” he said. “We still need the depth. We still need the guys we have. 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.
“We really do have to start to feature some guys that might not have all that experience but have a higher ceiling.”
Finke has caught three passes for 36 yards this season, Claypool has one 16-yard reception and Young only a four-yarder.
A similar decision at tight end
Notre Dame has a similar quandary at tight end. A number of possible talents compete for limited playing time, and with Mack seeming to struggle to date, should one of the younger threats get a bigger chance?
“They’ve all graded out very well in terms of blocking and catching the football,” Kelly said. “We want to be a little more consistent, certainly with a couple drops here and there.”
“You’re going to continue to see at least three and then a specialist with Brock [as a fullback],” Kelly said. “Cole is the kind of guy who has great athletic ability but we don’t want to duplicate that because then we’re pulling away from someone that has similar traits.”
A possible kickoff change
Before the season, Notre Dame expected freshman Jonathan Doerer to handle kickoff duties, allowing junior Justin Yoon to focus on placekicking. Just before the season opener, Kelly announced Yoon would handle both for the immediate future to allow Doerer to regain some freshness, having hit something of a freshman wall. That immediate future may be coming to a close soon.
“I’m going to sit down with [special teams coordinator Brian Polian] when we get into Boston and we’ll make that decision,” Kelly said. “Here’s what I can tell you, [Doerer] had a really good week.”