Notre Dame will return from spring break today and get back to practice tomorrow, presumably breaking out pads for the first time this spring. Obviously, Irish nightmares of spring practice focus on injuries. Aside from those, though, …
Continuing quarterback confusion throughout the spring would not please anybody, especially if the issue becomes even cloudier than it already is. Of course, there is a not-so-bad version of this: Both rising senior Brandon Wimbush and rising junior Ian Book perform well, making Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long’s decision heading into the fall a difficult one because he actually has multiple worthwhile options.
Then, there is the worst-case scenario: Both Wimbush and Book flail away this spring, culminating with them turning over the ball multiple times apiece in the Blue-Gold Game on April 21. Such disappointments could lead to incoming freshman Phil Jurkovec arriving this summer an immediate and genuine piece of the starting quarterback competition. That would speak worse of Wimbush’s and Book’s next month than it would inherently speak well of Jurkovec’s 2018 potential.
No receivers emerge, either.
After the Irish receivers appeared to be a strength last spring, the season brought only inconsistency and little production. If that trend continues this spring, it may not matter who is throwing the ball in the fall.
This might not keep Long or Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly up at night, though, with three more incoming freshmen arriving this summer to shore up the receiving corps, a bandage not available to fix if …
No fourth linebacker provides peace of mind.
With both early-enrolled freshmen Jack Lamb and Bo Bauer already practicing, an absence of a strong backup linebacker would have no likely solution this fall. If those two were not around, and both rising junior Jonathan Jones and rising senior Asmar Bilal — not to mention rising sophomores David White and Drew Adams — failed to impress this spring, then the hope could be Lamb or Bauer would arrive in the summer and be an immediate fix.
With them on-campus, a lack of a worthwhile linebacker exiting this spring would foreshadow a lack of rest and injury relief for fifth-year Drue Tranquill and rising senior Te’von Coney.
Lastly, and with the broadest view, 89 stays 89.
When the spring ends, the conversation will return to how the Irish roster will get down to the NCAA maximum-allowed 85 scholarships, four fewer than currently anticipated this fall. This would be extremely unlikely, although within a discussion of a worst-case scenario, but if summer begins and no outgoing transfers surface, then that scholarship crunch could quickly create unnecessary drama and suspense.
Right now, four spots of attrition is entirely reasonable and even usual. If that is still the number to be lost in late May, those adjectives may shift to avoidable and stressful.
— Last week’s “Leftovers” asked who should be Notre Dame’s fourth captain, a position to be filled by player vote at the end of spring practice. The results tilted heavily toward the defense.
Coney: 37.27 percent
Rising junior cornerback Julian Love: 24.62 percent
Rising senior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery: 15.34 percent
From there, Wimbush, fifth-year right guard Alex Bars and fifth-year tight end Nic Weishar all fell between 5 and 9 percent.
— With spring break over, a quick piece of scheduling housekeeping: Notre Dame will fit in 12 more practices before the spring sessions conclude with the Blue-Gold Game. That will entail practices on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with a brief break for Easter.
— The biggest free agent of the NFL offseason signed with the Minnesota Vikings over the weekend. Kirk Cousins may elicit poor memories for Irish fans, being the former Michigan State quarterback who authored much of the Spartans’ 34-31 victory in 2010, a game more commonly referred to simply as “Little Giants.”
But Cousins’ payday should bode well for someone else from that game. Tight end Kyle Rudolph reached the Pro Bowl this past season thanks to 57 catches for 532 yards and eight touchdowns. With Cousins throwing passes, Washington’s tight ends have put up stat lines dwarfing that the last few seasons. In looking at those stats, the last two years need to include two tight ends, since Jordan Reed has yet to stay healthy through an entire season.
2017: Reed and Vernon Davis combined for 70 catches for 859 yards and five touchdowns.
2016: Reed and Davis combined for 130 catches for 1,219 yards and eight touchdowns.
2015: Reed’s breakout campaign consisted of 87 catches for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns in only 14 games.
Rudolph could, even should, enjoy a career year catching passes from his former nemesis next season.
— Only one program can claim both a Sweet Sixteen entrant in the men’s basketball tournament and a top-25 football team. Who is it? (Answer at the bottom.)
INSIDE THE IRISH READING:
— Who should Notre Dame’s fourth captain be? And DeShone Kizer heads to the Green Bay Packers
— Things To Learn: Notre Dame’s spring questions focus on four non-QB positions
— A best-case scenario for Notre Dame’s spring
ANSWER TO THE ABOVE TRIVIA: Clemson, though even if the Tigers had lost Sunday, one program would still have been able to make that claim, considering Clemson beat another Tiger in Auburn.
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