If Brandon Wimbush excelled in Notre Dame’s 12th spring practice Saturday — and all reports indicate he did — then it was an anomaly only in that Irish head coach Brian Kelly has not seen such a complete two-hour performance from the rising-senior in the previous 11 sessions. Wimbush’s progress throughout this spring, though, made such a Saturday possible.
“He’s building his consistency,” Kelly said. “His footwork has now put him in a position where now he can accurately put the ball where it needs to be and be so much more consistent with his progression reads.”
Kelly highlighted the seam route as one now within Wimbush’s arsenal whereas it was only nominally considered in 2017. Hitting a seam route — in which a tight end or receiver skirts the linebacker’s or cornerback’s coverage while theoretically remaining just out of reach of the safety; more a situational route than a rehearsed one — requires the quarterback to recognize the exact coverage and then have the touch to put the pass where only the target can reach it. As a first-year starter, Wimbush struggled with both the mental and the physical aspects of that, only finding mild success with it when looking for 6-foot-5 tight end Durham Smythe on an adjusted seam route.
“[Wimbush’s increased] ability to do that is a product of he’s really been much more consistent with his footwork,” Kelly said. “His delivery and throwing motion has allowed him to throw a lot more on the black and throw strikes.”
Consider this another step toward the inevitability of Wimbush starting for Notre Dame against Michigan on Sept. 1 (139 days away, for those counting), despite the seemingly-open competition between Wimbush and rising-junior quarterback Ian Book this spring.
After a disappointing and error-filled November, the question with Wimbush was never his athletic ability, but rather if he would piece the physical aspects together with the mental necessities, a question applicable to the vast majority of first-year starting quarterbacks.
The question was also never if Kelly would praise Wimbush this spring. April practices yield nearly only positive reviews, but when those trend toward specific pass routes, that suggests a genuine nature to the applause.
— Kelly has previously said his hopes for the offensive line this spring was to figure out who could play where, not necessarily what the exact formation would be. Notre Dame seems to have settled on five linemen in fifth-years Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars, rising-juniors Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg, and rising-sophomore Robert Hainsey.
Three of their positions may even be settled by now with Mustipher at center, Eichenberg at left tackle and Hainsey at right tackle, where as a freshman he split time with Kraemer. This differs from the first half of spring practice when Hainsey typically worked at left tackle.
“He’s just a good back-side setter,” Kelly said of Hainsey. “He can do the job we’re looking for at the right tackle.”
As Eichenberg develops the confidence and consistency at left tackle, Kelly and offensive line coach Chip Long have to debate at which guard spots to station Bars and Kraemer. Bars spent the 2017 season at right guard after starting at right tackle in 2016. He moved to left guard Saturday to aid Eichenberg.
“What we really like about Liam is his strength, his size, his physicality,” Kelly said. “He’s learning, so why not move a veteran next to him where he can communicate with him, help him pass off twists, give him cues prior to the snap and settle him in a confident and really consistent basis?
“I like [Eichenberg’s] size, his reach. He can stand up to the different pass rushes we’re going to get out there, the bull rush. He’s long enough to help off the edge.”
This will likely not be the last offensive line configuration seen before the Wolverines’ arrival, although it could be the one deployed that Saturday.
It should also be noted, in moving Bars to aid Eichenberg, Kelly is indirectly praising Hainsey’s aptitude, which has been apparent since he forced his way into the rotation as a freshman at Eichenberg’s expense.
— Continuing with last week’s praise of early-enrolled freshman Houston Griffith, Kelly left no wiggle room about Griffith’s chances of seeing the field in 2018.
“He’s got great instincts, knows the game. He’s going to be a really good player here,” Kelly said. “… He’s going to play for us in the fall. How that ends up, whether he’s a starter or a backup, [we’ll see]. He will play football for Notre Dame this fall. No doubt.”
— Former Irish defensive end Jay Hayes announced he will transfer to Oklahoma for his final season of eligibility.
Former Notre Dame assistant coach Kerry Cooks still serves as the Sooners assistant defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. Per both rivals.com and 247sports.com, Cooks was not a vital piece of Hayes’ initial recruitment to the Irish, but undoubtedly having a known point of contact on the field helped Hayes head south this time around.
Furthermore, Hayes’ lead recruiter from Notre Dame, then-defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, has joined the Oklahoma staff this offseason as a defensive analyst, furthering the logical connections.
— The NCAA announced another kickoff rule change. Now any kickoffs fair caught within the 25-yard line will be spotted at the 25-yard line. Kelly does not expect the rule change to effect games very often, considering most Division I kickers can already send the ball out the back of the end zone if they want to minimize a return threat. In that respect, this rule may help to prevent more injuries at the Division II or III level.
Notre Dame will need to have a conversation with its kick returners, whoever ends up winning that role, about where to fair catch from and where to return from, similar to punt returns.
— There is often a debate/discussion about scheduling weddings in the fall. In most of the world, it is a non-issue, but obviously anyone finding this space on a Monday in April understands the inherent conflict.
In that vein, consider this a nod of acknowledgement to the friends who recognize the under-discussed corollary of also not scheduling bachelor parties in the fall. Slotting one for the mid-Atlantic in mid-April may have led to some time in a very cold river and a quiet weekend in this space, but the 14-inning whiffle ball game would have been even more out of place in November.
If anyone is wondering, this scribe went 6-for-9 with four RBIs and three runs while making only two errors at second base in a 20-19 victory.
INSIDE THE IRISH READING:
— Notre Dame turns to two juniors with Hayes’ transfer; new indoor field announced
— Crawford’s health and Pride’s progress strengthen Notre Dame’s cornerbacks beyond Love
— An unlikely, and young, candidate enters the Notre Dame safety fray
— Notre Dame to construct new indoor facility
— Alteration to football kickoff rule approved
— After years of mom carrying the load, Boston College’s AJ Dillion is eager to reciprocate ($)
Due to the aforementioned weekend out of pocket, this last link is an unread reference, but given the topic matter concerns Dillion, it may be wise to educate oneself on 2017’s breakout rusher, 2018’s dark-horse Heisman contender and 2019’s most-obvious storyline of an Irish opponent arriving at Notre Dame Stadium.