Irish head coach Brian Kelly did not reveal much about Notre Dame’s depth chart in previewing preseason practice, but that makes sense given the general nature of the last few months.
“We go eight weeks in the summer without a depth chart,” to use Kelly’s words.
The one piece of that depth chart that remains unquestioned is senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush will be the starter.
“I don’t want to go into the [season opener against Michigan on Sept. 1] having to play more than one quarterback,” Kelly said Thursday. “Clearly, Brandon comes into preseason camp as the No. 1, [junior Ian Book] is No. 2 and [freshman Phil Jurkovec] is No. 3. We hope we have great competition, and we will.”
Kelly could not have offered Wimbush much greater praise than describing his summer as earning an “A+,” and that kind of progress bodes well for Notre Dame’s offense. If Wimbush is the starter — and he is — then his success should lead to scoring success.
“When he’s confident, there’s nobody that is going to stop this offense, because everybody believes in Brandon Wimbush,” Kelly said. “… We’ve seen what happens when Brandon is a confident player.
“… I feel really good about the situation we are in at quarterback, to have two guys who we know can play winning football for us.”
While working to further Wimbush’s consistency, Kelly and quarterbacks coach Tom Rees will also need to tend to keeping Book at the ready and developing Jurkovec. That latter factor stands out as even more of necessity thanks to the NCAA now allowing players to partake in up to four games without losing a season of eligibility.
“I think we can do all three,” Kelly said referring to the quarterbacks. “… I want [Jurkovec] to learn. We’re not going to rush him into anything. …
“There are going to be more opportunities for Phil to get in and compete with all eyes on him.”
That applies to all the freshmen, again (and obviously) thanks to the NCAA.
“You have to put them in football situations, and that’s what we’ll do,” Kelly said. “That’s why I’m eager to get the freshmen much more of an opportunity to compete in preseason camp. … I’m going into camp with the mindset of playing those that are physically and mentally prepared to help our team win.”
On six running backs and distribution of carries
First, some roster notes. Kelly was directly asked if he expected senior running back Dexter Williams to play against the Wolverines. His answer may have come across as in the vein of an affirmative, but it was closer to a non-answer than anything else.
“He’s going to be on our roster,” Kelly said. “We’ll see who ends up playing against Michigan.”
Kelly did praise Williams’ summer, pointing to a double-digit weight gain.
“His volume is up in terms of what he can sustain, cardiovascular at a high level,” Kelly said. “[Williams] struggled with that at times last year. He’s physically fit and in great shape, and he’s going to help our football team next year.”
If Williams is sidelined for any period, sophomores Jafar Armstrong and Avery Davis are both committed to the backfield, rather than their previous positions of receiver and quarterback.
“The lion’s share of [Davis’] work will be at [running back] so we can develop,” Kelly said. “… He won’t be getting much quarterback play. He’ll be focusing on what we need from him next year.”
With those two and Williams, along with junior Tony Jones and freshmen Jahmir Smith and C’Bo Flemister, Irish running backs coach Autry Denson will need to be sure all six get a preseason chance to prove themselves.
“Running backs get close to 400 different opportunities to touch the football,” Kelly said. “We should be able to make sure that all players, as they continue to develop, we can get a glimpse of what they’re capable of. … There are so many opportunities for us to get them the work necessary to get a really good evaluation.”