If junior tight end Cole Kmet sticks to his plan, he will return to Notre Dame in 2020. The same goes for senior left tackle Liam Eichenberg.
These things can change; they have before, most notably in the cases of Stephon Tuitt and Will Fuller. Nonetheless, Kmet and Eichenberg stating those intentions Tuesday is a step toward the Irish returning the majority of its offense next season.
Kmet, in particular, could have reason to jump to the NFL this winter. Despite missing two games with a broken collarbone, he has caught 29 passes for 327 yards and five touchdowns. His size and athleticism, not to mention sure hands, would make him an intriguing pick in the draft’s middle rounds.
Part of Kmet’s reasoning for returning, and the logic behind always thinking this would be the case but never with much conviction, is his spring plans to return to the pitching mound.
Eichenberg leaving a year of eligibility unused would have been more of a surprise, but a left tackle with his size could always have garnered NFL attention. As a whole, the Irish offensive line has provided stellar pass protection this season, and that obviously leans heavily on the left tackle.
The whole offensive line will return in 2020, including the currently-injured right side of senior guard Tommy Kraemer and junior tackle Robert Hainsey. Combine those five with Kmet and it is already clear a majority of Notre Dame’s offense will return.
The only starting pieces assured to depart are receivers Chase Claypool and Chris Finke, undeniably notable losses. All the other members of the Irish receiving corps have eligibility remaining, with only senior Javon McKinley a question of receiving an offer of a fifth year.
Senior quarterback Ian Book will presumably be back; there is absolutely no indication otherwise. Senior running back Tony Jones — with eight starts this season, the official starter for these discussions — may need to consider heading to the NFL despite his low ceiling. Running backs have only so many reps to offer, and spending more of them in college next season will not enhance his professional potential. If he returns, though, Jones will have a key role in the offense alongside junior Jafar Armstrong, if both can finally stay healthy.
These are all pieces of an offense plagued by starts and stops this year, but returning a star tight end and a reliable left tackle is undeniably a good place to start building toward more consistent performances.
Defensively, senior safety Alohi Gilman could return for one more season, but that would come as a surprise considering the purpose of his transfer from Navy was to better his professional chances.
Fifth-year cornerback Shaun Crawford should have solid grounds for an appeal for a sixth season of eligibility due to his injury history. It remains to be seen if he will opt for that route. Crawford was steadfastly against it before dislocating his elbow earlier this season, something that may have both softened his stance and reinforced the logic to heading to the NFL.