Before the college football season has even ended, Notre Dame’s next wave of players has begun arriving. With the spring semester beginning tomorrow in South Bend, eight early-enrolling freshmen are now on campus, as are both graduate transfers.
At a school where early enrollees were unheard of two decades ago and more than a handful of them at a time remained unprecedented 10 years ago, eight arriving in January is now commonplace. While both graduate transfers are obviously expected to contribute in 2020, only a couple of these freshmen will, even with this head start.
Isaiah Pryor, Ohio State graduate transfer safety: Pryor should be a starter in Dublin. Such is the pedigree of someone who started seven games for the Buckeyes in 2018, and such is the sudden dearth of backline experience for the Irish. Pryor may not need these six months to adjust to the physicality of college football, but establishing confidence in Clark Lea’s defensive system should, in turn, further Lea’s confidence in Pryor.
Ben Skowronek, Northwestern graduate transfer receiver: Skowronek will be in Notre Dame’s two-deep come fall, though his starting status may hinge as much on current sophomore Kevin Austin as anything else. In that respect, Skowronek’s experience will be a welcome addition to the Irish receivers room, even long before the games begin. He will bring some level of veteran’s know-how and maturity that is otherwise lacking at the position. Sometimes that can be just as valuable a springtime offering as impressing on the practice field.
Quarterback Drew Pyne: Pyne should not be needed in 2020, but he will be one play away from being one play away, thanks to Phil Jurkovec’s transfer. Thus, Pyne will need to understand Notre Dame’s playbook well enough to handle at least 40 or 50 percent of it with one week’s notice. Thus, his early enrollment was quietly needed.
Receivers Jay Brunelle and Xavier Watts: Behind Skowronek and Austin, and current sophomores Braden Lenzy and Lawrence Keys, with one more sophomore, Joe Wilkins, very much in the mix, the Irish should not need to rely on either Brunelle or Watts in 2020. Watts may not stay at receiver, and Brunelle separated his shoulder late in the fall, so some time figuring things out and recovering may be the best use of the spring.
Defensive end Jordan Botelho: Putting a bit of weight onto his 6-foot-2 frame, currently at 230 pounds, could set up Botelho for a late-season cameo a la Isaiah Foskey in 2019. Notre Dame is still well-stocked enough at defensive end that it does not need to put too much pressure on a freshman, but 10 months of work to star for a few moments in November is a thought that should very much be on Botelho’s mind.
Defensive end Alexander Ehrensberger: On the other end of the spectrum from Botelho, the German will need more than a year of development to contribute. Starting that early is a solid step, but Ehrensberger will remain far from the field this fall.
Defensive tackle Rylie Mills: Mills may see action in four games in 2020 simply to provide depth, but not much more than that should be needed now that the Irish are three-deep at both interior positions.
Cornerbacks Ramon Henderson and Caleb Offord: Henderson is the more physically ready of the two, both longer and faster than Offord, but given Notre Dame’s concerns at cornerback, both should get thorough looks this spring and summer as possible contributors. With Shaun Crawford returning for a sixth year, and current sophomore TaRiq Bracy generally impressing this season, the Irish likely have their starters, but that leaves questions both about their backups and about nickel duties. Offord may not seem ready for a heavy workload yet, but 20 snaps at nickel per week could be within his reach; if he proves up to the task from a fundamentals standpoint in the next eight months, then it may be a worthwhile risk for Lea.
CLEMSON BY 4
Just wanted that on the record somewhere. And if it proves true, expect this space to type “two-time defending national champions” so often this summer it becomes a copy-paste mechanism in preparation for Notre Dame’s toughest 2020 opponent.
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) January 10, 2020
INSIDE THE IRISH READING
— The personnel cycle hits Notre Dame’s opponents just like it did the Irish
— Phil Jurkovec into the transfer portal
— Phil Jurkovec’s transfer a 2020 reality, not a surprise
— Where Notre Dame was, is & will be: Quarterbacks
— CB Shaun Crawford returns to Notre Dame for a sixth season
— Phil Jurkovec commits to transfer to Boston College
— Updated top-100 NFL draft board ($)
— Gauging the futures market for Joe Brady, college football’s hottest assistant
— Betting public overwhelmingly siding with LSU
A rare bit of good news recently for Stanford. https://t.co/OrdVTM5hx9
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) January 10, 2020