Notre Dame’s options at cornerback lend substance to healthy spring

Notre Dame spring
Notre Dame Athletics
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With only one week remaining in spring practices, Brian Kelly increasingly thinks Notre Dame has found a few cornerbacks to lean on as back-end support for defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman’s aggressive scheme, but that could have waited until August if need be. Truthfully, there is only one must to any year’s 15 spring practices, and through 12 of them, the Irish have largely achieved that must.

They have remained healthy. (Knock on wood.)

Rising junior safety Kyle Hamilton (ankle), senior receiver Kevin Austin (foot) and senior linebacker Paul Moala (Achilles) have all started running, and fifth-year linebacker Drew White has returned to practice after suffering a high-ankle sprain earlier this spring. White may or may not play in next week’s Blue-Gold Game (on Peacock at 12:30 ET), and senior offensive lineman Jarrett Patterson (foot), junior defensive tackle Jacob Lacey (shoulder) and junior quarterback Brendon Clark (knee) both remain sidelined, but otherwise, Notre Dame has added only two injuries to its concerns.

Early-enrolled freshman defensive end Will Schweitzer suffered something akin to a patella injury, per Kelly, undergoing surgery on Friday, and early-enrolled freshman defensive tackle Gabriel Rubio hyper-extended his elbow. Neither should be a long-term concern. Now to get through three more practices with such fortune.

ON CORNERBACKS
Kelly has previously praised junior receiver-turned-cornerback Cam Hart this spring and specifically noted his length. This weekend Kelly added junior Ramon Henderson to his list of cornerbacks impressing this last month.

“Both these guys have elite traits, long, athletic,” Kelly said of the pair that are listed at 6-foot-2 ½ and 6-foot-1, respectively. “The ability to play the ball, both of them were wide receivers. Both have excellent speed. We’re starting to see that growth from Ramon, as well. When you line them up, those two look as good as anybody in the country.”

That may be hyperbole, but when combining that pair as boundary possibilities with sophomore Clarence Lewis and senior Tariq Bracy, Notre Dame may have a set of cornerbacks to allow it flexibility in nickel and dime packages. Replacing Nick McCloud was never going to be an easy task, one compounded by the 2020 reliance on Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah as a slot defender more than any defensive back.

ON Ian Book & THE NFL DRAFT
Kelly has had enough conversations with NFL front offices to encourage him on Ian Book’s draft hopes. The draft begins Thursday and runs through Saturday, with Owusu-Koramoah a certain first-round pick on Thursday night.

“I’ve talked to [general managers] and head coaches about Ian, which generally means that he’s in serious consideration for being that guy (that) is drafted to be the No. 2 to step in if their No. 1 goes down,” Kelly said. “My expectation would be that based upon the conversations I’ve had with GMs and head coaches, that there’s a very good chance he gets drafted and becomes a No. 2 somewhere.”

REMEMBERING LOU SOMOGYI
Just as offensive coordinator Tommy Rees touchingly did Thursday, Kelly began his Zoom session remembering Lou Somogyi, who died a week ago from an apparent heart attack, an elder statesman of the Notre Dame football beat, having covered the Irish for nearly 40 years.

“We lost an icon,” Kelly said. And little more needed to be added. “… This press conference is certainly different without the questions and discourse. We miss you, Lou.”