Leftovers & Links: Notre Dame has already answered its most pressing preseason questions, after just one week

Jack Coan Notre Dame
Notre Dame Athletics

Entering preseason practices, four questions loomed largest for No. 9 Notre Dame, and in the interests of best preparing for the season opener on Labor Day Eve, the Irish needed to find answers sooner than later.

They’ve gone 4-for-4.

— Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan was always the clear starting quarterback, but making that official after only one week of practices will allow Coan to step into that leadership role with no hesitation whatsoever.

“Jack put his head down and worked,” offensive coordinator Tommy Rees said Saturday. “ The most successful transfers we’ve had in this program have come in, worked first and then started to figure out what their role was going to be. Jack earned the respect and trust of his teammates the moment he stepped foot here with the way they saw how he worked.

“Then, like I said, there was just a consistency in the way he approaches the day in and day out. We’re very fortunate he’s here.”

That fortune goes both ways, with Coan describing becoming Notre Dame’s starting quarterback as not only “a dream come true,” but also something he couldn’t have fathomed after going to Madison. That makes sense. No one goes to a program the caliber of the Badgers with the intention of moving further up in college football; the intention is to go to the next level.

— The Irish will say they do not yet have a set starting offensive line, but with senior Jarrett Patterson entrenched at center, the rest has become increasingly clear.

“He’s one of the best centers in the country, if not the best center,” Coan said. “So I know my front is definitely going to be protected.”

At this point, barring injury, it would be an outright shock if Notre Dame’s offensive front did not line up with early-enrolled freshman Blake Fisher at left tackle, junior Zeke Correll at left guard, Patterson at center, Marshall transfer Cain Madden at right guard and fifth-year Josh Lugg at right tackle.

That grouping may struggle at Florida State, just because it has never worked together. Three-fifths of it was not part of the active roster as recently as January. Patterson is coming off a broken foot while Lugg spent the offseason reworking his core to alleviate back issues. There are questions to this offensive line, but simply knowing what it is answers the underlying query.

— With 95 percent of the team vaccinated, the Irish should be able to avoid any pandemic protocol problems within its roster. Due time may reveal who the 5 percent with exemptions are, but hopefully, that simply comes from seeing masks within in-house videos and not via positive tests notated as not breakthrough cases.

— The last of the four biggest pre-preseason questions has come with the most tragic answer. This space wondered who from Notre Dame’s roster would inevitably be unavailable this fall. To date, it seems everyone is cleared, including sophomore defensive end Jordan Botelho despite a mix-up in messaging even after Irish head coach Brian Kelly seemingly cleared Botelho from message-board speculation.

Yet Notre Dame had to do without fifth-year defensive end Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa this weekend while he returned to Hawaii after the unexpected and sudden death of his father, Tuli.

Tagovailoa-Amosa returned to practice Tuesday, but there should be no pressure heaped on him to return to focused form immediately.

Tagovailoa-Amosa is respected by his teammates enough that he was voted one of seven captains. He has reshaped his body this offseason to move to end from defensive tackle, and his spring elicited rave reviews about the move. He wasted no time in getting back to that position after this weekend, taking a red-eye flight back to South Bend to be at practice early Monday.

“He’s been in almost very meeting when he was back home on Zoom,” Irish defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman said Tuesday. “The relationship Myron has with this defense, this team but more importantly that [defensive line], it’s family. … He flew all night, red-eye, next thing you know he’s on the field practicing.

“I think there was one, a comfort level for him, but also just passion, the drive he has to be back with his brothers.”

Tagovailoa-Amosa’s joy when returning a fumble nearly to the end zone against Virginia a few years ago reminded anyone watching of children’s joy when playing football.

He is someone to root for, even if the press box is not supposed to root for anyone.

The Irish will undoubtedly rally around their Hawaiian captain, but that can do only so much for pain no college student wants to know.

SPEAKING OF PLAYERS THE TEAM WILL RALLY AROUND …
This space will reserve exuberance around the breakthroughs of Notre Dame’s veteran receivers until it is seen on a Saturday (or, in Tallahassee, on a Sunday), perhaps even until it is seen twice. But the supposed progress of senior receiver Kevin Austin this preseason has the Irish quite encouraged.

“The joy we have for Kevin right now from coach Kelly all the way down to the players is endless,” Rees said. “There’s a guy who’s gone through a lot in his career here, has found a way to persevere, and now is able to put himself in a position to have a great year.

“He’s worked hard to get back. He’s worked hard to be in the position he’s at. My joy to see Kevin out there doing what he loves has been nothing short of special for us.”

THE CRASH DAVIS AWARD FOR CLICHES USAGE
Jack Coan is entering his fifth season of college football, at a school that first sought him as a lacrosse player close to a decade ago. It is fitting he would channel his inner Crash Davis and spew a pile of cliches when asked to characterize this version of Notre Dame football.

“I’m not really sure,” Coan said. “This team is very hungry. Guys with a chip on their shoulder and lots to prove. We’re going to work as hard as we can every single day, and I just take it one day at a time.”

That is someone who does not have fungus on his shower shoes.

INSIDE THE IRISH
ND won’t name a starting quarterback … yet, though ‘really, really close’ to that decision
Notre Dame names Jack Coan its starting QB for 2021 opener in three weeks at Florida State

Counting Down the Irish: Others Receiving Votes, beginning with Notre Dame’s safeties and an unexpected lineman
CDTI: 25 to 21, featuring four Notre Dame defenders, including one who probably should be ranked higher
CDTI: 20 to 16, a linebacker glut and an indication Notre Dame’s offense could explode in 2021
CDTI: 15 to 11, including two Notre Dame offensive linemen and a speedy enigma
CDTI: Beginning Notre Dame’s top 10 with a few players who usually would be top 5
CDTI: Notre Dame’s top 5, featuring at least four possible All-Americans
Reacting to the CDTI rankings, what Notre Dame players were underrated? Overrated?

OUTSIDE READING
18 Stripes’ ‘Counting Down the Irish’ ballot
2023 Four-star DB Adon Shuler commits to Notre Dame
Inside Kyle Hamilton Inc., the Notre Dame star’s unofficial family startup
Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton’s ‘annoying’ talents extend beyond the football field
1A or 1B? Marcus Freeman’s linebackers ‘rolling in’ for roles
How Marcus Freeman is challenging Drew White, Notre Dame’s steady hand
Jack Coan wins Notre Dame starting quarterback job with hard work and consistency
Jarrett Patterson’s return to center fuels Notre Dame O-line’s evolution
Spam musubi in South Bend? How Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Notre Dame’s Hawaiian players stay close to home
Notre Dame football’s Shamrock Series uniforms through the years
The Athletic’s preseason All-American team
Sports Illustrated’s preseason top 25
As college football and weddings return in full force, an age-old fall Saturday conflict takes on a new tone
Bronze medal-winning marathoner recalls prayer that got her through end of race
Hall of Fame coach Roger Harring passes away

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