A dozen of last month’s signees begin classes this week at Notre Dame, a sizable early-enrollee class that is increasingly becoming an Irish norm. They will enjoy the obvious advantages of getting a semester ahead on classes, working in a collegiate strength and conditioning program for an extra six months before their first action and learning the playbook this spring.
But still, only a few will have genuine chances at significant playing time in 2022. (There are only 236 days until Notre Dame begins the season at Ohio State.) For example, offensive lineman Billy Schrauth may have been the No. 125 overall prospect in the class of 2022, per rivals.com, but he is not about to leapfrog sixth-year lineman Josh Lugg or rising senior guard Andrew Kristofic for playing time.
Schrauth is one of three offensive linemen who have early enrolled, and the same should be said for Joey Tanonana and Aamil Wagner, as well. The returns of both Lugg and center Jarrett Patterson, along with the enthusiasm around current freshman tackles Joe Alt and Blake Fisher, leave little room for any other offensive linemen to surprise in 2022.
At linebacker, however, the quartet of early-enrolled four-stars could find playing time as soon as in Columbus.
The 12 early enrollees, listed in order of most likely to gain 2022 playing time to least likely:
LINEBACKER Jaylen Sneed
Senior Bo Bauer announced Monday night he will return in 2022. Even with Bauer, the Irish remain thin at linebacker, particularly inside linebacker, which would likely lead to current junior JD Bertrand moving to middle linebacker in a rotation with Bauer, after Bertrand led Notre Dame with 101 tackles this season from Will linebacker, despite fatigue and injuries catching up to him as the season wore on while the Irish had no one to supplement him.
To spare both Bertrand and Bauer that fate, they could work together at middle linebacker, leaving only Marist Liufau at Will. Sneed (pictured at top) could conceivably replace Liufau in packages in a like-for-like manner, giving Notre Dame some depth there.
LINEBACKERS Josh Burnham & Niuafe Tuihalamaka
Even in that alignment, Notre Dame will need more bodies on the inside. Both Burnham and Tuihalamaka have college-ready physiques, presuming they can hold up through preseason practices, often a concern for freshmen. At the absolute least, they should be expected to prove themselves on special teams while working with the varsity defense, getting ready for the latter half of the season when players begin wearing down.
LINEBACKER Nolan Ziegler
Moving from safety to linebacker should not require too much of an adjustment from Ziegler, but it may be enough to knock him to fourth among this quartet in demanding early playing time. But again, expect immediate special teams impact from him.
RUNNING BACK Jadarian Price
With the yet expected departure of C’Bo Flemister, the Irish will be down to three running backs returning in current sophomore Chris Tyree and current freshmen Logan Diggs and Audric Estime. If guaranteed health, that may be enough to get through a season, but that would also overlook Notre Dame’s need at receiver. The dearth of bodies on the outside may lead to Tyree working from the slot in some packages, essentially guaranteeing the Irish will need four running backs to get through the season.
The Next Chapter☘️ pic.twitter.com/MquXWQj0Zh
— Tyson Ford (@T2Cold7) January 10, 2022
DEFENSIVE ENDS Tyson Ford & Aiden Gobaira
Ford is more likely than Gobaira to crack the Notre Dame defensive line rotation early on, but regardless, Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston has made it a staple to not only have depth along the defensive front but to use it liberally. Notre Dame often subs out the entire line by possession, leading to even the third-stringers seeing competitive snaps on Saturdays.
The Irish return a three-deep at both end spots thanks to both Isaiah Foskey and Justin Ademilola opting to return in 2022, but perhaps Ford moves ahead of current freshman Will Schweitzer and/or sophomore Alexander Ehrensberger thanks to the added time this spring.
CORNERBACK Jaden Mickey
Notre Dame’s cornerback depth remains a fickle query, but for Mickey to crack the rotation, he would need to jump past four current freshmen, all of whom have the advantage of more time around cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens. Mickey may surprise, but it is unlikely.
QUARTERBACK Steve Angeli
Angeli will be one injury away from being one play away from being the Irish quarterback. It is that simple. If Tyler Buchner or Drew Pyne get injured, then Angeli will suddenly be QB2, a la Brandon Wimbush in 2015 after Malik Zaire broke his ankle.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN BILLY SCHRAUTH, JOEY TANONANA & AAMIL WAGNER
After the aforementioned starting five offensive linemen, these three would still need to move past current junior Zeke Correll and current sophomores Michael Carmody and Tosh Baker, all of whom have starting experience. Add in current freshman Rocco Spindler’s high expectations at guard, and Notre Dame already has the bulk of a second-unit offensive line.
Such is to be expected of offensive linemen, though. The Irish have long brought in top recruits and let them percolate for a few seasons before they took over. It is a tried and proven recipe for success in South Bend.