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Medical issues force out LB David Adams, bringing Notre Dame to 85 scholarships

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Thus ends any concerns about Notre Dame exceeding the 85 scholarships allowed by the NCAA in 2018. The Irish dropped to the mark not with the bang of a dismissal or an unexpected transfer, but with the whimper of the medical exemption of sophomore reserve linebacker David Adams, announced by Adams via Twitter late Tuesday evening.

“It absolutely kills me to walk away from football, my true love,” Adams posted. “However, these are circumstances that I cannot control. I’ve prided myself on my work ethic and have spent countless hours perfecting my craft to be the best player I could and can be.

“I need very specific and deliberate rehab and training to get my body back to where it once was and beyond. Coach [Brian] Kelly and Notre Dame have been very supportive throughout all of this.”

Adams detailed a lengthy list of injuries, including concussions, a surgery on each shoulder, knee surgery, torn ligaments and continued chronic ailments. He will remain on scholarship at the University and be a part of the football program in some capacity but will not count toward the roster’s limit.

“My return to football is currently unknown.”

Considering Adams played his entire senior season of high school football with a torn UCL in his elbow suffered in the season opener, it is safe to assume these injuries became too much to overcome on any tangible timeline. Otherwise, he would have. Adams put off the surgery to repair that elbow until after the Under Armour All-American game, not wanting to diminish that experience in any way.

“I only missed 1 game (in high school) due to have [sic] a very bad case of the Flu,” Adams wrote. “I prided myself on always being ready for every practice and game. On Friday nights when the lights came on, I was always ready to go.

“I only know one way to play the game and that is as violent and fast as humanly possible.”

Adams did not see any action last season, partly a result of that injury and partly a result of the Irish having a trio of experienced linebackers eating up the vast majority of snaps. In that vein, a look at what Adams’ 99-to-2 entry would have looked like, set to be published Thursday …

No. 35 DAVID ADAMS

Listed Measurements: 6-foot-¾, 222 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Sophomore with four seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018.
Depth chart: Adams would have been competing for third-string practice snaps with classmate Drew White and freshmen Bo Bauer and Jack Lamb at either interior linebacker position.
Recruiting: A rivals.com three-star recruit, Adams chose Notre Dame over offers from Florida, LSU, Michigan and Michigan State, among others. The Under Armour All-American was rated the No. 18 linebacker in the country and the No. 8 prospect in Pennsylvania by rivals.com.

CAREER TO DATE
Adams saw no action his freshman season, preserving a year of eligibility.

SPRING
Adams was not discussed in spring practice, but a variety of injuries keeping him sidelined would explain that.

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Adams should not expect to see much playing time on defense this season. More of a run-stopping linebacker than one ready to drop into coverage, he fits more into the role currently filled by [Nyles] Morgan than anywhere else. Backing up Morgan is not a position that will lead to much, if any, playing time.

“… Adams will have a prime chance to start as a sophomore. His instincts indicate he will fit the Morgan role. The only question will be if he fits better than [current-junior Jonathan] Jones or White. Even if one of those two earns the starting nod, Adams will be a primary backup.”

2018 OUTLOOK
To some degree, it is hard to project if a healthy Adams had a chance at much playing time this season or if the consistency of Jones and the position change of Jordan Genmark-Heath knocked him too far down the depth chart no matter what. It can be presumed the latter’s move from safety occurred not only to better serve his skillset, but also to patch a gap in the two-deep. Again, though, that hole may have existed, at least in part, due to Adams’ injuries.

Either way, fifth-year Buck linebacker Drue Tranquill ended any possibilities of Adams starting this season when Tranquill moved inside from rover during the offseason.

DOWN THE ROAD
Both Tranquill and senior Mike linebacker Te’von Coney will be out of eligibility after this season, meaning Adams would have had a ripe chance to push for a starting gig next season. Along with White, Jones, Bauer and Lamb, he presumably would have ended up some piece of a rotation in 2019.

That said, Bauer and Lamb arrived a semester early highly-touted and carrying greater expectations than had ever been anticipated from Adams. Former defensive coordinator Mike Elko recruited Bauer and Lamb with his system in mind, a system kept in place by new Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea, who daylights as the linebackers coach. Adams may have seen significant playing time in 2019, but the current freshman duo was due to pass him by at some point in the future.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 98 Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
No. 85 Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 84 Cole Kmet, tight end, sophomore
No. 83 Chase Claypool, receiver, junior
No. 82 Nic Weishar, tight end, fifth-year senior
No. 81 Miles Boykin, receiver, senior
No. 80 Micah Jones, receiver, early-enrolled freshman
No. 78 Tommy Kraemer, right guard, junior
No. 76 Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 75 Josh Lugg, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, starting left tackle, junior
No. 72 Robert Hainsey, right tackle, sophomore
No. 71 Alex Bars, left guard and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 70 Luke Jones, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 69 Aaron Banks, offensive tackle, sophomore
No. 68 Jarrett Patterson, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 60 Cole Mabry, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 57 Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman, senior
No. 57 (theoretically) Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 56 John Dirksen, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 55 Jonathan Bonner, defensive tackle, fifth-year senior
No. 54 John Shannon, long snapper, junior
No. 53 Khalid Kareem, defensive end, junior
No. 53 Sam Mustipher, center and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 52 Bo Bauer, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 47 Kofi Wardlow, defensive end, sophomore
No. 45 Jonathan Jones, linebacker, junior
No. 44 Jamir Jones, defensive end, junior
No. 42 Julian Okwara, defensive end, junior
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 40 Drew White, linebacker, sophomore
No. 33 Shayne Simon, linebacker, incoming freshman
No. 24 Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman

MEDICAL EXEMPTION
No. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore

OUTGOING TRANSFER
No. 11 Freddy Canteen, receiver, outgoing transfer

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 55 Jonathan Bonner, nose tackle

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-3 ¾, 293 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: In his fifth year, Bonner has only 2018’s eligibility remaining, having returned unexpectedly after initialing declaring his Notre Dame career finished following last season.
Depth chart: Bonner will start at nose tackle, flipping from the three-technique position, with sophomore Kurt Hinish providing relief.
Recruiting: Bonner’s recruitment jumped late in the cycle thanks to strong camp performances throughout the summer before his senior year. A rivals.com three-star prospect, the St. Louis product chose the Irish over offers from his homestate Missouri, Michigan State and LSU, among others.

CAREER TO DATE
Bonner’s career entering 2017 was one of the reasons projections of Notre Dame’s defensive front were rather pessimistic. His 14 career tackles in 22 games did not exactly sound like the makings of a starter near the ball every snap, especially for a player who spent his first collegiate season preparing for a role on the end of the line.

But Bonner rose to the occasion, making 13 starts and holding his own throughout last season, despite battling through a wrist injury for much of the season. He finished 2017 as the defense’s No. 11 tackler with 30.

2014: Preserved a year of eligibility.
2015: 10 games; five tackles, one sack.
2016: 12 games; nine tackles.
2017: 13 games, 13 starts; 30 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss with two sacks.

QUOTE(S)
If completely healthy, moving Bonner to nose tackle will not spark the slightest concern. If hampered by the wrist, depending on Bonner at either interior tackle position will be a risk. Following the Blue-Gold Game on April 21, Irish head coach Brian Kelly insisted the only lingering effects of the injury — which kept Bonner out of full-contact sessions throughout all of spring practice — pertained to the strength and conditioning aspects, and Bonner would have all summer to assuage those concerns.

“He’s been [lifting] everything, but at a lighter weight,” Kelly said. “Now he’s only a couple weeks away from being full. He was already physically gifted, so we don’t think that’s going to be a big curve for him, and he’ll be able to start training aggressively when we get back here in June.”

Kelly doubled down on that prognosis Monday morning when The South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen asked at a Kelly Cares Foundation event.

“He should be full go,” Kelly said. “We were very cautious with him. I thought we could have gotten more out of him. We had kind of gone into this idea that you’re not going to get involved much in terms of contact.

“He’s excited. He’s worked really hard to put himself in this position to come back, so we’re excited about him.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“[Bonner] has long been considered a physical freak of nature, displaying unexpected strength and athleticism. That played a part in his late but quick recruitment by nearly every school who saw him the summer before his senior year of high school.

“Finally converting those attributes to on-field successes is the key. In Bonner’s defense, he has spent the last few seasons behind the likes of [Isaac] Rochell and [Jarron] Jones, both now working to make the cut in the NFL. Neither one was a slouch, especially as their careers progressed. Backing them up should not be considered a mark against Bonner, only an inevitability of timing.”

“… If Bonner succeeds in his role this season, he should have an iron grip on the starting spot in 2018. Even if he doesn’t, the Irish coaching staff will likely offer him a fifth year. Veteran defensive linemen with playing experience are not commodities to let slip away. The worst-case scenario would be Bonner could spell … one of the aforementioned freshmen. There would be value in that role.”

2018 OUTLOOK
Last summer’s thoughts on Bonner’s long-term floor would now be a worst-case scenario dictated by his wrist and subsequent diminished conditioning. Even if he becomes Hinish’s backup this season, though, that would indeed still have value. It would also be a testament to Hinish pushing forward, now with incoming freshman Ja’Mion Franklin joining sophomore Darnell Ewell in the mix.

Kelly would assuredly rather be correct about Bonner’s timeline and instead have a solid lineman alongside senior three-technique Jerry Tillery. Flipping the two on the interior is more about putting Tillery in position to use his athleticism to make plays in the backfield, but it would have been nearly inconceivable a year ago to think Bonner could hold the point of attack as necessary at nose. When at full-strength, he genuinely can.

That may not result in many more than 30 tackles, but it would free up Tillery to rack up an influx on his 56 of a year ago.

DOWN THE ROAD
Starting for two seasons at defensive tackle, be it as a three-technique or as a nose, for a program like Notre Dame will essentially guarantee Bonner a mini-camp chance at the next level. Just like in college football, the NFL relies on defensive linemen too much to ignore such a résumé.

A bit undersized, that path may not result in a long-term gig for Bonner, but it is more than nothing.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 93 (theoretically) Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 90 (theoretically) Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
No. 85 Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 84 Cole Kmet, tight end, sophomore
No. 83 Chase Claypool, receiver, junior
No. 82 Nic Weishar, tight end, fifth-year senior
No. 81 Miles Boykin, receiver, senior
No. 80 Micah Jones, receiver, early-enrolled freshman
No. 79 (theoretically) Cole Mabry, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 78 Tommy Kraemer, right guard, junior
No. 77 (theoretically) Jarrett Patterson, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 76 Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 75 Josh Lugg, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, starting left tackle, junior
No. 73 (theoretically) Luke Jones, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 72 Robert Hainsey, right tackle, sophomore
No. 71 Alex Bars, left guard and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 70 (theoretically) John Dirksen, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 69 Aaron Banks, offensive tackle, sophomore
No. 57 Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman, senior
No. 57 (theoretically), Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 11 Freddy Canteen, receiver, outgoing transfer

Blue-Gold Game Leftovers: Notre Dame’s offensive ceiling is tantalizing, though also unlikely

Associated Press
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Immediately following the 2017 spring game, I walked by two much smarter, savvier and more veteran Notre Dame reporters on our way to post-game interviews. Our two minutes of exchange included them riffing on various hypothetical position changes that were eventually not seen come fall, including how much better of a guard than a tackle Tommy Kraemer could be. It should be noted, the junior began lining up at guard this spring.

My contribution to the conversation hinged entirely on repeating, “That offense just isn’t ready. It’s not close to ready.”

Of course, that assessment figured the spring game struggles were against a porous Irish defense, something freshly-arrived and since-departed defensive coordinator Mike Elko had already taken tangible steps toward fixing, far quicker than expected.

That evaluation also failed to recognize the potential of a running attack led by Josh Adams. Notre Dame knew it had a stalwart running back, and did not need to see more than eight carries for 39 yards and a touchdown from the lead back.

The point stood, though. The offense was not ready then or in November.

Driving away from this past Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game, the thought bouncing around my pickup’s two-seat cab was simple: This offense is unlikely to reach its ceiling, but if it did, it would be really, absurdly high-powered.

This time, that assessment offers some deference to first-year defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s ability to turn nine returning starters into another strong defense, perhaps superior to last year’s.

The praise of the offense must be hedged thanks to IF after IF after IF after IF. If senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush displays those mechanics and that accuracy against opposing defenses …
If senior running back Dexter Williams (pictured above) decides it is worthwhile to play, and play well, through pain …
If junior receiver Chase Claypool maintains the necessary emotional equilibrium …
If senior tight end Alizé Mack offers a consistent performance, even if not stellar, but stable …

In those four upperclassmen alone, the Irish have unique talents whom opposing defensive coordinators should lose sleep thinking about. They will determine how high this offense’s ceiling is, while the likes of senior receiver Miles Boykin, junior running back Tony Jones and sophomore tight end Cole Kmet will set the floor, along with what looks to be yet another overpowering offensive line (with Kraemer at right guard).

Obviously, the most-promising players always set the height of a vaulted the ceiling. As they perform against Michigan, Stanford and Virginia Tech will determine how the season ends. However, to pinpoint four like this is an extreme end of the spectrum.

Exiting last year’s Blue-Gold Game, it was clear Wimbush needed to learn much more of offensive coordinator Chip Long’s scheme. Aside from that, the only possible ways to increase the offense’s potency was to teach receiver Kevin Stepherson self-discipline and figure out why Mack could not make a gameday impact. The rest was essentially known, even if the running game’s potential was overlooked after the spring exhibition.

Entering this summer, the gap between the offense’s floor and its ceiling is a vast one. To have four question marks of this magnitude speaks to the possible volatility awaiting in the fall. Logically speaking, it is most likely two of the four above IFs become realities. In that case, it will be a good offense, but not the utterly threatening one conceivable. The odds are slim all four come to fruition, but crazier things have happened, especially when discussing the rapid development of 18- to 21-year-olds.

Without Adams following two All-American offensive linemen, this rendition of the Notre Dame offense may take a step backward, but the talent is there for it to actually improve, to carry the day if/when an experienced quarterback picks apart the defense (see: the Seminoles’ Deondre Francois).

That could not be said in 2017.

OTHER QUICK TAKEAWAYS FROM THE BLUE-GOLD GAME:
Much of this will be discussed in greater length in the coming two weeks, but …
— The interior of the offensive line — fifth-year left guard Alex Bars, fifth-year center Sam Mustipher and Kraemer at right guard — is quite a physically-imposing trio. Some defensive ends may find success against first-year starter and junior left tackle Liam Eichenberg, especially early in the season, but the inside trio should at least create massive holes for the Irish running game.

— Ideally Long can deploy Mack and Kmet together, but the spring performance of the latter certainly eases the concerns about the maturation and consistency of the former.

Notre Dame may need an unexpected influx of production from senior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery if the fifth-year tackle he is intended to line up alongside, Jonathan Bonner, does not recover fully from a wrist injury suffered in the beginning of 2017. (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP)

— Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly insists fifth-year defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner’s fitness will not be overly-effected by the wrist injury that kept him out of most of spring practice and all of the Blue-Gold Game.

“He’s been doing everything (in weight-lifting) but at lighter weight, and now he’s only a couple of weeks away from being full-go,” Kelly said Saturday. “He was already physically really gifted, so we don’t think that’s going to be a big curve for him, and he’ll be able to start training aggressively when we get back here in June.”

Consider this scribe skeptical. Not only is Kelly often overly-optimistic about injury effects and timetables, but to think missing six months of strength and conditioning will not be noticeable along the defensive interior is idealistic at best. Bonner’s 2017 emergence was a direct result of the arrival of strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Balis.

Without more of that work, the Irish will need to turn to sophomore Kurt Hinish for an increase in snaps, perhaps pushing toward 50 per game with Bonner offering 20-30 and senior Micah Dew-Treadway filling in the balance. Hinish appears to be up to the task, which is necessary, because classmate Darnell Ewell is not.

Notre Dame’s offensive line shifts while Wimbush improves accuracy, consistency

Associated Press
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Halfway through spring practice, Notre Dame’s offensive line remains in distinct flux, albeit an expected one. A week ago, Irish head coach Brian Kelly made it clear he did not anticipate exiting spring with a set front. Instead, he wants to know what his options in 2018 will be.

“I want to know where we are when we leave the spring as to who can play what positions,” Kelly said Saturday. “Who is going to be the next left tackle? Is there a starting left tackle or right tackle? Does [rising junior] Liam [Eichenberg] go over next week and start playing some left tackle?”

Yes, Eichenberg does, it would seem.

Kelly said Eichenberg spent Thursday’s practice at left tackle, with rising sophomore Robert Hainsey moving to right tackle, where he spent his debut season. In that alignment, rising junior Tommy Kraemer moved to left guard from right tackle, where he spent the 2017 season and much of the spring to date.

Of course, fifth-years Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars remain at center and right guard, respectively.

Eichenberg’s solid play this spring has created this whole new set of possibilities, perhaps allowing Hainsey to remain at right tackle where he is both more experienced and even at ease.

“He’s actually a little more comfortable on the right side,” Kelly said. “We know what his strengths are and some things he has to continue to work on, he knows what they are.

“We needed to see a bigger-body guy out there at left tackle, too, and Liam gives us that size and strength that maybe [Hainsey] doesn’t have. Robert has outstanding technique. We wanted to be able to see them both.”

In the remaining eight spring practices, concluding with the Blue-Gold Game on April 21, Notre Dame will almost assuredly roll out another offensive line alignment or two, simply to be sure of who can play where before the summer.

Nick Coleman has spent the last two seasons at safety, but the rising senior has reentered the fray at nickelback this spring. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Secondary shifts, as well
Early-enrolled freshman Houston Griffith arrived this winter best-described as a defensive back, rather than constricted solely to cornerback or safety. Up until Thursday, he had toiled amidst the cornerbacks, a position group stocked with both known talent and experience. At safety, neither of those commodities is at a proven abundance.

Due to the “plus situation” at cornerback, Griffith flipped to safety Thursday. In turn, rising senior Nick Coleman spent some time at nickelback, rather than safety.

“[Coleman] is a really good athlete,” Kelly said. “He has some really good strength. I gave him a look two years ago at nickel and he did some really good things. We want to be a little more focused on that.”

Listed at 6-foot and 191 pounds, Coleman stands three inches taller and weighs 13 pounds more than rising senior Shaun Crawford, the presumed frontrunner at nickelback. If Coleman proves Kelly correct, Crawford could spend more time on the outside as a more traditional cornerback, creating quite the pass-protection duo alongside rising junior Julian Love.

“We’d like a little bit more size at [nickel],” Kelly said before listing off Crawford’s undeniable intangibles as displayed in particular in the first month of the 2017 season when he forced three turnovers. “But to have somebody like Nick Coleman who has that strength and size at that position, it just made sense that we’d let them both compete in there at that position.”

Quarterback commentary
Rising senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush spent spring break working with former Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly and some others, focusing on Wimbush’s mechanics. Throughout the fall, Brian Kelly would acknowledge Wimbush had some improvements to make in that regard, but the fixes were too big picture to be properly addressed during the season. Working through break was an extension of that necessity.

Wimbush worked with that particular group, led by former MLB pitcher Tom House, partly because his head coach knows the process House uses and how it closely parallels Notre Dame’s.

“Brandon has made some great progress with his accuracy, his consistency,” Kelly said. “He did a great job today … where we add a little bit of chaos to the situation. He went through a progression and checked it down to his [running back] for a touchdown. Good poise and presence in the pocket.”

Rising junior quarterback Ian Book’s performance has been less consistent than his quarterback competition counterpart.

“Ian’s been a little bit spotty at times in the morning with his reads,” Kelly said. “Sometimes that’s just focus and concentration on his part, but his feet are light. He’s throwing the ball well.”

Injury update
Rising senior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery returned to practice from a concussion suffered last week, while rising sophomore receiver Michael Young is now in the concussion protocol after a hit in Tuesday’s practice.

Familiar praise of Notre Dame’s tight ends rings anew

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There comes a point when repeated vague praises ring hollow. Until proven true, they are nothing but the echoes of potential. One can be forgiven for feeling that way with half of Notre Dame’s active tight ends this spring, but the applause of coaches and teammates alike pertains to both of the healthy tight ends, so at least some of it should be given due consideration.

With fifth-year Nic Weishar and rising sophomore Brock Wright both recovering from shoulder surgeries and early-enrolled freshman George Takacs out after a cartilage surgery, only rising senior Alizé Mack (pictured above) and rising sophomore Cole Kmet are currently full-go among the tight ends.

High expectations have followed Mack throughout his career, particularly since a 45-yard grab as a freshman helped set up the Irish for a come-from-behind victory at No. 21 Temple in October of 2015. Even though Mack missed his sophomore season due to academic issues, he landed on the John Mackey Award watch list heading into 2017, identifying him as among the nation’s most-talented tight ends.

Of course, Mack managed just 19 catches for 166 yards and a touchdown last season, not exactly the production anticipated from a Mackey candidate. He appeared in only 10 games, partly due to a concussion and partly due to further disciplinary missteps.

Such has not yet been a concern for Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly this spring.

“He’s been more consistent,” Kelly said Saturday. “Obviously, what plagued him last year was inconsistency. Everything that he did was inconsistent.

“… I’m happy for him that he’s showing some consistency. When he does, the jury is still out there. He still has a ways to go.”

That is the repeated, albeit certainly tempered and possibly now accurate, recognition at tight end. Kelly’s regards for Kmet may have been as predictable, and they serve to put Mack on notice. Even when Durham Smythe was ahead of him on the depth chart, no other Irish tight end could match Mack’s athleticism or top-end impact. Kmet just might.

“Cole certainly creates a competitive situation there,” Kelly said. “It’s [Mack’s] job to motivate himself, but I would think that’s pretty motivating to watch [Kmet] and what he does.”

Even as a consensus four-star recruit and the No. 3 tight end in his class, per rivals.com, any previous hype about Kmet pales in comparison to the commentary after seeing him in first-team situations a full year into his collegiate career. Kelly ran through the gamut of situations in which Kmet has excelled this spring, citing soft hands, physical blocking and an aggressiveness when running after the catch.

Notre Dame lists Kmet at 6-foot-5 ½ and Mack at 6-foot-4 ¾. That difference is negligible, but it reinforces Kmet may offer the same luxury for quarterbacks that Mack does, an ability to go up and get the ball almost no matter where it is thrown, something also available in 6-foot-4 receivers rising junior Chase Claypool and rising senior Miles Boykin.

“You put it in their area, those guys are going to come down with it,” rising senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush said. “Last year we averaged 6-4, 6-5 outside, and obviously Miles and Chase are the same size, then those two guys inside.”

The matching of size and speed with strong hands has long been sought from Mack. He has yet to truly bring the reputation of “Tight End U” to fruition. Then again, he has not had Kmet around offering similar possibilities.

(UND.com)

Kmet’s excellence elsewhere
In the spring, Kmet also contributes as an Irish relief pitcher. In 10 appearances and 22.2 innings to date, Kmet has struck out 19 with an ERA of 2.78 and a WHIP of 1.32, notching three saves. If he wanted, Kmet could spend even more time away from the football team as a result of the baseball duties.

Kelly said he gave Kmet the chance to miss Saturday morning’s practice after recording a save Friday evening. Instead, Kmet dismissed the notion outright.

“His response was, ‘I threw like 15 (pitches). I didn’t do anything for like two hours. Of course I’m practicing,’” Kelly said of Kmet’s incredulity. “That’s just the kind of guy he is. He’s just fun to watch.”

Could those abilities lead to a decision down the line a la former Irish receiver/pitcher Jeff Samardzija? It is a natural question to ask, if for no other reason than the University involved.

“As far as the baseball part of it? Yeah, maybe,” Notre Dame baseball manager Mik Aoki told ND Insider’s Eric Hansen. “… While the curveball could get a little sharper and the change-up could certainly get a little better and all those types of things, he’s got the most important thing. He’s got the mental toughness to go out there and compete.”