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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2, 215 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Junior with three seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018.
Depth chart: McKinley remains a second-string receiver firmly behind senior Miles Boykin, junior Chase Claypool and sophomore Michael Young. Given his range and size but lack of top-end speed, McKinley fits best behind Boykin as a field receiver.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit and U.S. Army All-American.

CAREER TO DATE
McKinley appeared in six games his freshman year, largely on special teams, before a broken leg suffered in practice ended his season in mid-October. He then preserved a year of eligibility in 2017, partly to be sure of a full recovery and complete fitness. That cautionary step made further sense when he was limited throughout 2017’s spring practices thanks to that injury.

QUOTE(S)
When the decision was made to keep McKinley sidelined last year, it meant he would spend the fall’s practices with the scout team. In some ways, that forced McKinley to get back up to speed this spring as much mentally as physically.

“It’s tough when you go down to scout team,” Irish receivers coach Del Alexander said in late March. “It’s tough to keep the level of competition in your mind. … We were just trying to work on the habits daily even though he’s over there. I think he tried to do that, so his transition shouldn’t be very difficult to come back over.”

Alexander and McKinley would meet as possible, go over film together and discuss what needs to be worked on during the year treading water.

Now, though McKinley remains a step back from the starting trio — and senior Chris Finke, albeit at a different position technically speaking — Alexander spoke well enough of his spring progression to distinguish the starters are no more than one step ahead of McKinley.

“I have a one group and a two group,” Alexander said. “… [McKinley is] in both groups. He can roll in with the first or the second group. His progress has been good. He’s made some plays.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“That [receiver] depth chart is still not going to do McKinley any favors. [Former Notre Dame receiver Equanimeous St. Brown], Claypool and [former Irish receiver Kevin] Stepherson all showed magnificent flashes last season, and Boykin was the primary praised receiver throughout the spring.

“Nonetheless, optimism was based off McKinley’s sheer size, and it cannot be denied. It fits right alongside the likes of the presumptive starting trio, meaning McKinley should be able to fill in for either the boundary or the field receiver whenever needed. Do not look only for McKinley to match year-ago projections of 15-20 catches, but also look for some of those to come in pivotal situations, providing first downs or breaking open stagnant drives.”

2018 OUTLOOK
In an offense designed to include multiple tight ends and, ideally, incorporate running backs into the passing game, there are not many opportunities for the fourth receiver, let alone the fifth. Notre Dame’s fourth-leading receiver in 2017 was Boykin with 12 catches for 253 yards and two touchdowns, with three receptions, 102 yards and one touchdown coming in that climatic Citrus Bowl victory. To find the next productive receiver, two tight ends must first be passed before getting to Finke with 102 yards on six catches. Those precedents do not foreshadow a bevy of chances for McKinley as long as he is mired down the depth chart.

Barring injury, that appears to be the case for at least this season. McKinley’s skillset overlaps with both Boykin’s and Claypool’s, each of whom are much more experienced than the junior with only a handful of game moments two years ago.

Optimistically, a strong performance in preseason practice could install McKinley as a goal-line option, creating a jumbo receiver set with Boykin and Claypool in place of Young.

DOWN THE ROAD
At most, Boykin will be elsewhere (read: NFL) after this season, though he will have another year of eligibility available. On paper, that may mean McKinley could slot right into his starting role, but four heralded freshmen receivers (three incoming; Micah Jones early enrolled) will greatly increase the pressure on the then-senior.

Receivers do not necessarily need to spend much time getting used to collegiate competition — see Stepherson and, to a lesser extent, Young as freshmen. At least one of those four will likely threaten to move past McKinley within the next 12 months.

All that said, McKinley arrived a highly-touted recruit for a reason. In some instances, time is needed for that potential to become realized. Remember: It took until the final minutes of the bowl victory over LSU before Boykin broke out in a noticeable manner, the very end of his junior season.

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

Auburn walk-on fullback transfers to Notre Dame, following in family’s footsteps

@Keenan_Sweeney
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Notre Dame will add a familiar last name to its running back depth with the graduate transfer of fullback Keenan Sweeney from Auburn. A former walk-on with the Tigers, Sweeney earned a scholarship before the 2016 season and appeared in nine games over the last two years.

Auburn listed Sweeney at 6-foot and 237 pounds. While he did not get a carry with the Tigers, the Irish may yet need him among the running backs. With only junior Tony Jones and senior Dexter Williams having any experience at the position, the slightest setback could throw the Notre Dame backfield into shallow disarray.

If not actually on the field, Sweeney should provide leadership to the youth in the Irish running back room. Sophomores Avery Davis and Jafar Armstrong moved to the position this spring, while also getting some time in at receiver, and freshmen Jahmir Smith (early-enrolled) and C’Bo Flemister (incoming) will be fresh to the collegiate grind.

Sweeney’s father, John, started as a freshman fullback for Notre Dame in 1979, paving the way for Vagas Ferguson to set a still-standing program record with 1,437 rushing yards in one season. He played four seasons before graduating in the spring of 1983. Sweeney’s grandfather, Jim, walked on with the Irish in the late 1940s. Even in this generation, Keenan is not the first athlete in the family to transfer to Notre Dame; his older brother Aidan transferred as a graduate swimmer from Georgia a few years ago.

Before this transfer, the Irish roster had 87 scholarships projected for this fall, more than the NCAA’s maximum of 85. Presuming Sweeney’s arrival does not include a scholarship, two players will still need to depart the Notre Dame roster before Sept. 1, be it by medical hardship, outgoing transfer or dismissal.

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-4 ½, 250 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Sophomore with three seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018.
Depth chart: Wright will serve as the primary backfield blocking tight end again this season while remaining behind senior Alizé Mack, sophomore Cole Kmet and fifth-year Nic Weishar when it comes to incorporating tight ends into the passing game.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit, Wright was the top-ranked tight end in the country per rivals.com.

CAREER TO DATE
Wright appeared in 11 games as a freshman, almost solely as a blocking back. A shoulder injury kept him out of the New Year’s Day Citrus Bowl, but he fully recovered by the end of spring practice, making two catches for 21 yards in the Blue-Gold Game on April 21 while being targeted three times.

ON HIS HEALTH
Wright credited the Notre Dame medical staff for readying him for full contact before the end of spring practice.

“The medical staff and our coaches have been awesome in working with me to get back,” he said in mid-April. “After the doctors cleared me a couple weeks ago, I knew it was just time to get my strength back and get back in there. The confidence part just comes with getting back out there and playing again.”

Some of that confidence had to do with taking a hit after a catch and holding onto the ball. At first, that was an issue in some spring practices for Wright. Coming off a shoulder injury, that certainly makes some logical sense.

“He’s done a really good job of coming back in after a shoulder injury and not feeling like I can’t get back right in there,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said last month. “He got banged pretty good today on a little boot and he bounces right back up.

“What he’s done is he’s put himself back in the position to be a solid player for us after shoulder surgery. I say that because that doesn’t happen easily. Guys come back, they’re hesitant. They’re not fully-engaged in it. He’s picked up and I think put himself back into a position where we didn’t even know he had surgery.”

QUOTE(S)
Wright’s physical play combined with his solid hands makes him a unique asset for Kelly and Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long.

“The bar moves from one year to the next,” Kelly said. “Is he going to be Alizé Mack in terms of the physical [tools]? Or a Cole Kmet? Probably not, but he doesn’t need to be.

“We didn’t recruit him for that. We wanted a great point of attack blocker. A guy that could catch the ball off of our boot game, our play-action game. A guy that we could use with his size in the red zone. I think he’s going to be that and more.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Wright’s early enrollment sets him on a fast track to playing time in 2017, even if behind both [former Irish tight end Durham] Smythe and Mack. It does not seem to be putting the cart before the horse to think Wright has already passed [Tyler] Luatua and Weishar in the general offensive plan. Perhaps those two seniors could be utilized in more run-specific situations, but Wright should fit well into Long’s scheme.

“This is where remembering Long’s history using tight ends is quite pertinent.”

2018 OUTLOOK
Amid a crowded position group, Wright has no unrealistic expectations of what he can contribute.

“Just helping out in any way I can,” he said. “Coach mentioned earlier, point of attack blocking, red zone, naked [bootlegs], stuff like that. Getting out to the flats. Anything I can do to help out in those types of scenarios.”

As a freshman, Wright was both physically and mentally ready to handle blocking duties, something players multiple years his elder oftentimes struggle with. That role did not often include Wright slipping out on pass routes, but both his expectations and Blue-Gold Game performance indicate that wrinkle will be available this fall.

If that is indeed the case, establishing it as a proven possibility early in the season would keep defenses on their heels the rest of the year. Even if Wright catches just half a dozen passes for a total of 30-40 yards, every time he lines up as an H-back and slips into the flat, opposing defensive coordinators will have to devote a linebacker to him. Especially against an offense led by a dangerous runner like senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush, forcing a second-level defender to make that commitment could greatly hamper a defense.

DOWN THE ROAD
Shoulder injuries remain tricky. Any long-term projections about Wright have to include the disclaimer of that health concern.

With Weishar out of eligibility after this season and Mack entertaining NFL possibilities, Wright will quickly become even more of a focal point. While the freshman duo of George Takacs (early-enrolled) and Tommy Tremble (incoming) will keep the depth chart stocked both in quantity and quality, Wright’s physical stature should keep him ahead of them for some time to come.

Frankly, the duo of Kmet and Wright could give the Notre Dame offense a multitude of looks for a few years to come.

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

Monday’s Leftovers: Tricks with jersey numbers; Troy Pride’s sprinter’s speed; Links to read

und.com
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Over the coming weekend, the 99-to-2 series will twice rattle off profiles on players wearing No. 85. Early-enrolled freshman tight end George Takacs was assigned the digits this spring, and Notre Dame captain and fifth-year punter Tyler Newsome was wearing 85 long before Takacs arrived.

That double-up makes it exceedingly unlikely Takacs will appear in any punt coverage situations this season. Someone aside from Newsome would have to be punting in order for it to be legal.

It is unrelated to Notre Dame, but there is never a bad occasion to remember a recent moment of college football history which included strategically giving two players the same number. In the 2009 regular season finale, South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier deployed a wildcat formation for the first time of the year. Freshman cornerback Stephon Gilmore took the snaps, wearing No. 5, only 12 months removed from playing quarterback in high school.

When Gilmore stepped behind center, he was replacing junior starting quarterback Stephen Garcia, who also happened to wear No. 5.

While it may be debated whether the ruse confused Clemson or not, Gilmore sparked a game-tying drive and finished with 20 yards rushing on five carries with one pass attempt completed for 39 yards. Garcia finished the day 10-of-21 for 126 yards and three touchdowns while adding 46 rushing yards on 14 carries.

Do not expect the Irish to deploy such trickery. It should merely be hoped both fifth-year receiver Freddy Canteen and junior safety Alohi Gilman do not find themselves on the same kickoff coverage unit, both wearing No. 11.

AN ANNUAL REMINDER: TROY PRIDE IS FAST
Competing in the ACC outdoor track championships, the Notre Dame junior cornerback ran a 21.16-second 200-meter dash Thursday evening, finishing one spot and 0.02 seconds away from qualifying for the finals. A night later, Pride ran a 10.50-second 100-meter sprint to finish fifth in the preliminaries, crossing the line seventh in the Saturday final with a 10.56-second performance.

It is that kind of blazing speed which allowed Pride to track down senior running back Dexter Williams on a breakaway race for the end zone in the Blue-Gold Game on April 21.

INSIDE THE IRISH READING
99-to-2 prep with Notre Dame depth charts
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

OUTSIDE READING
University determines construction of new parking garage not currently feasible
Former Notre Dame CB Ashton White heads to the University of Buffalo for the next two years
South Florida new home for former Alabama, Arizona State QB Blake Barnett, a once-heralded Notre Dame commit
Green Bay head coach: DeShone Kizer would be a first-round pick in this year’s draft
Packers hoping to hit it big with tall, fast WRs
How ‘scheduling for success’ can help the Pac-12 keep pace in the playoff era

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 24 Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman

rivals.com
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The jersey numbers of the 20 incoming freshmen are unknown. With the occasional exception like Kyle Rudolph and No. 9, most Notre Dame tight ends wear digits similar to receivers, somewhere in the 80s. With six tight ends on the Irish roster, though, those numbers became scarce. In fact, none are currently available.

For now, let’s proceed as if incoming freshman tight end Tommy Tremble will wear No. 90. If nothing else, it keeps the Norcross, Ga., product at the beginning of the tight end conversation, with sophomore Brock Wright to follow immediately thereafter at No. 89.

Tommy Tremble very well may not wear No. 90, but it is possible, and it is the lowest available number in the usual tight end range.

TOMMY TREMBLE
Listed Measurements:
6-foot-4, 225 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Freshman yet to enroll.
Depth chart: There are two different versions of a tight end, a detached receiving threat and an in-line blocking role. Tremble projects as the former, behind senior Alizé Mack and sophomore Cole Kmet with fifth-year Nic Weishar offering a bit off both skillsets.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star, Tremble was the No. 18 tight end in the class, per rivals.com. He narrowed down his final decision to just Notre Dame and Michigan, making his choice less than a week before December’s early signing period. Initially, Tremble said he would not sign during those 72 hours, giving the Wolverines a window to change his mind, but the Irish coaching staff managed to convince him to put pen to paper at the first possible chance.

QUOTE(S)
Tremble’s was not the hottest of recruitments due to an ankle injury that ended his senior season in the second week. Combining that with a low-profile high school, Tremble slipped below many radars.

“What we saw was an incredible upside relative to his physicality and his physical ability,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said on National Signing Day. “He was a fit here from the school that he went to. A great fit and had the skills.”

One of two tight ends in the class, Tremble’s talents complement early-enrolled freshman George Takacs’. Between the two of them, the recruiting class of 2018 has all aspects of the position covered, as preferred by Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long.

“Both of them are very athletic,” Long said in February. “George has spent a little bit more time with his hand on the ground than Tommy has. Tommy’s been more of a skilled wideout coming in.

“… Both are very smart, very athletic in their way. Tommy is probably a little bit more explosive, where George has a little bit more size, but that can come in time. The one thing that really caught my eye with Tommy is he played defense for them. As I’m evaluating tight ends nowadays, I want to see defensive film. I want to see you be able to put your face on something and strike. That’s a big thing with the toughness that we want to have, and he did that. He is exceptional, to go with his explosiveness.”

WHAT WAS SAID WHEN TREMBLE’S NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
“Current Notre Dame junior Alizé Mack’s 2017 may have been a letdown, but a comparison to him is still a complement. Tremble presents many of the same difficulties Mack does to opposing defenses, with a tight end’s size but a receiver’s speed.

“If that comparison is accurate, Tremble may see spot duty in the near future, simply to put defenses in exceedingly tough situations.”

2018 OUTLOOK
Takacs suffered a cartilage injury this spring, limiting him in his semester’s head start. Considering rarely would more than one blocking-focused tight end be needed — and Wright suitably fills that role — it seems probable he spends the season sidelined getting healthy.

The Irish will likely not keep both freshmen tight ends off the field. Thus, Tremble may seem some action this fall. The uncertainty in the depth chart ahead of him increases those odds. Between disciplinary issues and inconsistent play, Mack will not be trusted until he has repeatedly proven worthy of it. Weishar did not participate much this spring due to a shoulder injury. If both those question marks were to be answered in a negative fashion, then only Kmet would genuinely stand ahead of Tremble.

In that instance, Tremble’s speed may be needed frequently this fall. That would be a worst-case scenario for Notre Dame, though.

If the tight end grouping remains in both good health and good standing, Tremble’s time will be reduced to an occasional few snaps here and there, most concentrated in the closing frames of blowouts. If that simply serves to build Tremble’s confidence moving forward, it should be considered a success.

DOWN THE ROAD
Tremble’s 2019 may hinge on Mack’s 2018. If the senior (finally) performs, he could join Weishar in heading to the NFL after this season. Then, only four tight ends would be on the Irish roster in the spring, two as vertical threats and two as physical blockers with good hands. Tremble would immediately become a contributing piece of Long’s tight end-heavy schemes.

Kmet impressed many this spring, showing the physical and mental development to push Mack to be at his best this year. That progress also diminishes Tremble’s chances of surpassing Kmet in the next couple seasons.

As long as Long is the offensive coordinator, there will still be a need for multiple players with tight ends’ frames but receivers’ speed. Tremble offers that.

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