Will the potential of the Fighting Irish Offense lead to wins in 2017?
That’s the question on many fans minds heading into off season preparation. On paper, the Irish Offense doesn’t have many excuses not to be one of the elite in all of College football.
Notre Dame fielded a potent offense in ’16 lead by first-round pick candidate DesShone Kizer. The Offensive Line was filled with big name recruits that resembled what you would typically see in the NFL.
Unfortunately, the Irish Offense seemed to sputter late in games consistently, resulting in losses. They didn’t get much help from their low-ranked defense but with the talent they had on the field, many expected much more production.
On paper, the Notre Dame Offense has serious talent. Their depth chart includes an impressive 18 former high school All-Americans, 8 on the offensive line alone. 5 out of 6 of their tight-ends were selected in either the Under Armour or Army All-American teams.
Let’s start with Notre Dame’s quarterback. Brandon Wimbush was ranked the 2nd best dual-threat quarterback in the nation. He won a state championship for St. Peter’s Prep in New Jersey. St. Peter’s Prep was the 5th ranked high school football program in the country in his senior year.
Wimbush has had two years to learn Brian Kelly’s Offense, which he ran in a specifically designed manner, on the scout team in ’16. We will soon find out if the hype is real. Lou Holtz stated that out of Kizer, Zaire and Wimbush last season, Wimbush had the most talent.
At running back, the Irish have a solid stable of returning players. Josh Adams will again be the starting workhorse. He was slightly disappointing in ’16 following a very promising freshman season. He performed admirably after Tarean Folston went down with a season ending injury against Texas in the ’15 home opener.
Adams ended the season with a very gritty, hard-working performance against USC in a deflating loss. Let’s hope Adams returns with that hunger to provide a very important ground attack in ’17.
Dexter Williams made good use of his limited carries. He clearly put in a ton of work last off season and showed flashes of elite athleticism at times.
Brain Kelly raved about IMG Academy product Tony Jones during a press conference last summer. The former Under Armour All-American should see some carries this season.
Tight-end is certainly a position Brian Kelly feels good about. Alize Jones is returning from a one-year suspension. He was able to practice last season and reportedly took nearly every snap on scout team with Wimbush.
“We don’t have many guys who can cover him,” Kelly said in a ’16 press conference.
Two consensus top-3 tight-ends in the county committed to Notre Dame. Brock Wright, 6’4, 245 lbs, is considered the top tight end at the high school level. He brings an outstanding presence in the at the line of scrimmage as a blocker and can also stretch the field
Cole Kmet, 6’5, 252 lbs., had a good showing at Army All-America. The Illinois native showed a great blend of size, blocking ability and great receiver skills. He has been very active in the recruiting game as well, tweeting to many recruits to stay strong in their commitment.
It will be very hard for Brian Kelly to justify red shirting these two.
Durham Smythe returns for his senior season. Although he hasn’t produced much, he hasn’t really been asked to. Also from Texas, Brock Wright looks like a more talented version of Smythe. I expect to see Wright steal some of elder’s snaps this season.
Nick Weishar and Tyler Luatua, both former All-Americans, also return and are talented. Unfortunately for them, there’s an embarrassment of riches at this position in ’17. Snaps may be hard to come by for them.
Plenty of talent returns in the receiving core.
Equanimeous St. Brown will look to be Notre Dame’s leading receiver again. Hopefully he will surpass the 1,000 yard mark after finishing just shy in ’16. He’s certainly talented enough. The California native has an outstanding blend of size (6’4) and deep-threat speed.
The Irish are loaded with big-bodied, mismatch options in Chase Claypool (6’4.5), Miles Boykin (6’3) and Alize Jones (6’4) at the W position. Look for Wimbush to target this often.
The X position isn’t quite as clear or experienced.
Kevin Stepherson looks to be the early choice as the starter. He played quite well filling in for an injured Torri Hunter in ’16, scoring 5 touchdowns. Kevin, or K.J., torched USC’s star cornerback Adoree Jackson on a vertical route in the season finale giving fans an eye-opener of his potential.
Javon McKinley broke California receiving records, was selected for the Army All-American team and was a top-100 recruit. Unfortunately he suffered a broken fibula in October. McKinley looks to push for the starting X spot when he return to full capacity in April.
Slot receiver is a little thin this year. CJ Sanders started the season with a bang. He ended up being benched and replaced by former walk-on Chris Finke later in the season. Sanders struggled to create separation in the pass game. Michael Young, the gritty freshman, will join the slot receivers assuming he sticks to his commitment.
Notre Dame’s offensive line didn’t live up to it’s billing in ’16.
Mike McGlinchey struggled in moving to the left side. Alex Bars had a tough time with speed rushers. Sam Mustipher had snap issues which created some costly negative plays.
Cohesion and focus seemed to be the issue for a unit who had 3 new starters and 4 starters playing new positions. McGlinchey and Nelson are returning in ’17.
Expect Harry Heistand to make the necessary adjustments to help this group be the bully it should be.
Offensively, Notre Dame has elite talent from top to bottom. There is no argument there. New Offensive Coordinator Chip Long will install a new offensive philosophy and bring energy and enthusiasm to the field.
He will likely add some wrinkles he brought with him from Memphis. Long is known to use run-pass option and off-set formations to make life difficult on the opponent.
Expect many mismatch situation, double tight end sets and specific play calling that will put the elite players in position to make plays.
Look for the Fighting Irish offense to hang a lot of points in 2017.