Notre Dame football plays its spring game on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. Here’s what you should be watching.
The good news: The Irish will win a football game on Saturday. The better news: Notre Dame Football is back in South Bend in 2018. Coming off an exciting end to last season’s campaign, Brian Kelly and the Irish look to establish some consistency in 2018. The Irish have a few intriguing story lines that are worth keeping an eye on during Saturday’s spring game.
An improved Brandon Wimbush
Though he has made waves with his spring performance thus far, the jury is still out on quarterback Brandon Wimbush. After struggling with accuracy through most of last season, Wimbush went to work on his mechanics this offseason. Early indications are that his improvements have allowed for a quicker release, better accuracy, and improved confidence. Certainly, the spring game won’t be a perfect simulation of the pressure Wimbush will see under the lights on September 1st, but a few more eyes should serve as a barometer for how far he’s come.
The Running Back Brigade
Dexter Williams has proven to be a tantalizing back during his time at Notre Dame. After averaging over 9 yards per rush in somewhat limited opportunities (39 carries, 360 yards, 4 touchdowns) in 2017, Williams would seem to be poised to be Notre Dame’s lead back in 2018. However, Williams has struggled in pass protection, which has limited his usage. If Williams can improve in pass protection, there is no reason he can’t be Notre Dame’s number one guy carrying the football.
By contrast, Tony Jones, Jr. proved himself more valuable in pass protection, which allowed him to see the field a little more than Williams. Jones isn’t quite the explosive runner that Williams is, but is more than serviceable carrying the football. Jones (44 carries, 232 yards, 3 touchdowns) averaged 5.3 yards per carry during his freshman season.
Health will be a major factor for Irish ball-carriers. Both Williams and Jones missed time due to injury in 2017. Outside of Williams and Jones, the Irish are somewhat thin at the position. Wide receiver Jafar Armstrong and quarterback Avery Davis have seen some action at the position this spring.
Red Rover, Red Rover
Despite starting all 13 games at the position a year ago, Drue Tranquill will not be Notre Dame’s starter at rover this season. With the graduation of linebacker Nyles Morgan, Tranquill has made the move to inside backer to play alongside Te’Von Coney. In his place will be the man who got the first look at the rover position a year ago, Asmar Bilal.
For the time being, Bilal looks to be the leader in the clubhouse at the position. This likely will be helped by a potential position switch of Jordan Genmark Heath. With linebacker depth a concern, Bilal had been cross-training between rover and buck linebacker. If Genmark Heath can make a successful switch, Bilal can focus on the rover position and likely will hold the position into the fall.
The safety position was a major area of concern for the Irish last season. This season provides similar question marks, but the likelihood of better answers. Navy transfer Alohi Gillman is eligible to play after sitting out last season. In addition, early enrollee Houston Griffith has emerged as a player who can challenge for time at free safety.
Both guys are extremely interesting prospects. Gillman was reportedly one of Notre Dame’s best defensive players in practice last season. Griffith, who initially came to Notre Dame as a cornerback, has demonstrated his abilities in tackling and coverage this spring.
While the spring game only provides so much clarity, it serves as a measuring stick. Fans should be careful to not put too much stock into what happens on the field Saturday.