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2023 Notre Dame football depth chart outlook

Irish quarterback room looking sharp entering 2023

Irish running back prepared to run it back

Irish need improved wide receiver production

Evans and Co. look to replace Mayer

Irish O-line looks to build on in-season improvements

Irish face major losses along defensive line

Irish linebackers return en masse for 2023

Freshmen cornerbacks should help Irish offset losses at DB

Special teams brings in new names

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Irish quarterback room looking sharp entering 2023

Featuring major transfer portal addition Sam Hartman and a handful of highly-rated prospects to learn from him, Notre Dame’s quarterback group is set up for success. Here’s a look at the signal-caller situation moving into next season.

2022 summary

Position leaders: Drew Pyne (10 starts), Tyler Buchner (3 starts)

The sentiment around Notre Dame’s quarterback position undulated throughout this past season. Sophomore Tyler Buchner received the season-opening nod but underwent shoulder surgery after two losses to Ohio State and Marshall. From there, the job fell into the hands of junior Drew Pyne. He started shaky but performed well in wins over North Carolina and BYU, establishing a firm connection with draft-bound tight end Michael Mayer. Pyne then regressed again and acted as a game manager in Notre Dame’s poundings of Syracuse and Clemson. He saved his two best performances for November, posting a combined 85.1 completion percentage and seven total touchdowns against Navy and Southern Cal. Buchner returned for the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, scoring five total touchdowns but throwing three interceptions. Ultimately, he led the Irish to a 45-38 defeat of South Carolina and took home game MVP.

With next year in mind, Notre Dame’s greatest strength at the quarterback position was Tyler Buchner’s rushing ability. He ran for 61 yards in the Gator Bowl and rushed for two touchdowns against both Marshall and South Carolina. Buchner attacks downhill with power and is a serious threat in the red zone. Sam Hartman will almost certainly assume the starting job, but don’t be surprised if Buchner sees some work near the goal line throughout the season.

On the other hand, the overall quarterback-to-wide receiver rapport is still very raw in the Irish offense. Notre Dame’s top three wideouts barely combined for 1,000 receiving yards in 2022. Moments of trust popped up between passer and target here and there, but never lasted more than a game. The Irish will look to Sam Hartman’s experience, leadership and pure talent to elevate an unproven receiving corps.

Key departures

Drew Pyne (departing to Arizona State)

Pyne moves on to Tempe after throwing for 2,021 yards, 22 touchdowns and 6 interceptions in 2022. He also ran for 108 yards and a pair of touchdowns, playing to an 8-2 record as a starter. All in all, the Connecticut native got the job done and helped the Irish surpass mid-season expectations after being thrust into action unexpectedly. Even so, Notre Dame should have no issue replicating and exceeding Pyne’s performance given Sam Hartman’s track record.  

Transfer portal additions

Sam Hartman (graduate student, arriving from Wake Forest)

Notre Dame brings in the ACC’s all-time passing touchdowns leader in Sam Hartman. The former Demon Deacon threw for 110 scores along with 12,967 yards in his 48 career games at Wake Forest. No quarterback in Notre Dame history has ever recorded a 3,700-plus passing yard, 38-plus passing touchdown season. Hartman has accomplished that feat in each of the past two seasons. He led Wake to an 8-5 record in 2022, throwing three interceptions in a pair of games, but delivering at least three touchdowns in eight.

Freshman additions

Kenny Minchey (four-star, Pope John Paul II High School – Hendersonville, TN)

Minchey will compete for the starting job when Hartman runs out of eligibility in 2024. For now, expect him to use this year to learn behind two signal-callers with 61 combined games of experience.

Projected 2-deep

QB1: Sam Hartman

QB2: Tyler Buchner

Contact Tyler Reidy at treidy3@nd.edu

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Notre Dame 2023 depth chart projection: Irish need improved wide receiver production

The Notre Dame wide receiver room was a point of weakness in 2022, but there is reason for optimism heading into the 2023 season. The Irish will bring in Sam Hartman, a Wake Forest transfer quarterback who set several ACC records during his tenure with the Demon Deacons. Hartman ranked first in depth of target in 2022 (Irish starting quarterback Drew Pyne ranked 129th), so that immediately elevates the ceiling for what these receivers can accomplish in 2023. The Irish offense is looking to improve on their 31.8 points per game mark. Notre Dame finished 7-0 when exceeding that point total in 2022, but they were just 2-4 when they fell below that mark. 

2022 summary

The Irish wide receiver corps was a shallow group, and they didn’t exactly turn heads throughout much of the season. Sophomore Lorenzo Styles, the projected breakout star of the group, struggled with drops throughout the season and caught 30 passes for 340 yards and a single touchdown. Classmate Jayden Thomas ended the season as the group’s yardage leader with 361 yards on 25 catches. He tied Braden Lenzy, who retired after the Gator Bowl, for the wide receiver lead in touchdown receptions with three. 

Thomas emerged late, posting 12 catches for 189 yards over the final four games, compared to Styles’ seven catches for 53 yards. Additional pieces in the wide receiver room included Lenzy, who departs after totaling 24 catches and 309 yards, both ranking third among wide receivers. Sophomore Deion Colzie also emerged late as a solid third-down option, finishing with nine catches for 192 yards in the final five games of the regular season. Freshman Tobias Merriweather made one catch in the regular season, a 41-yard touchdown reception, but struggled with injury down the stretch. And finally, graduate student Matt Salerno added five catches for 62 yards. 

Thomas and Styles stand out as the guys with the best chance of making the jump to being a true WR1 in the coming season, but Colzie offered a glimpse of his ceiling in the latter portion of the season. Unhampered by injury, and with a full collegiate season under his belt, Merriweather remains a name to watch. 

Key Departures

In this department, it’s really just Lenzy. He vacates a starting role, and the Irish will need to fill it. Lenzy caught 56 passes for 659 yards over the past two years. It isn’t elite-level production, but he was the most proven receiver in the room. No other wide receiver that caught a pass for Notre Dame departs ahead of the 2023 season. Graduate student Joe Wilkins, a role player for several years, entered the transfer portal in November, having not caught a pass in 2022. He announced his transfer to Miami (OH). 

Transfer Portal Additions

Virginia Tech transfer Kaleb Smith is a name to know heading into 2023. His 2022 numbers of 37 catches and 674 yards would both have led the Irish wide receiver room last season. Like the Notre Dame receivers, Smith is receiving an upgrade at the quarterback position and should be in line for a more impactful 2023 season. Smith posted a pair of 100-yard games last season, which no Notre Dame wide receiver accomplished. He’s the natural fit to replace Lenzy atop the depth chart and brings an explosive weapon to the Irish offense. 

Incoming Freshman

The Irish pulled in four wide receivers in their 2023 recruiting class. Braylon James, Jaden Greathouse, Rico Flores and Kaleb Smith (not to be confused with the Virginia Tech transfer) all committed to Notre Dame, and all but Smith enrolled early. That should help mitigate some concerns about learning the complete Notre Dame playbook, which seemed to delay Merriweather’s development. 

Recruiting rankings don’t tell the whole story, but Greathouse feels the most ready to make an immediate impact. He played with Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik for several seasons in high-level Texas high school football. At 6’2, 220 pounds, he has the physicality to get on the field early and make an impact on the 2023 Irish team. James is more of a Merriweather-esque vertical threat, but with a solid spring, he should have a chance to make an impact next season as well. Flores is another early-enrollee and he’s not as highly regarded as Greathouse and James, but the freshman could still find a way to make an impact. He could find a home in the slot for Notre Dame, offering Hartman a consistent target. 

Smith feels like the biggest longshot to impact the roster in 2023. He’s the lowest-ranked recruit and is not enrolled early, which will likely set him a few months behind his classmates. 

Projected Depth Chart 

WR1: Lorenzo Styles, Jayden Thomas, Kaleb Smith

WR2: Deion Colzie, Tobias Merriweather, Jaden Greathouse

This is one possibility for how the two-deep looks heading into the 2023 season opener. Styles and Thomas should retain their starting roles. Despite Styles not making the jump many anticipated, he was still one of the Irish’s most productive receivers and remains a major talent with elite potential. The Irish need to see him make good on that potential sooner rather than later, but he remains atop the depth chart. He sits there alongside the quickly emerging Thomas. Thomas caught five passes for 66 yards as the team’s most consistent receiving threat in the Gator Bowl. His routes looked crisp, and he made several contested catches. He needs to be utilized more frequently next season. Replacing Lenzy is Kaleb Smith. He enters as the most proven receiver, and expectations will be high off the bat. Expect him to be starting in August. 

In the second string, Colzie represents the most experienced name. He emerged late and could be a huge weapon in 2023 if he continues to leap forward. His nine catches for 192 yards in a five-game stretch to end the season extrapolate to 22 catches for 461 yards over a full season. If the Irish can get that out of their fourth wide receiver, that signals good things for the offense. Behind Colzie is a pair of unproven talents. Merriweather is a big-time vertical threat but needs to develop consistency that will hopefully come with a full spring and summer with the team. Greathouse is the freshman with the best chance to impact the team immediately and gives the Irish another rangy, athletic weapon. 

Beyond the two-deep, Flores and James remain intriguing options in the freshman class, and don’t discount Salerno. The sixth-year and former walk-on brings some athleticism and a whole bunch of knowledge to this room. The Irish shouldn’t need to lean on him, but he could be on the field in some key moments in 2023 as well.

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@nd.edu.

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2023 Notre Dame depth chart projection: Irish running back prepared to run it back

The Irish return the key pieces from their vaunted rushing attack in 2022, and they’ll look to establish more consistency to bring the offense to another level in 2023.

2022 Summary

It’s fair to say that the running back room was by some distance Notre Dame’s strongest position group in 2022. With the Irish passing offense oftentimes limited, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees leaned on the ground attack to set the tone in nearly every game over the back half of the season. And set the tone it did. The Irish exceeded 200 team rushing yards in 5 of their last 7 games while posting a 6-1 record. 

Part of what made the running back room click so well was the balance struck between different player profiles. Every back that played significant snaps brought something unique to the table that opposing defenses would have to contend with. Sophomore Audric Estime provided the power, using his 220-plus pound frame to wear down defenses and bully his way through the line of scrimmage in short yardage situations. Junior Chris Tyree brought flash, adding a dynamic playmaker to the room that Rees could deploy in the backfield and as a slot receiver. Sophomore Logan Diggs offered a nice blend of both Tyree’s speed and Estime’s strength. Diggs also led all backs in receiving yards. 

Key Departures

Nothing but good news in this department for the Irish. There was some speculation that Chris Tyree could enter the transfer portal after he saw his snap counts decrease over the back half of the season. However, the junior running back opted to stay in South Bend for another year.

Transfer Portal Additions

Unsurprising given the amount of returnees in an already-crowded running back room, Rees and running back coach Deland McCullough opted not to take any transfers at the position.

Freshman Additions

After two late decommitments, the Irish will add one freshman running back to the 2023 depth chart. Consensus top-100 recruit Jeremiyah Love profiles more in the Diggs mold of a hybrid back than a pure power or speed addition. While Love certainly doesn’t lack in the speed department — the high school track star boasts a Missouri 5A state title in the 100 meters — it’s not the only aspect of his game. All scouting reports of Love mention his receiving ability as a major aspect of his skillset. Rees will all but certainly utilize him in the passing game either next season or further down the line.

Projected two-deep

The two-deep for the running back spot is either the easiest or hardest to figure out on the 2023 roster, depending on your perspective. On one hand, the starting options are pretty much all sharpied in. Estime, Diggs and Tyree all logged over 250 snaps last season. Rees settled on Estime and Diggs as names 1a and 1b and Tyree as a change of pace option. Given the impressive results once that rotation emerged, there’s little evidence to suggest it will be tweaked heading into 2023.

What does allow for intrigue, however, is the back end of the rotation. Jadarian Price, for instance, received strong reviews throughout training camp last offseason and was a Blue-Gold game standout. Though a summer achilles injury ended his 2022 campaign before it could start, it stands to reason that if he makes a full recovery he could potentially push Tyree for playing time further down the committee depth chart. The same applies to the aforementioned Love, who at 6’0, 190 pounds, likely doesn’t have a long way to go on the physical end of being game-ready for college football. While Estime and Diggs are locked in to play big roles in 2023, how Rees and McCullough split minutes between the veteran Tyree, the wild card Price and the rookie Love remains to be seen and could be one of the most interesting things to keep an eye out for in the 2023 Blue-Gold game.

Contact J.J. Post at jpost2@nd.edu.

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2023 Notre Dame depth chart projection: Evans and Co. look to replace Mayer

Tight end will be a position to keep an eye on for Notre Dame in 2023. They lose projected first-round pick and All-American Michael Mayer and will look to replace Mayer’s leadership and team-leading production in the passing game. The Irish record holder in virtually every major statistic for tight ends, Mayer leaves a big hole in an Notre Dame offense that will feature a new-look passing attack in 2023. 

2022 Summary

Prior to Notre Dame’s bowl game, Mayer collected 67 receptions. All other Irish tight ends combined to record four catches. Three came from sophomore Kevin Bauman, who sat out the final ten games of the season due to injury. He did have 75 snaps in two games, however, and seemed primed to be Mayer’s successor prior to his ACL tear. 

Sophomore Mitchell Evans operated as Mayer’s primary backup, not notching a reception until the Gator Bowl. Sophomore Davis Sherwood was third on the roster with 78 snaps at the position. Freshmen Eli Raridon and Holden Staes also got some run, although Raridon went down with an ACL tear midseason.

Key Departures

Undoubtedly, much of the Irish passing attack revolved around their dynamic tight end, as Mayer recorded 809 yards and nine touchdowns. No other Notre Dame receiver notched more than 361 yards or three receiving touchdowns. In fact, the Irish’s top two wide receivers combined for just 55 catches and 701 receiving yards. The Irish lose their biggest passing game weapon, and it’s not close. 

Key Returners

At this point, the Irish have not pursued any tight ends in the transfer portal. They’re sticking with their current pool of tight ends, which is a deep, albeit unproven, group. The returners are headlined by Mitchell Evans. Evans received the most playing time as Mayer’s backup, although he was never a target in the passing game until the Gator Bowl. However, Evans flashed improvement as a blocker, and in the Gator Bowl, he impacted the aerial attack with three receptions for 39 yards. 

Along with Evans, the Irish return freshmen Eli Raridon and Holden Staes, sophomore Davis Sherwood and junior Kevin Bauman. Raridon and Bauman both missed significant time with injury. Bauman actually did catch three passes for 44 yards in the first two games of the season, but an ACL tear ended his campaign prematurely. The same injury ended Raridon’s season before the freshman could see significant playing time. At 6’7″, Raridon could become a passing weapon and slotted ahead of Staes on the depth chart when he was active. Staes played the Gator Bowl as the backup tight end and caught one pass this season for 11 yards. Sherwood is another name to consider, as he played a versatile role in 2022, lining up at fullback and primarily serving as a blocker. He also threw the pass on Notre Dame’s fake punt in the Gator Bowl. 

Freshman Additions

The Irish add Cooper Flanagan as an incoming freshman. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees noted in a press conference on National Signing Day that they understand Flanagan to be the “best tight end in the Bay Area”, so that’s a definite vote of confidence for Flanagan. The four-star recruit is unlikely to be a passing game threat early. He did not play in a pass-heavy high school offense and is not enrolled early, so there will be a delay in learning the playbook. 

However, Flanagan comes to the Irish with well-developed run blocking skills. The Irish love to utilize their tight ends in the run game, and Flanagan’s run-blocking prowess serves as his best chance to crack the depth chart. 

Projected Depth Chart

Notre Dame routinely listed three tight ends on their depth chart this season, so this article will do the same. 

TE1: Mitchell Evans

TE2: Kevin Bauman

TE3: Cooper Flanagan

This set up leaves Evans, the most experienced tight end in the room, as the starter. He proved in the Gator Bowl that he can impact both the run and pass game. He provided a key blitz pickup on a 44-yard touchdown pass, set a few key blocks to spring big runs and caught the game-winning touchdown pass. He’s the obvious candidate to start and make a big jump. 

Bauman remains an intriguing puzzle piece within the Irish offense. Three catches in two games, despite playing with Mayer, seemed to indicate the Irish like what Bauman can do in the passing game. If he stays healthy, he could turn into a big-time weapon for the Irish in 2023. 

Flanagan gets the nod for the third tight end spot. If the Irish want the bigger passing-game threat, it’s likely going to be Raridon, or maybe Staes, depending on their offseason development. However, Flanagan’s physicality and blocking experience might make him the preferred option in run-heavy, three-tight end packages, which is what this projected depth chart predicts. Expect Evans and Bauman, should they stay healthy, to be the most prominent names, but the other four members of the tight end room should receive opportunities to carve out a role for themselves in the 2023 offense.

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@nd.edu.

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Irish O-line looks to build on in-season improvements

There were a lot of things that didn’t go right in the first half of Notre Dame’s 2022 season. Few position groups performed further below expectations than Notre Dame’s offensive line. It was one thing to see the Irish struggle to run the ball against an Ohio State team that would eventually reach the College Football Playoff. But to see the Irish held to 3.5 yards per carry by Marshall the next week raised immediate red flags about the state of Notre Dame’s offensive line.

Eventually, the Irish answered those questions. By season’s end, an Irish program known for its O-line prowess was back to handling opposing front sevens. Few Irish fans will forget how the unit flexed its muscles, literally and figuratively, in Notre Dame’s 35-14 destruction of then-No. 4 Clemson. After Notre Dame rushed for just 130 yards as a team against the Thundering Herd, sophomore running back Logan Diggs nearly topped that figure alone. The Irish galloped for 263 yards on an average of 5.6 per carry while also protecting quarterback Drew Pyne well.

That the Irish finished with respectable rankings in stats most associated with offensive line play such as rushing yards (35th) and sacks allowed (39th) given their dismal play at the start of the year speaks to how much they turned things around. Of course, one of the biggest reasons for Notre Dame’s O-line resurgence was All-American graduate student Jarrett Patterson, who was notably absent for the opener at Ohio State due to a right foot sprain. Patterson finished his Irish career with all kinds of accolades. Perhaps most impressively, he did not allow a single sack in nearly 1,700 pass block snaps. The Irish will certainly miss his dominance at left guard.

For as good as Patterson was, the guy to his left might have been even better. According to Pro Football Focus, sophomore Joe Alt graded out as college football’s top tackle in 2022. It’s been a meteoric rise for Alt. He’s gone from three-star recruit (according to Rivals) to starter in 2021 to downright elite last season. Alt could be the latest in a long line of Irish offensive line greats.

They’ll need him to be every bit as good in 2023 with Patterson and Notre Dame’s other starting guard, graduate student Josh Lugg, set to depart. The Irish will have senior center Zeke Correll back and sophomore Blake Fisher will look to build on his breakout 2022 season at right tackle.

Notre Dame adds five new O-linemen to the program for 2023, all from their recruiting class. That quintet includes Notre Dame’s highest rated recruit (according to 247 Sports) in tackle Charles Jagusah. Jagusah is a four-star recruit, as are tackle Sullivan Absher, who comes to South Bend from South Point High School in Belmont, NC, and interior linemen Sam Pendleton (also from North Carolina) and Joe Otting. Three-star interior lineman Christopher Terek rounds out the class.

It’s possible that some of that group sees playing time in 2023, but it would be a major surprise if any of them take over Patterson or Lugg’s starting spots. After all, the Irish also brought in several four-star linemen in last year’s recruiting class, including tackles Aamil Wagner and Billy Schrauth. More experienced options like junior Andrew Kristofic and sophomore Rocco Spindler could see increased roles as well. There will definitely be some things for offensive line coach Harry Hiestand to sort out in the second year of his second stint in South Bend. But given the strong foundation bookended by Alt and Fisher at tackle, Notre Dame’s O-line should be rock-solid once again. Hopefully from day one this time around.

2023 Projected Depth Chart

LT: Joe Alt, Tosh Baker

LG: Billy Schrauth, Rocco Spindler

C: Zeke Correll, Pat Coogan

RG: Andrew Kristofic, Aamil Wagner

RT: Blake Fisher, Michael Carmody

Contact Andrew McGuinness at amcguinn@nd.edu.

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2023 Notre Dame depth chart projection: Irish face major losses along defensive line

The Notre Dame defensive line loses both of their vypers from 2022 along with two of their regular defensive tackles. They’ll look to replace that production and spearhead a strong Irish defense in 2023. 

2022 Summary

Defensive line started out as a confounding nonfactor early on in the season for the Irish. In Notre Dame’s disastrous 0-2 start to the season, the Irish managed just two total sacks. Generally, in games where the Irish struggled, the defensive line struggled with it. Against Stanford, the defensive front again managed just one sack, and against Southern Cal, it registered just two. 

But aside from the Southern Cal blemish, Al Washington’s unit eventually grew into the strength it was expected to be over the latter half of the season. Senior Isaiah Foskey breaking the all-time Notre Dame sack record set by Justin Tuck was a notable high point. Keeping South Carolina, Clemson, Boston College and Syracuse under 100 rushing yards proved instrumental to Irish victories in those games. Junior Jordan Botelho’s two sack performance against South Carolina provided a nice glimmer of hope for 2023 to cap off the year.

Key Departures

Where do you start? In Isaiah Foskey, the Irish lose their 2022 leader in snaps at the position, all-time leader in sacks and a first round talent at a spot where it’s unclear if Notre Dame has a natural replacement (more on that later). Graduate student Jayson Ademilola perhaps wasn’t as prolific on the statsheet as Foskey, but he was a consistent presence in opposing backfields operating in the interior of the defensive line. Graduate student Justin Ademilola finished second in total snaps on the Irish defensive line, rotating in and out opposite Foskey on the edge. In graduate student Chris Smith, Notre Dame loses a dependable presence at nose tackle who emerged as a key member of the rotation when injuries shortened the Irish’s depth. All told, Marcus Freeman and Al Golden will need to replace the vast majority of the team’s 2022 statistical production on the defensive line.

Transfer Portal Additions

Javontae Jean-Baptiste was Notre Dame’s lone transfer portal addition at defensive line, adding experience to what is set to be a young unit in 2023. Jean-Baptiste’s time at Ohio State was characterized by solid if not necessarily flashy play. He served as a rotational member of a top-tier defensive front that he never locked down a starting role on. At 6’5, 250 pounds, Jean-Baptiste figures to be an addition at the “big end” position (should Notre Dame play the same defensive scheme as last year, which is not a guarantee), as opposed to the vyper role that Foskey came to define. The Irish likely saw value in Jean-Baptiste’s senior year production, which was the strongest of his career. He posted four sacks in limited snaps.

Freshman Additions

The Irish added four players at the defensive line position in their 2023 class. Brenan Vernon, Boubacar Traore, Devan Houstan and Armel Mukam signed with Notre Dame. Only Houstan will be enrolling early and as such be on the inside track to early playing time. Vernon is perhaps the most interesting name to keep an eye out for as spring camp progresses. Standing 6’5 and weighing 275 pounds, Vernon should be physically ready for the adjustment from high school to college football. Earlier in the cycle, Vernon was seen as a five-star caliber recruit before ending as a high four-star. 247 Sports’ Gabe Brooks noted that he stood out in particular for his high floor as a prospect. Such a high floor could prove key for the Ohio native to find playing time early.

Projected 2-deep

DE: Jordan Botelho, Nana Osafo-Mensah

DT: Howard Cross, Gabriel Rubio

DT: Rylie Mills, Aidan Keanaaina

DE: Javontae Jean-Baptise, Junior Tuihalamaka

At defensive end, starters 1a and 1b will likely be Jordan Botelho and Javontae Jean-Baptiste. It remains to be seen what specific defensive configuration Notre Dame will use, be it a recreation of last year’s system or a new setup to fit new personnel. Both Botelho (who was the clear next man up for the staff when Foskey opted out of the Gator Bowl) and Jean-Baptiste (who holds four years of high-level game experience) have resumes that stand out among other potential options. Behind them, the picture becomes less clear. Senior Nana Osafo-Mensah enjoyed a career-best year in 2022 and could be set for an even bigger role as a graduate student. And a breakout spring camp from someone on the younger end of the roster (the primary candidates likely being freshmen Joshua Burnham or Junior Tuihalamaka) could likely thrust them into the rotation as well.

On the interior, the story is similar. There’s a decent amount of buzz that junior Rylie Mills, who looked out of place as a defensive end early on in 2022, could move full-time to a more interior role for 2023. Should that be the case, he stands out as an immediate starting candidate. Howard Cross III has not officially confirmed he’ll be returning for a fifth season. But if he does, the graduate student who’s been in the nose tackle rotation for three years would likely be primed for his first season as an every-game starter. After Mills and Cross, there’s less definitive production to consider for backups. Two names to keep an eye on as spring practice buzz begins to emerge, though, are sophomore Gabriel Rubio and junior Aidan Keanaaina.

Contact J.J. Post at jpost2@nd.edu.

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Irish linebackers return en masse for 2023

The Fighting Irish linebacker core will bring back the same top six players that closed out last season. Two four-stars and a three-star from the 2023 recruiting class will join them. Here’s a full outlook on Al Golden’s group of linebackers heading into next season.

2022 summary

Position leaders (by snap count): Marist Liufau (601), JD Bertrand (521), Jack Kiser (305), Prince Kollie (123), Bo Bauer (71), Junior Tuihalamaka (63)

The play of Notre Dame’s linebacker group left a fair amount of room for improvement this past season. Senior JD Bertrand, despite missing the first half of two games after receiving a pair of targeting penalties, was a tackling machine once again. He made 82 stops and ended the year with eight-plus tackles in three of Notre Dame’s last four games. Senior Marist Liufau was consistent. but not great, in his return from a broken leg. He totaled 51 tackles while graduate student Jack Kiser performed similarly with 59 takedowns. The Irish successfully ushered in some of their younger players late in the season as well. Freshmen Jaylen Sneed and Junior Tuihalamaka and sophomore Prince Kollie each put up a three-plus tackle performance in November.

Aggression is the strength within the Irish linebacker room. Most players in the position group are known for their ability to quickly diagnose plays and fly to the football. Such traits could still use some refinement to prevent defensive breakdowns, but instinct has most often been a positive for the linebackers. Notre Dame also has tremendous top-to-bottom depth at the position. The Irish aren’t losing any of last year’s main contributors and are adding several quality prospects from the class of 2023.

For the linebackers, improved pass coverage is required to take the next step. Bertrand, Liufau and Kiser combined to defend just three passes in 2022. In fact, Kiser didn’t have a single pass breakup after seemingly emerging as a ballhawk in 2021. Teams such as Southern California, South Carolina and even Stanford found ways to pick Notre Dame apart over the middle. To become a more reliable group, the Irish linebackers must crack down on blown assignments and missed tackles in the passing game.

Key departures

Bo Bauer (out of eligibility)

A practice-induced knee injury cut Bauer’s final season short in mid-October. He played five games as a captain in 2022, making nine tackles to reach 120 for his career. Replacing his production should be manageable, given that the Irish will return their top six linebackers. Additionally, the experience of Bertrand, a 2022 captain, alongside Liufau and Kiser should provide plenty of stability, even with Bauer’s leadership out the door.

Freshmen additions

Jaiden Ausberry (four-star, University Lab High School – Baton Rouge, LA)

Drayk Bowen (four-star, Andrean High School – Merrillville, IN)

Preston Zinter (three-star, Central Catholic High School – Lawrence, MA)

Among these three, Bowen is the most likely to force Notre Dame’s hand and earn substantial playing time in his first season. The Indiana native put together an otherworldly senior season, winning both the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker and the All-American Bowl Defensive Player of the Year. As a mid-year enrollee and a two-sport athlete, Bowen is taking on the challenge of balancing the spring baseball season with football conditioning. One way or another, he should be in excellent shape when pigskin season approaches. Bowen has already displayed boundless excitement about suiting up in blue and gold, so expect him to waste little time making an impact for the Irish.

Projected 2-deep

Rover: Jack Kiser, Jaylen Sneed

Weakside LB: Marist Liufau, Prince Kollie

Middle LB: JD Bertrand, Junior Tuihalamaka

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Notre Dame 2023 depth chart projection: Special teams brings in new names

Notre Dame special teams will undergo some changes ahead of the 2023 season, including starting their third different kicker in three seasons. One of the nation’s most improved units will look to continue to impact the game positively for the Irish under special teams coach Brian Mason. 

2022 Summary

The Irish were a dynamic special teams unit, headlined by their nation-leading seven punt blocks. They notched the first score of Notre Dame’s 35-14 upset of then-No. 4 Clemson. In the kicking game, graduate transfer Blake Grupe made 14 of 19 field goals and was perfect on 49 extra point attempts. He ended his Irish career by making all four field goal attempts over his final three games. Grupe was consistent from short range, connecting on eight of of nine attempts within 40 yards. Walk-on freshman Zac Yoakam served as the Irish’s kickoff specialist. 

In the punting game, Harvard transfer Jon Sot averaged 43.9 yards per kick, ranking inside the nation’s top 30 punters. Graduate student Mike Vinson, nicknamed “Milk,” continued to prove why he is one of the best long snappers in the country, providing remarkable consistency at the position. 

In the return game, the Irish ranked 14th nationally in total punt return yardage and 27th in average yards per punt return. Senior safety Brandon Joseph did most of the work, although graduate student Matt Salerno stepped in during Joseph’s injury at the end of the season. Junior running back Chris Tyree was the primary kick returner, and he had less success. His 16.9 yards per kick return was the third-worst mark in the country. 

Key Departures

Blake Grupe, Jon Sot, Brandon Joseph

The Irish will need to replace their kicker and punter duo, and they’re losing their primary punt returner as well. Grupe was solid in 2022, but he struggled from distance. The Irish didn’t even attempt a field goal from 50+ yards. Sot was solid, consistently flipping the field and helping the Irish win the field position battle in the majority of their games. Joseph returned 18 punts for 179 yards but declared for the NFL draft after his lone season in South Bend. 

Transfer Portal Additions

K: Spencer Shrader, P: Ben Krimm

The Irish already replaced their voids at kicker and punter via the transfer portal. Apparently not content with riding with an in-house backup option, the Irish reached into the portal for South Florida graduate transfer Spencer Shrader. Shrader is 20-26 over his past two seasons with a long of 52 yards. Shrader took a small step back in 2022, going just 2-5 from 40-plus yards after making five of seven attempts from at least 40 yards out in 2021. He’ll look to re-establish that long range accuracy with the Irish. He’s also 12-13 from closer than 40 yards over the past two seasons and a perfect 62-62 on extra points. At the very least, the Irish seem to be getting a similar kicker to Grupe with potentially a little extra juice. 

Krimm transfers from Penn, making it two straight former Ivy League punters for Notre Dame. He averaged 41.6 yards per punt this year, notching punts of at least 50 yards in six of his 10 games in 2022. His season-best effort was 60 yards, and he should slot into the starting punting role for the Irish. 

Freshman Additions

The Irish didn’t add any specialists in their 2023 recruiting class. However, they did add a handful of dynamic athletes that could improve their return game. Safety Micah Bell, running back Jeremiyah Love and wide receiver Braylon James are among the top speedsters in the class. Bell, a track star, has a 20.89 200-meter dash time. Love and James have recorded top speeds of 21.39 mph and 20.45 mph according to the Underclassman Report. Preferred walk-on safety Luke Talich also boasts a 40-yard dash in the 4.5s and could factor in to the discussion. 

Projected Depth Chart

Kicker: Spencer Shrader, Zac Yoakam

Punter: Ben Krimm, Bryce McFerson

KR: Chris Tyree, Lorenzo Styles

PR: Micah Bell, Matt Salerno

LS: Mike Vinson, Rino Monteforte

Holder: Ben Krimm, Bryce McFerson

Kickoff: Zac Yoakam, Bryce McFerson

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@nd.edu.

Categories
Sports

Notre Dame splits close series against No. 2 Minnesota

By Tyler Reidy and Tom Zwiller

A day before the Irish took the ice for their series opener against the No. 2 Minnesota Golden Gophers, football head coach Marcus Freeman got them ready.

“One shift, one life — that was the spiel he gave us,” senior forward and assistant captain Trevor Janicke said of Freeman’s Thursday meeting with the team. “Go out there and do your best, and afterwards there’s nothing you can do, so just reset every shift. Every shift’s a new shift.”

Even without captain and senior defenseman Nick Leivermann, the Irish were prepared to compete. Notre Dame went to the power play late in the first period and made the most of it. In the waning seconds of the man advantage, junior forward Landon Slaggert and graduate student forward Chayse Primeau delivered crisp passes from below the goal line and across the net mouth, setting up sophomore forward Justin Janicke for a one-timer to put the Irish ahead 1-0.

Minnesota was quick to answer thanks to some puck luck. Exactly one minute after Janicke’s marker, senior goaltender Ryan Bischel rejected a shot from the blue line. The puck fluttered straight up in the air and out of sight. When it came down on the crease, Mason Nevers jammed it home to tie the game.

Notre Dame found a new gear early in the second, and Trevor Janicke paid it off. Janicke took a bump from Minnesota’s Jimmy Snuggerud coming out of the corner that caused the latter to lose his stick. That allowed Janicke to break toward the net, where he roofed his team-leading seventh goal on Minnesota goaltender Justen Close.

The Gophers couldn’t capitalize on a power play to open the third, and they remained quiet throughout the period. They finally emptied the net with 1:05 to play and broke through on Bischel after 43 fruitless minutes. With 24.6 seconds left, Jackson LaCombe hammered a one-timer through traffic to even the score.

Though the Golden Gophers might have a talent edge, sporting several players taken in the NHL draft, the Irish found a way to hang around.

“They’re first-round draft picks, but we can compete with them,” Trevor Janicke said. “We’re just trying to get in front of pucks and block some shots, and unfortunately one of them slipped through.”

As overtime began, the players reminded one another of Coach Freeman’s message. Notre Dame hardly touched the puck in the 3-on-3 period. But the Irish forced a shootout as Snuggerud’s clanked a last-ditch shot off the bottom of the crossbar. After the Gophers’ top line torched Notre Dame in November, the Irish held them without a point in 65 minutes of play.

“It was a combination of different lines playing against them,” head coach Jeff Jackson said. “The key thing is that it’s a dynamic line and you can’t just focus on one guy. I thought our guys defended pretty well for the most part.”

In the shootout, Minnesota kept its top three forwards on the bench, and its first two shooters missed. 

“I think I did a good job of holding my feet,” Bischel said. “That’s something I’ve worked on with Coach Jackson a lot since I’ve been here — being more patient and not dropping early.”

Meanwhile, junior forward Ryder Rolston found the back of the net as Notre Dame’s second contestant. After Trevor Janicke missed, the fight for the extra point came down to Bishcel and Rhett Pitlick, a relative of two NHLers. Pitlick missed, giving the Irish the extra point in a 2-2 tie and shootout win.

“It was a pretty crazy game. It was a lot of fun,” Janicke remarked. “Wish we would’ve found a way to get it in regulation, but I’m pretty happy with the resiliency and the way we bounced back.”

Saturday’s pre-game ceremonial puck drop featured Anthony Clark, a member of the Notre Dame Police Department, and his K9 partner Skete in honor of first responders. The first key event of the game itself was a Minnesota penalty when Ryan Chesley committed a five-minute major for contact to the head, giving the Irish a power play.

Initially the Irish were unable to settle into the Golden Gophers’ zone. One Notre Dame did settle in however, they were able to generate two good scoring chances from Rolston and Primeau.

The Gopher ultimately killed off their penalty, though the Irish still had momentum. That went away when a hit by sophomore forward Hunter Strand from behind resulted in a five-minute major and a game misconduct, ending Strand’s night.

Much like the Irish, Minnesota struggled to control the puck in their attacking zone for the first few minutes of their power play. The Irish would kill off the major, but disaster struck later in the frame. First, Minnesota’s Ryan Johnson lit the lamp at five-on-five with 2:15 left in the first. Then, in the final minute of the first period, the Irish took not one, but two penalties. One was for a cross-checking call on junior defenseman Drew Bavaro. The other was a roughing call on senior forward Solag Bakich, both of which carried into the second.

The Golden Gophers began the second by taking possession of the puck and playing an aggressive attack. Their efforts were rewarded when Logan Cooley broke into the Irish zone off a nice feed by Snuggerud. Not seeing a pass, Cooley brought the puck down into the near faceoff circle, moved to the slot, pivoted and beat Bischel glove side.

Though they were down 2-0, the Irish continued to play hard. They were even gifted a chance to get back into the game when Minnesota’s Bryce Brodzinski committed a slashing penalty.

However, the Irish were unable to do anything on their powerplay. In fact, the Irish did less than nothing, as Matthew Knies scored a short-handed goal to make it a 3-0 lead. All the Maple Leafs prospect did was split three Irish defenders to get to the net, redirecting the puck it into the net after briefly losing control right through Bischel’s five-hole.

Though there were no goals in the third period, the final twenty minutes did not lack physicality. Bavaro picked up his second penalty of the night for a holding call early in the frame. But the real fireworks began with less than a minute to play. First, Minnesota’s Connor Kurth was ejected from the game for contact to the head. During the stoppage, while Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko challenged the call, Notre Dame was assessed a two-minute bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. Though the Irish produced a few good attempts, they ultimately fell 3-0.

The loss drops Notre Dame to 10-11-3 on the season, with a record of 5-7-2-1-1-0 in the Big 10. The split with Minnesota allows them to remain in fifth in the conference. They are seven points behind Penn State, Michigan State, and Ohio State, and two points ahead of Michigan.

The Irish will continue Big Ten play as they go on the road to face the Penn State Nittany Lions. The two teams have already met in South Bend this season. The two teams split the series. Penn State won the first game 5-2, and the Irish took the second 5-3.

Puck drop is at 6 p.m. on Friday and 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Contact Tyler Reidy at treidy3@nd.edu and Tom Zwiller at tzwiller@hcc-nd.edu.