Notre Dame’s Fall Camp: First Week Takeaways

Notre Dame's fall

Notre Dame’s Fall practices began a little over a week ago, and already the storylines are brewing in South Bend. From a quarterback battle that has been decided, to returning and emerging standouts, it’s been an eventful 10 days. Here are the top storylines out of South Bend, as the Irish prepare for their season opener on September 5. 

Jack Coan Named Starting Quarterback

Since Notre Dame announced the transfer of Jack Coan, it felt like the former Badger had a slight edge in the quarterback battle. With highly touted Tyler Buchner a freshman, and Drew Pyne a sophomore with three career pass attempts, Coan’s experience stood out. His 10-4 record in 2019 included several big wins, and Notre Dame will need that, with four top-15 opponents on the schedule. Coan has only thrown for 300+ yards in one game, but with Notre Dame’s dynamic backfield, the Irish don’t need that. On Saturday, head coach Brian Kelly announced the decision with a tweet:

Was It The Right Decision? 

Ultimately, yes. In a word, this decision, made early in Notre Dame’s fall camp, was safe. As Fall practices wore on, it certainly felt like the three-man battle was coming down to Coan and Pyne. Buchner’s electric athleticism is exciting, but he is very raw. Buchner missed his senior year of high school, so to start as a true freshman would have been a bold decision by Kelly. 

When it comes to Pyne versus Coan, the two are similar. Pyne is a full year ahead of Coan in terms of playbook knowledge, having backed up Ian Book in 2020. However, Pyne’s spring game performance was inconsistent, and his gunslinger tendencies make him a riskier pick. Both Coan and Pyne have big arms, but Coan will pull the trigger a little less. That may frustrate Irish fans who watched the offense struggle down the stretch, but limiting mistakes in an offense that returns just three starters is pivotal. Pyne may make a handful of plays that Coan won’t, but Coan will also keep the ball with the offense a little more. 

Should Kelly go bold here? The argument can be made that Notre Dame needs a less vanilla offense, but with a winnable schedule, why risk it? Notre Dame is fully capable of running the table and returning to the CFP, and Coan gives the Irish a good chance. 

However, it is important to note that first part of Kelly’s tweet – that each quarterback has the skills to lead. This competition isn’t closed for the year, and a stumble from Coan could be a door opening for Pyne. Quarterback also arguably isn’t the most important position, as it feels like all three options are suitable, and more pivotal X-factors will come elsewhere on offense. 

Offensive Line Picture Clearing Up? 

Kelly has announced that Jarrett Patterson will be playing center for the Irish in 2021. Patterson broke his foot at Boston College in 2020 – Zeke Correll replaced him temporarily, but Patterson will return. Kelly said Correll will play guard, and left guard seems to be the likely solution. That would allow transfer Cain Madden to slot in at right guard, where he is more comfortable. Madden has 31 career starts, which doubles the rest of the Irish offensive line combined. 

At the tackles, senior Josh Lugg figures to line up alongside Madden on the right side. Lugg has looked solid during Notre Dame’s fall practices, and he should solidify the right side of the line. At left tackle, the favorite to be starting come September 5 is Blake Fisher. Fisher just returned from concussion protocol and had an excellent spring and start to his fall. The Irish’s top 2021 recruit, Fisher is primed to impact the Irish right away, blocking for Notre Dame’s esteemed backfield. 

The offensive line is possibly the most critical aspect to Notre Dame’s success. From protecting Coan to opening up lanes for Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree, the Irish need this new-look line to gel quickly. 

Wide Receivers Standing Out

The wide receivers are a massive X-factor in 2021. And so far, Notre Dame’s Fall practices have done nothing but give reason for optimism. The Irish have a bevy of receivers vying for starting positions, and the performances have been great. Avery Davis, the leading returning receiver, has looked solid and was named a team captain. Kevin Austin has been a standout in practice. And Brian Kelly called Braden Lenzy, Lawrence Keys and Joe Wilkins summers “transformational” during a post-practice press conference. That’s five veteran receivers with some outstanding athletic ability that are performing well in August, and that should have Irish fans thrilled. 

Notably, some of the younger receivers – Xavier Watts, Deion Colzie, and Lorenzo Styles being among them – don’t appear to be in the mix for major roles at the moment. 

“Freaks” On defense

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports released his college football ‘freaks’ list, hailing some of the most athletic players in the country. The Irish saw two defensive players named in the top 50, plus three in the top 75 overall. 

Kyle Hamilton was the big standout – the star safety was ranked No. 3 on Feldman’s list. Feldman listed some of Hamilton’s physical attributes – a 21mph top speed, 41-7 vertical, and 10-8 broad jump – to go with his impressive statistics. Brian Kelly describes the 6’4, 219-pound Hamilton as an ‘eraser’, and the junior is one of the best defensive players in college football, entering the 2021 season.

At No. 45, defensive end Isaiah Foskey received some love from Feldman. After spending most of freshman year on special teams, Foskey recorded 4.5 sacks in 2020. At 6’5 and 257 pounds, Foskey’s speed is remarkable; he runs a 4.65 40-yard dash, and has reached 20.8 mph at top speed.

Foskey and Hamilton are key factors in the Irish defense in 2021, and their absurd athleticism is already being recognized. Running back Chris Tyree, one of the fastest players in college football, ranked 75th on Feldman’s list. 

Irish Name Seven Captains

Not only did Notre Dame name seven captains for the 2021 season, but all of them are first-time captains. From the offense, lineman Jarrett Patterson, wide receiver Avery Davis, and running back Kyren Williams received the honors. Defensively, safety Kyle Hamilton, linemen Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Kurt Hinish, and linebacker Drew White don the captain’s crest. 

Patterson is the anchor of an inexperienced offensive line, while Davis and Williams must be explosive to make the Irish a dangerous offense. Meanwhile, Hinish and Tagovailoa-Amosa were logical picks, providing veteran experience to the pass rush. Drew White is a pivotal player in Notre Dame’s deep linebacker room, and Hamilton is the best player on the team and future first round draft pick. 

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