Plenty Of Firsts In Year Two
As Marcus Freeman finalizes his staff and gets Notre Dame ready for spring ball, it’s wild to think about just how much has changed in a single calendar year. Plenty of players have come and gone and the staff looks nothing like it did when Freeman first took the helm.
Having so many changes take place provides both opportunity and risk. Nobody knows that more than Freeman himself. Will these changes help the Irish next fall? Hurt them? We will find out in about six long months. Let’s take a detailed look at some of the firsts to keep an eye on.
Oct 9, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Wake Forest Demon Deacons quarterback Sam Hartman (10) looks on prior to the game against the Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that for most of last year the Notre Dame battled week in and week out with a very inexperienced and physically limited quarterbackdue to the latest in a long string of bad luck events for [autotag]Tyler Buchner[/autotag]. This put Notre Dame “behind the eight ball” right away in Freeman’s first year in terms of what was possible on the field.
This year, assuming another catastrophic event does not take place, Notre Dame will have the starter, presumably [autotag]Sam Hartman[/autotag], they desire playing all year and at a high level. This fact alone sets the Irish up for more success year two than last year even if we don’t discuss any other factors.
Gerad Parker’s Offensive Vision
New Notre Dame offensive coordinator Gerad Parker speaks with the meeting after being formally introduced as Tommy Rees replacement Monday, Feb. 20, 2023 at Notre Dame Stadium.
Ndi Ndfb Gerard Parker Press Conference 1 02202023
I’m certain that under new offensive coordinator [autotag]Gerad Parker[/autotag], Notre Dame will still try to maintain its physical identity. Not only is this just Notre Dame’s general preference when it comes to offensive football recently, but the running back room may be the deepest and most skilled group in the program currently and it makes total sense to lean into that.
Where the discussion gets interesting is thinking about where Parker’s vision may differ from that of Rees. Will we get more tight end involvement since this is Parker’s recent area of expertise? How much will he try to balance Notre Dame’s desire to run with the wish to throw the ball around with a bigger armed quarterback and more capable and stable wide receiver group? This could be very exciting to watch.
Wide Receiver Room Changing Fast
SOUTH BEND, INDIANA – OCTOBER 15: Tobias Merriweather #15 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass for a touchdown against Kendall Williamson #21 of the Stanford Cardinal during the second half at Notre Dame Stadium on October 15, 2022 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
It was no secret that last year Notre Dame was in a dangerous spot in terms of wide receiver skill, talent and depth. This, along with Notre Dame’s reliance on a limited [autotag]Dew Pyne[/autotag] meant that the passing game was a massive struggle most of the year.
One year later, Notre Dame may have two quarterbacks that can stretch the field and a revamped receiver room that will have more competition and depth in it. I’d argue that last year offensively quarterback and wide receiver were the two weakest parts of the unit. They have both been massively overhauled and are trending up. This offense can now hopefully take off!
New O Line U Director
Apr 23, 2022; Notre Dame, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand watches in the fourth quarter of the Blue-Gold Game at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Everyone recognizes and acknowledges [autotag]Harry Hiestand[/autotag]’s outstanding career and the terrific lineage of NFL talent he’s curated. The responsibility of maintaining the Irish’s run identity now falls on [autotag]Joe Rudolph[/autotag] who himself has quite the run game resume at previous stops at most notably Pitt and Wisconsin.
What wrinkles will be added? What kind of run game creativity can be utilized with the multiple different running backs that all over some overlapping yet diverse skill sets? There is a lot that can be done in this regard and should be very fun to observe.
Will Special Teams Stay Special?
Nov 5, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Jordan Botelho (12) blocks a punt by Clemson Tigers punter Aidan Swanson (39) in the first quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Best of luck to [autotag]Brian Mason[/autotag] as he transitions from the college game to the NFL. By far the most consistently high level play from Notre Dame last year came from the special teams group. It was a joy to behold and was the total opposite approach to this unit that we got under Kelly. This unit was nationally recognized and respected.
While we wait to see who will assume Mason’s role, one thing is for sure. This group set a high standard last year that everyone in and around the program want to see be maintained. This unit was an energy spark plug last year more of the same is expected.
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Story originally appeared on Fighting Irish Wire