The 2017 Irish Spring Game is Saturday, April 22 at Notre Dame Stadium. This will be the first time we get to see the new-look Notre Dame Fighting Irish football squad in game action. There are a lot of things to watch out for, but these five players are worth keeping a close eye on because they’ll be big players this season.
This one’s obvious. DeShone Kizer has forgone his last year of eligibility and left for the NFL Draft, and now the #WimbushEra begins. The team has rallied behind him in a big way. First-year offensive coordinator Chip Long has big plans for the young gun, and I think that Wimbush fits perfectly in the up-tempo style offense Long plans to play. Wimbush has the wheels to make plays on the ground, and he has a cannon for an arm. He’s been hyped up since Everett Golson was Notre Dame’s QB1, and now it’s his time to shine.
The 6’4” TE missed last season, but he’s back and ready to shine. Jones is lightning fast, with massive hands and his height makes him a nightmare for defenders. Wimbush and Jones are close friends, and I’m certain that chemistry will come in handy on Saturday. I’ve never seen a player more motivated to succeed than this young man. He’s going to do big things this year.
Switching over to the other side of the ball, DL Daelin Hayes will fill a massive role after Jarron Jones’ departure. Hayes got a couple of reps last fall, notching a tackle or two in most games in 2016. Hayes (6’ 3” 250 lbs) is big, strong, and fast, and after a Matt Balis workout regimen this offseason, he’s bigger, stronger, and faster. Hayes will line up alongside linebackers Nyles Morgan and Te’von Coney, and fellow DL Jerry Tillery, Jay Hayes, and Julian Okwara, and that’s a vicious front seven.
Crawford has played two games in his two years at Notre Dame, and he has missed the rest due to injury. Crawford tore his ACL his freshman year, and he missed the whole season. Last season, after notching an interception and returning a blocked PAT for a touchdown vs Texas, he tore his Achilles against Nevada. Crawford is back and ready to fill the hole left by Cole Luke, and Crawford is more than capable of exceeding those expectations. He’s quick, smart, and has great hands.
For the Irish to have success in 2017, this man has to step up. Adams was Notre Dame’s leading rusher in 2016, but his 4 TDs are only half of what DeShone Kizer notched on the ground. If Adams can get going and the Irish can establish a halfway-threatening run game, that will open up space for Wimbush to make big plays. Adams has shown sparks of brilliance in the past, but I expect to see a much more solid and consistent performance this season.