There has been quite a bit of turnover in Notre Dame’s program coming off a 4-8 campaign last season. Notre Dame replaced their offensive, defensive, and special teams coordinators, as well as a bevy of other assistant coaches this offseason. They also lost both their starting and backup quarterbacks. For many, though, turnover will be a benefit as we get closer to the 2017 season. Here are a few players to keep an eye on:
Asmar Bilal, Outside Linebacker
Heading in to his junior season, Asmar Bilal may be in for a slight role change. With the new hire of Defensive Coordinator Mike Elko and the implementation of a 4-2-5 scheme, Bilal may find time at the all-important rover position, which is similar to the nickel corner in more traditional defense.
Bilal, an outside linebacker, entered into the 2016 season listed at 220 pounds. In other words, Bilal was a little too small to play a true linebacker position, but was probably a little too slow to play a true safety position. Elko’s rover position may fit him perfectly.
Although there has been no official word that this might be the case, Bilal seems like a pretty likely candidate to at least receive a look at the position. If he sticks, Notre Dame
Drue Tranquill, Safety
Tranquil came to Notre Dame as a highly-touted safety recruit. In his short time at Notre Dame, he impressed the Irish coaching staff, especially in his ability to play the run. Unfortunately for Tranquill, back-to-back ACL surgeries have likely made him lose a step of speed. Throughout last season, Tranquill was on and off the field quite a bit, based on the situation. It seemed pretty clear that in definite passing situations, Tranquill could not truly be relied upon.
Like Bilal, though, Tranquill be the beneficiary of Mike Elko’s defense. Like Bilal, Tranquil is somewhat of an in-betweener when it comes to size and speed: too big to be a true safety, too small to be a true linebacker. With the advent of the rover position, Tranquill may be put in a position to make some plays in South Bend next fall.
Chase Claypool, Wide Receiver
Rising sophomore Chase Claypool saw some action for Notre Dame last season, mostly on special teams. On offense, Claypool caught 5 passes for 81 yards. The 6-foot, 4-inch receiver is poised for a breakout season as the Irish look to replace production from the likes of Torii Hunter, Jr. and find some consistency in the passing game.
Claypool’s size and speed combination will allow the Irish to find different spots for him to get on the field. In fact, Claypool lined up at tight end for a few snaps against Stanford. The matchup problem allowed him to reel in a 33-yard catch, which was his longest of the season. Unfortunately, the Irish never showed this look again.
A different type of receiver than fellow freshman CJ Sanders, Claypool has the ability to play outside the numbers and stretch the field, making him a good option to play on the opposite receiver standout Equinameous St. Brown. Notre Dame’s passing game was inconsistent at best last season, but if Claypool can emerge as a legitimate threat and tight end Alize Jones is as good as advertised as he returns from suspension, the Irish could have a dynamic passing game in 2017.
Alize Jones, Tight End
The story on Alize Jones has been well-documented. After a promising end to his freshman season, Jones was suspended for the 2016 season for academic reasons. Jones pledged his loyalty to the team, however, and made it clear from the beginning he would be back for 2017.
In 2016, Jones participated on the Notre Dame practice squad and reminded the Notre Dame coaching staff why they were so high on him heading in to the season. In multiple end-of-year news conferences, Coach Brian Kelly mentioned how they missed Jones this season and discussed how Jones was far and away the best receiver on Notre Dame’s practice squad. He went on to say that basically no one on the team could cover him.
Jones assured his twitter followers that he would be eligible for 2017 and all signs point to him being a breakout star for the Irish.
Brandon Wimbush, Quarterback
We only saw flashes of Brandon Wimbush in his freshman season as he backed up DeShone Kizer after Malik Zaire’s injury. Now both aforementioned quarterbacks are gone and Wimbush appears to be Notre Dame’s de facto quarterback.
Wimbush might be the best blend of talents Notre Dame has seen at the quarterback position in awhile. Wimbush has a very strong arm and is also very mobile, which will allow Kelly to have a lot of flexibility running the offense in 2017. Despite not having much experience, Wimbush should benefit from having a great deal of experience around him.
Even better for Wimbush is that it seems he will not have to look over his shoulder should he struggle early on. He is the only quarterback on Notre Dame’s roster who has ever taken a snap in a college football game and it would seem almost preposterous for Kelly to go any other direction with the quarterback position barring unforeseen circumstances.