Heading into year two with a revamped Notre Dame coaching staff, the football program is on an upward trend. Mike Elko took a porous defensive football team and demonstrated to the college football world how quickly he could turn it around. Chip Long established a power running culture and spearheaded Josh Adams’ #33Trucking Campaign. The strength and conditioning program is finally up to par with the times, and current and incoming athletes are taking notice. Excitement and energy is hitting the recruiting trails, and Notre Dame targets view the school in a different light. The program is coming off a disappointing end to the regular season, but don’t let that overshadow the improvements in effect.
Before Mike Elko took over as defensive coordinator Notre Dame’s defense was in a bad place. Recruiting was mediocre, the scheme was too complicated, and the athletes’ were not developed. Elko implemented a defense which allowed his players to play fast and loose, and that was evident from the start of fall camp. The biggest developments have been along the defensive line and linebacker. Te’von Coney, Jerry Tillery, Khalid Kareem, and Julian Okwara all took major leaps as players, and Elko deserves a ton of credit their progress. With that said, the lack of talent as a whole on defense was still painfully evident. The safety play was covered up most of the season, but Nick Coleman and Jalen Elliott were exposed late in the year. Overall, the defense lacked the speed and play-making ability of a true playoff contender.
Notre Dame fans have been clamoring for a run-first offense for years, and we all got our wish this season. Backed by two future first-round picks along the offensive line, Josh Adams became one of the most successful rushers in Notre Dame history. Chip Long identified the offense’s strength early on, and road it to a 8-1 start to the season. It was clear Adams lost a step in November, and coupled with Brandon Wimbush’s inconsistencies the offense sputtered toward the end. While there are certainly questions heading into 2018, Chip Long executed the offense’s strength at a high level.
STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING
Some will point to another disappointing November and claim nothing has been resolved, but the strength & conditioning is vastly improved. Injuries are somewhat unavoidable in football, and inconsistencies in the passing game is the bigger issue. Notre Dame started to see stacked boxes on a regular basis forcing Brandon Wimbush to beat teams with his arm. Did Notre Dame lose a step in November? That is certainly plausible, but the new strength staff has only been in place for one season. It is fair to expect further improvements next season and beyond.
RECRUITING OUTLOOK AND UPDATE
Reinforcements are on the way for Notre Dame football. In year two under the new staff, the first full recruiting cycle looks to be a good one. At the biggest position of need (safety), Notre Dame currently has two commitments and will likely land a third. The staff has also made linebacker recruiting a priority, with four top-notch recruits already committed and still pushing for another. Look for Notre Dame to close strong in the defensive secondary and with some of their top targets. With six spots available to work with numbers are getting tight.
The coaching staff wants to finish with another offensive tackle, cornerback and secondary piece. In a perfect world, that means Nicholas Petit-Frere, Kyler Gordon and Houston Griffith, but players like Luke Jones, Tariq Bracy and Avonta Crim are solid backup options. That leaves Notre Dame with three spots left and a variety of ways to go. The staff wants a top linebacker and wide receiver, but are happy with their committed guys as well. Tight End Tommy Tremble is still a top target of the staff, but they are battling a few schools. They also seem interested in adding another defensive end which is evident by their continued pursuit of Jayson Oweh and their offer to Malik Langham last night. It is also possible they decide to take on two offensive lineman or two true corners if things go awry with other positions.
Notre Dame football is in a much better place than the past several years. With former defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder and the former strength and conditioning coaches, there was limited upside for the program. The vibe around the team is much different, but New Year’s Six Bowls and playoff berths need to happen regularly. Next year will prove to be important, not only for the future of the program, but Brian Kelly as well.