Notre Dame offense will survive the loss of its stars

Notre Dame wide receiver Miles Boykin (81) makes a one handed catch in front of LSU defensive back Donte Jackson (1) for a 55-yard game winning touchdown during the second half of the recent Citrus Bowl game in Orlando. Notre Dame won 21-17. (By The Associated Press)
Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long watches his players practice at the LaBarr Practice Facility in South Bend in the spring of last year. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet, right, runs with the ball against Wake Forest defensive back Ja'Sir Taylor during the second half of a game this past season in South Bend. (By The Associated Press)
Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly directs his team against LSU during the second half of the recent Citrus Bowl game in Orlando. (By The Associated Press)

It may sound foolish to diminish the loss of over 5,000 career yards of total offense, in addition to 35 touchdowns, but the Notre Dame offense is going to have to figure out a way to do just that in 2018.

Leading wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and runner Josh Adams both declared this week their intentions to head to the NFL and end their careers in South Bend a year early, but the reality is that the Irish are deep enough on the offensive side of the ball to survive their departures.

“With a lot of thought, prayer and discussion with my family,” Adams posted on Twitter Friday, “I’ve decided to forgo my senior year and enter the 2018 NFL Draft. I chose Notre Dame because it was a place that allowed me to pursue my full potential and it was a decision that would affect the rest of my life.”

“I’ll always have Notre Dame in my heart.”

Time moves on for both the players and the program and in the case of the Fighting Irish offense, it should be fine with the players that remain in the program, which was on full display in the recent Citrus Bowl victory over LSU.

Notre Dame pass-catchers Miles Boykin and Michael Young Jr. hauled in the final two scores of that game to seal the win (Boykin earned game Most Valuable Player honors), while 110 of the 154 yards gained on the ground by the Irish return for next season in the form of quarterbacks Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book, as well as runner Dexter Williams.

“We played a lot of young players that went in and competed,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said following the win. “As I told our team, it’s about traits; it’s not about talent that is going to get it done here at Notre Dame.”

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Despite the loss of St. Brown, not just Kelly, but Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long, as well, envisions the passing attack of this team actually improving in 2018.

“We need to be more consistent in our passing game,” Long said recently of next season. “That’s a step that the entire offense has to make. It’s not just the quarterbacks, (but) the receivers, the tight ends… in this offense we should be throwing 65, 70 percent completions and averaging 300 yards passing a game to go with our ability to run the ball.”

Losing Adams and St. Brown won’t make those numbers easy to rack up, but the return of many, many other talented players will make it possible.

Not only will Boykin and Young be back, but so will starter Chase Claypool (injured for the bowl game) and regular Chris Finke.

In addition, young players Javon McKinley and Jafar Armstrong, as well as oft-injured veteran Freddy Canteen will get looks as they develop.

And that doesn’t even include the incredibly deep tight end rotation (Alize’ Mack, Nic Weishar, Cole Kmet, and Brock Wright) or the potential (though it may be slim) for speedster Kevin Stepherson (currently suspended) to return.

The Irish were down Stepherson, Claypool and leading tight end Mack (suspended) for the bowl game, but still were able to put forth an effective passing attack against a solid Tiger secondary, and as great as Adams was this season, the truth is that he was often ineffective, despite the strength of the team being the offensive line, and he battled injuries frequently.

Once runners like Dexter Williams and Tony Jones Jr. got healthy, they showed an ability to carry the ball just fine.

“He’s another great runner,” Long said of Jones Jr. before the bowl game. “He has great vision (and) low center of gravity. He’s just a hard guy to tackle.”

“He has very good instincts and is a very explosive guy in the backfield.”

Notre Dame will feature both Williams and Jones Jr. next season, as well as Deon McIntosh (suspended for the bowl game), who had a very respectable season when called into action this year.

“Our strength this year,” Long said, “is a great offensive line and running back corps and a quarterback who can move. We’re still going to always emphasize that, but I want to be a balanced offense.”

The Irish will have to replace a pair of great offensive linemen in Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, as well as St. Brown and Adams, but ability won’t be lacking on that side of the ball next autumn.

“Every single day,” Kelly said, “pay attention to what the traits are, and this football team can continue to win at a high level.”

For more on college football, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.

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