SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly and his offensive assistants have a problem on their hands. No, none of the coaches will voice concern over the dilemma, but it certainly will be a confounding issue to figure out leading up to the season-opening game against Temple next month.
The Fighting Irish have so much depth at the pass catching positions; there aren't enough plays – or footballs – to satisfy everyone.
“That's what we're working on right now,” Kelly said following Wednesday's practice.
Notre Dame returned 10 of its top 12 pass catchers from a year ago and has added several others to the mix, both in freshmen, as well as veteran transfers.
“We're trying to mix and match and we've got a lot of really solid players,” Kelly continued. “We're just trying to take advantage of what they can do and their skill set and where they can help our football team.”
Junior wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown led Notre Dame with 58 receptions for nine scores a year ago, and Kelly noted that he remains atop the depth chart.
“The only guy we know of that has a ticket on the train right now is 'EQ,'” Kelly said. “Everything else is pretty fluid.”
“Fluid” as in Notre Dame is drowning with talent.
The Fighting Irish return 70 receptions from their wide receiving corps from a year ago, 36 from their running backs, and a meager dozen from its tight ends, of which that number should soar this season with the return of junior Alize' Mack.
Kelly said prior to the opening of camp that Notre Dame would find ways to implement five different tight ends, so the fact that a number of tight ends will catch balls this year isn't surprising, but who is performing well early in camp has been.
“Cole Kmet is extremely gifted, physically” Kelly said following Saturday's practice. “He can run out.”
The Irish return Mack and veterans Nic Weishar and Durham Smythe, as well as newcomer Brock Wright. For anyone that watched the early Notre Dame practices, it has been hard to decipher among the group who is the experienced players and who are the newcomers.
“We're playing all of them,” Kelly said of the tight ends. “We see a lot of value in a lot of them being on the field. I think the latest guy that has entered into the mix there is (Kmet). He's had a strong two or three days. Now it's just a knowledge of the offense and how quickly he can pick things up.
“They're all very capable of helping.”
If you think playing five tight ends will be challenging for the Irish coaches, you should try and figure out the rotation of receivers.
St. Brown will be joined by returnees Kevin Stepherson, C.J. Sanders, Chris Finke, Miles Boykin, and Chase Claypool, while Arizona State transfer Cameron Smith and Michigan transfer Freddy Canteen are vying for time.
However, the “X” factor for Kelly has been the recent emergence of a pair of freshmen that perhaps he didn't realize would be this good this quickly.
“Michael Young and Jafar Armstrong,” Kelly said, “those two kids have been very impressive. They are very intentional in what they do. They are very mature. They have rally been impressive in the way that they have handle themselves on a day-to-day basis.”
All of these bodies – not to mention the fact that Notre Dame will rep up to five runners, who can get out and catch balls also – make for intense competition that Kelly said “is a great thing,” but he added “in another week it is going to have to start sorting itself out.”
“We're still trying to give everybody a chance,” Kelly said. “The thing that has made it more interesting is that the two freshmen have said 'Don't forget about us,' which is great.
“Throw them in the mix with the two transfers and now you've got four new players competing for playing time with guys like Chase Claypool and Javon McKinley, who are like 'Hey, this is my job.'”
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