Wrapping up the final odds and ends from Notre Dame’s National Signing Day event.
Spring practice for the Irish kicks off March 8. The team will conclude its 15 spring sessions with the annual Blue-Gold Game April 22.
During his press conference inside The Gug to wrap up the festivities, head coach Brian Kelly announced several personnel moves for the 2017 season.
• Offensive lineman Hunter Bivin will return for his fifth season of eligibility, Kelly said. He’s expected to be a depth player for what projects as a strength of the team.
• Kelly confirmed that offensive lineman Colin McGovern is transferring. It has been reported that McGovern will use his fifth year at the University of Virginia.
• Tight end Jacob Matuska, who played just 10 offensive snaps in 2016, will graduate this spring and won’t return to the team for his final season of eligibility.
• Junior kicker Justin Yoon suffered a foot injury this past season, which limited his effectiveness. Yoon won’t need surgery, only rest, Kelly said.
Kelly said Yoon was “overloaded” last season, as Notre Dame asked the kicker to handle most of the kickoffs as well as field goals. To alleviate the workload on Yoon, Notre Dame signed Charlotte (N.C.) South Mecklenburg kicker Jonathan Doerer. Special teams coordinator Brian Polian said Doerer, who possess a very strong leg, could be the team’s kickoff specialist in 2017.
Updates In The Secondary
Though he did not sign a cornerback in the class of 2017, defensive backs coach Todd Lyght had plenty of updates on his returning secondary.
That includes some potential position changes this coming season.
• Sophomore Devin Studstill started at free safety last year as a freshman, but Lyght said there is consideration among the staff to move him to strong safety. Classmate Jalen Elliott might be moving from strong safety (field side) — where he played 117 snaps as a freshman — to free safety (boundary side).
• Junior Nicco Fertitta will most likely remain at free safety, Lyght said. Sophomore Spencer Perry, who redshirted in 2016, had limited effectiveness as a freshman because of shoulder surgery coming out of high school.
• Junior cornerbacks Ashton White and Nick Coleman also could move to safety, and Nicco Fertitta will likely stay at free safety.
• Lyght said he kept bugging Kelly about getting D.J. Morgan on to the field as a freshman last year, but the head coach wanted to keep him as a redshirt.
• The Irish defensive backs coach sees incoming freshman Isaiah Robertson as someone that can play both free and strong safety, but with Robertson’s ball skills, he might be more of a free safety. Fellow safety signee Jordan Genmark Heath, a late addition to the class, will start at strong safety, Lyght said, because of Genmark Heath’s “knock back power” and physicality, which jumped out on film.
News & Notes
• Irish recruiting coordinator Mike Elston said he was worried the class might finish out with just 15 players. Notre Dame closed with six additions to the class in the final weeks, including three commitments Wednesday.
“You never want to pat yourself on the back, but there was one point in the middle of January where I wasn’t sure we were going to get another commitment,” Elston said. “Things were going well, but just dead end, dead end, dead end. You’re building a relationship with them, but it’s not enough time.
“For what we’ve been able to do in the short period of time from when everybody was officially hired and we could go back on the road after the dead period, it’s been remarkable.”
Elston said the class of 2018 “has a chance to be very special.” While it may not be as big of a class for the Irish, “the young men that we’re targeting and we have a great chance will fit the needs.”
Notre Dame currently has six verbal commitments in the class of 2018.
• New defensive coordinator Mike Elko said his preference is to coach from the press box on game days, rather than be on the sideline. He worked from the booth at Wake Forest, but is comfortable doing either.
He’s able to talk to players on the headset from the booth, and said there are clear advantages gained from seeing the field from the booth, especially with uptempo, spread offenses.
“I don’t know that what you gain in that two-minute interval of talking to a kid on the sideline overcomes what you gain calling the right defense, seeing the formations and having the clear picture you can communicate to them,” Elko said.
• After not signing a cornerback in the 2017 class, the position will be at a premium next cycle. Elko wants players with man-to-man skills who can limit the outside receiver, plus having range because receivers seem to be getting taller.
• Polian said senior punter Tyler Newsome has expressed a desire to do kickoffs and the Irish will allow him to try that. Polian, though, would like Newsome to focus on punting and “become the elite punter that he can become.”