Notebook: Where Gerad Parker finds confidence in Notre Dame's offense
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Gerad Parker didn’t get a chance to refute Kevin Bauman’s comments during his media availability following Saturday’s third spring practice for Notre Dame football. But the Irish offensive coordinator might do so privately in the coming hours after reading them.
“He’ll make fun of me for saying this,” Bauman, a senior-to-be tight end, said of his promoted tight ends coach, “but he has a little swagger to him now — a little more than he had before. He’s got a little something to him now. But that, of course, comes with it. He has a bigger responsibility now.”
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Parker entered his second year on Notre Dame’s staff with a promotion from head coach Marcus Freeman after the Irish interviewed Kansas State’s Collin Klein and Utah’s Andy Ludwig as potential replacements for the Alabama-bound Tommy Rees. Parker’s promotion became official 32 days prior to Notre Dame’s first spring practice. The Irish added quarterbacks coach Gino Guidugli and offensive line coach Joe Rudolph in the weeks between in an attempt to hit the ground running as fast as possible.
Parker, whose only coordinator experience came in two seasons at West Virginia (2020-21) with limited play-calling responsibilities, didn’t want to make drastic changes to Notre Dame’s offense. He’s working with many of the same philosophies valued by Rees and Freeman. He doesn’t need the offense to be uniquely his in some way.
“The older you get, the more you learn it’s not about you as much,” Parker said. “Being married, having kids and doing this coaching thing for a while tells you that. It’s really not my stamp. It’s ours. And that’s not cliché. I really mean it.
“As you get it in and you get guys bought in and you build a staff that we’ve built, both in our on-the-field guys and our off-the-field guys, we have a great staff. We really do. So my job is to just give great direction, provide leadership and create a unit that everyone feels empowered to do their jobs.
“If anything, I hope maybe that would be my stamp. Otherwise, I’m just a piece of it.”
The biggest piece — whether anyone wants to admit it publicly or not — is Wake Forest graduate transfer quarterback Sam Hartman. The ACC’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns (110) is in a theoretical quarterback competition with junior-to-be Tyler Buchner, but Hartman is realistically option 1A and 1B.
How does he look through three practices in a red Notre Dame practice jersey?
“That guy’s been in a lot of lights, made a lot of throws under duress, played a lot of football and seen it go up and down,” Parker said. “So you’ll see a guy that’s mature and can handle success and failure. So that leadership breeds some confidence through people.”
Hartman has already made a positive impact on Buchner, who received praise for his practice performance to date, the rest of the quarterbacks in the meeting room and Notre Dame’s offense more broadly. Hartman isn’t getting by simply on experience. He continues to prepare like someone fighting for a starting job.
“We have pillars: the truth, the work, the results,” Parker said. “That dude puts in the work, and I think that becomes contagious. Heck, I better get in here early, I better study like that. And he’s also felt that pressure to do it, because he’s coming into an offense that’s brand new too. So it’s two-fold.”
Though the transition to offensive coordinator needed to be fast-forwarded, Parker’s advantage was he already knew Notre Dame’s offensive personnel so well. Maybe he didn’t have deep connections to starting tackles Joe Alt and Blake Fisher or running backs Audric Estimé and Logan Diggs last season, but he was well aware of their value to the offense.
Now it’s Parker’s job to make sure those talents are highlighted, and others can develop into difference makers.
“Like when I stand in the huddle next to our offensive line, I feel more confident,” Parker said. “We’ll grow. We have to get better and all those things. But our identity starts in there and builds out. We have strong, mature backs. We have two mature quarterbacks and Steve Angeli and those guys are learning how. That helps you. Then we’re going to continue to build on the perimeter to make sure we put ourselves in a position where we can win in space too.”
Confidence can be a good thing for an offensive coordinator. Especially if his players feel it too.
“This is years in the making for him to get this opportunity,” Bauman said. “I know as an offense, as a team we’re excited for him. As tight ends, obviously excited for him. There’s something special about your position coach also being offensive coordinator, especially at Tight End U, too, where that’s just something extra special.
“He has a little extra swagger to him now, which is good. You need that. We’re so excited for him. There’s not a guy more deserving of this.”
Life without Michael Mayer
Michael Mayer gave his teammates a preview of what the offense would be like without his presence when he sat out the season-ending Gator Bowl to start preparing for the NFL Draft after three prolific seasons with the Irish. Mayer, Notre Dame’s program record holder in nearly every receiving category for tight ends, can’t really be replaced by one player.
Mitchell Evans finished his sophomore season replacing Mayer in the starting lineup for the Gator Bowl. All he did was catch the game-winning touchdown pass from Tyler Buchner with 1:38 remaining. It was his third catch in a 39-yard performance.
Evans, who didn’t catch one pass in the other seven games he played in last season, will have help in replacing Mayer. Senior-to-be Kevin Bauman and sophomore-to-be Eli Raridon are expected to be healthy for preseason camp in August following ACL tears last season, and healthy tight ends Davis Sherwood and Holden Staes are complementing Evans this spring.
“They just feel a huge obligation to the history and tradition of the tight end room,” Parker said. “The guys that are still playing in the NFL, the guys in the past that have played in the NFL and put this golden helmet on long before I got here and will happen long after, there’s an obligation we play at a high level at the tight end position here.
“I know that. I have the responsibility of it. They know it, and they feel it in a very positive way to make sure they play at a high level, because that’s the standard here at Notre Dame.”
With the NFL Draft (April 27-29) slowly approaching, some national draft analysts have started talking themselves into other options than Mayer as the No. 1 tight end in the draft class. It’s a bit hard for Bauman, who came to Notre Dame in the 2020 recruiting class alongside Mayer, to understand.
“I can't wrap my head around that,” Bauman said. “Personally, I think a lot of people think that it's a no-brainer, he should be the first guy off the board. You take a look at his game film over the past three years. You take a look at his testing numbers and things he did at the combine, the things he did at Pro Day.
"Not to mention even just his knowledge of the game, and the characteristics he brings. He's a well-rounded guy, a great personality. He brings all those traits that are desirable to the team. I think it's kind of crazy, but it's all going to work out for him.”
Freshman wide receivers finding footing
Three of Notre Dame’s four wide receiver signees in the 2023 class are already on campus this semester to take part in spring football. Rico Flores Jr., Jaden Greathouse and Braylon James — all four-star recruits — have managed to keep themselves from falling behind in the first three practices. Three-star wide receiver Kaleb Smith — not the graduate transfer of the same name from Virginia Tech — will join the group in June.
“The great thing is right now they’re starting to play faster,” Parker said. “Play a little faster, develop some confidence, take a little step back and then go again. Just the typical progression.
“But they’re very talented players. They’re eager. They want to learn, and the guys have welcomed them in. So to come in, we certainly feel very good about where they’re at right now. They’ll continue to grow and get better. We’ll keep the pressure off of them and let them grow in time.”
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