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Notre Dame's Redshirting Plans And Breakdown

Notre Dame associate head coach/defensive line coach Mike Elston referred to the 2018 NCAA pronouncement that now allows college football players to play four games any time of the season without losing a year of eligibility as the best new rule he has ever seen in the game.

With it comes also a strategy to map out who will be inserted and when. It applies not merely to freshmen, but upperclassmen as well.

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Linebacker Marist Liufau can play one more game this year without burning a year of eligibility.
Linebacker Marist Liufau can play one more game this year without burning a year of eligibility. (Mike Miller)

For example, freshman linebacker Marist Liufau was not used on special teams in the blowout wins versus New Mexico State (66-14) and Bowling Green (52-0), because the better option in the judgment of the staff is to have his impressive skill set on special teams used against more competitive teams such as Georgia, Virginia and USC — and maybe Michigan, too.

Meanwhile, with some concerns about the cornerback position next season — no corners were signed in 2017 — the staff wants to preserve a fifth season in 2020 for senior Donte Vaughn.

Thus, when Vaughn played 36 snaps (per Pro Football Focus) against USC last weekend, it was his fourth game this season per Notre Dame's football media relations office — and he would not be allowed to participate in anymore in 2019 if he wants to return next year. However, our own records show he has played in only three games, so he could be potentially available for one more.

There was an intent to do the same with current senior defensive end drop end Jamir Jones, because it was anticipated that 2019 senior defensive ends Khalid Kareem, Julian Okwara and Daelin Hayes would all be out of eligibility in 2020.

Kareem and Okwara will be, but a season-ending injury to Hayes (torn labrum) in game 4 versus Virginia will now allow him to take a medical redshirt in 2020. Thus, with Hayes’ fifth year preserved, Jones takes on the rotational role in 2019 in place of Hayes. One more game this season for Jones means his eligibility in 2020 will have elapsed.

“I have coordinator meetings on Sundays and Tuesdays to kind of set weekly as to who is on the depth chart, who are guys that are touchable and who are untouchable [to play in games],” head coach Brian Kelly said.

Prior to the season similar decisions are also made, especially with freshmen. A few are earmarked as “instant help” all season, a la safety Kyle Hamilton, which is category one.

Others are assessed a little longer, like a Liufau, and four games are picked out in which to participate. That would be category two.

Finally, there are players the coaches have tentatively or assuredly established as redshirts for this season, although they could appear in blowout wins — as long as they don't exceed the four-game limit.

“There is kind of three different groups that those guys fall into, and now it’s starting to kind of shake itself out,” Kelly said. “I wouldn’t say it’s very complicated or intricate. It’s about evaluation and seeing guys that can help us win football games in roles. Those guys that are playing significant roles in more than special teams (Hamilton and defensive tackle Jacob Lacey) ... those are easy decisions.

“It’s the guys that are in limited roles and how those limited roles can either be parceled out to four games, or these guys are just too good and they have to play in special teams because they’re impacting us.”

At the halfway point of the season, here is the breakdown of the grant-in-aid 22-man freshman class into those three categories, with the number of games played in parentheses:

Freshman Eligibility Already Used

Punter Jay Bramblett (6)

Defensive tackle Jacob Lacey (6)

Safety Kyle Hamilton (6)

On The Bubble

Cornerback Cam Hart (2)

Rover Jack Kiser (4)

Linebacker Marist Liufau (3)

We put former receiver Hart on here because he is in a No. 2 role, and was listed on punt return as well versus USC.

Kiser has already used up his four-game quota and we did not see him against USC, nor was he listed on the participation chart. He cannot appear in another game this season if he is going to be redshirted.

The same would be the case with Liufau if he plays at Michigan, thereby reaching his fourth game.

Fifth Year Likely To Be Preserved:

Quarterback Brendon Clark (2)

Running back Kyren Williams (4)

Center Zeke Correll (2)

Offensive guard John Olmstead (0)

Offensive tackle Quinn Carroll (0)

Offensive tackle Andrew Kristofic (2)

Receiver Kendall Abdur-Rahman (0)

Defensive end Isaiah Foskey (2)

Defensive end NaNa Osafo-Mensah (2)

Defensive tackle Howard Cross III (2)

Defensive tackle Hunter Spears (2)

Linebacker JT Bertrand (2)

Linebacker Osita Ekwonu (1)

Cornerback Isaiah Rutherford (1)

Cornerback KJ Wallace (1)

Safety Litchfield Ajavon (1)

These could also be medically related, as is the case with Carroll, who tore his ACL in the preseason.

Williams did play four games, but Kelly is on record that the running back will now redshirt because the health at the position is improving.

As for upperclassmen such as Vaughn or others, it’s not a unilateral decision by the coaching staff. The player also has to buy in — and he can always use that fifth year to play at another school if he believes he could have greater impact there.

“They hold the final card in that whole process,” Kelly said. “I think there is trust built within the relationships that we have, so those were candid conversations that there can’t be a 100 percent guarantee — because we’re playing for today. If we need somebody, they have to recognize the fact that we need you right now.

“Some guys have already had to make those decisions, that they’re committed to this team right now and are playing for this season. We certainly have player-to-player sit-down conversations, and their families, regarding those situations.”


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