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Leftovers & Links: Counting Down the Irish — Others receiving votes; shedding some insights into Notre Dame’s QB competition

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 23 Notre Dame Spring Game

SOUTH BEND, IN - APRIL 23: Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Drew Pyne (10) throws the football in action during the Notre Dame Blue-Gold Spring Football Game on April 23, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Notre Dame, Marcus Freeman and Tommy Rees may insist a quarterback competition is unfolding in the Irish preseason. Sophomore Tyler Buchner and junior Drew Pyne (pictured above) can wax poetically about the competition not impacting their close friendship. Everyone involved with Notre Dame can parrot the party line.

The Irish beat writers will not take that proverbial memo seriously.

“What you’ll see is Drew and Tyler battle it out,” Freeman said Friday. “They’ll both get reps with the ones and when myself and [offensive coordinator] Rees and the offensive staff feel it’s to a point where there’s a quarterback that’s clearly showed us that he’s the starter, we’ll name him.”

The beat writers feel it has gotten to a point where Buchner has clearly shown he’s the starter.

In the annual “Counting Down the Irish” series, 10 Irish beat writers — actually, this year, nine Irish beat writers and one media member who allows himself this one arena of overreactive fandom — offered their thoughts of who the top-25 most impactful Notre Dame players will be in 2022. The 10 ballots, in an intentionally subjective exercise, elevate Buchner far above Pyne.

That obviously may tie to Buchner’s mobility. It should give Rees more options in designing the Irish offense, something he cannot fully lean into until he knows who his primary passer will be.

“We know some of the things he can do because he showed it last year,” Rees said Saturday. “We want to continue to uncover some of the things, where we can go with all the quarterbacks. … I’m excited to unravel those pieces as camp continues on.”

After viewing just the first Notre Dame practice this fall, the press box’s presumptions were confirmed enough to knock Pyne well into the “Others Receiving Votes” category.

So, to be clear, he did receive votes. Three, to be exact, all as the No. 25 most impactful player of the Irish 2022. That was the exact voting distribution for Buchner a year ago. In that respect, Pyne is viewed as most backup quarterbacks are. In fact, he is far ahead of Phil Jurkovec’s preseason standing in 2019, when the No. 2 quarterback did not warrant a single vote.

Maybe Pyne would have curried a vote or two more if the ballots had not been due shortly after Saturday’s practices, as in interviews afterward, he revealed both a new look and a singular focus this August.

With a mustache that Tom Selleck would acknowledge and a haircut so short his teammates were shocked he paid for it, Pyne has leaned into the ethos of a football-obsessed quarterback.

“I’ve changed my mindset a little bit,” he said. “Coming into this camp and coming into this season, I’ve told myself to just be all business. I can’t let anything affect me outside of football. I can’t let anything in school, I can’t let anything with my friends, I can’t let my girlfriend, video games, anything. I want to be all business.”

Pyne said he spent 17 hours at the football facilities on Friday, catching the last shuttle for the team hotel before 10:00 bed checks. He has removed social media from his phone and, outside of football, talks to only his family and his girlfriend.

“I’m just trying to give everything I possibly can to the team because it deserves it,” he said. “We have a really good football team and there’s no reason for me or Tyler to put ourselves into anything else.”

Maybe that mentality will have an intangible impact that will deserve retroactive votes in this exercise. On the field, though, Pyne is still unexpected to see much action.

Thus, he falls among 10 others in “Others Receiving Votes.” The grouping is highlighted by a pair of freshmen and an unknown receiver, all three of which have already received praise after just one weekend of practices.

Others Receiving Votes:
Freshman receiver Tobias Merriweather — 27 points, five of 10 ballots, high of No. 11.Sophomore receiver Jayden Thomas — 23 points, six ballots, high of No. 18.Sixth-year right guard Josh Lugg — 23 points, four ballots, high of No. 16.Freshman cornerback Jaden Mickey — 22 points, five ballots, high of No. 17.Senior defensive tackle Jacob Lacey — 18 points, four ballots, high of No. 17.Junior safety Ramon Henderson — 9 points, one ballot at No. 17.Fifth-year safety DJ Brown — 8 points, three ballots, high of No. 22.Junior quarterback Drew Pyne — 3 points, three ballots, all at No. 25.Junior defensive end Jordan Botelho — 2 points, one ballot at No. 24.Arkansas State transfer kicker Blake Grupe — 1 point.Junior safety Xavier Watts - 1 point.

Rees heaped a high compliment on Merriweather on Saturday, one that featured Rees cutting the thought short so as not to be overly dramatic with the second half of his sentence.

“You see him, this kid’s got a chance,” Rees said, the rest of that sentence presumably being to be great. “It goes way deeper than that. He’s got an unbelievable work ethic. … He’s a kid that’s hungry for it, like he’s gonna do more.”

Merriweather is rooming with Pyne this August, and after Pyne’s 17 hours in the football facilities, he and Merriweather apparently quizzed each other on the next day’s practice after bed checks.

Thomas, meanwhile, is rooming with Buchner. Some time on the stationary bike worried observers on Saturday, but Rees said that was merely a precaution.

“JT’s done a great job,” Rees said. “He’s got to continue to be dependable and be available. I think he’s made big strides in terms of his development and his commitment to what we’re doing. I’m excited about the things he possesses.”

A starting offensive lineman falling out of the top 25 is hardly unprecedented, given it occurred last year with Zeke Correll, but at that time, Correll was not assured a starting role. Lugg is, making his exclusion from six ballots somewhat surprising. After all, he was ranked No. 19 a year ago, and he never lost his starting role. For what it’s worth, as the expected starter at center, Correll was still left off a couple ballots this year, as well.

The voters, generously giving of their time and insights in this annual exercise …

Michael Bryan, 18 StripesPatrick Engel, Blue & Gold IllustratedMatt Freeman, Irish Sports DailyTyler James, Inside ND SportsMannion McGinley and Aidan Thomas, The ObserverTim Murray, Vegas Stats & Information Network, but more pertinent to his exercise, an irrational Notre Dame fanTom Noie, South Bend TribuneTim O’Malley, Irish IllutratedPete Sampson, The AthleticJosh Vowles, One Foot Down

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