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Loss of spring impacts not only Notre Dame’s freshmen, but all freshmen

Drew Pyne Notre Dame

In a sport rife with conspiracy theories, vague and not-so-vague references to opponents’ questionable recruiting tactics, and a general lack of consistent guidance given the absence of a unilateral governing body, there are two reasons why college football coaches have not filled their time and ours with complaints about what competitors are up to in terms of training and recruiting.

First off, there are obviously far greater concerns at hand right now than what hardware Alabama sent its roster, foremost if there will be a football season at all.

Secondly, everyone is in the same boat. The greatest advantage anyone could unreasonably gripe about would be Clemson’s scheduling allowing for nine spring practices before the coronavirus pandemic halted all semblances of sports. That is hardly anything to fret about under any circumstances.

If anything, Notre Dame might have an advantage, returning two captains, including a three-year starter at quarterback, and the vast majority of its coaching staff.

“When you don’t have the time to really develop your team, what you’re looking at more than anything else is relationships and leadership,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said last week. “You just want to spend as much time with your team as possible.

“The schedule will look a little bit different in the sense that what we try to do when we get to camp, we try to give our kids a little bit more freedom of being away from people in a sense that they could relax a bit. I think we’ll circle a little bit more and spend a little bit more time together and build the team a little bit more in this camp than any camp I’ve ever been in.”

Whenever that time comes, eight Notre Dame players will be distinctly further behind than anticipated, even more so than their nine classmates. Quarterback Drew Pyne (pictured at top), receivers Xavier Watts and Jay Brunelle, defensive ends Jordan Botelho and Alexander Ehrensberger, defensive tackles Rylie Mills and Aidan Keanaaina, and cornerback Ramon Henderson all enrolled early to get a headstart on their careers.

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They will still notch a semester of classes, though not getting used to the usual college academic schedule, and they can follow the remote guidance of the Irish strength and conditioning staff, but they did not get to impress the coaching staff throughout spring practices. Similarly, the other nine incoming freshmen are unlikely to get as much, if any, time in the Gug’s weight room this summer.

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“You would logically think [of freshman drawbacks] because they haven’t had as much training in the summer that it would make it more difficult,” Kelly said. “We still have the four-game rule, which will allow them to get some competition and that will be extremely helpful. We’ll have to see. Logically speaking, the question has merit in a sense because they may lose June and July, and it could impact who plays in the fall.”

Though Notre Dame fans will want to believe star recruits running back Chris Tyree, receiver Jordan Johnson and tight end Michael Mayer will all still be a part of the 2020 picture, the odds are undeniably less at this point, and they might not ever have been that great, anyway. More pertinently, Botelho and Mills may have been called upon to provide defensive line depth, while one of three cornerbacks (Caleb Offord, Clarence Lewis, Henderson) may have ended up in the two-deep.

“Obviously those are areas that you would have liked to have vetted out in the spring,” Kelly said. “We’re just going to have to do those evaluations as we prepare for our preseason, which we’ll be able to do. You’d like to have those question marks (answered), but everybody’s going to have the same situation.

“We’re not going to be unique. All the teams that will be on our schedule will have similar questions, so there’s no competitive disadvantage from that standpoint. Everybody will have the same challenges of going through preseason camp trying to make those kinds of decisions that they wish they would have had earlier.”

Simply put, the eight-practice deficit to Clemson would be a welcome problem to have, as it would mean preseason has become a reality.

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