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Quick Notre Dame Notebook: Injury updates, cornerback swap & ‘developmental’ players

Notre Dame v North Carolina

CHAPEL HILL, NC - OCTOBER 07: Alize Mack #86 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish makes a catch against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the game at Kenan Stadium on October 7, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

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Notre Dame will be without Alizé Mack this weekend when Wake Forest visits. Mack suffered a concussion in the second quarter of the 35-14 victory over North Carolina State last weekend.

Irish coach Brian Kelly said the junior tight end was close to being cleared for action Thursday, but the offense will instead have to rely on senior Nic Weishar and freshman Cole Kmet to step up in his absence, complementing fifth-year tight end Durham Smythe.

“[Mack] went through his cardio yesterday, passed that,” Kelly said. “He could have done some football stuff today but it’s Thursday and it would have been kind of too late to activate him, so he’ll have the week off.”

Otherwise, No. 3 Notre Dame should have a full roster available. Specifically, sophomore running back Tony Jones (hip pointer, sprained ankle), senior defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner (ankle) and fifth-year receiver Cam Smith (hamstring) all partook in practice with no ill effects.

Junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush also banged up his ankle against the Wolfpack, but no treatment was even necessary during the week.

Kelly on the Irish cornerbacks

USC v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 21: Nick Watkins #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish defends a pass against Deontay Burnett #80 of the USC Trojans in the third quarter of a game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 21, 2017 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame won 49-14. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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Notre Dame began the season with sophomore cornerback Julian Love covering the field side of alignments, working to cover the added ground without the inherent luxury of a nearby sideline to serve as something of a built-in defender. Senior Nick Watkins started at the boundary position. Since the mid-October bye week, the two have switched, and each has notched an interception in that span.

The flip derived from a few different luxuries, per Kelly. Watkins’ length and sure tackling makes him a strong defender in open space. Love’s overall abilities allow him to handle the multiple coverages sometimes deployed in the boundary, where a safety’s aid is not always available.

“We’re just trying to match some different things that we’re doing with their skillset,” Kelly said. “Now that we’re further along in the schedule, we can flip them back-and-forth depending on the situations are from week-to-week.”

Sophomore cornerback Troy Pride has also seen a different role in recent weeks. In his case, it has simply been more playing time. His progression in the new Irish strength and conditioning program may have been delayed this offseason due to his time spent running track in the spring.

“I don’t necessarily think it put him behind in a sense as much as physically he needed to grow,” Kelly said. “I think he’s up to 190 pounds right now. He’s physically stronger.”

By no means does Kelly begrudge the time Pride spent sprinting. In fact, quite the opposite.

“I’m all in on playing a second sport as long as there’s some give-and-take and that he can still — from a scholarship standpoint, we’re paying the freight — I want to make sure that it doesn’t put him behind,” Kelly said. “… I love having those guys competing in another sport.

“We’ve been able to work really well with our other sports to make that work. I don’t think there’s any substitute for a guy being able to compete in another sport.”

Up-and-comers for 2018
Sophomore safety Alohi Gilman is not being competitive in any sport this year since the NCAA denied the Navy transfer’s appeal for immediate eligibility. By no means has that prevented Gilman from helping the program this season.

Kelly credited Gilman for leading the “developmental” players, ones who will not see the field this season.

“He’s a great leader,” Kelly said. “He’s an impactful player on our demo scout team. He challenges all of our guys on a day-to-day basis. His presence is known in our program.

“Everybody respects him and knows that he is going to impact this program next year. He’s already doing that in the roles that he can right now.”

Come the offseason, Gilman will likely be an immediate part of the position battle to start alongside current-junior Nick Coleman. Sophomores Jalen Elliott and Devin Studstill currently split that duty.

Kelly mentioned four freshmen in the developmental group who have impressed him: safety Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, receiver Jafar Armstrong, defensive end Kofi Wardlow and offensive lineman Joshua Lugg.
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