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With Gerad Parker as offensive coordinator, Notre Dame’s offense still geared to feature ground game and QB Sam Hartman

Marcus Freeman knew what he was looking for. He wanted Notre Dame’s next offensive coordinator to run a pro-style offense with a willingness to adapt with multiple formations.

Those wants led him to take a look at Kansas State’s Collin Klein (though, calling the Wildcats’ offense pro-style might be a reach) and Utah’s Andy Ludwig and, ultimately, Irish tight ends coach Gerad Parker.

Notre Dame has been running a pro-style offense for the last six years, at the least. The advantages of it are numerous, particularly in recruiting, always Freeman’s driving priority. If an offense will help a prospect’s chances at the NFL, that offense looks that much more desirable to the prospect. It also creates a base package that can focus on particular advantages week-to-week and season-to-season, hence Freeman’s demand for a “multiple” approach.

“What [former Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees] had shown was to be a pro-style offense,” Freeman said Monday while introducing Parker as Notre Dame’s new offensive coordinator. “That’s still the vision I have for Notre Dame’s offense, but it’s an offense that I want to have success. It’s not an offense that is just pro-style.

“I want to make sure we’re developing these guys so that the transition from college to the NFL isn’t a huge one, and that they have a transition that they feel like they understand the basic concepts that are used throughout the majority of the NFL and an understanding of pro-style type football.”

Enter Parker, with nearly two decades of coaching experience that have dabbled in spread approaches, run-pass option offenses and pro-style looks.

“As coach Freeman said, you want to show respect to what we did last year and to Tommy’s job,” Parker said. “The thing we know we are built on, we want to be O-line driven, and we want to be built from inside-out. With what we have returning up front and with our running backs and tight ends, to be able to control a box, that’s where it always has to start.”

That much should be very clear for Notre Dame in 2023, with two potential first-round draft picks at left (rising junior Joe Alt) and right tackle (rising junior Blake Fisher), a three-year starter at center (fifth-year Zeke Correll) and a trio of proven running backs (led by Audric Estimé, top) alongside rising junior tight end Mitchell Evans. An O-line-driven offense should have been expected no matter who Freeman hired, particularly given the phrase “O-line- and D-line- driven” was his favorite echo of 2022.

But with a veteran quarterback in Wake Forest transfer Sam Hartman, more should be available for the Irish. No disrespect to Drew Pyne, but drastically improved quarterback play should elevate Notre Dame’s offense in 2023 all on its own.

“We want to score more points than we did last year,” Parker said. It’s a fun quote, and one to use often, but it also should have always been assumed.

There have been some half-baked online wonders if Hartman might look to leave South Bend before playing a game after Rees’s departure for Alabama. The logistics of that would be dubious, at best, given a player is allowed one graduate transfer, and Hartman just used it, though perhaps there is some wiggle room as NCAA rules evolve in the era of one-time transfers. The realities of it, though, are pretty stark: Hartman has enrolled at Notre Dame; he will be part of spring practices, getting used to playing behind a better offensive line than he enjoyed in any of his five years with the Demon Deacons.

“[Hartman] is driven by ball and driven to get better, coming here he wants to have success here at Notre Dame,” Parker said. “There’s been communication with all of [the offensive players], but especially with him, obviously to sit down and talk to him about the direction of the offense, to maybe ease some anxieties because with change comes a lot of thoughts.”

Take Hartman as a case study as to why Freeman was so intent on continuing with a pro-style offense. The ACC record-setter left Wake Forest in part because a year in a more traditional offense should prove to the NFL his prolific passing stats were not solely the result of a unique scheme.

And let’s note here, to be clear: A pro-style offense is meant as one that maintains a relative balance between rushing and passing, relative being a key word. The split will not be 50/50 but will probably not exceed 40/60 in either direction. Tight ends will be a crucial piece of it, rather than spreading the field as wide as possible. (See: Air Raid.) Zone-reads will be part of it, as well, as they become more and more of an NFL staple.

“We see this structure and the shell of this thing looking very familiar to a lot of things within the organization,” Parker said. “By formation, by the way we line up, by the way we get things going in and out of the huddle, those things will look similar.”

Parker will have his differences in tendencies compared to Rees, but the biggest difference in Notre Dame’s offense in 2023 will simply be having a playmaker like Hartman at quarterback.

Parker and Freeman will need to hire an offensive line coach to replace Harry Hiestand after his retirement following Rees’s departure.

“The beautiful thing is, the number of candidates of quality is certainly a list that can’t be put on one page,” Parker said. “Finding those, see what fits us, feel [Freeman’s] information, bring it down, get information back to him and come to a decision.”

With spring practices set to begin in about a month, expect the hire to be made within the next week or, at most, two.

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