SOUTH BEND — There’s no question about Ian Book’s role on this Notre Dame football team.
The senior from El Dorado Hills, Calif., knows he’s the starting quarterback for the Irish. He proved that last season in Notre Dame’s run to the College Football Playoff.
But Book is still experiencing firsts. On Sunday at Culver Academies, Book will open preseason camp as the No. 1 quarterback for the first time. With that comes new responsibilities that he’s embraced throughout the offseason.
“I think what we’ve seen is a leader, and we’ve put him in a leadership position,” head coach Brian Kelly said at his first preseason press conference Friday. “He’s just doing such a great job leading. His presence is one where, when he asks some people to do things, they’re doing it. The respect that he has is different than last year.”
This time last year, Book was battling for playing time behind returning starter Brandon Wimbush. Book saw spot duty in the first three games of 2018, but it wasn’t until the fourth game at Wake Forest that he was given the starting role.
Book mostly thrived as the starter last season. His 68.2-percent completion rate qualified as eighth-best in the FBS by completing 214 of his 314 passes for 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns with seven interceptions.
Yet there were moments last year — like the season-ending loss to Clemson and the first half of a victory over Pittsburgh — that showed Book still has improvements left to make.
“He walks around the building a little different, great confidence in him,” Kelly said. “But he knows the technical things he needs to work on. (Quarterbacks coach) Tommy Rees has done a great job laying those things out.”
In June, Book attended the Manning Passing Academy run by former NFL quarterbacks Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning at Nicholls State in Thibodaux, La. Book worked as a camp counselor alongside some of the top quarterbacks in college football including Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Georgia’s Jake Fromm, Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Stanford’s KJ Costello. It served as a learning experience for Book, Kelly said, but it also gave him confidence that he belonged at that elite level.
“He came back, and he knows the things that he needs to work on, but he also knows the things that he’s really good at,” Kelly said. “When you’re exposed to elite players, that’s always a positive thing.”
Whether Book’s leadership role for the Irish also comes with being named a captain remains to be seen. Kelly said captains will be appointed early in camp. He wants the team to have a voice in the decision.
Kelly left open the possibility that the team will feature more than four captains — the number it had last season. The Irish operated with eight SWAT team captains leading offseason workouts: Book, defensive ends Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara, safeties Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott, offensive linemen Liam Eichenberg and Robert Hainsey and wide receiver Chris Finke.
“The development of this team has now changed course, and there is much more depth in that leadership category,” Kelly said. “You’ll see more than just a few.”
The same goal
Even though the Irish reached the College Football Playoff for the first time last season, it hasn’t affected how Notre Dame’s players have approached the 2019 season.
At least not in a way that Kelly has noticed.
“It’s not palatable in terms of the difference,” Kelly said. “Most of the teams I’ve coached here believe that they can win a national championship. They’ve tasted a little bit. So I think that maybe a little bit more, but I think they’ve all, each team that I’ve had, has been driven for that goal because there’s no conference championship. They’re all driven the same way, and that’s to win a national championship.”
Kelly likes where his team is situated before attempting a 14-game run at a title.
“I’ve just finished going through our roster and couldn’t be more pleased with where we are with the development of our football team,” Kelly said. “Like any team going into the ‘19 season, we’re going to have some things we have to work on in preseason camp. We have some question marks, but we believe that we have players that can step in and play at a very, very high level. We also have some players that return that are seasoned, that have been through some vigorous, competitive situations.”
Nearly half of Notre Dame’s freshman class had a chance to make first impressions as early enrollees starting in January. The other 12 of the 22 scholarship recipients in the freshman class arrived in June.
Those June arrivals had to wait until summer workouts for their opportunity to impress. And while some have, Kelly wasn’t ready to make many bold proclamations Friday.
“I know everybody wants to talk about certain guys, but I think that there are some guys that are physically able to compete, but it’s more than that,” Kelly said. “It’s the mental ability to go in there and do it as well. We’ll get a better sense of that in the five days at Culver.
“Answering those questions (Friday) would be really too premature to say — we could tell you that there’s some guys that are physically looking good, but they really haven’t played any football yet.”
Kelly did mention freshman JD Bertrand, a 6-foot-1, 226-pound product of Roswell (Ga.) Blessed Trinity Catholic, when asked about linebackers trying to push their way into the open competition for playing time that weren’t available in the spring.
Confidence in Jurkovec
Sophomore quarterback Phil Jurkovec hasn’t quite lived up to the lofty expectations thrown on him as a recruit. He hasn’t had many opportunities yet either.
The 6-foot-5, 227-pound Jurkovec came to Notre Dame last June as a four-star recruit, one of the top five dual-threat quarterbacks in the 2018 class according to both Rivals and 247Sports, and a U.S. Army All-American.
The Gibsonia (Pa.) Pine-Richland product struggled in April’s Blue-Gold Game. He threw for only 135 yards on 15-of-26 passing and was sacked 12 times. After the scrimmage, Jurkovec sounded pretty dejected and in need of some confidence.
Kelly expects to see a different Jurkovec during camp. Jurkovec and freshman Brendon Clark are the only other scholarship quarterbacks on the roster behind Book.
“He’s going to be fine,” Kelly said. “We can see that. He’s the kind of guy that we feel like is going to really blossom this year. We’re looking forward to watching him in camp, and he’s going to get plenty of opportunities to continue to grow.”
Terry Joseph’s second season a Notre Dame assistant coach has come with new responsibilities. He was given the title of defensive pass game coordinator in the offseason. He joined the Irish as a defensive backs coach in 2018.
“He’s got a hand in what we’re doing on the back end in terms of the entire coverage,” Kelly said. “So he works closely with Clark in coordinating the coverages with the fronts.”
Last season, Joseph and fellow defensive backs coach Todd Lyght shared secondary duties with Joseph primarily coaching safeties and Lyght leading the cornerbacks.