SOUTH BEND — The first hiccup for Notre Dame’s starting receiving corps this preseason came in Saturday’s practice.
Wide receiver Michael Young suffered an apparent shoulder injury during early 1-on-1 work. Irish head coach Brian Kelly did not disclose the nature or severity of the injury to reporters following preseason practice No. 12 of 18, which was held at Notre Dame Stadium.
The hundreds of spectators permitted to attend practice for the first and only time this preseason watched as sophomore receiver Lawrence Keys III took Young’s place. As the backup slot receiver to Chris Finke, Keys was the next man in and took advantage of the opportunity for the most part. Finke slid to Young's field receiver position and Keys manned the slot.
If Young is out long-term, replacing him could be a tall order. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound junior demonstrated marked improvement in securing difficult passes, particularly jump balls. In fact, before Young went down, he hauled in a 50-50 pass over starting field cornerback TaRiq Bracy.
Below are more in-depth notes and takeaways from the Irish offense.
Offense lining up
No. 1 offense: Quarterback Ian Book, running back Tony Jones Jr., wide receivers Chase Claypool, Chris Finke and Lawrence Keys III, tight end Brock Wright, left tackle Liam Eichenberg, left guard Aaron Banks, center Jarrett Patterson, right guard Tommy Kraemer and right tackle Robert Hainsey. Running back Jafar Armstrong and tight end Tommy Tremble also saw action with the 1s.
No. 2 offense: Quarterback Phil Jurkovec, running backs Kyren Williams and C’Bo Flemister, wide receivers Braden Lenzy, Isaiah Robertson and Joe Wilkins Jr., left tackle Josh Lugg, left guard Dillan Gibbons, center Colin Grunhard, right guard John Dirksen and right tackle Andrew Kristofic. Running back Jahmir Smith and tight end George Takacs also rotated with the 2s.
Gibbons and graduate senior Trevor Ruhland are competing for the No. 2 left guard spot. Backup boundary receiver Javon McKinley did not participate, which elevated Robertson to second-team work. Offensive lineman Cole Mabry also did not participate. Receiver Kevin Austin Jr. had limited participation.
Of the 54 combined passes in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 action, Book threw 28 (51.9 percent of the total pass attempts). Jurkovec attempted 19 (35.2 percent), while third-team freshman quarterback Brendon Clark threw seven times (13 percent). Other attempts did not count due to penalties.
Book went 22-of-28 (78.6 percent), going 11-for-13 in the scrimmage portion and 11-of-15 in 7-on-7. He threw an interception, picked off by backup freshman safety Kyle Hamilton. Book’s target distribution is detailed below (receptions/targets).
• Finke (6/8); Claypool (5/6); Keys (2/3); Wright (2/2); Tremble (2/2); Wilkins (1/2); Jones (1/1); Williams (1/1); Armstrong (1/1); Robertson (1/1); Lenzy (0/1).
Jurkovec finished 12-for-19 (63.2 percent), completing 8-of-11 passes in scrimmage time and going 4-for-8 in 7-on-7. Hamilton also intercepted Jurkovec. The sophomore's target distribution is detailed below.
• Robertson (3/6); Wilkins (3/3); Flemister (2/2); Williams (1/2); walk-on receiver Arion Shinaver (1/2); Lenzy (1/1); Micah Jones (1/1); Keys (0/1); Takacs (0/1).
No offensive player dominated more than Claypool, who continues to prove he’s by far ND’s No. 1 receiver. Three of Claypool’s five receptions came on difficult jump balls. He seemingly caught everything thrown his direction, winning plenty of his battles against top cornerback Troy Pride Jr. Claypool bested Pride on all three of their 1-on-1 reps as well.
Finke offers a reliable No. 2 option, and he became Book's top target near the goal line. The senior caught two 10-yard touchdowns during 7-on-7 and stretched the field with deep receptions in the scrimmage portion.
Robertson garnered the second-most targets with seven, edging Claypool's six. McKinley’s strong preseason should have him cemented as the second-team boundary receiver to open the season, though. Lenzy struggles with consistency. At times, he looks like the best backup receiver. Other times, he drops passes or struggles against bump-and-run coverage.
Like Lenzy, Tremble has a tendency to flash prowess and then make mistakes. Most notably, he lines up incorrectly and drops passes sometimes. Neither happened this practice. He even hauled in a rocket from Book on a slant. Tremble and Wright still struggle with creating separation, especially on deep patterns.
Book had his worst performance in 1-on-1s this preseason. His passes sailed incomplete on a handful of throws, including on a few without a defender providing tight coverage.
The senior made amends with his accuracy in 7-on-7 and scrimmage settings. He connected with all three of his starting receivers from varying distances. There are times he intentionally forces deep passes to test himself. Book's lone interception came after he looked off an open screen pass and decided to chuck it deep for Claypool down the middle.
Jurkovec’s day looked like the opposite. His 1-on-1 outing could not have gone better. The sophomore’s best attribute is his deep ball. His timing and accuracy beyond 20 yards has been impressive.
Against more defenders, though, Jurkovec did not have much success deep. Hamilton intercepted one of Jurkovec’s only passes beyond 15 yards. Jurkovec targeted Takacs with two defenders in the area. To Jurkovec’s credit, a good portion of his 19 attempts came against the No. 1 defense. Book saw some action against the No. 2 defense.
The running backs ran with power but found little running room in scrimmage settings. Williams stood out the most in 1-on-1 work, beating defensive backs Temitope Agoro and DJ Brown on his reps.
The offensive line, primarily the backups, struggled to create running lanes and shot themselves in the foot with a few holding penalties. The position group also lost a decent share of its battles against the defensive line in 1-on-1 drills. Offensive tackle Josh Lugg hammered starting defensive end Khalid Kareem on a certain scrimmage play in pass protection.