Jahmir Smith’s longest carry against Louisville goes for a minimal gain if not for the effort made by Notre Dame offensive lineman Tommy Kraemer.
The senior right guard paved the way for Smith’s 12-yard run in ND’s 35-17 college football victory. Kraemer executed what’s known as pulling, a blocking assignment that tasks a lineman with reversing to the opposite side of the field to pick up a defender. Offensive linemen must be agile and tenacious in their movement to execute a pull block.
Not only did Kraemer meet his opposition — UL’s outside linebacker Rodjay Burns — on the edge before Smith crossed the line of scrimmage. He also drove the defender six yards backward and into the ground as Smith ran to the right of them. Burns cut Kraemer down earlier in the game.
“I wasn’t going to let that happen again,” Kraemer said.
Becoming more consistent had been a focus for the 6-foot-6, 319-pound Kraemer. To achieve consistency, Kraemer needed to become more nimble and improve his feet, speed and short burst.
Those attributes looked better from Kraemer not just on that running play. He surrendered a mere one pressure in 34 dropbacks from quarterback Ian Book, according to the Tribune’s Tyler James. The Irish running game amassed 230 yards and four touchdowns on 42 carries (5.5 yards per carry).
Just once in Kraemer's 10 starts last season was that success emulated. Kraemer allowing one or fewer pressures while ND averaged at least 5.3 yards per carry occurred only against Florida State. He surrendered at least three pressures in five other starts while yielding one or fewer pressures in the other five. The Irish rushed worse than 5.3 YPC in nine Kraemer starts.
Smith wasn’t the only running back to notice the strides Kraemer made this offseason.
“He’s definitely more in shape,” said senior Tony Jones Jr. “He can pull better. It shows in his game. He’s been pulling well, pass blocking well. He’s doing all that well.”
Kraemer arrived at Notre Dame in 2016 — in time to learn from first-round NFL draft picks Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson. The latter now garners more attention than maybe any NFL offensive linemen. His pancake blocks for the Indianapolis Colts often make weekly highlight reels.
Part of Kraemer’s development this offseason, he said, had to do with watching Nelson’s tape. He’ll even scour through some of Nelson’s games from 2017 and 2018. Just this past Sunday, Kraemer enjoyed dissecting a play in which Nelson used his strength to flatten a Los Angeles Chargers defender.
“You just flip on his tape any day, and you could just get so much better watching 15 minutes of him,” Kraemer said. “That’s one thing I’ve really tried to do is watch him. He’s the best of the best. Just the way he plays, his technique and the way he finishes.”
ND’s offense needed more from Kraemer. He had fallen short of the hype that came with earning five-star recognition as a recruit. Kraemer showed flashes but struggled against then-ranked opponents in Michigan, Stanford, Syracuse and Clemson.
Offensive line coach Jeff Quinn demoted Kraemer to backup status for last year’s games against Northwestern and Navy. He missed the Wake Forest game with an injury.
The Irish running backs could especially use the Louisville version of Kraemer during Jafar Armstrong’s absence. ND’s top option at running back is out for an extended period of time after undergoing surgery this week on a torn rectus abdominis.
Jones received the majority of the workload once Armstrong exited following ND’s second drive against UL. Whether Kraemer is blocking for Armstrong or Jones makes no difference in his responsibilities, he said.
“When you are blocking, you don’t see what’s behind you,” Kraemer said. “It’s guys running hard no matter who it is. So you can’t tell a drop-off, which is a good thing.”
No. 7 Notre Dame (1-0) holds its home opener this Saturday (2:30 p.m. EDT on NBC) against a lowly New Mexico squad. The Lobos (1-0) will be without head coach Bob Davie, starting quarterback Brandt Hughes and senior captain nose tackle Aaron Blackwell.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly still felt he needed to make use of last week’s off time. He installed a couple physical practices and a shortened Saturday scrimmage.
“It is important to maintain a level of conditioning that you have set yourself up for at the beginning of the season,” Kelly said. “And to back off, you won’t have your football team playing its best football.
“… We needed to stay in the groove relative to the way we set up our preseason and the way we set up our preseason camp. That, plus we needed to clean up some things from the Louisville game, and third, it gave us an opportunity to do a little advance work on New Mexico.”
Short yardage situations were likely a focus. The Irish failed to convert rushing attempts for a first down on third-and-1 twice and third-and-2 twice. ND also turned it over on downs after a completion to receiver Chris Finke went for two yards on a fourth-and-4.
Seven of ND’s eight drives that did not result in a score stalled after five or fewer plays. Four of those seven were three-and-outs, and one ended after a fumble on the first play.
Touchdown or bust also seems like the proper description for Kraemer’s 2018 season. That’s why he embraced ND’s approach over the weekend.
“You can sit there and be sad that you aren’t playing that weekend or you could look at it as an opportunity to grow,” said Kraemer on last week. “We had a couple really hard practices this past week.
“I definitely think we got better from it. I think it was a positive.”