Chat transcript: Talking Notre Dame football as Spring practice is set to commence

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

JotCast | ND Football Pre-Spring Chat | 3/16/2022

Jonathan Thie: Do you think that Xavier Watts will get time at Wide Receiver this Spring?

Mike Berardino: Hi Jonathan, thanks for the question. The former three-star recruit from Omaha made so much progress once he switched over to the secondary last season, after a four-week stint at rover, it's hard to imagine a scenario (injuries aside) where he goes back to offense. Along with Ramon Henderson, a converted cornerback, Watts was a huge part of Notre Dame's ability to withstand the loss of Kyle Hamilton down the stretch. And Watts showed a knack for delivering the big hit.

When we asked Watts before the Fiesta Bowl about moving back to receiver at some point, he indicated those thoughts hadn't completely left his mind. When Avery Davis went down against Navy, for instance, Watts admittedly wondered if he might be moved again. "I’m not going to lie," he said in December. "(But) I was already over at safety. Just switching back and forth would have been too much. I was a little bit like, 'Hey, that’s something I’ve done.' I enjoy playing safety. I would say I like it better than receiver for right now."

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Frank from Royse city, Texas: Does the ND coaches have an idea of what players will enter the transfer portal?

Mike Berardino: Hello, Frank. Thanks for stopping by. If you're talking about their own players, yes, I would imagine there would be few surprises in that regard. Those decisions are sometimes tied to snap counts and perceived progress in spring ball, so even as the workload is divided for those 15 practices, it's a fair assumption the transfer portal will be at least part of the equation.

If you're referring to potential transfer targets that are still in other programs, that's a trickier deal. But as they say, word tends to get around. That's another area where relationships with high school coaches and from past recruiting experiences often pay dividends.

Megat Muzaffar, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Hi Mike,  Rylie Mills or Howard Cross III a better fit in Al Golden’s defense?

Does Notre Dame sophomore Rylie Mills have a few more sacks in him?

Mike Berardino: Welcome, Megat! Nice to get a question from overseas. There's still so much to be determined when it comes to the 2022 Notre Dame defense and how it will look under new coordinator Al Golden. In today's South Bend Tribune (ndinsider.com), I took a look at the five key questions Golden must answer this spring.

Yours is excellent as well. It seems a given, however, that Notre Dame will continue to use multiple fronts, which should afford ample opportunity for both rising juniors to make an impact again this fall. Taking a look at the PFF College grades, it's remarkable how similar the production was for Mills and Cross last season. Their overall defensive grade was 68.8 (Mills) and 68.2 (Cross). Cross graded out better in run defense, while Mills held a significant edge in pass rush. They even played a similar number of snaps: 330 for Cross, 270 for Mills.  

There are physical differences, of course, with Mills standing about 4 inches taller than Cross. But both can clearly play.

John from Jackson, MS: After yesterday's announcement and the visit announcements is it more likely or less likely that Carnell Tate ends up in South Bend?

Mike Berardino: Impossible to say at this point. That's a pretty stout final five (Ohio State, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee are the others) for the 5-star receiver from Chicago. But Notre Dame already has Tate's old Midwest Boom QB in house in Steve Angeli, and Tate's strong relationship with 2023 QB target Dante Moore is well-documented. I'd say the Irish are well-positioned with many twists and turns likely ahead.

Staff writer Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for the South Bend Tribune and ndinsider.com. Email him at mberardino@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino.