Michael Mayer on the Notre Dame QB battle: Drew Pyne and Tyler Buchner are 'both ballers'

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — As the quarterback battle rages on with the April 23 Blue-Gold Game fast approaching, Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer expressed confidence in both combatants, Tyler Buchner and Drew Pyne

“I’ve seen a lot from both quarterbacks since I’ve been here my 2½ years,” Mayer said Thursday after spring practice No. 13. “Both great quarterbacks. I have trust in both of them. They’re both ballers and they’ve been battling this spring.”

Mayer’s 113 career receptions and nine touchdowns make him the focal point of the offense, but he doesn’t seem too concerned about the transition from Jack Coan to an unproven successor. 

“This is what spring ball is for,” Mayer said. “We’re finding our quarterback right now. We get to see who can ball, and they’ve both been balling so far.” 

Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer (87) during a Notre Dame spring football practice on Tuesday, April 12, 2022, in South Bend.

Cam Hart, the top returning cornerback, suggested this week the challenge of defending either Buchner or Pyne has become more similar as the latter has improved his mobility. 

“Honestly, I used to think there was a difference because I used to think Buchner was more of a dual threat than Drew,” said Hart, still recovering from offseason surgery on his right labrum. “But Drew is showing that he has the speed and agility to do the same thing as Buchner. There is no difference. I’d play them both, honestly, the same. They both do the same things.” 

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Junior cornerback Clarence Lewis, another returning starter, praised Pyne’s throwing accuracy. 

“The accuracy is definitely there with Pyne,” Lewis said. “He’ll put it into some real small windows. He’s going to get it in there.” 

Buchner’s ball placement, an issue at times as a freshman during games last fall, has improved as well. 

“The deep balls are on the money,” Lewis said. “And the throw on the run is good.” 

Buchner’s running ability is still at the forefront of Lewis’ mind, however, whenever he takes a practice repetition against him. 

“Definitely when you’re playing Buchner, you’re going to get more of a runner,” Lewis said. “Say, if he gets out of the pocket, you’re going to have to break down or close (with) speed and get him a certain way.”

Notre Dame quarterback Drew Pyne (10) takes a snap as quarterbacks Ron Powlus III (11), Tyler Buchner (12) and Steve Angeli (18) look on with quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees during a Notre Dame spring football practice on Tuesday, April 12, 2022, in South Bend.

Senior slot cornerback TaRiq Bracy also weighed in on the respective challenges of facing each quarterback candidate. 

“They’re both good passers and they both get out of the pocket, so honestly I think they’re the same way,” Bracy said. “I know Buchner is involved a little more with the read option where you can take it and run, but at the same time they both pass the ball and they can get out of the pocket and make some plays.”

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Bracy, showing the elusiveness of a future coach, withheld judgment on who throws the better deep ball.  

“I’m not sure,” he said. “I’ve got to look at the film.” 

Oh, (Jaden) Mickey, you're so loud 

Of the 12 early enrollees, freshman cornerback Jaden Mickey has made the most noise this spring — literally. 

“He’s chirpy,” Lewis said this week. “I was like, ‘Oh.’ Because you don’t really see that against your own teammates usually. Nobody else really does that.”

During the few practice sessions that have been open to the media this spring, the Eastvale, Calif., product has made a point of celebrating his pass breakups with joyful barking and exaggerated incomplete signals. 

Notre Dame freshman cornerback Jaden Mickey (center) with his parents Nilka and Lamar on early signing day in December 2021

“He definitely has a lot of confidence,” said Lewis, a two-year starter. “It was funny, though — for sure — when it first happened. He’s just going to compete.”

Irish coach Marcus Freeman recently texted Lamar Mickey, Jaden’s father and the defensive backs coach at Ayala High School. 

“You did a good job with this one,” Freeman wrote. 

Freeman has no problem with such outward displays from the freshman. 

“He’s not quiet at all — he’s got a loud confidence about him,” Freeman said. “He’s a confident kid. He’s really good. I believe he’s going to do some really good things for us this year. You can see the way he plays. He’s been making a lot of plays. It’s been good to see.”

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Linebacker Junior Tuihalamaka is another early enrollee who has flashed on the defensive side. Freeman said it takes confidence to make a sudden impact. 

“I’ve been around a lot of early enrollees, and the ones that usually make the fastest transition are the ones that have the confidence,” he said. “They’re not overwhelmed by the college game. They don’t come in here and say, ‘Oh, my God, these guys are bigger, faster and stronger.’ They have a confidence about them, and (Mickey) does.”

Kyle Hamilton in freefall?

ESPN senior draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. dropped former Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton from second to 11th in his latest mock draft, released Wednesday. 

Instead of going to the Detroit Lions with the second overall pick, Kiper now has Hamilton lasting until the 11th selection, which belongs to the Washington Commanders. 

Kyle Hamilton runs the 40-yard-dash during Notre Dame’s NFL Pro Day event on Friday, March 25, 2022, in South Bend.

On a Thursday conference call with national media, two weeks ahead of the NFL Draft (April 28-30), Kiper said it was Hamilton’s disappointing showing in the 40-yard dash that caused the projected fall.

“The 40 time was the reason that I did (drop him),” Kiper said. “You talk to people in the NFL … and the consensus was he could drop just a bit. I said he was  unique. I’ve said that through the process. (Former Notre Dame coach) Brian Kelly even said that the other day — that he was unique and rare.”

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Hamilton, however, ran a 4.59 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine in early March and then disappointed scouts again when he ran at Notre Dame’s Pro Day on March 25. Although his second run was announced as a hand-timed 4.56, Hamilton also ran a 4.67 in his first jaunt on his home turf. 

“Had he run better he would have been the second to fourth pick in the draft,” Kiper said. “Some people think he was the best player in the draft prior to that. So, at 11 he would be a great pick for Washington. ... He would be a great centerpiece of their defense.” 

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.