Notebook: Chase Claypool ahead of schedule for Notre Dame, pushing for larger role

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — At first blush, Chase Claypool's breathtaking potential was deemed too crude, the competition in his past too soft, his knowledge of the American college game too limited to be anything more than a niche player as a Notre Dame football freshman.

More than likely, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound British Columbian seemed destined three months ago to be a project in 2016, set aside to ferment for a year.

But apparently the first Canadian to record a stat line for the Irish since linebacker Bill Mitoulas 19 seasons ago is microwaveable.

Three weeks into the debut season of the eighth-ever north-of-the-border prospect to see varsity action for the Irish (1-2), Claypool has created a dilemma for his coaches.

How best to expand his role.

“I'm to that point,” ND associate head coach and wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock said Monday during his weekly appearance on WSBT's Weekday SportsBeat radio show.

“Every situation that I put that young man in, he seems to just do a tremendous job with. And that's even taking away the great work he's doing for us on special teams.”

Heading into Saturday's home matchup with Duke (1-2), Claypool has three tackles on coverage teams, two tackles fewer than grad senior and pro prospect Jarron Jones has amassed at nose guard this season.

His two catches matches the season production to date of the entire Irish tight end corps, and his 39 receiving yards exceeds the tight ends' total by 19 yards.

He had a 33-yard reception that started an Irish scoring drive in ND's 36-28 loss to Michigan State on Saturday night and had a 55-yard Hail Mary at the end of the first half glance off his fingertips in the end zone.

Claypool also happens to play the same position as ND's current leading receiver, sophomore Equanimeous St. Brown (15 recs., 243 yards, 3 TDs), so creativity in finding him opportunities comes into play.

“From an offensive standpoint, he's been a big, physical presence on the edge,” Denbrock said. “Obviously, he had the one drop when Malik (Zaire) was in the game against our friends from Nevada, but the catch that he made last week and his (ability to) compete for the ball and his willingness to do anything to make sure that we're successful, you can't find enough of those guys. There are never enough of those guys.

“So I think as the season moves along here, you'll see him gain some momentum and get more and more opportunities to help our team.”

Must-see TV?

Having cameras and mikes on him constantly last season during Showtime's season-long documentary (“A Season With”), ND head coach Brian Kelly seems less inclined to go out of his way to put on a constant PG-13 face during NBC's telecasts of Irish home football games.

Or stress about it when the network does capture a private-but-loud moment.

Like during Saturday's ND-MSU telecast in which Kelly was seen verbally blasting defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and defensive backs coach Todd Lyght on the Irish sideline.

“It just is what it is,” Kelly said calmly during his weekly Tuesday press conference. “If we were up 55-0, we'd probably have no interaction, conversation, but there's going to be conversations (seen) on the sideline, because it's on national TV. But I have great respect for all my coaches, and they have respect for me.

“We have a chain of command. And if I don't like something, I'm going to make my opinions known. It's just business as usual. It's not personal. It's about getting it right.

“It's my office. If you had a camera in your office, there'd be those moments that we all have that people would ask what was going on.”

Kizer's next step?

At the quarter pole mark of the season, Irish junior quarterback DeShone Kizer stands 13th nationally in pass-efficiency (171.8), fourth in points responsible for (78), 20th in passing yards per attempt (9.1), 17th in yards per completion (14.3) and 13th in TD passes (9).

The self-effacing Kizer was the first to offer Saturday after the game that there's plenty of room for improvement as far as his game is concerned. Kelly and Denbrock each seconded the notion.

“He's got to play with more sense of urgency,” Kelly said.

So what does that look like?

“I think it's him not trying to do too much,” said Denbrock, ND's offensive play-caller of the next step in the evolution. “He's so talented, and he makes so many plays for us, and just some of the routine things he sometimes has trouble with.

“If you think back to early in the third quarter (of the MSU game), and we really needed to stay on the field and churn out some first downs and move the football, we called a sprint-out pass to the right. And he kind of bounced it to Torii Hunter.

“That's a throw he makes 99 times out of 100. He's got to make it 100 out of 100 — those types of things more than anything else with him. There's not a situation where he's not capable of making a play with, and maybe we're all a little bit spoiled in that we expect him to make every single throw and every single play that's out there to be made.

“But I think he would be the first one to admit there were some fundamental things he could do in his sleep that we didn't necessarily execute in the game the way we wanted them to be done.”


• While the Irish offensive and defensive lines didn't excel collectively in the loss to Michigan State, Kelly singled out offensive guard Quenton Nelson and defensive tackle Jerry Tillery for exceptional performances.

• Speaking of offensive lines, former Irish O-Line coach John Latina — prodded to resign during the Charlie Weis Era — was once on track to return to Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday. But Latina retired from his post as Duke's assistant head coach and run game coordinator in late February.

• Apparently Vegas hasn't given up on Notre Dame winning a national championship in 2016 — or finding people willing to bet that they will.

The 36-28 loss to Michigan State did increase ND's odds from 40-1 to 75-1, but the Irish didn't fall off the board completely. Nor did Kizer on the Heisman odds boards. He's now a 50-1 shot after holding 33-1 odds after the Irish beat Nevada.

• Saturday's matchup with Duke will be ND's 11th game against an ACC teams since its multi-game annual commitment went into effect in 2014. The Irish are 7-3 in those games.

• Duke's 24-13 loss at Northwestern last Saturday is a rarity of sorts. It marked just the fourth loss in the past 17 true road games for the Blue Devils.


Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame freshman wide receivers Kevin Stepherson (29) and Chase Claypool (83) have both made an early impact for the Irish. (Tribune Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)