Notebook: No arrested development for Notre Dame's Brandon Wimbush, Alizé Jones

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — They can now claim a kinship with Rudy as well as any Notre Dame football player who had to work his way from the bottom up.

Two mega-talented sophomores, quarterback Brandon Wimbush and tight end Alizé Jones, have gotten their first exposure to playing on the scout team this season as they redshirt for vastly different reasons.

It’s part of a process to keep them developing rather than fermenting during their year out of sight but not out of mind.

Wimbush, per usual, made the travel roster as the Irish (3-5) left Thursday night for a Saturday morning matchup (11:30 a.m.; CBS) with Navy (5-2) at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.

Barring a need to be pressed into action over the final five regular-season games, the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Teaneck, N.J., product will recoup the year he had to burn last season after a defection (Everett Golson) and a season-ending injury (Malik Zaire) defaulted him into the No. 2 QB role.

Wimbush played in just two games in 2015, though, throwing for 17 yards, on 3-of-5 accuracy, and rushing for 96 yards and a TD on seven carries.

“It’s just been a better learning experience for him (this season) in terms of being in game plan situations and understanding how we’re going about doing things at a lot deeper level,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Thursday of toggling Wimbush between repping with the scout team while emulating opponents’ offenses and taking reps running ND’s actually offense.

“Just getting him in some game-like action against our defense. He’s obviously a really talented player, and our defensive coaches are really impressed with his ability. It’s been a different year for him, but I think a better year in terms of learning.”

Jones, meanwhile, is ineligible to play — or even travel with the team — because of academic shortcomings. But he Is allowed to be on the sideline during home games and he is permitted to practice.

Had Jones been eligible this season, he was expected to be ND’s most productive tight end. His 13 receptions (for 190 yards) as a freshman in 2015 are exactly on pace to equal what the remaining four tight ends are on track to produce in 2016.

Kelly said Jones works with the third team during 7-on-7 periods in practice, and practices against the first-team defense on the scout team during team periods.

“He takes reps at virtually every position,” Kelly said. “He’s pretty good. We don’t have many guys who can cover him.”

Injury update

Two of the three Irish players who left last Saturday’s 30-27 win over Miami with concussion symptoms made it through the recovery protocol and, per Kelly, are available to play Saturday against Navy.

Triple-option ace Greer Martini, a junior linebacker, and starting right guard Colin McGovern both have been cleared. Nose guard tag-teamer Daniel Cage was not and didn’t make the trip to Jacksonville.

Cage’s absence means junior Pete Mokwuah moves up to be Jarron Jones’ backup at nose guard, with sophomore Brandon Tiassum also making the travel roster. Tiassum has yet to play in a college game.

“He’s had a really good 2-3 weeks,” Kelly said of the Indianapolis Park Tudor product. “He’s starting to really grasp the things that we needed him to. He’s a big kid with really good feet. He’s coming on.”

Navy-ND 2020 site set

Notre Dame and Navy will renew their football rivalry in 2020 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk and MetLife Stadium president and CEO Ron VanDeVeen made the announcement Thursday. The designated Navy home game is set for Sept. 5, 2020, which would make it the season opener.

The 2020 game will mark the fourth appearance for Notre Dame and the second for Navy at MetLife Stadium. The Midshipman defeated Notre Dame, 35-17, in MetLife Stadium’s inaugural season in 2010.

The next Navy designated home game, in 2018, will be played in San Diego.

Squibs

• Freshman receiver Kevin Stepherson returns to his hometown of Jacksonville for Saturday’s game, and the Irish coaching staff is keeping tabs on the First Coast High alum to make sure the moment doesn’t get too big for him.

“There have been several conversations about (this being) the Super Bowl for him,” Kelly said, “and tickets and the number of requests that he’s had. But he’s handling it pretty good right now.”

Stepherson ranks third on the team in receiving yards (287, with 12 receptions) and second in TD catches (3).

• ND’s early arrival in Florida has a side benefit for Kelly and his staff, as some assistant coaches will have a chance to see and be seen on the recruiting trail at high school games in the talent-rich Jacksonville area on Friday night.

• Since a 35-17 upset loss to Navy in 2010, Kelly has won nine successive games against triple-option teams, including five straight against the Mids.

• The Irish will be playing in an active NFL stadium Saturday for the 16th time under Kelly. The Irish are 11-4 in such games under their current coach with seven wins in the last eight contests staged at those venues.

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Quarterback Brandon Wimbush has dabbled in scout team duty this season as the sophomore redshirts in 2016. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)