Notebook: Jarrett Patterson becomes a center of attention in ND's first spring practice
SOUTH BEND — He was more rumor than reality last season, a burgeoning freshman left tackle prospect who earned a handful of game cameos, thanks to an advanced growth curve and the new redshirt rule.
Saturday Jarrett Patterson evolved into a surprise of sorts, running out with the first-team offense for the first tempo drill of Notre Dame’s initial spring football practice as the No. 1 center.
There were other players at the top of the depth chart clearly etched in pencil, and others still who were place-holders for starters being held out of practice No. 1 of the spring for precautionary reasons (guard Josh Lugg and safety Paul Moala for Aaron Banks and Alohi Gilman, respectively).
Patterson’s rise was neither accidental and not purely circumstantial, though grad senior-to-be Trevor Ruhland and walk-on Colin Grunhard were cordoned off doing rehab work Saturday in the Loftus Center.
“We’re really grooming Jarrett to be in there for the long haul,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said.
Ruhland, because of continuing physical limitations due to past injuries, will be groomed to be in a utility role like he was last season, ready to fill in at either guard spot or center.
“It’s difficult for him to play 72 plays,” Kelly said.
Sophomore-to-be Luke Jones is also expected to compete at center, though he is nursing a sprained ankle. Early enrollee Zeke Correll would be a more serious candidate for playing time if he had more than 275 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame.
“Zeke is a guy we’re very high on,” Kelly said. “He has to continue to grow.”
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Patterson brings zero experience to the position beyond dabbling with it a bit on the scout team last year and during bowl prep in December.
“I think we saw that his technique was very advanced when he came in,” offered starting right tackle Robert Hainsey of Patterson. “He was able to ride that and keep improving it, taking all the coaching he could.
“The reason he was moved to center is how confident he is and how advanced his football IQ is. He understands our offense well and he’s able to run it.”
Notre Dame (12-1 in 2018) returns four starters on the offensive line — in tackles Liam Eichenberg and Hainsey, and guards Banks and Tommy Kraemer. Not one of them has expiring eligibility until after the 2020 season.
Patterson is bidding to replace Sam Mustipher, a three-year starter at center.
The Mission Viejo (Calif.) High School product originally verbally committed to Arizona State in the recruiting process. He eventually signed with the Irish in February of 2018 during the late signing period.
“Like his athleticism,” Kelly said. “Smart kid. The one thing that really stood out last year was (being) assignment-correct. He’s emotionally stable in a sense that every single day you got the same kid, and we like that at the center position.”
Studstill to grad transfer
Notre Dame’s schematic change on defense a couple of seasons ago diminished safety Devin Studstill’s once-prominent role in the Irish defense, but apparently never his spirit.
It’s the latter that nudged him to find a place to start over, inspired by his late mother, Sheena Studstill, who passed away on April 27, 2017.
With Studstill absent from the first day of spring practice, Kelly filled in the blanks, and so too later did Studstill via Twitter and Instagram.
“Time flies; (after 3 years) at the age of 20, I will have my degree this May and elect to grad transfer to pursue my dream, and fulfill my promise to my late mother,” Studstill posted. “Pursue your dreams relentlessly and run towards the unknown. Can’t wait to see y’all at the top! #ThankyouND.”
Because the 6-0, 205-pounder from Riviera Beach, Fla., will have completed his degree work by the end of his junior year, he’ll have immediate eligibility in 2019 for his final collegiate season.
Studstill in 2016 started nine games as a freshman and became the first true freshman at ND to start six or more games at the free safety position since eventual All-American Bobby Taylor in 1992.
Studstill had 38 tackles that season, but only 18 in 2017 in 11 games under new coordinator Mike Elko and four in six games as a reserve last season under Elko’s successor, Clark Lea.
Studstill’s departure leaves the Irish at 88 scholarship players, three over the NCAA max that must be met by the first day of fall-semester-classes.
“We love Devin,” Kelly said. “We wish him the best. He really has done everything we’ve asked him to do — has been a great teammate, has worked his butt off. I think he’s in the best condition and best shape of his life. I expect him to do really well wherever he ends up.”
Junior Brock Wright took the first-team snaps at tight end Saturday, with projected starter Cole Kmet on a road trip with the Irish baseball team in Charleston, S.C.
“This is the last weekend he’ll miss,” Kelly said of his two-sport standout. “We felt like in practice (No.) 1 we weren’t doing a whole lot. We didn’t want him to miss some contact scrimmages. So we felt like this one would be the one to give up.”
Kmet is 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA through Notre Dame’s first eight games, earning a save Friday night in a 7-4 Irish victory over host Charleston Southern.
After surrendering four runs (three earned) on three hits with two walks in a 20-7 season-opening loss to Arizona State on Feb. 16, the left-handed reliever has pitched 6 1/3 hitless, scoreless innings with no walks and 11 strikeouts.
• Sophomore-to-be Braden Lenzy originally had designs on being a two-sport athlete at Notre Dame as well, but he has put track and field on the back burner for now.
The 5-11, 184-pound wide receiver from Tigard, Ore., is one in a group of sophomores pushing for playing time in the receiver rotation this spring.
Leading returning receiver Chase Claypool, a senior, fellow returning starter Chris Finke and junior Michael Young lined up with the first team on Saturday.
Lenzy and fellow sophomores Lawrence Keys III and Kevin Austin lined up with the second team at the receiver positions.
Joe Wilkins Jr. and Micah Jones are the other sophomore wide receivers.
“He’s really focused on wanting to play this year,” Kelly said of Lenzy. “He felt he needed to get stronger and was worried about not being able to fulfill the things that he came here for, and that was to make an impact in football.
“He didn’t come here with his first priority being track. If he had, he would have went to Oregon. I think when he settles into his niche in a football sense, he’ll try to go and run some track here. But I think he wants to find his place in football first.”
• Sophomore cornerback DJ Brown was working with the safeties on Saturday. Kelly said the plan is for the 6-0, 192-pounder to cross train at both positions.
• Sophomore Shayne Simon is getting an early look as the No. 1 rover in what is admittedly an extremely fluid depth chart across all three linebacker/rover positions.
“Just a lot more confident, playing faster,” Kelly said of the version of Simon he’s seeing this offseason/spring versus the one who played in nine games, mostly on special teams, as a freshman in 2018.
“Everything was robotic last year. He had to see it before he could react. I think we’ll see a lot more from him. Just a natural progression of a young guy we think it is going to do some nice things for us.”