Jonathan Doerer's right foot keeps Notre Dame special teams in good hands

Tom Noie | South Bend Tribune
ND Insider

Crisis avoided.

Fresh from its 2018 College Football Playoff cameo, Notre Dame faced several critical questions as a new season neared. Could it replace lock-down cover cornerback Julian Love? How would the defense do with the departures of leading tacklers/linebackers Tevon Coney and Drue Tranquill?

Could quarterback Ian Book become an effective full-time starter? Would the Irish piggy-back a second season of double-digit wins with a third?

Answers to those queries arrived throughout 2019. So would another — what would special teams look like without veteran Justin Yoon? There’s no such notion of automatic in this game, but Yoon was close to it. On extra points. On field goals. On being consistent every day in practice, and then even more so in games.

Yoon shares or owns five program records, including career field goal percentage (.797), point-after attempts (180) and scoring (329 total points). Replacing him should’ve been more of a concern. It wasn’t.

Semi-new guy Jonathan Doerer wouldn’t let it. Not even after he flubbed his first real audition in 2018, when he hooked an extra point in San Diego against Navy — not exactly a high-stakes, high-pressure kick. Doerer settled down that night at SDCCU Stadium and eventually settled into his place-kicking role to the point where wishing for Yoon never surfaced in 2019.

That spot’s in good hands with the senior Doerer.

In his first season as the place-kicker (he did handle kickoffs in 2018), the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Doerer converted all 57 point-after attempts and was 17-for-20 on field goals. That conversion percentage (.850) ranked 22nd nationally. Doerer went without attempting at least one field goal in only two games — Louisville and Michigan.

He missed only once from at least 40 yards over the last nine games. He also proved he could deliver in a big game, with three field goals (with zero misses) of 45, 52 and 43 yards against rival USC. That effort earned Doerer a game ball, and the belief that he could indeed do the job.

Last year. This year. He’s the guy.

“He always had the physical ability,” ND special teams coordinator Brian Polian said. “His leg has always been above average. I think Jon learned how to take care of his body. I think Jon frankly just dedicated himself to the technique and his craft.

“It became less feel and more, ‘Hey, I know I need to do these couple of things correctly all the time.’ I’m very proud of what Jon Doerer did last year. I’m very proud to be associated with his performance last year. But ultimately, that happened because Jon Doerer dedicated himself to it.”

As is punter Jay Bramblett, whose job the first day of camp last summer in Culver, Ind., proved as difficult as Doerer’s. All the true freshman had to do was step in for former team captain Tyler Newsome, who, like Yoon, was so steady that many took him for granted. In his first season, the 6-2, 193-pound Bramblett averaged 39.4 yards on 63 punts He ranked 81st in the country for net punting (37.7 yards). He had five punts of at least 57 yards, including a long of 63 against New Mexico.

The next punt that Bramblett has blocked will be the first.

Both specialists entered last season as blank slates, but offered special teams coach Brian Polian plenty with which to work. They were good last year and expect to be even better in 2020.

”Jay does a lot of things that people don’t know about,” Polian said. “He’s an exceptional holder. His operation times against pressure are fantastic. I would expect him to take the same leap this year (as Doerer in 2019) as his confidence grows.”

Like Doerer and Bramblett a year ago, true freshman Alex Peitsch has big shoes to fill as the team’s projected starting long snapper. When veteran John Shannon, who didn’t miss a game over three seasons, graduated in January and left to become a Chicago police officer with a year of eligibility (and the nation’s inaugural long snapper of the year honor) in his back pocket, it opened a spot for the 6-1, 210-pound Peitsch. The top-rated long snapper in the recruiting class, Peitsch already is penciled in as the starter.

Junior wide receiver Lawrence Keys III and sophomore running back Kyren Williams are the leading candidates to replace former wide receiver/captain Chris Finke as the team’s punt returner, though fall camp will bring another audition that will include some incoming freshmen, Polian said.

Finke wasn’t in that spot to break games open. Notre Dame ranked 54th in the nation last season (8.44 yards) in return average when ball security and keeping possession was stressed over setting up long returns.

Keys was one of six Irish to return a kickoff last season. He ran back 10 for an average of 19.4 yards. Notre Dame ranked 91st in the nation at 19.19 yards per return. Maybe he snags that spot as well. Maybe speedster Braden Lenzy, the top returning returner with a 23.7-yard average, earns additional opportunities. Freshman Chris Tyree will audition and could win a spot at one of the return spots.

When it comes to the overall success of this unit, it’s not about being seen as being heard. As in Polian’s voice. If in October it’s still as scratchy as a 45-rpm record (ask your parents) as it is in August, there are issues. If not, all is all right.

“I’m so proud of the way that our team has engaged here over the last year or so with how important they treat special teams,” Polian said. “(Former Irish linebacker) Drue Tranquill’s stock in terms of the NFL went up a great deal because of what he was able to do in the kicking game. Then he blocks two punts as a rookie.

“(Former Notre Dame wide receiver) Chase Claypool, there’s no denying his stock went up in the eyes of the NFL because of his production on special teams. (Former Notre Dame safeties) Alohi (Gilman), Jalen (Elliott). Culturally, with the direction of coach (Brian) Kelly and the rest of the coaches, I’m very proud of where we are now in terms of how our guys embrace what we are doing.”

In his first year as the full-time starter in 2019, place-kicker Jonathan Doerer made sure special teams wouldn’t be a concern. He delivered a solid season after taking over for Justin Yoon, the school’s all-time leading scorer.


39 Jonathan Doerer 6-3 205 Sr.
98 Harrison Leonard 5-11 196 So.


19 Jay Bramblett 6-2 193 So.
98 Harrison Leonard 5-11 196 So.


19 Jay Bramblett 6-2 193 So.


44 Alex Peitsch 6-1 210 Fr.
65 Michael Vinson 6-2 226 Jr.


23 Kyren Williams 5-9 204 So.
13 Lawrence Keys III 5-10 173 Jr.
4 Kevin Austin Jr. 6-2 210 Jr.
21 Caleb Offord 6-1 184 Fr.
16 KJ Wallace 5-10 185 So.


0 Braden Lenzy 5-11 180 Jr.
32 Mick Assaf 5-11 212 Gr.
25 Chris Tyree 5-10 185 Fr.
13 Lawrence Keys 5-10 173 Jr.
18 Joe Wilkins Jr. 6-2 194 Jr.
3 Avery Davis 5-11 205 Sr.