Chat Transcript: Breaking down the depth chart surprises, Genmark Heath's exodus

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to the surprise Tuesday edition of Notre Dame Football Live Chat. Sorry I had to call an audible this week. We do hope to do these on Wednesdays, moving forward. A reminder, please include your name and hometown with your question. Thanks again for joining on short notice.

Erik from Granger: Holy depth chart surprises, Batman. What was the biggest surprise to you? Clarence Lewis/TaRiq Bracy? Javon McKinley at the field receiver? Avery Davis over Lawrence Keys? Or Brock Wright over Tommy Tremble? For me it’s McKinley. The article mentioned some August limitations influenced the chart. Which battles were impacted the most? It’s game week!!

Eric Hansen: The biggest surprise to me is the coin flip at corner between TaRiq Bracy and freshman Clarence Lewis at cornerback. Second would be Shayne Simon/Marist Liufau at buck linebacker. I thought Simon was surging, and I felt he long had the athleticism and drive to be good. But I didn't see him overtaking the pack until maybe October. Liufau they've always really liked, but there was heavy competition. Lewis being in the mix is a testament to him and to CBs coach Mike Mickens. I'll be writing about Lewis this week, so keep an eye out for that. The WRs didn't surprise me as much, because I'd heard rumblings about the surge of talent at the position, including from older players. It wouldn't surprise me to see time shares and depth chart flips at those positions as the season progresses. I'm not going to get into COVID absences without ND confirming those.

Bill from St Joe, Mich.: Eric, do you view the move of Shaun Crawford to safety as a good thing, because it seems to indicate the coaches believe they have answers at both corner positions?

Eric Hansen: I don't think they make the move without that notion. Now, Chase Brice this week and Micale Cunningham in mid-October are going to test that long before we see Trevor Lawrence and Sam Howell. It'll be interesting to see where Crawford lines up on third down. Does he line up and defend the slot receiver? Does Owusu-Koramoah? Someone else? Saturday will help us see a much clearer picture of where the defense is headed.

Ken from Pensacola, Fla.: Eric, hope all is going well with you and your family. Did coach Kelly name upcoming captains for this year's team?

Eric Hansen: Hi Ken. Best wishes to you too. We're expecting that announcement this afternoon.

Joe from Asbury Park, N.J.: Who are your leading candidates for surprise players of the year on offense and defense?

Eric Hansen: Well, the new depth chart helps identify some good candidates. Based on it, I'll say Clarence Lewis on defense and Kyren Williams on offense.

Tom from Georgia: What is the in-season testing schedule — which three days?

Eric Hansen: This week, it's Monday, Wednesday, Friday.

Phil from Syracuse: Do you find it as discouraging as I do that neither Braden Lenzy, Lawrence Keys nor Houston Griffith have advanced enough to be in the starting lineup?

Eric Hansen: Certainly not in the case of Lenzy and Keys. They're going to play a lot this year. It's great, especially in a year like this, to have plenty of options. I don't see their standing on the depth chart this week as regression. Houston Griffith is a puzzle. If ND plays three safeties with some regularity, as the Irish did last year, then it makes more sense. Houston is so talented, so invested, so intelligent, it really should be his time. .. and again if ND plays three safeties with him included, then I'll soften my stance.

David from Columbus, Ohio: Where can I get a depth chart?

Eric Hansen: Right here:

David from Columbus, Ohio: I see a lot of people high on ND this year. The wide receiver corps and running backs make me a little concerned. What is your prediction for the Irish this year?

Eric Hansen: I have them going 10-1 and making the ACC Championship Game.

Bill from Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Will the hand clap still be used this year to start plays? It might work in smaller audiences but think it led to many false starts last year. Go Irish!, stay safe Eric!,

Eric Hansen: Bill, with crowds limited or no crowds at all in 2020, it just might work. I have no idea, since we haven't been at a single practice. We'll find out together on Saturday.

Corey D from Alpena, Mich.: Hi Eric. Love and respect your work. What in the world is Brian Kelly thinking with respect to the starting lineup at receiver? So rather than starting Lawrence Keys and Braden Lenzy and beating Duke with our speed, we are instead going to throw up 50/50 balls via fade passes? I like Avery Davis, but starting the latter over Lawrence Keys? C’mon. We have seen these inexplicable examples before where Kelly seems allergic to playing the best players. What are your thoughts on this?

Eric Hansen: The wide receiver rotation doesn't bother me at all. And it's going to get better and deeper when Kevin Austin comes back. I really look at all the receiver positions (including tight end) as time shares anyway at this point of the season. Give it a chance. And thanks for the kind words.

Tom from Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eric, if you had to pick a couple players that this "free year" of eligibility will benefit, who comes to mind. And, will they take the opportunity, assuming coaching staff agrees? Go Irish ☘️

Eric Hansen: No one really comes to mind for me if we're talking about guys who would otherwise have expiring eligibility. I'd think most of them would be eager to move on with life. Maybe Jonathan Doerer, because he's a late bloomer and never redshirted, Maybe Nick McCloud, the grad transfer cornerback, from NC State.

Tim from Pleasant Prairie, Wis.: Hi Eric, no big deal, but wondering why the starts of home games have been pushed up an hour this year?

Eric Hansen: They actually had some 2:30 games last year and in 2018 as well. The original 2020 schedule only had one 3:30 game. I wrote about this a couple of years ago, but can't locate the article. The colons in 2:30 and 3:30 confuse our search engine. Keep in mind, NBC and the other networks had to put these schedules together on the fly. If it matters, I prefer 2:30 to 3:30.

SubwaySkip from Reno, Nev.: Eric: Longtime reader/admirer — first-time inquirer. I preface these questions knowing you're dealing with info blackout like the rest of us junkies, but ... Q1: How in the effing, bleeding HELL did Avery Davis beat out Lawrence Keys III for the starting slot receiver position? How in the effing, bleeding HELL did Brock Wright beat out Tommy Tremble for starting tight end? My guy McKinley over Lenzy at field doesn't surprise or disappoint me at all, but Davis/Wright absolutely shocks me. Q3: You said in an earlier Q-and-A that Shayne Simon is "surging." Please elaborate. Drooling junkie minds are inquiring.

Eric Hansen: Skip, thanks. Keep in mind that the difference between 1 and 2 at some of these positions is almost negligible. And as I mentioned some may flip. Some may end up time shares. Some may have been influenced by COVID absences. In Davis' case, he's always had the speed. Brian Kelly cited his improved hands for why he's made the depth chart climb. As for Simon, he's always had everything in the tool box but the instincts of an inside linebacker. The game is flowing to him now, and he's always been an elite athlete with a high motor.

GB from Wasilla, Alaska: Eric, the season is almost upon us, and I was surprised at the depth chart. It started with Jordan Genmark Heath getting good reviews on his play and not making the starting two. Then, he mysteriously quit the team. It's a head-scratcher to me, because he would not lose a year by playing and he could work on his skills at least if he felt that he would not see the field and wants to play full time with a team like a MAC school, maybe. However, the clincher is that the NCAA is basically giving everyone a free year of eligibility, so it would seem like he would not need to quit anyway. Was something else going on or does he just want a year off? Since, he quit the team, does he have to pay is own way this year? It would seem fair if he did.

Eric Hansen: GB, I'll preface this by saying the NCAA has not yet spelled out just how the free year will work for everyone in terms of underclassmen, future roster limits, etc. So there could be adjustments ahead. First, let's start with Jordan Genmark Heath getting beaten out. When I spoke to defensive coordinator Clark Lea in July, he anticipated a highly competitive situation among six plays. JGH had the inside track, but just because he was playing well doesn't mean someone else can't play great and beat them out. And that's what happened. The players who beat him out are behind him in class, so it's not like he can wait until they graduate. He wants to play and get his ND degree. There's nothing mysterious about that. No, he does not need to play his own way at this point.

Eric Hansen: As to his future, Jorden Genmark Heath never previously redshirted. So this will be his redshirt year. He'd then have 2021 eligibility, based on the free year everyone gets this year. Because he will have his degree, he won't have to sit out next year and he can enroll at his new school and participate in spring practice. If he transferred to a Big 10, Pac-12, MWC or MAC school, he could even play games in the spring and still have 2021 eligibility. So he has more attractive options than maybe appears to meet the eye.

James from Columbus: Hi Eric. I hope you and yours are well. It's finally game week! Do you think this is coach Brian Kelly's "deepest" team he has had at ND? Have you, Tyler, and Carter considered doing some type of pregame broadcast/podcast on gamedays? We all miss your insights on Weekday Sportsbeat. Thanks and Go Irish! Beat Devils!

Eric Hansen: James, thanks. I think it's a good idea, but it would have a very short shelf life. It's something to ponder, but with just one of us in the press box each game (this year only), it would be a little harder to pull off. I think this Irish team is indeed one of his deepest of the Kelly Era, but there are still positions where it would hurt to lose the starter — Ian Book, Kyle Hamilton, etc., but that list is shorter than most years. So yeah, very good depth and they've set up practices to enhance that depth.

Terry from Cincinnati: First off, I agree with you Eric in preferring the 2:30 kickoff. Second, what are the media policies for ND home games this year? Is the entire SBT staff able to attend and cover the game?

Eric Hansen: I think it's 28 people total in a press box that usually seats 150. One person per outlet, so we'll take turns. Masks, sitting 12 feet apart, get kicked out right after interviews (which is a good thing). Only three people from the beat total can go to road games. No staff photographers. No grumbling from me. I'm happy to have football.

John from Jackson, Miss.: Hi Eric. Hope it's cooling off there, unlike here. Not knowing much about Duke football beyond seeing that they're retooled their offense recently and listening to last year's game on the radio, my question is what is it we need to worry about with them? 

Eric Hansen: Well, they've upgraded their QB position big time, with Chase Brice transferring in from Clemson. They've got a really good tight end (Noah Gray), a formidable pass rush, an experienced secondary and one of the best kickoff returners in the nation (Damond Philyaw-Johnson). They'll be better than they were last year.

Keith from South Carolina:  Have a feeling that Braden Lenzy, Lawrence Keys and maybe a few others missed some practices, and that's why they're not listed as starters. Jobs are earned on the practice field, especially this year. Thanks, and I miss your insight on SportsBeat. Go Irish!!

Eric Hansen: Keith thanks. You may very well be onto something. Good deduction. Fortunately, ND goes into game week with its full roster.

Eric Hansen: Here are some COVID-19 numbers today from the ND dashboard. Just one new case in 248 tested. The active cases on campus are down to 56 from 69 yesterday. Outstanding news.

Terry From Alexandria, Va.: This is a three-part question. How confident are you in this year's passing game? When was the last time we started so many seniors? Do you think having this much veteran experience will make a big difference in the game?

Eric Hansen: I'm confident the passing game will be pretty good against average and good defenses. I'm not sure how they'll stand up to great defenses. But they have time to grow. It is a very large group of seniors starting, but there are a lot of young players who are important parts of the core group. I think having a mature team helps in a lot of ways, including having the discipline to have minimal COVID damage this summer.

Jeff from Phoenix: Eric, I saw the offers to the two quarterbacks for 2022. Its early, but neither appears to be top 5 in Rivals. Is it a priority to get a QB for 2022? Much thanks.

Eric Hansen: Jeff, I think you need a quarterback in every class, so yes it's a priority. I also think you're going to see a long run of underrated and overrated prospects over the next couple of recruiting cycles because of so few evaluation opportunities. Some players aren't even playing high school football this fall. QB Gavin Wimsatt, whom ND offered, is the No. 1 dual-threat QB in the 2022 cycle. Steve Angeli is the No. 12 pro-style QB, but look at his offers: They include LSU, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Miami.

Alex from Jackson, Mo.: Do you get the sense Kelly doesn’t like screen passes? This seems to be the year to start implementing them with the skill sets of Williams and Tyree. I don’t recall seeing screen passes used often in years past?

Eric Hansen: I think they were an underutilized weapon in the Chip Long Era, and my expectation is Tommy Rees will rely on screens more. You're right, there's good personnel there, with Kyren Williams, Chris Tyrie at the top of the running back depth chart.

Dan from Grand Rapids, Mich.: Hi Eric. Thanks for keeping us informed and up to date. Navy had no contact practices this spring/summer and looked awful last night. How much contact did ND have? Any feeling how good ND can be with limited injuries?

Eric Hansen: Dan, ND did a lot of tackling. Brian Kelly mentioned that on a previous Zoom. They also had some full scrimmages. With limited injuries, I like this team a lot. They've got some questions to answer for me, but I've been high on the potential of this team since last season. My mind hasn't changed.

Terry From Alexandria, Va.: Hi Eric . Thank you for your contribution to the game. It's not ND game week without you, lol.

Eric Hansen: Terry, thanks.

Mike McFadden from South Williamsport, Pa.: Sideline analyst is not Kathryn Tappen, but Jac Collingsworth OR are they going to switch by game? Just asking.

Eric Hansen: The ND release says the sideline reporter is Jac Collinsworth, but the NBC release says it's Tappen, with Jac hosting pregame, halftime and postgame shows.

Jim from Florida: Really enjoy these chats. Thanks for all your efforts. It seems to me that in the Brian Kelly Era, special teams are always erratic. In close games special teams make a huge difference. Our kickoff return team has been close to dismal the past few years as has the punt return team. It doesn’t always have to be a big play, just reversing field position with consistent punting for example can make a huge difference. Can you give me your summary of how you see special teams shaping up this year? Can we rely on our kicker for mid= and long-range field goals in a consistent manner?

Eric Hansen: Jim, thanks. I enjoy having you on the chats. ... What ND did well from a special teams standpoint last season was coverage (both kickoff and punt coverage were in the top 20 nationally) and field goals. Jonathan Doerer was 17-of-20, with range, which is outstanding. My expectation is ND will be good at those three things again. Punting (net and overall) should improve. And with Chris Tyree on kickoffs and Lawrence Keys III on punt returns, I like the chances of those units improving.

Brian Chesanek from Holly Springs, N.C.: When I try to evaluate two teams side by side, I try to imagine them playing 10 times and guessing how many times each could win. In 2018 I thought Notre Dame could beat Clemson maybe two out of 10 times. This year, however, I think if I had to put a number on it, I would pick four out of 10. Am I crazy to pick four? And how many times do you think Notre Dame could beat Clemson if they played 10 times?

Eric Hansen: Brian, it will be a lot easier for me to do that math once I've seen both teams play. On paper, I'd say you're in the ballpark. Maybe three out of 10 in my book.

Mark from KC: Who the heck is Dawson Goepferich and how did he become the most valuable backup (backing up three positions)?

Eric Hansen: Dawson Goepferich is a walk-on grad transfer from Brown, who handled all three of those duties last season for the Ivy League team. He was 7-of-10 on field goals, punted for a 38.1-yard average and had 31 touchbacks on his 57 kickoffs in 2019.

Rich: Eric, Do you think the scholarship limit influenced Kelly to push Jordan Genmark Heath down the roster, thus freeing up a spot. Thanks for all your great work.

Eric Hansen: Rich, hometown please next time. No, ND was already at the 85-scholarship limit. JGH remains on scholarship and will graduate in December.

Robb from Delaplane, Va.: Any word on how Kevin Austin is coming along? And is there an update on his projected return?

Eric Hansen: That's a question that would have been asked under our old press conference format. We're doing the best we can with Zoom. The assumption is still that he'd be back in time for Florida State on Oct. 10. I'll continue to try to get that question answered.

Frank from St. Louis: Is there a reason you can share why Doug Flutie was moved from an analyst position to (intermittent) interviewer on the NBC coverage? To me he was OK, but liked to talk about himself a bit much.

Eric Hansen: Based on my emails, he was embraced by only a very small fraction of the ND fan base. I'm eager to see what Tony Dungy brings.

Mark S. from St. Louis: Hi Eric! Curious, do you know the status of offensive lineman Quinn Carroll? He was very promising coming into ND and then suffered that bad knee injury. The silence around him makes me concerned that his injury might have been more serious than reported. Do you see him practice full tilt?

Eric Hansen: I think he's got a bright future and the Irish coaches like him a lot. Once Robert Hainsey and Liam Eichenberg move on (and Josh Lugg after them), he's in that next wave of promising young tackles with Andrew Kristofic, Tosh Baker and Michael Carmody.

Doug from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho: Your thoughts on Drew White? I expect a big year. A St. Thomas Aquinas grad.

Eric Hansen: Doug, Drew White made a believer out of me last year. I expect a big year from him as well.

ND Harvey from South Philly: Are you very confident in the O-Line? Thank you. Go IRISH!!!!

Eric Hansen: I am confident, but I am cheating in that confidence, because I asked Aaron Taylor's opinion. And if anyone knows what a good offensive line should look like, it's him.

Michael from Omaha, Neb.: Thanks for your insight. It is especially valuable in a year like this, where nobody has had any real access! Should we be concerned with a possible return of Ian Book's pocket jitters? Have you heard any updates on his pocket presence?

Eric Hansen: Michael, I thought he got better with that in November, but that was a problem early in 2019. I think improving pocket presence is likely No. 1 on his checklist of things to accomplish this season, and I think that's a realistic and necessary goal.

Dan from Grand Rapids, Mich.: One more question, Eric. With the Big Ten and Pac-12 not playing, at least for now, what impact will that have on the bowl games and national rankings, and playoff? I can't imagine the coaches, ADs, and players of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, USC, etc. will be very happy when they see ND, Clemson, and SEC teams on TV every Saturday. Too bad. I read that the Big Ten university presidents voted 11-3 not to play, but nowhere is it listed as to how anyone voted. Is there any hookey-pooh going on?

Eric Hansen: Dan, I'm either too old or too square to know what hookey-pooh is. Google was no help either. I'll try to answer the rest of the question. Unless they do an about face and play this fall, the Big Ten, Pac-12, Mountain West and MAC are out of the playoff and the New Year's Six. The Big Ten and Pac-12 could play in a spring version of the Rose Bowl if they sync up their schedules. They will not be part of the fall AP top 25, but apparently AP is going to do one in the spring as well.

Cnova78 from Parts Unknown: The way coach Kelly praised Bo Bauer on recent presser, do you think at any time this this year he'll eventually win the starting linebacker job?

Eric Hansen: I don't, but I think he'll be ready in case of injury. The hole in his game was pass coverage, and apparently, he's improved in that area.

Tom from Georgia: Maybe ND should have given a greater effort to keep the Navy game?

Eric Hansen: I'm not sure how a game like that helps you if you're ND.

Victor Money from Vero Beach, Fla.: Eric, I think it is a good thing that players now have more flexibility to transfer when things don’t work out. I hope Jordan Genmark Heath makes the most of his remaining eligibility. Do you have any color, insight, or supposition as to why he left the program, aside from his not being named the starter? He bailed pretty quickly. Just wondering if he felt that he was unfairly treated, despite the warm message he posted. Thanks so much.

Eric Hansen: Victor, I hit on this earlier, but I don't see anything sinister here. He made a move from safety to inside linebacker a couple of years ago when ND needed depth at that position. It was a difficult transition, but he worked hard to make it work. Shayne Simon was an elite recruit and elite athlete who finally has found his stride. Marist Liufau was a diamond in the rough who is developing as they'd hoped. There are still guys like Jack Lamb and Jack Kiser with plenty of promise at the position. They're just very deep in talent at that position group.

Matt from Kansas City: I love football, particularly ND, but didn't play growing up. Can you help me out in why one player is better than another when it comes to playing safety vs. cornerback and also whether someone plays offensive line or defensive line? I guess this is an ND chat also, so as it relates to ND, who is a player no one talks about that is crucial to our success this year?

Eric Hansen: Matt, this is an overly general answer. Cornerbacks tend to be faster and can flip their hips better than safeties. Safeties tend to be more physical and usually aren't as good in 1-on-1 coverage as the cornerbacks. Now if you get a cornerback with size and physicality or a safety with elite speed (think Kyle Hamilton), then you're got something special. A big difference between offensive linemen and defensive linemen is demeanor, though Liam Eichenberg has a butt-kicking personality. So did Quenton Nelson. It's also about speed and the ability to shed blockers. A lot of O-Linemen don't have those traits. Jerry Tillery did, which is why he was able to flip over to D and be so successful. Who's the player no one talks about ... hmmmm .... I'll say Nick McCloud.

Antoine Bodine from Manchester, Vt.: What is Jack Lamb’s status? Is he still recuperating from last season’s injury?

Eric Hansen: Unless it's a recent injury, he just got beaten out by other players. That doesn't mean he won't be part of some of the sub packages. We'll see on Saturday. I like Jack Lamb's potential a lot.

David from Columbus, Ohio: What has happened with Jafar Armstrong that has him down the running back depth chart?

Eric Hansen: Let me say this very generally about the running backs. There could have been some COVID-related absences at that position group that opened the door for Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree. But to their credit, they were ready to break the door down anyway. They earned it. I would not give up on Jafar, though, in being a contributor.

Mike McFadden from Williamsport, Pa.: Will we ever see TWO running backs in the backfield again, so we can have one block and one run the ball? OR only for deception as who will get the ball on short-yardage plays? Thanks Eric.

Eric Hansen: You don't see that as a staple very much at all in college football anymore. You're not going to see it on a regular basis with ND this season, but we may see it sprinkled in at times, given the versatility of the running backs to shift pre-snap to a receiver role if the defense calls for that.

Tom from Georgia: To what do you attribute the magnificent level of negative virus tests in the program? It is certainly a multilevel and layered achievement.

Eric Hansen: A really good plan, a driven team and some good luck.

Jacob from Versailles, Ohio: Could Osita Ekwonu be used as a short-yardage fullback (I-Formation or T-Formation) in a blocking role? I found his pseudo move to RB intriguing, and he looks the part of a big, strong fullback. Thanks for keeping us updated even with limited info.

Eric Hansen: He was pretty effective running the ball in high school. I don't know if I see him as a fullback as much as maybe someone who carries the ball in short yardage with a tight end blocking.

Eric Hansen: That's going to do it for today. Thanks for all the great questions (and compliments). Thanks also for adjusting to the 11th-hour shift to Tuesday this week. The hope still is to try and do these every Wednesday during the season.

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