Notebook: Drew Pyne sizes up his chances of impacting Notre Dame's QB picture
SOUTH BEND — Of the five scholarship quarterbacks gracing the Notre Dame football roster at the start of spring practice Saturday, Drew Pyne was actually the second-most coveted of them coming out of high school, and not too far from being the highest rated.
But because physically — at 5-foot-11 1/2 and 194 pounds — he’s the one that looks the most like he’s still in high school, the sophomore-to-be is easy to dismiss as an afterthought.
And apparently the No. 118 player nationally in the 2020 class is resilient enough to make you second-guess yourself.
“Drew’s built for this,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said Saturday via Zoom after his 12th spring with the Irish kicked off. “He’s always been told that he’s not good enough or can’t be the starter and can’t win.
“He relishes these opportunities, and he’s always succeeded. So this doesn’t affect Drew at all. It just motivates him even more.”
The realistic prize for doing so is emerging from the 15 spring sessions, culminating in the May 1 Blue-Gold Game, as the No. 2 option going into spring. Though Kelly wants Pyne’s mindset for the next five weeks to prepare to overtake Wisconsin grad transfer Jack Coan for No. 1.
Junior-to-be Brendon Clark (6-2, 212), No. 2 for most of last fall behind departed three-year starter Ian Book until his knee gave out, underwent surgery Kelly said in late December and won’t be a factor in ordering the depth chart this spring.
He was not ranked among the top 250 players in the 2020 class per Rivals and was rated the No. 20 pro-style QB in that class.
Mid-year freshman enrollee Tyler Buchner, cheated out of a senior high school season by COVID-related delays in California, was the highest-rated per Rivals among the five (No. 114 overall in 2021), even though he played just one season in the last three.
“So you’ve got to understand there’s some development that has to take place there,” Kelly said of the 6-1, 207-pounder. “He had a nice practice today, but he doesn’t know our offense, and just the basics is really what he’s trying to feel good about today.
“So he’s obviously got some work to do from that standpoint. But he’s a quick study. He’s a really good athlete.”
Another newcomer is early enrolled freshman Ron Powlus III, a 6-3, 215-pound freshman from Penn High who didn’t come up in Kelly’s assessment Saturday of the position group. A three-star recruit, Powlus was not rated among the top 250 players in 2021 or the top 30 pro-style QBs.
Which brings us to Coan, a 6-3, 220-pounder with starting experience with the Badgers and expected to show leadership to a team of strangers from the time he enrolled in February for spring-semester classes.
“I can only imagine how awkward that situation must be,” grad senior wide receiver Avery Davis said, “because you’re playing the quarterback, which is the epicenter of the football team. That’s definitely pressure and something he had to work on coming into it, but he’s done a really good job.
“He’s more of a soft-spoken guy, but he leads with his work. He leads with his effort. And when he needs to say something, he’s not hesitant to speak up.
“His knowledge of the game is really well, so that’s another thing that helps him lead. He knows what he’s talking about, and guys can really rally around that.”
Coan ranked third of the five, per his Rivals high school rating, ranking No. 214 overall in his class and as the No. 13 pro-style QB in his class, four spots below a guy named Mac Jones, who ended up at Alabama.
The Irish didn’t offer a scholarship to Coan coming out of Sayville (N.Y.) High school on lightly recruited Long Island. They instead landed Avery Davis out of Texas, and converted him to cornerback, then running back before he found a home at wide receiver.
“His work ethic is outstanding,” Kelly said of Coan. “We knew a lot of that about him already. And so he came in here and has handled it extremely well, because he’s been authentic. He’s been who he is and hasn’t tried to pretend.
“And naturally leadership will follow that position. And that’s kind of what’s happened.”
Pyne, meanwhile, got cameos in four games last season for the Irish (10-2), completing 2-of-3 pass attempts for 12 yards and running the ball once for four yards.
“Drew’s the ultimate competitor,” Davis said. “He takes on any challenge. He’s really going to step up to the plate whenever his name’s called. It was really fun working with him this offseason. I’m excited to keep working with him going forward.”
The task of replacing four multi-year starters on the offensive line will certainly extend beyond Notre Dame’s 15 spring practices, but the Irish have to start somewhere to identify the true contenders for starting roles even if the list is long.
“Everybody’s going to get into the mix,” Kelly said. “We kind of have a plan of how this should look.”
The long-term plan won’t completely take shape this spring with senior Jarrett Patterson still sidelined with the left foot injury that required surgery in November. The two-year starter at center is expected to move to the left tackle position when healthy, which will allow junior Zeke Correll to take over at center, where he started two games last season.
Graduate senior Josh Lugg, who has stepped off the bench and into a starting role eight times throughout his career, should find himself in the starting lineup once again. He will play tackle in the spring, Kelly said, but will likely slide into a guard role when the season starts.
“You’re going to see a big battle for one of the tackle positions and one of the guard positions,” Kelly said.
Parsing through Kelly’s descriptions of Saturday’s practice, the Irish opened with a starting offensive line of Lugg and sophomore Tosh Baker at the two tackle spots, grad senior Dillan Gibbons and senior John Dirksen at the two guard spots, and Correll at center.
Kelly also mentioned the progress of juniors Andrew Kristofic and Quinn Carroll and sophomore Michael Carmody as the Irish try to find answers by the Sept. 5 season opener at Florida State.
Compiling a comprehensive injury list can be difficult with closed practices, but Kelly shared some details on players expected to be limited or completely miss the spring.
Patterson won’t participate in spring practice. Junior nose guard Jacob Lacey will miss practice with a shoulder injury. Senior wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr. likely won’t be able to participate all spring as he recovers from the left foot injury that sidelined him twice last season.
Kelly didn’t elaborate much on junior safety Kyle Hamilton’s timetable to return. The Athletic’s Pete Sampson previously reported Hamilton had a minor procedure on his ankle this offseason.
“He’s in our rehab program, spending a lot of time with our trainers,” Kelly said of Hamilton.
Surprisingly, senior linebacker Paul Moala may be able to participate in some 7-on-7 drills before the end of the spring, Kelly said. Moala suffered a torn Achilles tendon in October against Florida State.
• After starting the last two seasons at defensive tackle for former Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea, graduate senior Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa will be asked to play some defensive end under new coordinator Marcus Freeman.
“We think he’s certainly capable of giving us the kind of solid technique necessary to play that big end position,” Kelly said. “He’s got the size. He’s got the strength. He’s put on some weight. He’s excited about it. He was out there with the first group (Saturday) and did a nice job for us.”
• The identity of Notre Dame’s offense in 2021 has yet to be determined, Kelly said. He said he’s confident that Notre Dame can both spread the offense out with four or five wide receivers or play physical football with two tight ends like it did with success last season.
“We’re going to use this spring to kind of get an identity offensively and then we’ll build on that going into preseason camp and into the fall,” Kelly said.