Notebook: Brian Kelly ponders Patterson's path at Notre Dame as hectic June kicks off

Eric Hansen
ND Insider
Center Jarrett Patterson, right, could end up playing tackle or guard for the Irish in 2021.

BRIDGMAN, Mich. — Brian Kelly stepped in from the drizzle Monday morning at Lost Dunes Golf Club — unmasked, unabashed and unapologetic about the deterioration of his normally respectable golf game.

“It doesn’t exist,” the Notre Dame head football coach qualified. “I can’t quit my day job. I know a lot of people who would like me to.”

Less than 24 hours after hosting more than 80 prospects at ND’s Irish Invasion Camp — a key evaluative and exposure recruiting event — he and wife Paqui were schmoozing at the Kelly Cares Foundation Golf Invitational in the foundation’s first fundraising event in roughly 16 months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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On Friday, the 13 football freshmen, who weren’t mid-year enrollees, report to campus, as do a handful of high school standouts on official recruiting visits whom Kelly hopes will be part of next year’s freshman class.

Among them are top 100 prospects wide receiver Tobias Merriweather, defensive tackle Anthony Lucas and linebacker Niuafe Tuihalamaka. It’ll be the first official visits for uncommitted high school recruits Notre Dame has hosted since the Irish wooed cornerback Ramon Henderson in September of 2019.

Irish veteran players, including Henderson, return Sunday and start summer school shortly thereafter. Joining them will be Cain Madden, a sixth-year, All-America offensive guard who Kelly can’t comment about yet directly until his grad transfer is complete in a few days.

Add to that OTAs, more recruit-a-palooza weekends of epic proportions and importance, and you can see why Kelly’s golf game has little hope of resuscitation.

Now, about his day job, here’s a peek into what Kelly’s world looks like as COVID-19 ebbs:

Front and center

Point blank, senior offensive lineman Jarrett Patterson’s best position is center, per Kelly. The coach said that without hesitation on Monday.

It’s where the 6-foot-5, 305-pound California product started every game of the 2019 season and the first eight of 2020 before a fractured foot and subsequent surgery ended his season.

The lone returning starter from last year’s Joe Moore Award finalist unit, Patterson is versatile enough to play any of the five positions on ND’s offensive line. And Notre Dame’s philosophy has long been to identify the best five linemen on the roster, then retrofit them to positions.

Before Madden committed Friday, those five comprised Patterson, grad senior Josh Lugg, junior Zeke Correll and early enrolled freshman prodigies Blake Fisher and Rocco Spindler.

From a national perspective, Patterson is rated as the fourth-best returning interior offensive lineman in the FBS per Pro Football Focus. He missed all the contact work in spring practice still recovering from surgery, but Kelly said Monday Patterson will be cleared for full activities on Sunday, when he reports.

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So where does he line up ultimately?

“Not sure,” Kelly said. “Look, there are things in play here: What’s good for the five (best linemen). What’s good for Notre Dame. And what’s good for Jarrett Patterson.

“I have to look at all those things. I have to look at what’s best for his future, too. So we’ve got some things we’ve got to figure out here, and we’ll get the right five guys being out there.”

From a NFL Draft perspective, PFF senior college analyst Anthony Treash said a shift of Patterson to left tackle would make him more money IF “he sustains the high level of play we’ve seen from him at center these last couple of years.

“Everything I’ve seen is they (the Irish coaches) want him at tackle. But I think that’s a big risk for him. If I were in their shoes, I’d keep him at center, because he was performing at a very high level there — one of the top 10 in the country and close to top five. And I think he’s better suited to be an interior guy at the NFL level.”  

Portal power

Madden committed to the Irish Friday, giving them two grad transfers this offseason and six over the past couple of cycles. They hope to add Tulsa cornerback Akayleb Evans this week.

Evans has visited Texas, ND and Missouri, and then added an offer from Georgia over the weekend.

“I think it’s not about brick and mortar,” Kelly said of Notre Dame’s success of closing the deal with recent grad transfers who made visits to ND. “It's not about fancy car shows or it’s not about the glitz.

“It's about making a sound business decision, because they’ve already been through that, and that’s kind of worn off. This is about making a smart business decision as it relates to the right now for them, and how it can elevate them for the next step.

“And the most of that is: How is this going to elevate me in terms of winning right now and my résumé in terms of playing in the NFL. Of course, we’ve done really well in that area, have a pretty good track record of moving guys on to the NFL.”

PFF’s Treash said Madden — who turns 25 two days before Christmas — likely would have been a day three pick (rounds 4-7) had he come out for the draft after last season.

“I think a lot of people want to see him go into a Power 5 program and compete against a legit schedule,” said Treash, who rated Madden as the No. 2 returning interior offensive lineman in all of college football.

“I think they also wanted to see more true pass-set opportunities. The offense by design limited those a little bit this past season for him. And so I think he has a prime opportunity to really help himself. He’s going to be on a lot more teams’ radar now.”

Treash compared Madden talent-wise to Aaron Banks, a consensus All-America guard for the Irish last season who was plucked in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft by San Francisco.

Head coach Brian Kelly surveys the action during the Blue-Gold Game, Saturday, May 1, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Status updates

Beyond Patterson, here is Kelly’s assessment of the progress of several notable Irish players coming back from injuries and/ or surgeries:

• Wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr. (foot surgery): A candidate to be ND’s leading receiver in 2021, Austin’s workout plan will be ramped up gradually over the next 2-3 weeks before he’ll be cleared for more strenuous activity.

“All of his X-rays look really good,” Kelly said. “We did a (bone) graft this time. We didn’t do a graft (earlier). We tried to heal it through looking up to the sky. This graft is going to hold. So we want to modify his running and get him back in that way.” 

• Junior safety Kyle Hamilton (ankle surgery): “We were very cautious with him (in the spring), but he’s ready to go,” Kelly said. 

• Junior quarterback Brendon Clark (knee surgery): “There were some things that put him back a little bit, but the last I heard from him last week, he should be in a running program when he gets back.”

• Junior nose guard Jacob Lacey (shoulder): “ Really good,” Kelly said. “Had his strength almost to the level where you could be full-go in the weight room.”

• Senior rover Paul Moala (Achilles tendon tear): “I don’t know exactly what (trainer) Rob Hunt has in mind for him in his running progression,” Kelly said, “because he’s so far ahead of where we thought he would be.” 

Kelly Cares returns

Monday’s Kelly Cares Foundation Golf Invitational was expected to bring in a record fundraising haul or close to it in the decade-old event, a welcome development after COVID-19 shrank contributions to the point that the foundation had to severely reduce staff as well as its programming.

“We were a one-person staff — me,” Kelly’s wife, Paqui, said. “We took a big hit to our bottom line, and it was kind of a hard stop like everybody else. But we were blessed with great sponsors. Even events we didn’t have, some of the sponsors provided sponsorship.

“Football 101 will come back next year. We'll use the next couple of months to plot out what 2022 looks like for us philosophically.” 

Happy campers

Most of the participants in Sunday’s Irish Invasion Camp were prospects in the 2023 and ‘24 classes, and many of them received scholarship offers after the Irish coaching staff got to see them perform.

Among them was 2024 quarterback CJ Carr, a 6-3, 180-pound prospect from Ann Arbor, Mich., and the grandson of former Michigan head football coach Lloyd Carr.

There were eight players invited from the current recruiting cycle (2022), and two of them reported post-camp offers — Elic Ayomanor, a 6-3, 205-pound wide receiver and three-star prospect from Canada who’s currently attending Deerfield (Mass.) Academy, and cornerback Austin Ausberry, 6-1 and 201 from Baton Rouge, La.

He’s a four-star and top 250 prospect per Rivals, and has a younger brother (Jaiden) who’s a linebacker and a top 25 recruit in the 2023 class.

Follow NDInsider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @ehansenNDI