'Pain tolerance' will determine Jarrett Patterson's status for Ohio State opener
SOUTH BEND – Jarrett Patterson, a returning captain and three-year starter on the Notre Dame offensive line, has a sprained foot and is questionable for the Sept. 3 season opener at No. 2 Ohio State.
Patterson, who recently transitioned from center to left guard, suffered the injury during Monday night’s practice at Penn High School and must rest for 7-10 days before being re-evaluated for a return to contact.
“It’s going to be on him,” Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman said Thursday. “It’s going to be his pain tolerance and how much he can perform at the level we expect him to with the pain.“
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Freeman said Patterson was optimistic when the two spoke on Thursday.
“He said he feels great,” Freeman said. “I know J-Patt, and I know his mentality. As a head coach, I expect him probably to be out there just because I know the type of competitor he is. If he’s ready to go, he’s going to play.”
Redshirt sophomore Andrew Kristofic and redshirt freshman Rocco Spindler have filled in at guard for Patterson during his absence.
Patterson missed spring practice the past two offseasons due to surgery. A Lisfranc fracture in his left foot cost him the final four games of the 2020 season, and in early March a torn pectoral muscle resulted from a weight-room accident.
Patterson rehabbed vigorously and willingly agreed to switch to left guard for the first time in his career. A four-star left tackle at Mission Viejo (Calif.) High School, Patterson followed Sam Mustipher at center in 2019 and had started 34 of the past 38 Irish games as the anchor of the offensive line.
A strong spring audition for junior Zeke Correll led to his installation as the new center under returning line coach Harry Hiestand. Kristofic replaced Correll at left guard for the final eight games in 2021.
Concussion run for offensive line
Reserve offensive tackle Michael Carmody remains in concussion protocol, Freeman said, as do several of his reserve linemates.
Second-string center Pat Coogan returned to practice Thursday after missing time post-concussion. Also at various stages of concussion protocol, Freeman said, are redshirt sophomore Tosh Baker, redshirt freshman Caleb Johnson and freshman Aamil Wagner.
All are expected back after attending practice in a noncontact role on Thursday.
“There’s a return-to-play progression that our doctors have,” Freeman said. “We have to trust our doctors in terms of making sure our players are safe. You have to get your baseline test where it needs to be, you have to be able to do physical activity without having any symptoms before you can really start the physical contact.”
Freeman said the sidelined group is “working through that progression.”
Carmody took mental reps on the side for multiple practices in Week 2 of training camp but has been missing from open portions the past two times media attended.
Keon Keeley backs off Notre Dame
Five-star recruit Keon Keeley, Notre Dame’s top-rated commitment in the Class of 2023, announced via an 80-word statement on social media Wednesday night that he was reopening his recruitment.
“Making a decision that will ultimately affect my life’s path has been quite challenging and cannot be understated,” Kelley wrote on his Twitter account. “I hope everyone understands my need to ensure I find the right path.”
Keeley, a 6-foot-6, 242-pound edge rusher from Tampa’s Berkeley Prep, took an official visit to Notre Dame in June and had attended the Blue-Gold Game with the rest of a ’23 recruiting class ranked in the top three nationally.
Keeley, who announced his nonbinding commitment to Notre Dame in late June of 2021, recently visited Alabama. The Crimson Tide and Ohio State are now considered the frontrunners for Keeley, according to recruiting services.
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Gi'Bran Payne's path
Freshman running back Gi’Bran Payne drew widespread interest after being granted his release from Indiana University on March 8.
The four-star product of Cincinnati’s LaSalle High School even took a visit to Kentucky, but once he re-connected with Notre Dame -- and former Hoosiers running backs coach Deland McCullough -- Payne’s decision was made.
“Definitely a second father to me,” Payne said of McCullough. “I feel like he just cares about his players. It’s more than football with him. We can just talk about anything.”
While on the Cincinnati staff, Freeman had recruited Payne since he was a sophomore. Those talks continued once Freeman made the jump to the Irish.
Payne, whose final two high school seasons were wrecked by a broken right ankle and torn meniscus in his right knee, committed to Indiana in July of 2021.
McCullough kept Payne in the loop as he first replaced Lance Taylor (now Louisville’s offensive coordinator) and later spurned advances from the NFL’s New York Giants. Payne waited a month after the spring signing date before re-opening his recruitment.
“I definitely took some time and consideration and talked to my family,” Payne said. “There were a lot of switches at Indiana.”
That included new running backs coach Craig Johnson. Payne had a number conversations with Indiana coach Tom Allen before being granted his release.
A visit to Notre Dame sealed the deal on April 15.
“I always liked Notre Dame, the university as a whole,” Payne said. “They were in my top five before committing in the first place. When Coach D came over here after we had a great connection, a great bond at Indiana, it was just a no-brainer after that. That just put the cherry on top."
'Double-Duty' Xavier Watts
There was a good reason Xavier Watts was spotted carrying his white No. 4 jersey across the street to practice on Wednesday morning while wearing a blue No. 26 jersey.
The redshirt sophomore from Omaha, Neb., is playing both ways.
A string of injuries in the wide receiver corps forced Watts, a converted safety, back into the role he held from his arrival in 2020 until early last fall.
“He was really progressing as a safety,” Freeman said. “The unselfishness out of him … talks to his character.”
Is it a permanent thing?
“It’s a ‘now’ thing,” Freeman said Thursday. “He did both sides of the ball (at Thursday's 90-play scrimmage) and did a really good job. We’re obviously down some numbers (at receiver). Next thing you know, the next series, he’s in our defense.”
The coaching staff approached Watts around the time wideout Jayden Thomas (hamstring) joined Deion Colzie (strained knee ligament) and Avery Davis (ACL tear) on the shelf.
As Freeman recalled, Watts didn’t hesitate before saying, “Coach, if it’s what’s best for the team, I’m going to do it.”
Harrison Leonard lands
Former Notre Dame reserve placekicker Harrison Leonard has enrolled at the University of Rhode Island as a graduate transfer.
Leonard, a three-start recruit from Avon, Conn., in the Class of 2019, made all five of his point-after attempts during his Irish tenure but never had a chance to attempt a field goal. Leonard was unable to displace three-year starter Jonathan Doerer and skipped spring practice after Arkansas State grad transfer Blake Grupe was brought in to compete with redshirt freshman Josh Bryan.
The Rams play in the Colonial Athletic Association and play on the FCS level.
Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for NDInsider.com and the South Bend Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino and TikTok @mikeberardinondi.