Notre Dame safety Brandon Joseph should be full-go on Saturday at Syracuse

Mike Berardino
ND Insider
Notre Dame Fighting Irish safety Brandon Joseph (16) reacts to the missed field goal during the second quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes on Sept. 4.

SOUTH BEND — Still looking for his first interception in a Notre Dame uniform, All-America transfer safety Brandon Joseph is expected to play Saturday at Syracuse as he deals with a lower-leg injury.

Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman elaborated Thursday on why Joseph saw his defensive play count slashed from 69 against Stanford to 10 in last week’s 44-21 win over UNLV.

“Nothing structural, nothing that had to do with ligaments,” Freeman said on his weekly Zoom update. “It was more of a contusion, and (safeties coach Chris O’Leary) didn’t feel great with him being in there defensively. We still felt fine with him doing punt return duties.”

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Joseph, who dropped back for all nine UNLV punts and returned three of them, collided with freshman cornerback Ben Morrison when his teammate was blocked into him on the first Rebels punt. On the second defensive series, Joseph raced downfield along with linebacker JD Bertrand to make a touchdown-saving tackle on Courtney Reese’s 74-yard run.

Joseph also was on the field for five other special teams snaps in kickoff return and kick block.

Freeman said this was a recent injury for Joseph, who left an open practice period with an apparent foot/ankle issue near the end of August training camp. Concerns about Joseph’s “ability to cut and truly do his job” led to more playing time against UNLV for backups Houston Griffith (33 defensive snaps), Ramon Henderson (32) and Xavier Watts (20).

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Joseph, who had nine interceptions in his final 20 games at Northwestern, has the highest coverage grade among Irish safeties, per Pro Football Focus. Joseph has the only pass breakup (in eight targets) among the five-man group as he adjusts from the Wildcats’ zone-heavy scheme to more man-to-man coverage at Notre Dame.

Jaden Mickey to return to defensive backfield

Jaden Mickey, the freshman cornerback who missed the past two games with a strained abductor muscle near his hip, returned to practice this week and is expected to play Saturday.

Oct 8, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Kody Epps (0) runs with the ball against Notre Dame Fighting Irish corner back Jaden Mickey (21) during the second half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

Watts also was “banged up” to some extent against UNLV, Freeman said, but didn’t miss practice.

Junior linebacker Jack Kiser, who played just five defensive snaps against UNLV, also returned to practice after suffering a deep thigh bruise.

'That's the guy'

Jaylen Sneed, the five-star freshman linebacker who has yet to make his college debut, is scheduled to be on the travel roster for a second straight time.

“We keep pushing Jaylen Sneed,” defensive coordinator Al Golden said this week. “That’s the guy that needs to come on here down the stretch.”

Notre Dame's Jaylen Sneed prior to Notre Dame Fall Practice on Friday, August 05, 2022, at Irish Athletics Center in South Bend, Indiana.

Signed out of Hilton Head, S.C., Sneed nearly got on the field against UNLV after Kiser and Prince Kollie went down. At one point Golden even turned to grad assistant James Laurinaitis and asked him to make sure Sneed was ready to enter the game.

“Jaylen’s got to keep pushing and learning, but he would be the next guy up,” Golden said.

Freeman raved about the progress of both Kollie and Sneed while noting the latter, listed at 215 pounds, still needs to add some muscle. In that regard, the in-house comparison to Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, the 2020 Irish All-American now starring for the Cleveland Browns, is apt.

“(Sneed) has some physical tools that are really impressive,” Freeman said. “He’s always been a thin- body-frame type of player, but he’s doing a heck of a job and he’s going to be a good player.”

Prognosis for Tyler Buchner

Quarterback Tyler Buchner, injured against Marshall on Sept. 10, remains on a four- to five-month recovery program following mid-September surgery to repair an AC sprain in his left (non-throwing) shoulder.

“He’s not able to do many physical drills, even with his throwing shoulder,” Freeman said. “I know it wasn’t surgically repaired, but it still affects the other shoulder. He hasn’t even been released to run. I know soon he’s going to start progressing.”

Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner (12) before the Notre Dame vs. California NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Freeman expects Buchner to be out until “somewhere in January” but praised the sophomore’s willingness to contribute in meetings and “keep his mind sharp” as he charts plays during games in the coach’s box with offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. Because he was injured in his second game as the Irish starter, Buchner still has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.