Braden Lenzy offers guidance to Tobias Merriweather; Joseph likely to miss another game

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame freshman Tobias Merriweather has a knowledgeable resource as he recovers from the first concussion of his college football career: fellow wideout and Greater Portland product Braden Lenzy.

“It’s (tough) to see him going through concussion protocol, especially because I’ve been there before,” Lenzy said Tuesday after practice. “I had three concussions my first calendar year here: Fall camp, spring ball, fall camp. I missed a lot.”

Set for his last Senior Day against Boston College on Saturday, Lenzy has shared his experiences with Merriweather, including the recovery process after suffering head injuries.

“That’s one of those things where you don’t want to be that ‘soft dude,’ but it’s nothing to joke around (about),” Lenzy said. “He’s aware of that. He knows. This culture here is not a rush culture. They want to make sure he’s healthy.”

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Merriweather, whose playing time had gradually increased since making his first career reception for a touchdown against Stanford, traveled to Baltimore but watched the Navy game from the sideline in street clothes and sunglasses.

“I’m giving him that advice: ‘Be smart, go about it how you need to and we’ll hold it down until (you’re ready),’ “ Lenzy said. “He’ll be back. And when he’s back, you’ll see a monster. I’m excited for him. I love Tobias.”

Notre Dame wide receiver Tobias Merriweather (15) makes a catch for a touchdown during the Notre Dame vs. Stanford NCAA football game Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

At 6-foot-4, Merriweather stands nearly 5 inches taller than Lenzy, who has been impressed with the maturity level of the June arrival.

“Young puppy, but he’s wise beyond his years,” Lenzy said. “Great intellect. You can tell his background, where he comes from, his family is very smart and raised him really well. Extremely hardworking, very lengthy build. He’s probably the prototypical deep threat kind of dude.

“He’s shown everyone here that he’s ready to play at this level. I have very high hopes for him.”

Notre Dame wide receiver Braden Lenzy catches the ball against Navy cornerback Mbiti Williams Jr. (7) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)

High school sprint champions in the Pacific Northwest, Lenzy and Merriweather have yet to race each other.

“I’m faster,” Lenzy said. “It’s proven. You can ask him. He knows. He won’t argue with it.”

'Don't make me a liar'

This four-game Notre Dame winning streak has overshadowed a kicking slump for Blake Grupe, the graduate transfer from Arkansas State.

After starting the year with just one miss (a 44-yarder at North Carolina) in his first nine field-goal attempts, Grupe has missed in four straight games and hasn’t converted an attempt longer than 31 yards since the blowout win over UNLV on Oct. 22.

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Irish coach Marcus Freeman had a conversation with the kicker on Sunday and tried to boost Grupe’s spirits.

“We’ve got to find ways to help build his confidence in practice and even in the game,” Freeman said. “As I told him, ‘Man, I have the utmost confidence in you. We’re going to get another opportunity for you to go out there and kick a field goal, and I have 100% faith that you’re going to make it."

With a chuckle, Freeman added: " 'Don’t make me a liar.’ ”

Oct 8, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish kicker Blake Grupe (99) kicks a field goal in the fourth quarter agains the BYU Cougars at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Grupe’s career-long field goal in four seasons with the Red Wolves was 50 yards. His longest attempt for the Irish has been the 47-yarder he made against California in Week 3.

Freshman walk-on Zac Yoakam has shown a strong leg as the kickoff specialist, and redshirt freshman Josh Bryan has one career appearance: an extra point last season against Georgia Tech.

Brandon Joseph is 'doubtful'

Safety Brandon Joseph, who suffered a high ankle sprain in the first half against Clemson, is listed as doubtful for Saturday and could miss a second straight game.

Xavier Watts exceled in Joseph’s place at safety against Navy, and senior Matt Salerno reclaimed his former duties as punt returner.

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Rover Jack Kiser, who has played through ankle and thigh issues, is probable for Saturday after tying for the team lead with eight tackles against Navy.

Linebacker JD Bertrand, the team’s leading tackler for the second straight year, is fully expected to play this week after being a late scratch at Navy with a groin injury.

Another freshman dealing with a head injury is cornerback Jayden Bellamy. Sitting out this season as a redshirt, Bellamy is “still working his way back through concussion protocol,” Freeman said Thursday on his weekly teleconference.

Sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner, coming off September surgery on his left (nonthrowing) shoulder, has resumed some limited individual work in practice.

“He’s not wearing pads but he’s participating in parts of practice,” Freeman said.

Notre Dame safety Xavier Watts (26), safety Brandon Joseph (16) and safety Houston Griffith (3) celebrate during the Notre Dame vs. Stanford NCAA football game Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Third-year defensive tackle Aidan Keanaaina, eight months removed from surgery to repair a torn ACL, isn’t fully recovered but has been practicing with the scout team. The 323-pounder is “working his way back into the football shape he needs to be in,” Freeman said, and could make his return in a bowl game.

Tight end Cane Berrong, 13 months removed from knee surgery, is taking practice repetitions on offense and special teams and is “pretty much back,” Freeman said.

Linebacker Will Schweitzer underwent an undisclosed “medical procedure” about a month ago, Freeman said, and could be cleared “sometime after the season.”

Follow Notre Dame writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.

No. 18 Notre Dame (7-3) vs. Boston College (3-7) 

  • When: Saturday at 2:30 p.m. EST 
  • Where: Notre Dame Stadium (77,622), South Bend, Ind. 
  • TV/Radio: NBC, WSBT Radio (960 AM), WNSN (101.5 FM) 
  • Line: Notre Dame opens as a 19 -point favorite  
  • Series: Notre Dame leads 16-9 
  • Last meeting: Notre Dame won 45-31 in Chestnut Hill, Mass.