What Notre Dame Football players are worth watching during Saturday's Blue-Gold game?
SOUTH BEND Here are four Notre Dame football players to watch when the Irish suit up for the annual Blue-Gold Game scrimmage that will conclude Spring practice Saturday. Kickoff is 2 p.m. Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
SAM HARTMAN (10)
Somewhere there lies an unwritten rule that says when you bring in a guy with Hartman’s career credentials – 12,967 passing yards, 110 touchdowns, 34 straight games with at least one scoring pass – you MUST feature him up, even for the spring game, which is nothing more than a practice that fans pay $10 to watch.
The sixth-year Wake Forest graduate transfer is worth it. Get to your seat early and get a good look at No. 10 in the red jersey (all quarterbacks wear red in spring) because you’re not going to see much of Hartman. Maybe a series. Or a quarter. If quarterbacks coach Gino Guidugli and offensive coordinator Gerard Parker are feeling really frisky, maybe the 6-foot-1 1/8, 210-pound Hartman plays the whole first half. He’s still learning the offense, still learning a rapport with the receivers, still looking like the new guy.
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He won’t show much Saturday. Maybe a back shoulder throw here or a deep ball there, enough to hold everyone’s interest/intrigue through the summer. Notre Dame hasn’t had a guy like Hartman at the position — ever. Anytime you can watch him, make sure to watch him.
TOBIAS MERRIWEATHER (5)
Who wants to go out on a spring game limb and say that the 6-4, 205-pound sophomore from West Cama, Washington will catch more passes Saturday than he caught all last year?
It’s not that large a leap to say that Merriweather will show more than he did all of last season, when he made one catch – for 41 yards – and a touchdown in only seven games. Really, you could flip a receiver coin between Merriweather and Deion Colzie in terms of which one might be on track for a bust-out game. They've only been OK. They can't be OK any more.
The receivers room is much improved. It’s deeper. It's more talented. Those in there believe it can be better. Notre Dame needs a go-to guy, needs a game-breaker. Needs something more than what it got from the position last season. Why not the former four-star Merriweather?
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Opportunity is there for him this season. Might as well start down that playing path Saturday. Are three, four, five catches too much to ask? Not from this guy. Not this season.
LORENZO STYLES (4)
Nope, it’s not a misprint. Remember what was just said about the depth and the potential of the Irish wide receivers this season? The coaching staff feels so confident about where they stand with those guys that they've toyed with moving Styles, on track to be THE breakout wideout this season after 30 catches for 340 yards and a score a year ago, to the other side of the football.
The media saw him take one rep at cornerback in a recent practice and thought, hmmm, that was interesting. Head coach Marcus Freeman said days afterward that Styles was dabbling at corner, but still bouncing between both sides of the ball. Freeman said the decision on where to play is up to Styles.
He still may work Saturday at wide receiver, but the spring game is the perfect time to let the junior from Pickerington, Ohio sink or swim at corner. There's no pressure. Freeman likes his physicality and potential. Being a wide receiver, he already understands route recognition, which is key. Might as well give him a full day’s work at corner to live and learn the position. Give him some hope that he can see the field there in the fall.
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Saturday means a whole lot of nothing to many veteran guys. It might mean a lot to Styles. Might dictate his future. It hasn’t happened for him yet on offense. Might it on defense? The spring game could offer a good clue.
NOLAN ZIEGLER (42)
Notre Dame’s trio of starting linebackers is the defensive version of Hartman and fellow quarterback Tyler Buchner. Or starting tailbacks Logan Diggs and Audric Estime. No reason to run them out there for more than a series, if that. Cover JD Bertrand, Jack Kiser and Marist Liufau in bubble wrap and tell them we’ll see them in fall camp.
They combined for 191 tackles, 19.5 for loss and five sacks last season. They don't need to break a sweat in this one. That opens the door for someone like the 6-3, 225-pound Ziegler, who’s already earned his share of quality reps as Bertrand’s backup. When the linebackers were scheduled to meet the media earlier this spring, Ziegler was among those who sat for interviews. That’s a sign that the redshirt freshman might be ticketed for a bigger role. He looks and he plays a lot like Bertrand, which is not a bad comparison to carry.
Like with Styles out there on an island, Saturday’s a good chance to get a long look at Ziegler. Note to a reserve running back who thinks he eyes a running lane Saturday — Ziegler is lurking.
— Tom Noie