Five storylines to monitor as Notre Dame football opens fall camp

South Bend Tribune
SOUTH BEND — As Notre Dame football opens fall training camp on Wednesday, Marcus Freeman and his coaching staff will be in a full sprint to Week 0 and the Aug. 26 season opener in Dublin, Ireland against Navy.
Last seen zero-blitzing former Irish quarterback Drew Pyne (now at Arizona State) into a fetal position over the course of a hairy second half in Baltimore, the Midshipmen are a tough draw regardless of where they fall on the schedule.
Scheming up proper protection for Wake Forest graduate transfer Sam Hartman — a certified blitz punisher —will be one of the prime emphases over the next month, but that’s hardly the only important storyline boiling to the surface in the heat wave ahead.
Here are five storylines to WATCH:
'Changing of the room' at wideout for Notre Dame
Notre Dame wide receivers coach Chansi Stuckey, having bolstered the position room with four impact signees in the last recruiting cycle, is eager to see the fruits of his and their labor.
“The biggest narrative and issue will be just the changing of the room,” Stuckey told “Last year we were really hamstrung a lot in what we could do and what we could accomplish.”
Redshirt sophomore Jayden Thomas (25 receptions) and converted running back Chris Tyree (24 grabs) are the only returning players among the six to reach double figures in catches last season for Notre Dame, regardless of position.
With Hartman at the controls for new offensive coordinator Gerad Parker, there should be far more footballs flying through the air.
“This year, just from top to bottom, I just hope that people will see and the results will show just how different we are as a unit,” Stuckey said, “in how we move, how we operate, how aggressive we are, how we attack and just the overall character of the entire room from top to bottom.
“I’m super, super excited to see how this all meshes together.”
Is it Tobias (Merriweather) Time?
For a player with just one career reception, albeit for a 41-yard touchdown against Stanford, Tobias Merriweather certainly draws a lot of attention.
After invoking the name of Hall of Famer Randy Moss during the spring in discussing Merriweather’s deep-threat potential, Stuckey couldn’t be more pleased with how the 6-foot-4, 205-pounder from the Pacific Northwest used his summer to improve.
Tobias Merriweather has done a phenomenal job,” Stuckey said. “He’s taken more of a leadership role. I think that light that he and I started to talk about has clicked on a little bit right now.”
In particular, Stuckey said, Merriweather has added muscle to what had been a spindly frame.
“He got multiple awards from the weight room,” Stuckey said. “He got bigger and he has more of a — for lack of a better word — gravitas about him where he can really stand and he’s wide. He just commands a presence about him right now. He took the lead on a lot of our offseason stuff.”
Stuckey calls that the “get-ready phase,” the part of the football calendar when players separate themselves from the pack.
“A lot of that time is on their own,” Stuckey said. “That’s where you get bigger; that’s where leaders are developed.”
Merriweather now qualifies.
“With NCAA rules, you can’t have a coach around, so the players have to do their (on-field workouts) that they have to script and they have to lead,” Stuckey said. “I can just tell he’s done a great job of maturing. And his body, he’s always been a bigger, linear guy, but now he has a little girth to him. I think that builds confidence. I’m anxious to see what he can do.”
Who's next at Tight End U?
All-everything Michael Mayer is gone to the NFL after the Las Vegas Raiders grabbed him in the second round in April. Who steps forward to fill the pass-catching void at Tight End U?
Mitchell Evans, Kevin Bauman and Eli Raridon are prime candidates to step up after injuries cost them each at least half of the 2022 season. All three are dedicated run blockers, a huge part of getting on the field for the pro-style Irish attack.
Keep an eye on Holden Staes, who flashed downfield potential in limited time as a freshman.
Notre Dame’s top four returnees at the position have totaled 11 career receptions for 130 yards and one touchdown. Mayer nearly matched those numbers in one trip to Vegas last year: 11 catches, 118 yards, two touchdowns in the win over BYU.
Cam Hart, Thomas Harper will be key to secondary
Due to season-ending shoulder procedures, two protected members of Notre Dame’s starting nickel package must make up for lost time after mental-repping their way through spring practice.
Cam Hart, with 21 starts and 1,300-plus defensive snaps over the past two seasons, will line up at one cornerback spot. He was clearly missed in the final two games last season as Notre Dame’s secondary struggled to contain USC’s Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams and South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler.
Profile:Getting to know Notre Dame football cornerback Cam Hart
The other now-convalesced projected starter is Oklahoma State grad transfer Thomas Harper, a versatile chess piece who can handle slot coverage as well as safety chores. The Cowboys, 6-2 when Harper was shut down for the season, lost four of their last five games.
Can Billy Schrauth, Rocco Spindler seize guard spots?
With bookend tackles Joe Alt and Blake Fisher both projected as NFL first-round picks, plus an experienced center in Zeke Correll, Notre Dame should be in good shape up front.
Yet, for all of Billy Schrauth’s potential, new offensive line coach Joe Rudolph will likely be breaking in a first-time starter at left guard and maybe on the right side as well.
That’s up to Rocco Spindler, a four-star recruit whose father, Marc, played nine seasons in the NFL as a defensive lineman.
It’s probably only a matter of time before the Irish go with a Schrauth-Spindler combination, but Andrew Kristofic, who took first-team reps all spring, has the benefit of making eight straight starts to close out 2021 and open 2022 at Ohio State.

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