The Fighting Irish are counting on Daelin Hayes to anchor their pass rush this fall
One thing is certain going into the 2018 Notre Dame football season: Brandon Wimbush’s play is crucial to the success of the Fighting Irish. The quarterback needs to improve his accuracy and make better decisions all while continuing to be an explosive threat running the football. Ian Book did a great job leading Notre Dame to victory in the Citrus Bowl, but Wimbush reaffirmed his status as the starter during spring workouts and the New Jersey native will lead the team into battle against Michigan on Sept. 1.
Wimbush is not the only player that the Irish staff needs more from this fall. After losing a good chunk of the offense -- and with a couple spots on defense that need development -- the roster is filled with wild card players going into the coming season. Here are five to watch.
Dexter Williams, RB
The senior from Orlando is the ultimate wild card at this time. Williams (above, right) has only carried the ball 99 times in three years but has averaged 6.5 yards per carry and in 2017 he gained 9.2 yards per attempt. He has struggled to get on the field due to his play without the football. With Josh Adams and his 1,400 rushing yards no longer in South Bend, Williams could finally get his chance. Maybe. There have been rumors circulating that the senior may be facing a suspension for an undisclosed violation. So not only is Williams’ play a question mark, so is his availability.
Miles Boykin, WR
Boykin had just 12 receptions last fall and has only caught 18 balls in his career, but the Chicagoland product had a huge Citrus Bowl that was culminated by a spectacular, game-winning touchdown grab. He followed that up with a nice spring and a 132-yard performance in the Blue-Gold Game. His emergence would give Notre Dame another big target to go with Chase Claypool.
Liam Eichenberg, OT
The Notre Dame offensive line is the most experienced position group on that side of the ball with four players with starting experience returning for 2018. But two NFL draft top-10 picks need to be replaced and that is where Eichenberg comes in. The former top-100 recruit will slide into the left tackle position previously occupied by All-American Mike McGlinchey. With Wimbush still developing as a passer, it will be imperative that Eichenberg keep the blind side clean.
Daelin Hayes, DE
Or Julian Okwara. Or both. As the Irish stormed through September and October last season, the defense had 19 sacks in eight games. But when the team faltered in November, so too did the pass rush with just three sacks in four games. Hayes registered his third sack of the year on Oct. 21 against USC and never got to the quarterback again. Hayes and Okwara need to do much more than the combined 5.5 sacks and 11 tackles for lost yardage numbers of last season.
Alohi Gilman, S
For all the improvements made by the Notre Dame defense in 2017, safety play was still a mess. Jalen Elliott, Nick Coleman, and Devin Studstill didn’t have a hand in creating any turnovers and combined to break up just five passes on the year. That is why the Irish staff is looking at new blood at the position, with Navy transfer Gilman at the top of the list. As a freshman at Annapolis in 2016, Gilman was second on the team in tackles and passes defended, forced a fumble and recovered two, one of which he returned for a score.
-- Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.