Notre Dame's Blue-Gold Game on Saturday gave a glimpse not only of what it to come in the fall but also well down the line for the Irish.
In the Gold team's 27-19 victory, early-enrollee T.J. Jones showed why he has received so much time with the first-team offense this spring.
Playing for the Blue team and catching passes from quarterback Dayne Crist, Jones hauled in four passes for 56 yards.
"Right now he's in a starting role," coach Brian Kelly said of Jones. "I mean, he can play for us right now. I think he showed that on the first quick hitch he took and ran over a pretty good corner.
"He's physical, he plays fast, he's smart, he's a true freshman. He hasn't even graduated from high school, and in a sense his whole class doesn't graduate until May. He's a young man that will factor in prominently what we do on offense in the fall."
The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder also caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Crist.
"T.J. has shown such a maturity out of a guy that is coming in here, and you forget that he's a mid‑year guy out of high school," Crist said. "But he's definitely working incredibly hard off the field. As a quarterback you know you can trust him because from an assignment standpoint he's doing what he needs to do, and you just feel comfortable with him out there."
Jones said adjusting to the school work and the work at spring practice was difficult, but even though he will miss his high school prom, he is glad he decided to enroll early.
"This is definitely the best experience," Jones said. "And it will help me in the fall."
More to come
Notre Dame ran 119 plays Saturday. The Blue and Gold offenses combined for 744 yards, 35 first downs and 46 points.
And there could have been more if the pace was as fast as what Notre Dame had gotten used to. Crist said the pace of the game felt slower than practice because the Irish had to wait for the game officials to get in position.
And the scary part is, the Irish have barely scratched the surface of what Kelly wants to do offensively.
"We stayed in about four or five formation looks today," Kelly said. "We'll be about 20 or 25 different looks (in the fall). We'll move the ball a little bit faster, a little bit more versatile. But again, it's a process. It took us a while to get there. Where we are right now, it's going to take us all through the summer to get to that next level."
Run, Cierre, run
Cierre Wood waited an entire year to perform like he did in the Blue-Gold Game.
The freshman, who sat out last season, ran for 110 yards on 10 carries and scored two touchdowns. He had the longest play of the day with a 44-yard run.
The performance will likely quiet critics who wondered why the highly-touted recruit didn't play last season, but Wood said what people say isn't a concern.
"Everybody out there has their opinions," Wood said. "I truly know how good I am, and Coach Kelly knows how good I am. Everybody out there can think what they want and say I'm not good, or whatever.
"But on the field you can't lie. It's what you see."