In the midst of preseason, Notre Dame is poised to turn its attention to Navy and Dublin

Notre Dame and Navy aren’t starting the college football season for two weeks, but the Irish will begin preparing the midshipmen after the final two weeks of preseason training.

“The actual physical portion of fall camp is over,” head coach Marcus Freeman said Saturday.

The Navy’s triple-option offensive is a nuisance no matter when confronted or how much modern rule changes have mitigated it. But Notre Dame will allow for slower defensive preparation earlier in the year, rather than cramming a crash course into a week during the season.

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“On defense, it’s time to really turn the attention to Navy,” Freeman said. “We performed normal defensive duties for most of the year as you will see.”

Freeman began that process on Saturday with a scrimmage, opening it with the Irish starting defense against scout team offense, specifically against scout team offense, which has been focused on preparing their triple option look. You have received help in the last few weeks.

“I worked with the Navy scout team throughout fall camp,” Freeman said. “We do it at night, me and a couple [graduate assistants].”

But that’s not the only thing the Irish need to sort out in dealing with the midshipmen. You also have to manage the logistics of a trip to Dublin. When Notre Dame and Navy began prep drills, they did so two days earlier than everyone else playing on August 26, with the exception of Hawaii. What do the Irish and the Midshipmen have in common with the Rainbow Warriors? They have to cross an ocean before kick-off.

“NFL teams do this weekly, right?” Freeman said, referring to the frequent NFL games in London. “We have developed our plan which we believe will help ensure our players feel their best in Dublin on Saturday night.”

To be clear, Dublin is five hours ahead of South Bend, Indiana. The 2:30 ET kick-off on NBC will take place in prime time in Ireland.

How will Notre Dame handle the return across the ocean? Instead of hosting an idle week in Week 1 of the season, they found a willing opponent with an open date in Tennessee State at short notice.

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Freeman confirmed two cruciate ligament tears that he had suffered during these preparatory training sessions. Senior tight end Kevin Bauman partially re-ruptured the cruciate ligament he tore last season and will now miss the 2023 season. And second-year defensive end Aidan Gobaira has also torn his cruciate ligament.

Bauman would have been in contention for the No. 3 Irish tight end in competition with sophomore Eli Raridon, who was recovering from his own cruciate ligament injury. Instead, junior Mitchell Evans and sophomore Holden Staes will handle tight end duties alone until Raridon gets the full game.

Gobaira would have been a strong defensive figure and probably would not have featured in a competitive moment this year were it not for a series of injuries looming.

“Venmo” or “Cash App” wouldn’t have been as catchy, but they would have been more obvious replacements for “Dime”. Kids these days just don’t have an adequate grasp of cold, hard currency.

It’s a bit of a joke, but the point is made: don’t get too confused when depth charts and/or commentators refer to an “Aztec” defensive back this season. It is primarily a rebranded “Dime” pack.

“It’s the ability to get another [defensive back] in certain passing situations on the pitch,” said Freeman. “I’m sure we gave it a creative name, but you’re just adding a DB and removing either a defensive lineman or a linebacker.”

This is a dime package, so called because it’s one step up from a nickel package, so called because it contains five defensive backs.

If there’s one particular aspect of the Aztec position, it seems it’s being occupied by a safety rather than a cornerback. Freeman cited only collateral and nickelback for Thomas Harper, a collateral in his past life at Oklahoma State, as options.

Above all, it’s a testament to the unexpected depth of Notre Dame’s margin of safety compared to top talent at cornerback. While last-season All-American Benjamin Morrison and fifth-grader Cam Hart should be one of the better cornerback duos in the country, behind them is sophomore Jaden Mickey, a confident player but lacking a proven track record. Senior Clarence Lewis competes with Harper for nickel payback obligations.

But in safety, the Irish enjoy seniors Xavier Watts and Ramon Henderson, sixth-grader DJ Brown and Rhode Island grad Antonio Carter. Deviating from them to occupy the “Aztec” appearance will increase defensive backcourt experience.

“When we’re in passing situations and we think we’re dealing with an attack that has maybe four wideouts or is really in a passing situation, you have to be able to keep up,” Freeman said. “They like it because we came up with this cool name and called it ‘Aztec.’ It’s just another way of saying, ‘Get another safety on the field.'”

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