Onward to Michigan

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Having turned the page to Michigan, I’m struggling to come up with words to describe how big I think this game will be. Count me as one of the people who were glad that the Wolverines stepped up and played a nice first half against Western Michigan.

Watching a replay of the game (courtesy of ESPN360.com), you could immediately see what has Michigan fans so enthusiastic about incoming quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. Forcier has an uncommon moxie for a true freshman, and the well-hyped speed of Robinson is absolutely legit. Forcier didn’t have any deer-in-the-headlights moments that you’d presume to see with a kid making his first start in front of 100,000 people, and even though Robinson’s throwing mechanics are incredibly wonky, he’s immediately a threat with his foot speed. After watching Robinson drop a snap and ad-lib a broken play into a 43-yard touchdown run, I wrote this:

“Denard Robinson is way faster than Colin Kaepernick.”

I kept my eye on the vaunted Brandon Graham for much of the first half. (Admission: I turned the game off a bit into the 3rd quarter when I realized the Wolverines weren’t scoring again.) Graham seemed to do his best work against the Broncos’ right tackle, which doesn’t say much, considering he only had one assisted tackle for his day against a MAC team. That said, Graham was in the backfield quite a bit, and his speed rush moves disrupted the Broncos passing attack. Still, seeing Graham on the left-side of the defensive line had me feeling much better knowing that he’ll have to beat Sam Young to get to Jimmy Clausen.

One thing that I think the Irish coaching staff will notice right away is the potential for forced fumbles with the young Michigan quarterbacks. Neither Forcier or Robinson really tucked the ball away, and I was shocked at how loosely Forcier carried the ball when he was buying time behind the line of scrimmage. Forcier better reset his internal clock this week during practice, or you can expect to see a wild scrum for more than a few loose balls after Brian Smith or a blitzing safety come flying in from the blind side. Also, I think a point of emphasis for the Irish defense will be, quite crudely, putting the hurt on these quarterbacks. If Forcier is going to run the ball so brazenly, I’ve got to believe that Coach Tenuta will have his vocabulary spit-shined up and full of wonderful adjectives that will have the Irish playing like heat-seeking missiles aimed directly at the diminutive 190-pound quarterback.

The last thing that I noticed about the ESPN broadcast was how incredibly biased announcers Mike Patrick and Craig James were on the recent allegations leveled against Michigan. I would expect something like that from a website like MGoBlog, but these were serious allegations brought about from a thorough investigation by a reputable media source. James calling the controversy “a witch hunt,” was a slap in the face to the writers and reporters at the Free Press, and the announcing team seemed to do their best to stump for Rodriguez and the Michigan staff, while doing everything they could to avoid mentioning that there were some fairly serious allegations leveled.

We’ll get into it more as the week goes on, but to me the biggest issue raised by the Free Press is the allegation that graduate assistants or members of the football support team were present at the summer workouts and 7-on-7 scrimmages. Forget the voluntary/non-voluntary workout business, the NCAA is very cut-and-dry on who can attend those workouts, and the people reported to have been there is a very big (aka potential major violation) no-no.

Here’s looking forward to a very good (and thankfully, short) game week. We’ve got a lot of good stuff on tap this week.

Everybody enjoy your Labor Day. 

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.