That's what he said: Rich Rodriguez

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Today’s edition of “That’s what he said” focuses on Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez. Rich has had a couple of tough weeks. From major accusations that he’s running a corrupt program, to being sued by a bank in Virginia that claims he defaulted on nearly $4 million in loans, he even cried on national TV. (It’s rumored that the room was very, very dusty.)

Now he’s got to figure out a way to get his dangerously thin secondary to cover the dynamic duo of Golden Tate and Mister Michael Floyd.

(I’m toying with calling this the tremendous trio with a still to be determined nickname for Kyle Rudolph. Thoughts?)

Anyway… here’s what he said.

On Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen:

“I thought he looked pretty good last year, but certainly the last
couple of games he’s had and last week he was extremely sharp. He’s a
very talented young man and he understands the offense. I guess this is
his third year as a starter; he’s got skilled guys around him. They’ve a lot of experience up front on the o-line. He’s playing at a high
level.

“You’ve got to make them one dimensional if you can. You
can’t let them run the football, you don’t want them getting short yardage situations because then they can
go play action. You know they’re going to take some shots deep ball if
they get one on one matchups — they’ll throw it deep to the wide
receivers and let them make a play, so we’ve got to be prepared for
that. If we play soft they’re going to take hitches and slants
underneath. We’ve got to break on the ball, try to do some things to create
some pressure and not let him get comfortable.”

On a new found confidence after the win over Western Michigan:

“I think they understand. I want them to get some confidence,
particularly young players who are playing for the first time and have
had some success. But there’s enough mistakes made on film that our
guys know we’ve still got some work to do. It was a good, solid win,
but after one day they’ve moved on and this is a bigger challenge for
us. We’ve got to play a whole lot better to win this one.”

On the offensive performance last year against Notre Dame:

“We executed okay at times last year, particularly with the weather. We
just didn’t take care of the football. Had we taken care of the
football I’d have been a lot more pleased from an offensive standpoint.
We did run the ball pretty well, picked up some of their schemes and
blitzes pretty well and got a few big plays. It was unfortunate we had
some of those critical turnovers that cost us the game.

On the importance of this game:

“I think it’s a always a big game.  It’s always been early in the year
and made a big impact. For us, it’s not the end all, to be all. We’ve got
a lot of work to do with a lot of young players, but it sure would be
nice to get another win and get even more confidence. But I want us to play
well, compete, and if they’re going to beat us it’s because they are
clearly better than us. I don’t want Michigan beating Michigan, and
we’ve talked about that quite a bit.”

On what he needs out of his secondary against ND:

“Particularly this game we need to be prepared for a lot of deep balls. We
worked hard on that. They are going to throw the ball up, and they do a
great job going up and getting it. We’ve got to be prepared to be
challenged by some very talented wideouts and a quarterback that’s pretty much seen
it all.”


Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

Notre Dame v Florida State
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Some believe that the best way to look at recruiting is in two-year increments. As programs rebuild and rosters turn over, covering the needs of a football team over two recruiting cycles  allows a coaching staff to balance its roster.

That balance is critical to the health of a program. And it’s not just the work of a rebuilding coach. As we saw in Brian Kelly’s sixth season, injuries, attrition and scheme change impacted the defense, especially in the secondary.

Another position set to deal with major change is wide receiver. Gone is All-American Will Fuller, departing South Bend after three years, scoring 29 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He’ll look to run his way into the first round of the NFL Draft. Also gone are veterans Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, putting the Irish in an unenviable position, needing to replace the team’s three leading receivers.

Reinforcements aren’t just on the way, they’re already on campus. While there’s not a ton of production to see, the recruiting stockpile has created a chance to reload for Mike Denbrock’s troop. So let’s take a look at the additions and subtractions on the roster, analyzing the two-year recruiting run as we restock the receiving corps.

DEPARTURES
Will Fuller
, Jr. (62 catches, 1,258 yards, 14 TDs)
Chris Brown, Sr. (48 catches, 597 yards, 4 TDs)
Amir Carlisle, GS (32 catches, 355 yards, 1 TD)
Jalen Guyton, Fr. (transfer)

 

ADDITIONS
Equanimeous St. Brown

Miles Boykin*
CJ Sanders
Jalen Guyton
Chase Claypool*
Javon McKinley*
Kevin Stepherson*

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Corey Robinson, Sr.
Torii Hunter, Sr.*
Justin Brent, Jr.*
Corey Holmes, Jr.*
CJ Sanders, Soph.
Miles Boykin, Soph.*
Equanimeous St. Brown, Soph.
Kevin Stepherson, Fr.*

 

ANALYSIS
Brian Kelly expects St. Brown to step into Will Fuller’s shoes. If the Irish are able to pluck another sophomore from obscurity to the national spotlight, it’ll say quite a bit about the depth and productivity the Irish staff has built at the position. At 6-foot-5, St. Brown has a more tantalizing skill-set than Fuller—and he was a national recruit out of a Southern California powerhouse. But until we see St. Brown burn past defenders and make big plays, assuming the Irish won’t miss Fuller is a big leap of faith.

The next objective of the spring is getting Corey Robinson back on track. The rising senior had a forgettable junior season, ruined by injuries and some bruised confidence. A player who has shown flashes of brilliance during his three seasons in South Bend, the time is now for Robinson, not just as a performer but as an on-field leader.

Torii Hunter Jr. is also poised for a big season. After finding reps at slot receiver and possessing the versatility to see the field from multiple spots, Hunter needs to prove in 2016 that he’s not just a utility man but an everyday starter. His hands, smooth athleticism and speed should have him primed for a breakout. But Hunter might not want to stay in the slot if CJ Sanders is ready to take over. After a big freshman season on special teams, Sanders looks ready to make his move into the lineup, perhaps the purest slot receiver Brian Kelly has had since he arrived in South Bend.

The rest of the spring depth chart should have modest goals, though all face rather critical offseasons. Justin Brent is three years into his college career and the biggest headlines he’s made have been off the field. Whether he sticks at receiver or continues to work as a reserve running back remains to be seen. Corey Holmes is another upperclassman who we still can’t figure out. Will he ascend into the rotation with the top three veterans gone, or will he give way to some talented youngsters?

Miles Boykin earned praise last August, but it didn’t get him time on the field. He’ll enter spring with four years of eligibility, same as early-enrollee Kevin Stepherson. The Irish staff thinks Stepherson has the type of deep speed that they covet, capable of running past cornerbacks and stretching a defense. Boykin has size and physicality that could present intriguing options for an offense that’ll be less reliant on one man now that Fuller is gone.

Live Video Mailbag: 40-year decision, more BVG, freshmen and more

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We’ve done plenty of mailbags, but this is our first shot at a Live Video Mailbag. This should be a better way to answer more questions and hopefully interact with a few of you as we try to work off some of yesterday’s Super Bowl snacks.

Topics on the list: The 40-year decision, more Brian VanGorder talk, the incoming (and redshirt) freshmen and a whole lot more.

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Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention

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Amidst the chaos of their live Signing Day show, UND.com ran had a far-reaching interview with head coach Brian Kelly. It was conducted by his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and his former team captain, Joe Schmidt.

So while there was a little bit of talk about the 23 recruits who signed their national letters-of-intent, there was also a very illuminating exchange on an issue that’s really plagued the Irish the past few seasons: Injuries.

Football is a dangerous game. And for as long as people play it, there’ll be impactful injuries that take players off the field. But as Notre Dame settles into what looks like their longest run of stability since the Holtz era, the focus of Kelly and Swarbrick has moved past modernizing the team’s medical services, strength program and nutrition and onto the science of injury prevention.

Here’s what Kelly said about the efforts currently taking shape:

“I think the science piece is very important, because no longer is it just about strength and conditioning,  it’s about durability. It’s the ability to continue to play at an optimal level but also with the rigors of a college schedule, and particularly here at Notre Dame, how do we maximize the time but maximizing getting the most out of our student-athletes and not lose them?

“As you know, we’ve had a couple years here in a rough stretch of injuries. And how do we have an injury prevention protocol that brings in the very best science? You’ve done a great job of reaching out in getting us those kind of resources. so I think tapping into that is probably the next piece. As well as providing the resources for our student-athletes. Continuing to look at facilities. Continuing to give our student-athletes maybe that little edge. Because everybody’s got 85 scholarships.”

It’s clear that the issue is one that’s on the radar for not just Kelly, but the athletic administration. So it’ll be interesting to see some of the steps taken as the program begins investing time and additional resources to an issue that’s really hit the Irish hard the past few seasons.

There’s plenty of other good stuff in the 13-minute interview, so give it a watch.