Catching up with… Terrail Lambert

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Few Notre Dame fans will forget the unbelievable comeback victory the Irish snatched away from the Michigan State Spartans in 2006. (If you want a reminder, check out this link.) While the offensive heroics were supplied by Brady Quinn, Rhema McKnight, John Carlson and Jeff Samardzija, the key defensive plays were supplied by cornerback Terrail Lambert, whose touchdown and interception return put the Irish ahead in the final two minutes, and whose acrobatic interception with 40 seconds left in the game put the nail in the Spartan’s coffin.

Terrail turned in a stellar career at Notre Dame, and is hoping to continue his football career in the NFL this season, waiting by the phone and staying in shape after being one of the last cuts by the San Francisco 49ers. Terrail was kind enough to trade messages and emails with me until we could find a time to talk late last night. He had plenty of insight on the Irish, playing Michigan State, and what the guys need to do to rebound from last week’s tough loss.

On getting past a difficult loss:

It’s one of the things that you learn when you develop into a mature football player, and it’s just a part of the process of becoming a college football player. And I can say that when we found ourselves in that position, we’d say, ‘Okay, let’s identify what we did wrong or what got us in those situations and how can we avoid them,’ and two, ‘What’s at stake with this next game?’

Every game that we approach we always did our best to approach each game as a one game entity. That game, that week, is our national championship game. That’s the mindset we tried to develop, and that’s one of the building blocks that they’re developing right now. It’s still a relatively young team. And looking at it from a positive standpoint, it’s a great opportunity to show the maturity of the team, and I think they’ll follow through with it.

On the transition between Willingham and Weis:

It was really about learning to deal with a whole other personality type. Coach Weis is perceived to have a so called “New Jersey” attitude and mentality, and he brought a lot of that to the team and saw it rub off on a lot of the team, myself included. It was somewhat of a new philosophy that you just bought into it. It took a while for it to happen, but you know — I can definitely say that, especially looking in hindsight, looking at the program, it’s something that’s definitely happening. All the guys are buying in.

On his infamous cousin Lorenzo Booker, and his influence on choosing Notre Dame:

He was definitely one of the guys I really listened to in terms of being able to possess the capacity to make the decision that I had to make for myself. It’s a big step, it’s another chapter in a young man’s life, and he gave me real sound advice in that regard.

One of the things he told me was that you’re making the decision and it’s the one time in your life that you want to be as selfish as you possibly can. Because when you’re there for those 4 or 5 years at that institution of learning playing college ball, it’s going to be you there, not anybody else in your family or your circle of friends or peers. At the very least, if you end up not liking it, you can hang your hat on knowing that you made your own decision.

I chose Notre Dame just because I always saw myself as a kid from the hood who got good grades and could play ball, and I wanted to be a part of something special. And I got that at Notre Dame.

On his epic Michigan State game:

Believe it or not, I wouldn’t call it the highlight of my career, but more like my coming of age. I had come off a subpar game the previous week in the Michigan game giving up two touchdowns, but that week and the week following Michigan State, I remember going back to my room and learning the lesson that the most important thing on defense is the next play.

Just accepting the fact that when they throw the ball your way, someone is going to come down with it, and they’re going to strike up the band one way or the other, so it might as well be you with the ball.

On what the Michigan State rivalry means to ND:

The first thing you know when you’re playing Michigan State is that they’re coming in with the mindset that they’re the underdogs and they’re the second class citizens and they’re trying to prove something. That’s their mentality, their identity, and they love to do that through their play on the field, and use that attitude of a blue-collar tough guy. And they are, I’ll give them that respect.

It’s a game you need to prepare your mind for. They’re coming in with that attitude. There’s going to be a lot of trash talking, maybe even a couple cheap shots, and it’s going to get nasty, bottom line.

On the change to life in the NFL and his goals for after the NFL:

The biggest thing I noticed in the NFL is that the game is simpler in the standpoint that everybody is doing the same thing, but it all boils down to the execution. Execution is just so much more important at that level. The game is so cerebral. The physical aspects are different, and the speed is faster, but it’s not as dramatic as people make it out to be.

After football, I’ll pursue a career in cinematography. Hopefully a life behind the camera. It’s a niche I developed, I took classes in it, and I got first hand experience behind the film cameras that people in the mainstream film industry actually use. I learned how to work with Final Cut Pro, use all sorts of industry software, and design three-dimensional sets using architectural software, as well as getting behind the camera, doing some grip work, and learning about lighting.

On picking Notre Dame and what makes it such a special place:

The passion is one of the things that makes Notre Dame so special. It’s the
fact that you can go across to other college campuses across the
nation, it’s been a trend for decades now where you really don’t want
to say it but you feel it as an athlete that you’re being alienated
away from the students because you’re a football player or a basketball
player, but that just wasn’t the case at Notre Dame.

Because the students… they identified with you, they sympathized with
you. If there’s a loss on Notre Dame’s campus, everybody’s having a bad
day. And if there’s a win on campus, regardless of sport, but
especially football, everybody’s going to have a good day. Teachers,
students, all the faculty members across the board, and I think that’s
because everybody identifies with each other.

A special thanks to Terrail for making time for Inside the Irish. Here’s wishing him good luck on getting back onto the field. 
 

 

Irish A-to-Z: Ian Book

Ian Book
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Notre Dame’s incoming freshman steps into one of the most harrowing depth charts in college football. But he also comes to South Bend prepared, a freshman season where anything is possible.

Book may be No. 4 in a four-deep that includes three of the most intriguing quarterbacks in college football. But he’s also a play away from being the team’s backup. That’s the plan heading into freshman year, with Brandon Wimbush hoping to keep a redshirt on this season after being forced into action in 2015.

A highly productive high school quarterback, Book didn’t wow any of the recruiting evaluators. But Mike Sanford took dead aim at Book and landed a quarterback he thinks can step in and be ready if needed.

 

IAN BOOK
6’0″, 190 lbs.
Freshman, No. 4, QB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Three-star prospect who had offers from Boise State and Washington State before Notre Dame jumped in and landed him. His previous relationship with Mike Sanford from his time in Boise made the difference.

Undersized but cerebral player who was highly prolific in high school. Named conference MVP in senior season at Oak Ridge high school and was the No. 14 overall pro-style QB according to Rivals.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

If Book is going to be a big-time college quarterback, it’ll be because he’s got a knack for the game that you don’t see from his physical skill-set. He’s undersized and a little bit slight. He’s got good wheels, but doesn’t play like a speed demon.

You don’t need an elite set of tools to be successful in Brian Kelly’s system. And while a comparison to Tommy Rees will come off as a slight, it’s a compliment—especially after hearing the staff speak confidently about Book’s ability to come in and know the system well enough to be ready to play as a freshman, if necessary.

(Book is also faster than Rees, so relax everybody.)

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Unless the sky is falling, Book is wearing a redshirt. And that’s the best thing for him—even if he’ll prepare as the emergency No. 3, a duty Wimbush was pushed into last year.

A look at Notre Dame’s depth chart and the war chest of talent accumulated at the position makes these next five years look like an uphill climb to get onto the field. But until Book steps foot on campus, all bets are off.

Remember, Tommy Rees entered Notre Dame with two other quarterbacks at his position, both rated better than him by recruiting analysts. But it was Rees that pushed past the five-star recruit already on campus for two seasons and his two classmates.

Of course, DeShone Kizer, Malik Zaire and Brandon Wimbush aren’t Dayne Crist, Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa. But until we see Book at the college level, it’s a wait and see proposition.

But the freshman has a key role on the 2016 team. Even if everybody hopes he won’t have to do it.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner

Irish A-to-Z: Jonathan Bonner

Jon Bonner Rivals
Rivals via Twitter
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After two seasons of limited duty, there’s a road to the field for Jonathan Bonner. The rising junior, who spent last year mostly watching and learning as Brian VanGorder and Keith Gilmore played a skeleton rotation, has a chance to break into a position group that’s searching for answers that Bonner seems well-suited to provide.

But Bonner also plays behind the team’s best defensive lineman, with senior Isaac Rochell poised to anchor the front seven. So as the rising junior moves into his third season in South Bend, he’ll need to show a versatile set of skills to get onto the field.

 

JONATHAN BONNER
6’3″, 286 lbs.
Junior, No. 55, DL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Bonner may not have been a highly-touted recruit, but he was just starting to rack up impressive offers when he pledged to Notre Dame. Bonner earned a scholarship offer at every summer camp he attended, and his commitment to the Irish came after he dominated some of the best offensive line prospects in the country at Notre Dame’s summer camp.

An All-State performer and the defensive player of the year in St. Louis. Also a more than impressive student-athlete, with a note he wrote to himself as a grade schooler a pretty incredible piece of maturity.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2015): Played in 10 games, making 10 tackles and notching one sack. Played a season-high 39 snaps along the defensive line in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. Saw double-digit snaps against Texas, UMass, Wake Forest and Boston College.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

This seems pretty solid.

I’m buying Bonner’s future, though I’m a little less sure that he’ll break loose in 2015. With Isaac Rochell capable of being a frontline player, Bonner getting on the field might mean Rochell’s off of it, which I just don’t see happening too often.

But if there’s a beauty to Brian VanGorder’s defense—at least when it’s playing like it did the first half of the season—it’s the ability to mix and match. And if there’s no way to find Bonner a role in this defense, especially as the Irish try to find someone to come off the edge, then it’s more on the young prospect’s knowledge base than anything a coaching staff can do.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

This might not be a make or break season for Bonner, especially since he’s got a fifth year available. But I think it could be. With the opportunity to provide a disruption from the interior of the defensive line, Bonner needs to find a home in a position group that could use a versatile defender who can both hold up at the point of attack and get to the quarterback.

Bonner started at outside linebacker, but quickly moved to the front four. Last year’s progress was slowed by a turf toe injury in April, short-circuiting a sold spring. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity to contribute in 2015, but there was certainly a need for someone to provide a pass rush and Bonner wasn’t given that chance—something that speaks to where he was as a developmental prospect last year.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I think Bonner will find a niche on the inside or third downs, considering neither Jerry Tillery nor Jarron Jones look like pass rush threats. That could kick open a spot for Bonner on the inside, or it could allow him to play at the strong side if Rochell slides inside.

Of course, that’s mostly determined by Bonner, who has flashed talent and athleticism, but hasn’t translated that to the field yet. Some think Bonner is one of the most intriguing athletes on the roster, and he’s certainly one of the team’s better workout warriors. But that needs to transition to the football field with some productivity, a key development piece for Keith Gilmore and a uncertain front four.

Bonner spoke with confidence this spring that his knowledge base was now matching his skill-set. If he’s able to put everything together, he could be a very nice complementary piece to the front four.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship

Jarrett Grace signs FA contract with Chicago Bears

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 5: Jarrett Grace #59 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in action during a game against the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium on September 5, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Texas 38-3. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Former Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace has signed with the Chicago Bears. The former Rockne Award winner will continue his improbable return from a devastating leg injury during OTAs and training camp, fighting for a roster spot on the NFC North squad.

Grace worked out for the Bears at a tryout camp and Chicago made the roster move official Wednesday, signing Grace and releasing linebacker Danny Mason.

After redshirting as a freshman and sitting behind Manti Te’o, Grace moved into the starting lineup as a junior and led the Irish in tackles before suffering a severe leg injury against Arizona State. It took nearly two years for Grace to return to duty, needing to re-learn how to run as he underwent multiple procedures to repair the rod that held Grace’s bone in place.

He played in 32 games for the Irish, finishing with 78 total tackles.

Irish A-to-Z: Grant Blankenship

Notre Dame v Syracuse
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Notre Dame’s junior defensive end has an unclear status entering his third season in the program. Suspended by Brian Kelly this spring after playing minimal snaps as a sophomore, the Texas native already had an unclear path to the field even before you consider his status as a member of the team and student at the university.

After playing in 11 games as a true freshman, Blankenship struggled to make progress after adding the mass needed to play on the strong side. With the depth chart at defensive end already in question, Blankenship is a true unknown entering 2016.

 

GRANT BLANKENSHIP
6’5″, 278
Junior, No. 92, DE

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A late-riser on the recruiting scene, Blankenship turned down an offer from Charlie Strong to stick with his commitment to Notre Dame, his favorite program as a child. An early target by former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, and he stuck with Notre Dame even after Diaco departed for UConn.

Not highly rated, Blankenship fell outside the 250 recruits on 247’s composite.

 

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Played in 11 games, making 12 tackles including one TFL. Didn’t play against Navy or LSU. Made three tackles against Syracuse.

Sophomore Season (2015): Appeared in three games, making one assisted tackle. Played a season-high 10 snaps against UMass.

 

WHAT WE PROJECTED LAST YEAR

Blankenship’s participation took a step backwards. He looked like a potential redshirt until he played in garbage time. Partial credit, at best. Nobody gave Rochell and Day a break.

It’s too hard to project Blankenship as a 30-snap-a-game contributor. But if he’s forced into action, the experience he got last season will come in handy. More likely, Blankenship will be part of an expanded front seven depth chart, and will make it easier to keep guys like Isaac Rochell and Sheldon Day fresh.

As a second-year player, he and Andrew Trumbetti have a chance to both make big steps forward this season. If either can help a pass rush that needs to win more from base packages, it’ll be huge for the defense. Expect new defensive line coach Keith Gilmore to get this through to Blankenship, who likely derives fuel from being overlooked, something he certainly was last season.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

We’ll know a lot more about Blankenship’s future when the Irish enroll in summer school. If he’s there, it’ll signal that there’s a road back onto the team. If not, it’ll be another washout at defensive end, a position that’s been very difficult to keep together.

At this point, barring some remarkable change to his production or the depth chart, there doesn’t look like much of a road to playing time for Blankenship, at least not with Isaac Rochell on the roster in front of him.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Very unclear.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Blankenship was a part of a different program come next fall or buried on the depth chart at Notre Dame. The one reason for optimism is the position he plays. There’s opportunity at defensive end, especially if you can rush the passer.

Blankenship hasn’t show that ability yet. Part of that came from gaining a ton of weight between his freshman and sophomore seasons. The other part of it was scheme—he was recruited by Bob Diaco to play a different type of end.

Let’s get Blankenship out of the doghouse and back onto the field before we look for optimism.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin

 

This week’s episode of Blown Coverage features me pitching John Walters on the perfect three-year solution for Notre Dame’s QB conundrum. And a bunch of other stuff. Enjoy.