Weekend primer: Notes before UW

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I’ve got a collection of links I’ve been storing this week, trying to find a place to fit them in or write them up, but they just never came together. Consider this force-feeding:

* A few days ago, Mike Baldwin of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote a post comparing the paths of Jake Locker and Jimmy Clausen. On the surface, this makes some sense, but looking a little bit deeper, I really don’t think the comparisons are all that apt. Here’s a bit from Mike:

Both came in as highly-regarded recruits, choosing once-proud
football schools that had recently fallen on hard times. Both were
thrown into starting roles as freshman (Locker as a red-shirt, Clausen
as a true). And both have been through career ups-and-downs, but have
emerged as potential saviors and future NFL-prospects while playing for
resurgent programs headlined by high-profile coaches.

Clausen’s path has the added bonus of not being interrupted by
injury like Locker’s has. And Clausen has also been able to play on
teams that, while underachieving, have not hit rock bottom.

But the biggest similarity the two have is that both were met with
instant pressure and have glided through the process with class. The
only thing UW fans love more about Locker’s play on the field is the
person he appears to be off it. And while Clausen slipped early on,
getting charged with transporting alcohol as a freshman, he has emerged
as a solid leader and human being.

Let’s start with recruiting. Locker was indeed highly touted, but nowhere near to the extent of Clausen. I’ve never been a huge star-tracker, but while Locker’s offer list and pedigree was impressive, it didn’t match up with Jimmy’s. Another pet peeve is comparing true and redshirt freshman. There is no comparison here, having a year to sit out and watch is a tremendous advantage.

I’d also quibble with Baldwin’s definition of rock bottom. 3-9 is rock bottom for a school like Notre Dame. No offense to the proud Husky program and it’s 0-for-season, but 3-9 at a place like ND puts a lot more spotlights on South Bend than a winless season in Seattle.

Baldwin took a good angle and one that I’m sure will be popular as the weekend commences. It’s just one that I don’t think quite fits. 

* Bob Condotta profiles five Huskies to watch on Saturday. Among the usual suspects, Condotta profiles Cort Dennison, a backup weakside linebacker who will start his first game in place of injured linebacker E.J. Savannah. 

Dennison, who grew up an Irish fan and attended a Catholic high school, will be a man under fire on Saturday, as he’ll be filling in and expected to stop the Irish running attack. Dennison made 8 tackles last week against Stanford, playing the entire second half after Savannah went out.

* Good friend Bruce Feldman of ESPN.com answered the rantings of an angry Irish fan this morning in his weekly mailbag on his excellent blog. The gist of the question was “Why does the national media love quarterbacks like Tate Forcier (and Tim Tebow) yet barely mention the exemplary play of Irish QB Jimmy Clausen? Here was Bruce’s response:

The short answer? Win a big game. Then I think you’ll see Clausen
in the Heisman mix. I wasn’t counting sentences Saturday night when I
wrote that. One guy was playing against Indiana. The other against
Purdue. Neither opponent is exactly Oklahoma or Florida. Much of my
reaction to Forcier stems from the fact that this is a true freshman
leading this team.

As far Clausen goes, I’ve pointed
out in the blog this month on several occasions how impressed I’ve been
with his performance this season — but to get to the next level, the
burden of proof is on this team to get back into the top 15. Not
winning at Michigan, against a team relying on a true freshman QB (the
same one referenced above), hurts ND’s cause. As it relates to the
Heisman, it hurts Clausen. Now, in fairness to Clausen, the Irish D
hasn’t helped him much, but I think if he is going to win the Heisman
this year, it’s going to require almost a perfect storm scenario:
first, he needs to keep his level of play high and the Irish need to
win out. Big stats didn’t get Graham Harrell to New York for the awards
ceremony and I doubt it would for Clausen either. I suspect he’s also
going to need both Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow to slip and lose some games.


If McCoy and UT win the Big 12, I don’t see Clausen being able to
overtake him. Clausen’s TD-INT ratio right now is better than McCoy’s:
10-1 vs. 9-5. McCoy’s completion percentage is higher: 71 percent vs.
66 percent. McCoy is also the better runner.

Feldman’s short answer is certainly full of good points and I have a feeling the long answer might include the media infatuation with Clausen during his collegiate infancy. While I would also agree that Clausen isn’t getting his just due, if the Irish keep winning they’ll get plenty of media coverage, with a very large spotlight shining on October 17th. If Clausen keeps up his habit of throwing touchdowns and avoiding interceptions, he’ll be sitting in New York next to Tebow and McCoy, with a new suit and hopefully less hair-product than his introduction to the college football world. 

* Finally, in a game that shares the common thread of former head coach Ty Willingham, this interview has been making the rounds the past few days. Ty was back at his alma mater, Michigan State, and spoke about his life after football.

A lot of easy jokes have come to mind, but I’ve got no bone to pick with Willingham. Having talked to a lot of his former players, every one of them had good things to say about the man and the coach. While he didn’t achieve what people wanted him to do, it’s long past time for Notre Dame fans to bury the ax and let the man go.

Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Combine
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Notre Dame will send ten former players to the NFL Scouting Combine. The annual event in Indianapolis serves as the unofficial apex of draft season, a meat-market where the best professional prospects are poked, prodded, questioned and tested in a variety of on- and off-field drills.

Heading to the festivities from Notre Dame are:

Chris Brown, WR
Sheldon Day, DT
Will Fuller, WR
Nick Martin, C
Romeo Okwara, DE
C.J. Prosise, RB
KeiVarae Russell, CB
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, OLB
Ronnie Stanley, OT

For a prospect like Smith, it’ll be teams first opportunity to talk to the elite prospect and check his progress medically as he returns from a Fiesta Bowl knee injury. Russell will also be a non-participant in physical drills, waiting until Notre Dame’s Pro Day to go through testing.

Invites to Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Elijah Shumate are crucial in finding their way into the draft, as the three former Irish starters participated in the Shrine Bowl, where scouts had an early look at them. Likewise, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day continue their ascent, both coming off strong Senior Bowl weeks.

For Irish fans, it’ll be fun to watch early-enrollees Fuller and Prosise test. Both are expected to be some of the fastest players at their position. Brown may also have the ability to surprise teams, with his track background and leaping ability capable of earning him an extended look. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will look to impress as well, hoping to check out as one of the draft’s most impressive athletes at offensive tackle.

Ohio State led all schools with 14 invites. National Champion Alabama had nine former players invited.

 

WR Corey Robinson named Notre Dame student body president

Notre Dame v Florida State
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On Wednesday, wide receiver Corey Robinson added another impressive title to his resume as a student-athlete at Notre Dame: Student Body President.

The junior, paired with classmate Becca Blais as his vice presidential running mate, won a majority of the votes cast by his fellow students, a runaway winner with 59.4% of the votes, nearly triple the next highest vote getter.

Robinson posted the following on Twitter, thankful for the opportunity to serve his fellow students:

Robinson’s time at Notre Dame has been filled with accomplishments both on and off the field. He was named an Academic All-American as a sophomore. He’s a six-time Dean’s List member in the prestigious Program of Liberal Studies and is also pursuing a sustainability minor. He’s won the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award as well.

That’s quite a bit on the plate of Notre Dame’s lone senior wide receiver. But as you might expect, Robinson is well prepared for the next challenge ahead.

“I’ve planned ahead, gotten all of my hard work out of the way this semester, and I’m finishing up my senior thesis,” Robinson told The Observer. “I’m doing all the hard stuff now so in the fall and the spring, I just have to take two classes pretty much.”

Robinson’s other contributions as a student-athlete at Notre Dame include One Shirt one Body, an opportunity for college athletes to donate their athletic apparel to local communities. Robinson has presented the plan to the ACC as well as the NCAA, earning immediate support from both organizations.

 

Mailbag: Now Open (scheduling input requested)

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 01:  Actors Mike Myers (L) and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth from "Wayne's World" onstage during the 17th annual MTV Movie Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre on June 1, 2008 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Okay folks, we’ve had enough semi-positive encouragement to keep the video mailbag going for another week. With that said, I’ll need some reader participation to keep this thing rolling on.

As always, submit your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold. You can also ask your questions live via Facebook. You’ll need to LIKE THIS PAGE first, and then at the appropriate time, head on over to watch and participate.

To that point, let’s pick a time that works for everyone. Right now, here are the options that work at Inside the Irish HQ.  Weigh in and the best time wins. (How’s that for a democracy?)

***

 

Restocking the roster: Offensive Line

Notre Dame offensive line
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When Notre Dame takes the field this spring, there’ll be two very large holes in the offensive line that need filling. All-American left tackle Ronnie Stanley is gone. As is captain Nick Martin at center. Both three-year starters leave Harry Hiestand with some big decisions to make in the coming months as the Irish look to fill those key positions and still field a unit with the ability to dominate in the trenches.

The Irish have had incredible stability at left tackle, with Stanley sliding in seamlessly after four seasons of Zack Martin. Perhaps the best six-year run in the program’s storied history at the position, Stanley will likely join Martin as a first-rounder, back-to-back starters at a key spot that often dictates the play of one of the most important units on the field.

Replacing Nick Martin could prove equally tricky. Rising junior Sam Mustipher served as Martin’s backup in 2015, filing in capably for Martin after an ankle sprain took him off the field briefly against UMass. But Mustipher will face a challenge this spring from rising sophomore Tristen Hoge, the first true center recruited by Hiestand and Brian Kelly since they arrived in South Bend.

Kelly talked about 2017 being a big cycle on the recruiting trail for restocking the offensive line. You can see why when you look at the depth, particularly at tackle. Let’s look at the work that’s been done the previous two classes as Notre Dame continues to be one of the premier programs recruiting in the trenches.

 

DEPARTURES
Ronnie Stanley
, Sr. (39 starts)
Nick Martin, Grad Student (37 starts)

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Tristen Hoge
, C
Trevor Ruhland
, G
Jerry Tillery
, T
Parker Boudreaux
, G
Tommy Kraemer
, T
Liam Eichenberg
, T

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Hunter Bivin, T
Quenton Nelson, LG
Sam Mustipher, C
Steve Elmer, RG
Mike McGlinchey, RT

Alex Bars*, T
Colin McGovern*, G/T
Mark Harrell*, C/G
Tristen Hoge*, C
John Montelus*, G
Jimmy Byrne*, G
Trevor Ruhland*, G

*Has an additional year of eligibility remaining. 

ANALYSIS:
It’ll be a fascinating spring up front for the offensive line. We’ll get our first look at potential replacements and see if the Irish staff values a veteran presence (as it has done in the past) or puts former blue-chip recruits in position to become multi-year starters.

For now, I’m putting last season’s backups in line to ascend to starting spots. That’s not to say I think that’s what’ll happen. Hunter Bivin may have been Stanley’s backup last season, but as long as Alex Bars is fully recovered from his broken ankle, I think he’s the best bet to step into that job. Sharing reps at guard—not a natural spot for Bars to begin with—was more about getting him some experience, with the aim to move him into the lineup in 2016. That allows Bivin to be a key swing reserve, capable of playing on either the right or left side.

At center, the decision is less clear cut—especially since we’ve yet to see Tristen Hoge play a snap of football. Size and strength is a genuine concern at the point of attack for Hoge, not necessarily the biggest guy hitting campus. But it sounds like he’s had a nice first season from a developmental standpoint, and if he’s a true technician at the position, he could be a rare four-year starter at center if he’s able to pull ahead of Mustipher this spring.

On paper, the other three starting jobs don’t seem to be in question. Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey are ready to step to the forefront. Concerns about Steve Elmer’s buy-in will certainly be answered by spring, there’s little chance he’ll be on the field in March if he’s not going to be around in August. I’m of the mind that Elmer’s too good of a character guy to leave the program, even if his life doesn’t revolve around football 24/7. Now it’s time for him to clean up some of the flaws in his game, the only starter from last season who held back the Irish from being a truly elite group.

Depth isn’t necessarily a concern, but there isn’t a ton of it at tackle. That happens when you move a guy like Jerry Tillery to defensive line and lose a player like Stanley with a year of eligibility remaining. That could force the Irish to cross-train someone like Colin McGovern, a veteran who can swing inside or out if needed. McGovern seems to be a guy who would start in a lot of other programs, but has struggled to crack a two-deep that’s now filled with former blue-chip recruits, all of them essentially handpicked by Hiestand and Kelly.