Catching up with… Ryan Harris

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So “Catching Up” was on a little bit of a bye week.

But we’re coming back with a thunder this week and better late than never. After doing some hunting, I finally tracked down Denver Broncos right tackle Ryan Harris. Ryan is one of my personal favorites — he’s a graduate of both Cretin-Derham Hall and Notre Dame, a very good start — and is the true embodiment of a Notre Dame student athlete.

As Ryan and the undefeated Broncos prepares for a Monday Night Football clash with the San Diego Chargers, you may be surprised how much he’s thinking about another game this weekend as well.

ON IF HE’S FINDING TIME TO FOLLOW THIS WEEKEND IN SOUTH BEND:

Absolutely. As big as this week is for us, the Broncos, there are a lot of guys, coaches and players, talking about the big SC-Notre Dame game. That’s one of the things coming to the NFL — so many people ask about Notre Dame, it’s one of the first things coaches ask about. Now that the big game is coming up, they’re starting to show clips from my junior year, and it’s just… man. This game is good for college football and just shows you what a wide range of the people that are paying attention to the game. It’s not a bowl game, not a conference final or the SEC Championship or Big 12 Championship, it’s just a game on Notre Dame’s schedule. That speaks to how instrumental Notre Dame is in the world of college football.

ON THE SIMILARITIES BETWEEN CHARLIE WEIS AND JOSH MCDANIELS:

The offense is very similar, but the difference is that in the NFL, they blitz every play and you’ve got 16 games against teams that blitz 60 to 80 percent of the time. Beyond the playbook, I think that it’s the preparation to win. We really had that at ND, we felt that we had prepared so well that we were going to win the game because we knew what was going to happen, we knew the other team’s tendencies, the same preparations and points of emphasis we did at Notre Dame are used at the Broncos.

ON HIS FEELINGS FOR WEIS AS A COACH AND A MAN:

Coach Weis always had a good game plan. He had great game plans, and I honestly don’t know if there’s a better coach in college or the NFL that keeps his players prepared like that. He still shoots us texts, talks to us — he’s always been great about shooting us texts at the beginning of the year or after a big game, he keeps us a part of the family. That’s just another testament to the character of Coach Weis. No one is forgotten and you are a part of the Notre Dame family.

ON THE CONNECTION BETWEEN CRETIN-DERHAM HALL AND NOTRE DAME:

At Cretin, there’s no question that academics are stressed. I remember every time I got a college letter, Coach Scanlan would always say, “make sure you’re getting an education, too.” In school, they’d make sure that no one was treated differently, even if you’re an athlete. I think with the expectations that CDH has for its students, Notre Dame is one of the few colleges that can offer those expectations and a spiritual community while providing the utmost experiences in football and school. That’s why I think Notre Dame is attractive to not just Cretin-Derham athletes, but also Cretin-Derham students. It’s an environment we’re used to.

ON SEANTREL HENDERSON:

I’ve met him a couple times and every time he’s been kind, calm, cool, and collected. The thing people forget is that you’re talking about a kid. A 17- or 18-year old young man who really — and this goes for all recruits — who can make that decision at 17? That’s why I think getting them on campus is so good. You can see things for yourself. This is the expectation, this is the environment. You have no idea what 70,000 plus in a stadium feels like. No idea what the facilities are like, what the flight to these places is like. What classrooms, dorm rooms, living by yourself is like. I was fortunate that my parents were helpful and did a great job of guiding me. Seantrel has my best wishes, and of course being an ND alum, I’d love for him to go there, but he’s got to make the right decision for himself.

ON HIS DECISION TO CHOOSE NOTRE DAME AS A PRACTICING MUSLIM:

It was the best place for me. Period. The environment, that community of faith that understands other faiths. I became a better Muslim because of the respect and real genuine faith that’s practiced at Notre Dame. The respect and dialogue you can have with another student who also has faith, that’s a big thing. Prayer is a big thing in Islam, and I wonder that if I went to a state school and said, “Hey guys, before we go to dinner, I’ve got to go back and pray,” who knows what a guy outside of a religious community might say to that. At Notre Dame, it was always like, “Cool, take your time, go ahead and pray.” That understanding helped me be secure in my faith and secure in my practice of faith in everyday life. If I went to a public school, that would’ve been harder to experience.

ON HIS HIGH SCHOOL MTV FAME:

I never made any money from it, but I get made fun of all the time for it. It’s crazy how many people remember that episode. I look at it as a good experience though, because I learned at a young age that people recognized me just from that show. Learning that wherever  you are that you need to represent yourself the right way in public. A lot of times people — athletes in particular — learn that lesson the hard way. 

ON THE BIG GAME

As an Irish fan, of course I think it’s an Irish victory. It’s the only way I see it. That’s how Coach Weis is preparing those guys. I almost guarantee he’s preparing those guys to see the victory in the game plan and he’s doing that right now with them. We’ll see what happens, but I really think they can pull it off.   

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.