Thoughts on the Presser

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Tuesday session with the media was a combination platter of sorts. Charlie Weis first addressed questions regarding the USC game, then went on to preview Boston College.

We’ll have video highlights for you to watch, but here are some interesting bits from the presser:

* The defense has officially been put on notice.

“I been spending a lot of time meeting with the defensive coaches now. I
mean, it isn’t like — my emphasis or my involvement is really from
Sunday night through Monday night. Because come Tuesday, once they’ve,
you know, put the game plan in, at least first and second down of, I
think at that time — and now it becomes into installing the game plan,
I’m well aware what they’re doing. I think the most important thing is
we have to do it better. I mean, cut way down to the number of
packages they’re using. I mean, there aren’t very many mental mistakes
now it’s just going ahead and going out and executing. And we have to
do a better job coaching. We have to do a better job playing. That’s
what we have to do.”

It also includes looking at the secondary, and possibly getting some better tackling from the safety position. Since we can all assume from Weis’ remarks and his play on the field that Kyle McCarthy hasn’t been the problem, Harrison Smith has probably come under fire a bit in film sessions from the past few weeks.

I think an underrated factor in all of this was Smith spending last season as a linebacker. Linebackers and safeties think two very different ways when it comes to playing defense. And playing as an undersized linebacker like Smith was last year, probably forced him into some ultra-aggressive habits last year that have contributed to him biting so badly on play-action, as well as losing some much needed mental development as a free safety, a position that needs to be cerebral.

One of the beneficiaries of Smith’s struggles could be Jarmoris Slaughter.

“Jamoris is a guy that we’re going to cross train and cross train at
both corner and safety this week. We’re going to look at him in both
positions, you know, because he’s been such a sound tackler. He is
having a tough time getting on the field. So we’re going to take a good
look at seeing if we can’t get him on the field some. Not as a starter
but we’re going to see if we can’t work him there. Then there are
a couple guys we weren’t really pleased with how it went so we’re going
to give them competition in practice and depending how it goes would
not be afraid to move one guy ahead of another guy.”

* Weis’ late-game clock management has been a spot of concern for many CW detractors, and he was asked early-on about his thought process for those final 30 seconds against the Trojans.

“The one thing we were kind of torn in between whether or
not to go ahead and burn the time-out or not. I had a good feeling for
the number of plays that we were going to have at our disposal. We
almost cut it little too close . Because they had to put the one second
back on the clock. But we knew how much time — we were well aware of
the time and the time-out situation. Robby got up, considering
how beat up he was, he got up a little too fast. Normally the old
Patriot way is they would have been on the field a little bit longer
than we were right there. But we were well aware what the time was, and
we knew the number of plays that we anticipated getting if we needed
them. Like I said, we cut it a little close, but I think it worked out.
Didn’t work out score-wise, the way we planned, but time-wise it worked
out fine.”

That answer didn’t satisfy someone (and rightfully so), so Charlie was pressed on the subject again. He was asked, “if you knew in your mind that you wanted to run six plays, wouldn’t eight plays be better?”

“Well you are trying to score on each one of them. I mean, it wasn’t
about how many plays. You know, we tried to score on the pass to
Rudolph. We tried to score on the pass to Golden. I mean, it wasn’t
like you are not trying to score on those plays either. You just have
to know how much time each one of them is going to take.

“For
example, in the next to last play when we threw the slant to Golden at
the corner, drove in and made the play, we knew that with four seconds
left to go in the game, that we were going to throw a slant. It was
either going to be complete for a touchdown or incomplete and still
have an opportunity for another play.
 
“Whereas, if we would have thrown on the very same play, if we would
have thrown a fade ball to Rudolph over on the right who was over on
the right, either he catches it to tie slash win the game or the
clock’s over. Because a fade ball takes more time to throw. So you
really have to do your due diligence and know not only what you are
calling but, you know, what it’s going to take, how much time it’s
going to take.”

To me, the main question you could have with the end of the game sequence is whether or not to call a timeout after Parris got hurt. I don’t think Jimmy and the offense did that great of job showing an urgency at the line, but I’d much rather take 3 good shots at the end zone than hurry up and rush two additional plays, especially with a ball-hawking defense like USC’s in the redzone.

* Kyle Rudolph’s numbers weren’t what people hoped against the Trojans, but Weis explained that there was a very good reason for that.

“I think it was more what we did than what they did. Because of the
duress we were under the first half, I had to do an adjustment and turn
him for most of the day he was in protection. So if you noticed most of
the rest of the day it was, you know, he wasn’t even releasing into
patterns.
 
“So when you take one of your best guys — you have to
pick your poison, Tim. The quarterback is under duress in the first
half, only thrown for about 50 yards, I figured we were going to have
to throw the ball in the second half to win, especially when we got
down 20 we knew me were definitely going to have to throw the ball. So
I had to use him in protection a whole bunch which you know cuts down
his, the volume of opportunities that he would have in the passing game.

“I mean, Rudy was supposed to be a big portion in this game of us
throwing the ball to him, but the way the game went, I had to adjust
and put him in protection to give us a little bit more time so we could
throw the ball vertically down the field.”

I think this is a credit to both Weis’ ability as a playcaller, as well as Rudolph’s improved physicality as a blocker. It was clear that it was going to be a long day for Paul Duncan against Everson Griffen, and the only chance to get the offense unhinged was, ironically, to keep one of it’s main weapons in to block.

* Sam Young had been drawing the ire of fans lately with some boneheaded penalties and an aversion to remembering the snap count. Yet the last few weeks, we’ve heard his name a lot less and when keeping an eye on him, it’s been clear that he’s a dominant presence on the offensive line. It sounds like Weis agrees.

“With the exception of a couple plays in that game early, you know,
because there were a couple of plays in that game early where they got
some edge pressure, what Sam’s been able to do even in a game like that
is quickly adjust. Where when he was younger he couldn’t adjust. You
know, how he quickly adjusts and gets it figured out and then you don’t
end up noticing, you know, for the rest of the day.
 
“And that is
what good players do, You know, they adjust — they get the feel for
who they’re going against and what they can do and what they can’t do,
then it becomes less of an issue.”

I fully expect Sam Young’s play to really take off these next few weeks. He’s going to be a big part of the rushing offense, and his improvements as the game against USC went on will hopefully springboard him during this second half.

* It’ll be interesting to see if the mainstream media latches onto the Charlie Weis – Mark Herzlich story this week. I fully expect the NBC crew to have something on this, but I wonder if the fine folks over at ESPN will mention it.

In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s what Weis had to say when asked about his relationship with the All-American linebacker who is sitting out the season while he battles cancer.

“My boy. I tell you what, you want to talk about a winner, that kid’s a
winner. And you know what I found out, I heard about him having cancer,
I got a hold of Barry Gallup, Sr., you know, who is at Boston College
and asked him if I could — if it would be okay if I spoke with the
kid. So Barry Gallup, Sr., then asked his family . You know, because it
comes quite a shock, you know, hearing that news, and his family said
yes. Then they gave me his cell phone number. Then I texted him, then
we traded phone calls, and it has really, really grown from there.
Where, you know, we communicate regularly.
 
“I mean, even something
little. I just push him, you know. I don’t let him feel sorry for
himself. So just the way you would expect me to. But, at the same time,
we do — there’s some cool things we do. Like when I was gonna surprise
the team with going to the lake, he knew about it. My team didn’t know
about it, but he knew bit. I said, What do you think of this idea?
Because I was asking a player’s perspective. I’m thinking about
canceling the second practice and taking them up to the lake. He said,
Oh I think that would be awesome.
 
“And, as a matter of fact, when we were on the bus — he’s also friends
with Golden Tate. So we’re on the bus on the way up to the lake and he
texted Golden Tate saying, Hey have a good time at the lake. So Golden
texted him back and said, How the hell did you know we were going to
the lake? He goes, I was in on this the whole time.

“So I think probably the funniest thing he said he was asked a question,
and he goes, If the people from Boston College knew that the head coach
from Notre Dame and I are friends, he goes, They would probably disown
me.
I have a lot of respect — I already had respect for him as a player, I have much more respect for him as a person.”

I’ll probably write more about this angle during the week. I think this facet of Charlie Weis is one of the least talked about. He’s a guy that really does care about other people in the game. Most of the people that pile on Weis for being arrogant, brash, and standoffish, should ask a guy like Mark Herzlich his feelings about Charlie Weis. I think it could surprise a lot of people. 

  

Notre Dame lands four-star former FSU commit, Houston Griffith, at safety

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If its defensive backfield was a concern this recruiting cycle, Notre Dame is putting together a strong finish to the class of 2018 to eradicate those worries. Consensus four-star Houston Griffith (IMG Academy; Bradenton, Fla.) became the second defensive back to commit to the Irish this week with his Tuesday evening declaration and the fifth of Notre Dame’s 19 (and counting) expected signees.

Griffith immediately becomes the most highly-rated commit in the Irish class. Rivals.com considers him the No. 3 safety in the class, the No. 9 player in Florida and the No. 35 overall prospect in the country. He had long been a Notre Dame target but initially committed to Florida State, partly due to the Irish struggles a year ago.

After Notre Dame showed much improvement this season — more specifically, its defensive shift — Griffith reopened his recruitment in late November.

“The changes that [Irish coach Brian Kelly] made really helped,” Griffith told Blue & Gold Illustrated. “The guys I know up there tell me it’s a different program, it’s a different team up there. Last season was a learning year and this year shows that they are starting to get all the pieces.”

Griffith has certainly bought in on the direction trending from 2016 to 2017.

“I feel like the next few years all the pieces are there to compete for a national championship.”

In addition to the Seminoles, Griffith held scholarship offers from the vast majority of college football’s powers, including Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State and USC.

He presents as a safety and seems to have been targeted as one, but he could also see early time at cornerback. In theory, a freshman may have a better chance of grasping that latter position. Then again, Notre Dame has a few established playmakers at cornerback; it very much does not have that luxury at safety.

At either position, Griffith and his fellow defensive back commits should shore up a position grouping that the Irish essentially whiffed on in 2017, when only two safeties were signed (Isaiah Robertson and Jordan Genmark-Heath) with no cornerbacks in the mix. Griffith is the third safety in the class of 2018, joining consensus four-star Derrik Allen (Lassiter H.S.; Marietta, Ga.) and consensus three-star Paul Moala (Penn; Mishawaka, Ind.).

All three, as well as the two cornerback commits and the other 14 prospects, are intended to sign with Notre Dame during this year’s early signing period, Dec. 20-22.

Where Notre Dame was & is: Running Backs

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Notre Dame’s running game stood little chance of exceeding expectations this season, considering how ambitious they were to start. This space’s preseason predictions, intended as a conservative and realistic harbinger of the months then-ahead, projected junior running back Josh Adams to gain 1,174 to 1,274 rushing yards this season. That upper limit would have placed Adams fourth in Irish program history, just ahead of his position coach’s 1,268 yards gained in 1997.

With a game to go, Adams stands only 51 yards of breaking Vagas Ferguson’s single-season record of 1,437 rushing yards, set back in 1979.

WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS
In addition to the anticipation regarding Adams’ third season as a contributor, the Notre Dame backfield had depth entering the season. Junior Dexter Williams could provide a speed threat while sophomore Tony Jones built on springtime buzz as a do-everything option, often described as the best receiver of the group.

Early-enrolled freshman C.J. Holmes’ shoulder injury in spring practice seemingly sidelined him for the season, opening the door for sophomore Deon McIntosh to move from receiver to the backfield as a rest-granting fourth-stringer.

WHERE NOTRE DAME IS
As good as the season was for the Irish on the ground, it will be marked by “What if” thoughts as much as anything else. What if Adams had not worn down as the season progressed? What if Williams had been healthy for more than a week or two in the season’s first two months?

Even with his figurative crawl to the season’s conclusion, Adams surpassed all preseason projections and expectations. It still must be noted he gained only 195 yards on 54 carries in the final three regular season games, a 3.61 average.

Williams, meanwhile, was limited throughout the year. At the beginning, specifically against Georgia, that appeared to be by coaching decisions, but for most of the season, ankle and quad ailments robbed the speedster of his primary quality.

Absolutely no one expected sophomore Deon McIntosh to be the second-leading rusher among Notre Dame’s running backs in 2017. Credit to McIntosh, though, for making the most of an opportunity granted by others’ injuries.(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Jones, when healthy, provided a schematic shift as much as any statistical production. Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long clearly preferred Jones to be half of any two-back formation, due to Jones’ overall aptness.

McIntosh capitalized on every chance granted him, providing fourth-quarter rest to those limping from sprained ankles whenever the Irish had a worthwhile lead.

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING
Some of a statistical influx in rushing production should be credited to junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush, but the ground game as a whole was more successful in 2017 than it was a year ago no matter how the numbers are dissected.

2016: 2,123 yards on 410 carries (sacks adjusted); 176.9 yards per game and 5.18 yards per rush.
2017: 3,462 yards on 501 carries (sacks adjusted); 288.5 yards per game and 6.91 yards per rush.

— Jr. Josh Adams: 1,386 yards on 191 carries; nine touchdowns; 7.3 yards per rush; 10 catches for 82 yards.
— So. Deon McIntosh: 368 yards on 65 carries; five touchdowns; 5.7 yards per rush; three catches for eight yards.
— Jr. Dexter Williams: 324 yards on 37 carries; four touchdowns; 8.8 yards per rush; two catches for 13 yards.
— So. Tony Jones: 232 yards on 43 carries; three touchdowns; 5.4 yards per rush; four catches for 13 yards.
— Fr. C.J. Holmes: 32 yards on eight carries; 4.0 yards per rush.

COMING QUESTIONS
Will Adams stay for his senior year and further his assault on the Notre Dame record books or will he head to the NFL Draft with a year of collegiate eligibility remaining? He very much should take the latter option. Running backs’ careers are not long due to the very nature of the position. For the second year in a row, that wear and tear proved itself on Adams. There is little chance he could put together an even better season in 2018.

Thus, this is his chance to go in the Draft’s first couple rounds. By every reasoning, Adams should take this opportunity.

When utilized, junior running back Dexter Williams has proven to be a viable threat for Notre Dame. He has not always been incorporated into the game plan, though, partly due to classmate Josh Adams’ rampant success. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

At that point, will Long be able to incorporate Williams into the two-back set? Those multiple running back formations were some of the most productive looks for the Irish offense, and they almost entirely came with Jones joining Adams. Between pass-catching and pass-blocking, Williams lagged behind those two significantly. For the threats presented in a two-back alignment to be real, though, he will need to broaden his skillset appropriately.

If Williams doesn’t, could a healthy Holmes plug into the system? As much praise as McIntosh received, and earned, this season, he will never be the answer in the Notre Dame backfield. Holmes may be.

With Wimbush again the presumed starter in 2018, the ground game will be featured for another fall. The offensive line is (almost certainly) losing two first-round Draft picks, but it has enough experience to hold its own moving forward. Which back emerges as the workhorse if Adams turns pro could be the biggest offensive question all spring and summer. Williams may present the most big-play potential, but Jones has already shown greater consistency overall.

Where Notre Dame was & is: Defensive Line
Where Notre Dame was & is: Linebackers
Where Notre Dame was & is: Special Teams
Where Notre Dame was & is: Tight Ends

Monday’s Leftovers: Notre Dame lands second cornerback commitment

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Hardly a week shy of the early signing period, Notre Dame doubled its cornerback haul in the class of 2018 with Tariq Bracy’s commitment Sunday night.

A rivals.com three-star recruit, Bracy (Milpitas High School, Calif.) had long said the Irish led in his recruitment, having visited campus for Notre Dame’s 49-14 victory over USC on Oct. 21. Rivals rates Bracy as the No. 65 overall prospect in California.

“The coaches, they made me feel welcome,” Bracy said to Blue & Gold Illustrated. “They really wanted me to go down there. They like my skillset. The players, they were welcoming, too. It’s really the whole atmosphere about Notre Dame, and the academics, too.”

Bracy opted for the Irish over a number of schools on the west coast, including Utah, Cal and Washington State.

Notre Dame now has 18 commitments in the class, including consensus-three star cornerback Joseph Wilkins (North Fort Myers H.S., Fla.). All 18 are expected to sign National Letters of Intent during the inaugural early signing period Dec. 20-22. For that matter, it remains possible an additional commitment or two could join those ranks either before the three-day stretch or in the midst of it.

Irish coach Brian Kelly has said he would evaluate any commitment not signing during the December dates as not being genuinely committed to Notre Dame, still needing further recruitment.

— Bracy’s, and Wilkins’, commitment holds more value for the Irish than many of the other 16 in the class thus far. In the last recruiting cycle, Notre Dame failed to sign so much as one cornerback.

Neither Bracy nor Wilkins may start in 2018. They, in fact, almost certainly will not, but they will provide both depth and a possibility of a future at the position.

— Just as another reminder — it is listed twice on the legal pad providing today’s outline, after all — the early signing period runs from Dec. 20 to Dec. 22. There will still be a nationwide focus on National Signing Day, Feb. 7, as any recruits not yet signed will have even more of a share of the spotlight.

— Bowl games have little long-term evaluatory value. They do, however, provide a delightful stretch of mid-day and/or mid-week December distractions. As an example, consider the game-a-day outlook on the horizon …

Sat., Dec. 16: Middle Tennessee St. v. Arkansas State; 8 p.m. ET; a high-scoring affair, if nothing else.
Tues., Dec. 19: Akron vs. FAU; 7 p.m. ET; Lane Kiffin with a nation’s lonely eyes turned to him.
Wed., Dec. 20: Louisiana Tech vs. Southern Methodist; 8 p.m. ET.
Thurs., Dec. 21: Temple vs. Florida International; 8 p.m. ET; Notre Dame’s season-opening opponent is favored by seven.
Fri., Dec. 22: Central Michigan vs. Wyoming; 4 p.m. ET; Josh Allen’s farewell to college football.
Sat., Dec. 23: Texas Tech vs. South Florida; 12 p.m. ET; This very well may end up being the most-dramatic bowl game.
Sun., Dec. 24: Houston vs. Fresno St.; 8:30 p.m. ET.
Tues., Dec. 26: Kansas State vs. UCLA; 9 p.m. ET.
Wed., Dec. 27: Boston College vs. Iowa; 5:15 p.m. ET; Of the 10 Irish foes in bowl games, six are like the Eagles, underdogs.
Thurs., Dec. 28: Stanford vs. TCU; 9 p.m. ET; A healthy Bryce Love could erase the 2.5-point spread in the Horned Frogs favor.
Fri., Dec. 29: USC vs. Ohio State; 8:30 p.m. ET; As strongly as the Trojans finished the season, they are still touchdown underdogs in the Cotton Bowl.
Sat., Dec. 30: Wisconsin vs. Miami, 8 p.m. ET; Despite playing at home, literally so, the Hurricanes are nearly touchdown underdogs.
Mon., Jan. 1: Georgia vs. Oklahoma; 5 p.m. ET; Frankly, Notre Dame vs. LSU in the Citrus Bowl will be but an appetizer for an evening of outstanding college football.

During Notre Dame’s retrospective awards, Tranquill & Weishar set focus forward

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Notre Dame spent Friday night giving out awards to recognize 2017’s top players, but the night’s attention went to two pieces of news received regarding next season. Both linebacker Drue Tranquill and tight end Nic Weishar announced intentions to return for fifth seasons in 2018.

Tranquill especially seemed increasingly unlikely to return after a career season and a two-year stretch of health set him up for NFL consideration. The idea of what could have been, of what could be, proved too much for him to bypass his remaining season of collegiate eligibility.

“I think it started after the Miami game, just on the busses, realized that we probably weren’t going to make the College Playoff anymore and realized everything everyone had put into this thing,” Tranquill told Irish Illustrated. “I felt I owed it to this team in my heart to come back and finish what we started.”

Tranquill’s return will stymie what could have been a decimating linebacker exodus. Senior captains Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini are both out of eligibility. If Tranquill had joined them in pursuing an NFL future this spring, Notre Dame would have lost three of its top four tacklers, and perhaps all four. Leading tackler, junior linebacker Te’von Coney and his 99 takedowns including 13 for loss and three sacks, is still considering an early entry into the NFL Draft.

Weishar’s return will provide a baseline at tight end following the departure of current fifth-year Durham Smythe.

RELATED READING: Where Notre Dame is & was: Linebackers
Where Notre Dame is & was: Tight Ends

As for the Echoes awards, senior left guard Quenton Nelson received Most Valuable Player honors, only the third offensive lineman to be named MVP in Irish history.

Along the lines of Tranquill’s and Weishar’s returns, only a couple of Friday night’s awards portend future developments. Freshman offensive lineman Dillan Gibbons performed well enough behind the scenes to claim Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year. With Nelson presumably heading to the NFL, Gibbons could insert himself into the competition to fill the left guard spot.

Sophomore safety Alohi Gilman spent the season following his transfer from Navy leading the scout defense. His success there only furthers the likelihood he will be starting in the defensive backfield when Michigan arrives at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 1.

With few surprises — perhaps naming junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush and senior defensive lineman Jonathan Bonner the offensive and defensive newcomers of the year, respectively, was too obvious to be widely-considered beforehand — the full listing of the awards …

— Most Valuable Player: Sr. left guard Quenton Nelson.
— Offensive Player of the Year: Jr. running back Josh Adams.
— Defensive Player of the Year: Sr. linebacker Nyles Morgan.
— Impact Player: Jr. linebacker Te’von Coney.
— Offensive Newcomer of the Year: Jr. quarterback Brandon Wimbush.
— Defensive Newcomer of the Year: Sr. defensive lineman Jonathan Bonner.
— Offensive Lineman of the Year: Fifth-year left tackle Mike McGlinchey.
— Moose Krause Lineman of the Year: Jr. defensive tackle Jerry Tillery.
— Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year: Fr. lineman Dillan Gibbons.
— Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year: So. safety and Navy transfer Alohi Gilman.
— Special Teams Player of the Year: Sr. linebacker Greer Martini (eight special teams tackles).
— Walk-On Players Union Player of the Year: Jr. linebacker Robert Regan.
— Next Man In: Sr. defensive end Andrew Trumbetti.
— Father Lange Iron Cross, for weight room presence: Fifth-year tight end Durham Smythe.
— Pietrosante Award for leadership, teamwork, etc.: Sr. captain and former walk-on Austin Webster.
— Rockne Student-Athlete of the Year: Sr. linebacker Drue Tranquill.
— Irish Around the Bend, for community service: Sr. tight end Nic Weishar.

THIS WEEK’S INSIDE THE IRISH READING:
Notre Dame to the Citrus Bowl to face LSU, with some numbers
Monday’s Leftovers: Brian Kelly on Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl, facing LSU, and the early signing period
Where Notre Dame was & is: Linebackers
Where Notre Dame was & is: Special Teams
Where Notre Dame was & is: Receivers
Notre Dame releases 2018 home schedule, includes trip to Yankee Stadium
Where Notre Dame was & is: Tight Ends
Friday at 4: Projecting Notre Dame’s Echoes

THIS WEEK’S OUTSIDE READING:
SI’s 2017 All-America Teams
LSU RB Derrius Guice on NFL decision: ‘I will not know until after the bowl game’
RB Mark Walton leaving Miami early for the NFL