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. 

  

Work in weight & film rooms has Hayes ready to meet five-star potential

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Common thinking might give four- and five-star recruits too much credit. They do not all arrive ready to play at the collegiate level on day one. It takes time, conditioning, learning. Perhaps it was that awareness that kept Daelin Hayes from letting his five-star ranking on rivals.com change his expectations. He knew he would have much work ahead of him when he arrived at Notre Dame as the only five-star prospect in the class of 2016.

Now finishing his freshman year, the defensive end notices the effects of his work as he puts in more.

“I remember my first time watching film, I was like, woah,” Hayes said following Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game. “I look quicker, like more twitch than I did. I was definitely—it’s hard to put into words—but to actually be able to go back and look at it and see how it affected the game was huge. [Director of football performance Matt] Balis has worked wonders for us.”

Hayes’ improved quickness showed in his three “sacks” in the intrasquad scrimmage. Going against future NFL prospect Mike McGlinchey at left tackle, Hayes faced a stiff challenge throughout spring’s 15 practices, not that he shied away from that task.

“I don’t think it was ever a point where it was overwhelming,” Hayes said. “I’ve always been a competitor. … But you guys know Mike, he’s huge, obviously a first-round talent and whatnot. I’m just grateful to be able to go against somebody like that each and every day. He makes me better. …

“I love competing with the guy. You go and do that with a guy in practice every day, then the game scenario comes, it’s like second nature. You can do this in practice, you can definitely do this against anybody.”

McGlinchey does not seem to mind the matchup, either.

“Daelin is a man who is blessed with a lot of size and athletic ability,” McGlinchey said Friday. “That presents a lot of problems for people in the game of football. He’s so young, and he has so much still to work on, it’s pretty cool to see what he’s capable of and then what he is going to do down the road.”

When Hayes arrived at Notre Dame, still recovering from a high school shoulder injury, he weighed 250 pounds with 18 percent body fat. Now, he said, he still weighs 250—the Irish roster lists him at 255—but is down to 10 percent body fat. It is that kind of change which has created more twitch and makes McGlinchey envision Hayes after more time spent improving in the weight room and the film room.

“I’m not the same athlete that I was when I first came in, not by any means,” Hayes said. “… Buying into that offseason program is going to be huge for our team.”

Per the Blue-Gold Game’s statistics, Hayes ended the scrimmage with seven tackles. Whether skeptical of the recordkeeping within a practice or not, seven tackles in one abbreviated afternoon compares favorably to Hayes’ total of 11 in 12 games last season. Some of that uptick is playing time, some of it is scheme, some of it is realization of the potential highlighted by a five-star ranking. For now, though, Hayes insists he intends to simply learn from last year’s 4-8 disappointment and embrace the changes brought by new Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko.

“With last year being the year that we had, there definitely was a yearning for change,” Hayes said. “When you have basically a reboot of the program, the guys are hungry and they don’t want to have to experience the same season as last year.

“Just continue to trust in that process. We’re hungry for something to cling on and buy into. When coach Elko, coach Balis, everybody came in as part of that reboot, I think we welcomed with open arms. [We’ll] continue to buy into the system and become more comfortable within the system.”

Where Notre Dame was & is: Defensive Line

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Heading into spring practice, a quick look was taken at each position group in order of “expected level of interest or question marks,” from least interesting to most, as dictated by an “Inside the Irish” reader. That series concluded with the defensive line.

Exiting spring practice, let’s reprise that premise and reverse the order. If the defensive line triggered the most questions, then answering them first seems to make some version of sense.

WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS:
“Will enough defensive linemen prove themselves deserving of playing time to create a viable threat up front?” this space asked. “If so, who will those linemen be?”

RELATED READING: One day until spring practice: A look at the defensive line

Aside from senior end Andrew Trumbetti (26 tackles last season, 0.5 for loss), senior tackle Daniel Cage (10 tackles, 0.5 for loss amid a season lost largely to concussion) and junior tackle Jerry Tillery (37, 3), the Irish defensive line had little track record to cite or rely upon for confidence. Leading the unknowns and unprovens were sophomore ends Daelin Hayes, who recorded 11 tackles in 2016, and Julian Okwara (4).

The lack of depth and experience was apparent heading into the 15 spring practices.

WHERE NOTRE DAME IS:
Look past the 11 sacks in the Blue-Gold Game. Intrasquad scrimmages featuring red-jerseyed quarterbacks make for inexact and context-less statistics. There is some value, however, in noting the defensive line got within reach of the quarterback at least eight times in an abbreviated game. (Three “sacks” came from the linebacker corps.)

“We showed [pressure] in as far as the quarterback wasn’t getting really comfortable, not having all day to throw back there,” Hayes said. “I think it’s been huge, just buying into that process. Seeing it come to fruition today was huge.”

RELATED READING: What we learned: Hayes, Book star in Notre Dame’s spring finale

Hayes led the way with three sacks, and he will be expected to continue that in the fall, starting at the weakside/rush defensive end spot. Exiting spring, though, only he and Tillery solidified themselves as starters. Nonetheless, defensive coordinator Mike Elko claimed a successful spring for the front.

“I’m happy with our defensive line progress,” Elko said Friday. “Obviously there was a lot written about that group. I’m happy about the progress they’ve made this spring. I think [defensive line coach] Mike [Elston] has done a good job developing them. I think they are buying into the way we want to play defense. There’s probably four to five guys on the inside that are starting to get into a position where we feel comfortable that they can step in and help us.” (more…)

Brian Kelly & Jack Swarbrick on Notre Dame’s changes moving forward

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Whether 2016’s disappointing 4-8 finish was the impetus to program-wide alterations at Notre Dame this offseason, it certainly underscored the need. For the last few months, Irish coach Brian Kelly has focused those changes on himself and self-assessment, and he reiterated that approach when talking with PFT Live’s Mike Florio early Monday morning.

“This is my 27th year of being a head coach, and prior to last year I had one losing season,” Kelly said. “You have a way of doing things, you have a system in place, you follow that year after year. Certainly you make tweaks along the way, but this is the first time where I’ve really taken a step back and made substantial changes in terms of how I’m doing things on a day-to-day basis…

“From my perspective, after being at it as long as I have, you have to take it on yourself that you’re the one that needs to make the corrections. It’s not the players.”

None of this is new. Kelly has been consistent in his springtime messaging, but others have looked past the effects of the 4-8 record and insist the changes were coming regardless of the win-loss totals. Senior captain Drue Tranquill, for example, acknowledged the severity of the losing record Friday but argued adjustments were needed no matter what the final scores were.

“If you have an average season like 8-4, some things might carry over to the next season,” Tranquill said the day before the spring practice finale. “Whereas when you go 4-8, something has to change.

“But I think even at Notre Dame, 8-4 is never really acceptable or tolerated. Those things that were taking place, just within our culture, would have been noticed whether we were 10-3, 4-8. The criticism gave it a lot more hype and juice. We could kind of feel as guys in the program throughout the past three years that certain things needed to change.

“Those things were finally brought to light and it happened to be during a 4-8 season. I don’t necessarily know that 4-8 was the reason all this change happened.”

New Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko expressed a similar sentiment Friday morning, discussing the pressure moving forward.

“If we were coming off a 12-0 season in which we were competing for the national championship, there would be pressure on us at Notre Dame to be successful this year,” Elko said. “That’s Notre Dame.”

Elko has been a quick study, as his comments were echoed the next day by Irish director of athletics Jack Swarbrick during NBC Sports Network’s broadcast of the Blue-Gold Game.

“We expect to compete for national championships and 4-8 is not acceptable,” Swarbrick said. “On the other hand, when you’re in that situation, you have to decide how you’re going to move forward. We decided to move forward by making a major investment in retooling our program with Brian as the leader of it. That’s not a one-year investment for us. We brought in some talented assistant coaches. We rebuilt elements of the program

“We view it as a multi-year investment going forward.”

KELLY ON RECRUITING PITCH
Using this week’s NFL Draft as a peg, Florio also asked Kelly about balancing players’ NFL aspirations with team success both in the recruiting process and during the actual season.

“We have to talk more in terms of process over production,” Kelly responded. “We talk in terms of you’re coming to Notre Dame for a reason. You’re going to get a degree, which will set you up for the rest of your life, and you’re going to play on the grandest stage at Notre Dame, so everybody will see you.

“As long as there’s the balance there—and there has to be that balance in terms of getting your education and playing for championships—then we’re okay. It’s when that balance is out of whack, we’ll have an issue. We vet that out in the recruiting process and make sure we don’t take any kids that are coming to Notre Dame just because they’re waiting for that [junior] year to complete so they can go to the draft.”

A reminder: The NFL Draft begins with its first round Thursday night. Kelly will be joining former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer at the draft in Philadelphia to await Kizer’s destination and future employer.

MISSED THE BLUE-GOLD GAME?
It is available for streaming: here.

Following spring practice, will Notre Dame continue habitual progress?

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By no means is Irish coach Brian Kelly going to measure Alizé Mack’s progress by if the junior tight end makes his bed every morning. Mack’s mother might—mine would certainly factor it in—but when Kelly cited the need to start the day with hospital corners, he was simply trying to make a point.

“He’s taking care of business off the field, which invariably it always comes back to this,” Kelly said Wednesday. “If you’re taking care of work in the classroom and you’re starting the day right, making your bed—I’m just using that analogy—if you start the day right, it’s going to trend the right way and it’s trending the right way on the field for him.”

Mack is the most obvious example of a needed change in habits. When you miss a season due to academic issues, reconfiguring your priorities becomes a topic of conversation. His instance, though, serves as a readily-cited example of a more widespread concern. Of all the optimistic conversation and concerted change following last season’s 4-8 disappointment, Kelly’s preaching of good habits simultaneously appears as the most abstract aspect and the easiest understood.

“It starts with guys being aware of it first,” Kelly said following Notre Dame’s Blue-Gold Game on Saturday. “Then once they are aware that they need to have these good habits to be good football players, then you start to see it show itself in good run support angles. You see it offensively, guys always lined up properly. We had very few penalties today, and that’s a product of some of the habits that are being built on a day-to-day basis.”

It makes sense. If a receiver doesn’t realize he lined up a few feet closer to the sideline than desired, for example, then he will make that same mistake the next time, especially if he still makes a catch on the play. Next time, the defensive back may be more able to capitalize on the gift of less route uncertainty.

It is unrealistic to expect anyone, let alone a 19- or 20-year-old, to display this exacting discipline on the football field without practicing it throughout the rest of the day. Successfully cutting corners in one area of life convinces the psyche it can be done anywhere. Thus, Kelly has needed to harp on his charges about their off-field activities, including—but perhaps not seriously—making their beds.

“I think we ask our guys to do a number of different things on a day-to-day basis,” Kelly said. “First of all, understanding how habits carry over to what they do in the classroom and what they do on the football field.”

Kelly and his coaching staff have had four months to make this impression. The issue is, bad habits are hard to break. They’re usually more fun, anyway. As Kelly pointed out, the rewards of good habits are slow in coming. Delayed gratification, if you will.

“I think our guys understand that it takes time to build those habits, because some of them have bad habits, and to get rid of those bad habits, you really have to be creating good habits over a long period of time,” Kelly said. “That’s the process that is hard for these guys, because it takes time, and they want it to happen right away.

“Sometimes they forget and they just want to go out and play. If you go out and play, but you don’t do it the right way, it’s going to get you beat.”

This all sounds well and good, and some of the effects were evident Saturday. There were few penalties (none, in fact, according to the official statistics), the quarterbacks took advantage of the receiving corps’ size and missed their targets high. But soon comes the toughest time to continue this trend.

Kelly and his staff have worked on the Irish to internalize these lessons. Now, Kelly and his staff will cover the country in recruiting. In a few weeks, the players will scatter home for a break before returning for a summer session spent in the weight room and classroom. If they slip back into old habits, the last four months were spent fruitlessly.

Mack played well Saturday. The question has never been does he have physical talent. He undeniably does.

The question has been, is and will be: Did you make your bed today, Alizé?