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. 

  

Kraemer, Eichenberg compete for RT spot, moving Bars inside, and Bivin to…

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Forty percent of the offensive line is essentially set in stone: fifth-year senior Mike McGlinchey at left tackle and senior Quenton Nelson at right guard.

The center position seems to be senior Sam Mustipher’s to lose.

That leaves the two starting spots on the right side of the line for a number of players—both young and experienced—to fight over.

Sophomores Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg have emerged as the frontrunners for the right tackle spot, moving senior Alex Bars inside to right guard. Bars started all 12 games last season at right tackle.

“Those two [Kraemer and Eichenberg] are the guys we have mapped out at right tackle, and they’re going to battle,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said following Wednesday’s practice. “Today Kraemer was there. Last two practices Eichenberg got a lot of the work. Eichenberg will go back there on Friday. They’re going to keep battling and splitting the action out there.”

Part of the reasoning in giving the two sophomores extended looks this spring is Notre Dame knows what it has in Bars when at right tackle.

“We would prefer to get him in at the guard position, but we know he can play the [tackle] position,” Kelly said.

A starting five of McGlinchey, the three seniors and either sophomore may seem to leave fifth-year lineman Hunter Bivin out in the cold. Not often is a player asked to return for a fifth year only to spend it on the bench. That is even more rare when considering the current Irish scholarship crunch.

Kelly compared Bivin’s role to that of Mark Harrell’s last year. Harrell appeared in all 12 games, starting two, and provided much needed depth and flexibility along the offensive line. Rather than have five backup offensive linemen, position coach Harry Hiestand relied on Harrell to provide support at multiple spots.

“It’s reasonable to assume that Hunter Bivin’s going to be involved in this as well,” Kelly said. “We’ve just asked Hunter to take a seat right now. He’s done that for the team.

“We think Hunter is going to be a Mark Harrell for us. A guy that’s extremely valuable, can play a number of positions. We trust him, but we want to see these two young players [Kraemer and Eichenberg]. Hunter is a guy that can play right or left tackle for us. He’s going to be a valuable player for us as a swing guy.”

On that note, this space will refer to Bivin as a fifth-year lineman, as was done above, rather than as a guard or as a tackle, until further notice. In his case, the broader description may be the most accurate.

Spring break out west is fine, but Wimbush better be ready to run

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It will undoubtedly become a habit, at least for the next five-plus months. If Notre Dame junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush sneezes in front of a camera, it just might lead to an uptick in webmd.com traffic. His every football move will certainly be analyzed, nitpicked and discussed at length. Thus, Irish coach Brian Kelly being asked about Wimbush’s spring break should surprise no one.

Rather than find a Florida beach, Wimbush spent his spring break working with private quarterbacks coach George Whitfield in San Diego alongside a handful of other college passers. Kelly said there is value to such a spring break but stopped short of setting any lofty expectations of the effects.

“I have no problem with [Wimbush] working out with George Whitfield,” Kelly said following Wednesday’s practice, the first following spring break and the third of 14 leading into the Blue-Gold Game on April 22. “George doesn’t work on the specifics to the offense. George is really working on the quarterback and throwing the football, moving in the pocket. George is really good at keeping those quarterbacks active and moving.”

Whitfield is best-known around Notre Dame and among Irish fans for working with former Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson during Golson’s academic suspension in 2013. Whitfield and Golson spent 10 weeks together, thus granting time for extensive off-field activities such as film study. Far shorter, Wimbush’s time out west appears to have been spent primarily doing drills.

“In those situations, it’s a bullpen session,” Kelly said. “They’re keeping their arms loose, they’re keeping their feet loose. He’s just keeping them active.”

It is hard to construe that activity as a negative, but it obviously lacks certain aspects crucial to Wimbush’s 2017 season. With only five career pass attempts and seven career rushes, Wimbush’s inexperience looms large. Developing the necessary intangibles to account for that may be just as, if not more, important as fitting his throws into tight windows.

“When it comes to the playbook, to his teammates, to his coaches here, Brandon understands that when the rubber hits the road, those are the guys that matter the most,” Kelly said. “He knows when it’s time for Notre Dame football, where the focus is.”

Included in that playbook will be an expectation for Wimbush to carry the ball. To date, Wimbush’s biggest play and possibly only imprint on most Notre Dame fans’ memories is a 58-yard touchdown scamper against Massachusetts in 2015.

Link to 17-second YouTube video which has unfortunately disabled embedding

Note, the play is not exclusively-designed for Wimbush to run. Now a rising junior, then a fellow freshman, running back Josh Adams comes across Wimbush’s front for a possible handoff. Instead, Wimbush makes the correct read and keeps the ball. Why state so clearly it was the proper read? Adams has to evade a Texas defender even though he never had the ball.

Future option plays should present Wimbush with the possibility of throwing the ball, too.

“He’ll be a runner in the offense,” Kelly said. “Do we want him to carry the ball 20 times? No.”

“I don’t think you’ll have a situation where we’re calling quarterback power or singular runs. He’s going to have options: hand it off, throw the ball out on the perimeter. You’ll see more of that than you will prescribed quarterback runs. We had a little bit more of that last year with Kizer, but I think you’ll see that he has an option to get the ball out of his hands more so than just prescribed runs.”

Those option plays, in particular, will require Wimbush to have a thorough familiarity both with the Notre Dame playbook and with his teammates’ tendencies.

RITA LEE OR 52-53?
Staying consistent with his comments over the last two months, Kelly once again reiterated the biggest changes new offensive coordinator Chip Long will bring to the Irish playbook will be in its wording. Perhaps going to an extreme example to illustrate his thinking, Kelly pointed to the future.

“We’re going to win next year and Chip is going to be the greatest offensive coordinator in the country and he’s going to get a head job, right?” Kelly asked rhetorically. “Then I’m not going to introduce the Chip Long offense to the next offensive coordinator.”

“It has to have my culture in it … The culture of the offense is still the base offense that I have always run because I have to be able to carry that with me from year to year.”

Within that ellipsis, Kelly gave two examples of possible verbiage changes. Without knowing much more behind them, they do not mean too much out here in the cobwebs of the internet, but they do provide a quick glimpse at what Kelly has been referring to when discussing lexicon since hiring Long.

“If he wants to change Ringo Lucky protection to Ram and Lion protection, go right ahead. If he wants to change certain calls, for example, 52-53 protection is now Rita Lee.”

RELATED READING:
4 Days Until Spring Practice: A Look at QBs (Brandon Wimbush)
Pace of Play: More Snaps Equal More Scoring Chances, Right?

Back from break, Irish commence hitting; DT Elijah Taylor out with LisFranc injury

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Notre Dame last wore pads in its 45-27 defeat at USC back on Nov. 26, a full 117 days ago. Suffice it to say, the Irish enjoyed the chance to don their shoulder pads and hit each other in Wednesday’s third spring practice, the first one since returning from spring break.

“What I liked about it more than anything else is there wasn’t a big drop off today,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “Usually you go two days and then you take a week off, and then you come back and put your pads on—it took us only a couple of periods to get back up to form. That was nice to see.”

Contrary to previous years in spring practice, and perhaps practice in general, Kelly emphasized tackling, especially tackling in the open-field, in Wednesday’s drills.

“[I] felt like we needed to make up for a little lost ground,” he said. “We got in tackling today for the first time. That’ll be an emphasis. We’ll tackle a lot this spring to make up for lost ground.”

The early and often physical nature of practice didn’t bother any of the players, per Kelly, but also per presumed common sense. While Notre Dame’s coaching staff changes and public questioning played out in broad view, the players spent 117 days in private waiting to unleash some of the frustrations of 2016’s disappointing season.

“Everybody to a man has been looking forward to this day,” Kelly said. “It was a pretty difficult offseason for them. They were looking forward to putting the pads on and getting out there. I think they exhibited that today.”

TAYLOR OUT FOR SPRING, AT LEAST
Junior defensive tackle Elijah Taylor was not in pads Wednesday. In the final practice before spring break, another player stepped on Taylor’s foot, Kelly said. The resulting LisFranc fracture will keep Taylor out of the remaining dozen spring practices and limit him until at least July. Taylor saw action in four games last season, finishing with three tackles, including one for a loss.

Notre Dame team surgeon Dr. Brian Ratigan already performed Taylor’s surgery.

“Typical LisFranc fractures, we’ve had good success with their repairs,” Kelly said. “…We’ll be able to train around the injury. Full range of motion moving around and doing things in June, probably full clearance sometime in July.”

Without Taylor, the interior of Notre Dame’s defensive line becomes even shallower, though that may have been hard to previously comprehend. Junior Jerry Tillery looks to be ready to start, and senior Jonathan Bonner has moved to the inside, rather than at end as he has been for most of his career. Behind them, the Irish present only question marks.

Kelly said he will look to junior Micah Dew-Treadway to step forward in Taylor’s absence.

“Micah Dew-Treadway has had a really good offseason for us,” Kelly said. “Changed his body, has been doing a really good job in all facets, in the class room and weight room. He’s somebody that had been ascending anyway prior to the injury.

Kelly indicated junior Brandon Tiassum also could be expected to see more work with Taylor sidelined.

Seniors Daniel Cage and Pete Mokwuah are in the mix, as well. Cage struggled with concussion issues last season after a promising 2015.

Notre Dame will need to wait until the freshmen arrive—perhaps also joined by Clemson graduate student transfer Scott Pagano, reportedly still taking official visits as he ponders his 2017 destination—for further reinforcements. Consensus four-star recruit Darnell Ewell would be the most likely candidate of the three expected arrivals to move up the depth chart right away.

In layman’s terms, a Lisfranc fracture occurs when a mid-foot bone connecting to a toe separates from the cluster of bones toward the heel. Note: This is stated here only to provide some context, nothing more. This particular scribe avoided most biology classes.

CLAYPOOL A RECEIVER AND THAT HE WILL STAY
Asked if he considered moving sophomore receiver Chase Claypool to defense, Kelly answered succinctly.

“We feel like we need his play on offense,” Kelly said. “He’ll continue to contribute on the special teams end of things, but we need his play on offense.”

KELLY ON KIZER’S NFL POTENTIAL
“I’ve had a number of conversations with GMs and coaches about [former Notre Dame quarterback] DeShone [Kizer], and my personal feeling is he has the biggest upside of all the quarterbacks. I don’t know that he’s prepared to come in and win a Super Bowl for you [this year]. Some may feel as though maybe one of the other quarterbacks are. I don’t know that firsthand. But I think, in time, he has the biggest upside of all the quarterbacks.

“I get it. It’s the NFL. Everybody’s under the same pressure of performing and needing somebody to come in right away, but I think he’s a guy that just needs some time. If he gets in the right situation, I think he’d be the guy to take.”

Kizer and eight other former Irish players will take part in a pro day tomorrow (Thursday) in front of some of those GMs and coaches.

Te’o to New Orleans; Booker to Nebraska

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Former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o has signed a two-year contract with the New Orleans Saints, per reports.

Once recovered from a torn Achilles, Te’o will join a crowded Saints linebacker corps. The Saints signed A.J. Klein—formerly of the Carolina Panthers—to a three-year, $15 million contract earlier in March and return Craig Robertson, who finished 2016 with 115 tackles.

All three have experience at the middle linebacker position in a 4-3 defense, though Klein and Robertson are both capable of playing at the strong side position, as well.

Before his week three injury, Te’o had started 34 of 38 games for the San Diego Chargers and notched 221 career tackles. With the Saints, he rejoins linebackers coach Mike Nolan, who held the same position with the Chargers in 2015 when Te’o finished with a career-high 83 tackles.

BOOKER REJOINS DIACO
It appears former Notre Dame tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Scott Booker will join the Nebraska coaching staff. Two former Irish coaches—defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and safeties coach Bob Elliott—already have seats in the Lincoln coaching room, which is quickly becoming something of a Notre Dame West.

Booker will reportedly join the Cornhuskers staff as a special teams analyst. He served as Notre Dame’s special teams coordinator from 2012 to 2016 before this past offseason’s extensive staff changes.

PRO DAY THURSDAY
A reminder: Notre Dame will hold its Pro Day this Thursday. Nine players will partake, obviously highlighted by quarterback DeShone Kizer.

The others: long snapper Scott Daly, running back Tarean Folson, tight end Chase Hounshell, defensive linemen Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell, cornerback Cole Luke, safety Avery Sebastian and linebacker James Onwualu.

Kizer hopes to prove himself worthy of a first-round draft pick, while Jones and Rochell may be in the mix for a second-day pick, meaning in the second or third rounds.

As it is draft season, this discussion of why mock drafts exist even though most prognosticators cannot stand them is worth the few minutes needed to read.

MARCH MADNESS UPDATE
The majority of the “Inside the Irish” bracket pool’s leaders escaped the weekend’s chaos, though frontrunner andy44teg will not hold onto that top spot for long after his titlist pick, Duke, exited late the tournament late Sunday.

That will leave some character named Dennis and his North Carolina prediction as the presumptive favorite to win, well, to win absolutely nothing.

Five of the top 10 expect North Carolina to win the championship.