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. 

  

Avery Davis’ move bumps Notre Dame’s RB depth from dire to versatile

Associated Press
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It may not be what Avery Davis always imagined, but his move to running back at least gets him on the field in a Notre Dame jersey. From a practical standpoint, Davis offers more than just running back depth amid a depleted Irish backfield. His move from quarterback to running back/receiver creates a new possibility of playmaking. That concept was the primary reason the sophomore welcomes the position switch rather than dreads it.

Davis’ motivations are that pure and simple. After spending the 2017 season preserving a year of eligibility and watching quarterbacks Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book both prove more than capable, Davis could see his chances at quarterbacking for Notre Dame dwindling. The prospect of another year with a similar view was not one to which he looked forward.

“I love the quarterback position, I’ve played it my whole life,” Davis said following the Blue-Gold Game. “But that redshirt season, to be standing on the sidelines knowing you could make an impact, knowing you could make plays, that pushed me into this.

“… What I’m really trying to do is help the team however I can.”

The Irish coaching staff’s motivations are undoubtedly as pure, regarding helping the team however Davis can, but one may wonder if the move would have happened if not for the dismissal of half the running back depth chart following the Citrus Bowl victory over LSU. Regardless, Notre Dame had a need, and Davis’ natural skills can now help fill it.

“It was a mutual understanding,” Davis said. “… I knew they were serious, because I was serious, too. Week two [of spring practices] I got my chance and that’s when it started clicking.”

By the end of spring practice, Davis had pushed his way firmly into the running back rotation, with a few cameos at receiver, as well. He finished the Blue-Gold Game with 30 rushing yards on 11 carries and 24 receiving yards on two catches, to go along with 2-for-2 passing for 26 yards in the closing moments.

The presence of a viable rushing and receiving threat plays right into the hands of Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long’s preferences. The mere presence of Davis on the field will put defenses into compromising positions. At least, that will be the theory.

It will likely not be long into the season when Davis first lines up in the backfield before motioning into the slot position, thus exposing more of the defense’s blitz and coverage intentions, if not outright forcing adjustments to them. Not long after that, Davis will at some point line up wide only to take a jet sweep a la Cam Smith in 2017’s first month and Kevin Stepherson in the latter half of the year.

These are the dilemmas created by a multi-dimensional threat such as Davis appears to be. Sure, it was just the spring game, but it showed the wrinkles he can create. No one else currently among Notre Dame’s running backs or receivers offers such a variety. Sophomore receiver Michael Young may come the closest, but his frame is not designed for the beating of a running back’s workload.

Nor is Davis’ at this point, necessarily, but he knows as much.

“It’s just more of a physical toll on your body,” he said when asked of the greatest difference from the quarterback position. “You take more hits. That’s something that comes with being in the weight room.”

Atop Davis’ offseason to-do list is add more muscle across the chest and in the shoulders. Next will be to work on his routes and pass-catching skills. As far as reading the defense’s approach, quarterback prepared him for that. His focus is now slightly different, looking for gaps at the line rather than gauging coverage holes, but the underlying skills are the same.

Along with the potential poised by Davis’ position switch and the inherent disclaimers attached to any spring successes, two more aspects of the sophomore’s future should be explicitly noted. First of all, he does not let slip even the slightest misgiving about the move from football’s glamor position. Davis knew what the Irish depth chart looked like when he arrived at Notre Dame, and he knew who had already committed in the following class in consensus four-star Phil Jurkovec.

“When it comes down to it, I love playing the game,” Davis said. “Wasn’t too hard for me. It was a personal decision.

“It was a decision to come here, and I’m living with it. I’m really happy with it, to be honest.”

Secondly, this is a move the Irish coaching staff is committed to, but it retains the right to work Davis in at quarterback. Even Jurkovec’s arrival is unlikely to knock Davis from the spot of No. 3 quarterback to be deployed in emergency situations, lest Jurkovec burn a year of eligibility to offer a quarter’s worth of work.

“The conversation we had with Avery is, what do you want to do?” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “If you want to stay [at quarterback], right now it looks like it’s 1A, 1B, and you’re 3. You can stay in that position, or we think you’ve got some talents to help our offense. He wanted to do this.

“He doesn’t want to give up his ability to play quarterback down the road, but in the meantime, you need to play this year. This gives him that opportunity.”

WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS/IS AT RUNNING BACK:
Without Davis and the move of sophomore Jafar Armstrong from receiver, the Irish had two upperclassmen and an early-enrolled freshman at running back this spring. Each of senior Dexter Williams (pictured above) and junior Tony Jones have shown the physical ability to be a loadbearing ballcarrier in the past, but neither has stayed healthy enough to grant peace of mind if in that role. Depth was needed.

Specifically in reference to Williams, Kelly acknowledged past restrictions due to Williams’ durability, or lack thereof.

“How long can you stay on the field?” Kelly said Saturday. “He seemed to be a guy that we couldn’t keep on the field very long. He had a really good spring. He wasn’t a guy that we had to pull out or wasn’t conditioned well enough.”

Much like Davis, Armstrong’s emergence this spring soothes some of those concerns. In the Blue-Gold Game, he finished with 48 yards on five carries along with one catch for 21 yards, showing decent quickness with a burst that will become only more decisive with more experience.

Armstrong should be more than capable of replacing Deon McIntosh as the No. 3 or 4 running back who can offer some modicum of production. In time, he could certainly become more than that.

Early-enrollee Jahmir Smith did about what one would expect from a high school senior taking part in collegiate practices, and that is meant as a compliment, but by no means did he lay the groundwork to force his way into the rotation by September.

WHERE NOTRE DAME WILL BE:
The Irish will welcome C’Bo Flemister as a sixth running back in the fall. Presuming health of the top four (Williams, Jones, Davis and Armstrong), Flemister should join Smith in spending a year in strength and conditioning, perhaps adding some special teams work. More likely, though, at least one of that initial quartet will suffer a plaguing injury, if not something worse, and the freshmen duo could be a sprained ankle away from being activated, just as C.J. Holmes was halfway through 2017.

ONE MORE NOTE, NFL DRAFT-WISE:
The NFL draft begins tonight (Thursday). Former Notre Dame running back Josh Adams will not hear his name called in the first round, but it is likely his name comes up Saturday, somewhere between late in the fourth round and the end of the sixth round.

Notre Dame adds another 2019 commitment out of Georgia

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Eight months from now, Notre Dame may be forced to sign a smaller recruiting class than usual thanks to the larger class this past recruiting cycle. If that expectation does indeed hold, this past week’s five commitments, including consensus three-star safety Kyle Hamilton’s (Marist High School; Atlanta) on Tuesday evening, will be a hefty portion of the class.

Hamilton becomes the second safety in the class, and in the week, following the Saturday pledge of rivals.com four-star Litchfield Ajavon (Episcopal H.S.; Alexandria, Va.). Hamilton’s list of finalists included Michigan, Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson, a grouping more telling than perhaps his recruiting ranking is.

Some of that expected potential may derive from Hamilton’s 6-foot-3 frame. Such length at safety would be a change for the Irish, currently without a safety taller than six-feet in the rotation. Even heralded incoming-freshman Derrik Allen, also out of Georgia, is listed at only 6-foot-1.

It is a coincidence those two Georgia recruits, one signed and one now verbally-committed, are both safeties. Add in the January commitment of rivals.com three-star cornerback K.J. Wallace (Lovett; Atlanta), and a third defensive back comes from the state, along with class of 2018 signees tight end Tommy Tremble and running back C’Bo Flemister. Five prospects from Georgia, presuming both Hamilton and Wallace do indeed sign with Notre Dame, is not a coincidence.

“My point being is that it’s such a fertile ground in recruiting, you just need to be in [Georgia], and there’s great football players in there,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in December 2017, during the inaugural early signing period. “We’ve got so many players that we can talk about that came of there. It’s just having a presence and getting back into a very, very good recruiting area for us. We need to have a great presence there.”

No matter what state Hamilton comes from, he could find himself quickly in the mix at safety upon his arrival. Presuming health for the current safety depth chart, juniors Jalen Elliott and Devin Studstill will have one year of eligibility remaining apiece upon Hamilton’s enrollment. Junior Alohi Gilman will have two, thanks to spending the 2017 season sidelined following his transfer from Navy. Early-enrolled freshman Griffith and Allen will both have three more years, presuming both play in 2018.

Thus, Hamilton and Ajavon could find themselves backing up that last duo as soon as 2020.

Blue-Gold Game Leftovers: Notre Dame’s offensive ceiling is tantalizing, though also unlikely

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Immediately following the 2017 spring game, I walked by two much smarter, savvier and more veteran Notre Dame reporters on our way to post-game interviews. Our two minutes of exchange included them riffing on various hypothetical position changes that were eventually not seen come fall, including how much better of a guard than a tackle Tommy Kraemer could be. It should be noted, the junior began lining up at guard this spring.

My contribution to the conversation hinged entirely on repeating, “That offense just isn’t ready. It’s not close to ready.”

Of course, that assessment figured the spring game struggles were against a porous Irish defense, something freshly-arrived and since-departed defensive coordinator Mike Elko had already taken tangible steps toward fixing, far quicker than expected.

That evaluation also failed to recognize the potential of a running attack led by Josh Adams. Notre Dame knew it had a stalwart running back, and did not need to see more than eight carries for 39 yards and a touchdown from the lead back.

The point stood, though. The offense was not ready then or in November.

Driving away from this past Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game, the thought bouncing around my pickup’s two-seat cab was simple: This offense is unlikely to reach its ceiling, but if it did, it would be really, absurdly high-powered.

This time, that assessment offers some deference to first-year defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s ability to turn nine returning starters into another strong defense, perhaps superior to last year’s.

The praise of the offense must be hedged thanks to IF after IF after IF after IF. If senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush displays those mechanics and that accuracy against opposing defenses …
If senior running back Dexter Williams (pictured above) decides it is worthwhile to play, and play well, through pain …
If junior receiver Chase Claypool maintains the necessary emotional equilibrium …
If senior tight end Alizé Mack offers a consistent performance, even if not stellar, but stable …

In those four upperclassmen alone, the Irish have unique talents whom opposing defensive coordinators should lose sleep thinking about. They will determine how high this offense’s ceiling is, while the likes of senior receiver Miles Boykin, junior running back Tony Jones and sophomore tight end Cole Kmet will set the floor, along with what looks to be yet another overpowering offensive line (with Kraemer at right guard).

Obviously, the most-promising players always set the height of a vaulted the ceiling. As they perform against Michigan, Stanford and Virginia Tech will determine how the season ends. However, to pinpoint four like this is an extreme end of the spectrum.

Exiting last year’s Blue-Gold Game, it was clear Wimbush needed to learn much more of offensive coordinator Chip Long’s scheme. Aside from that, the only possible ways to increase the offense’s potency was to teach receiver Kevin Stepherson self-discipline and figure out why Mack could not make a gameday impact. The rest was essentially known, even if the running game’s potential was overlooked after the spring exhibition.

Entering this summer, the gap between the offense’s floor and its ceiling is a vast one. To have four question marks of this magnitude speaks to the possible volatility awaiting in the fall. Logically speaking, it is most likely two of the four above IFs become realities. In that case, it will be a good offense, but not the utterly threatening one conceivable. The odds are slim all four come to fruition, but crazier things have happened, especially when discussing the rapid development of 18- to 21-year-olds.

Without Adams following two All-American offensive linemen, this rendition of the Notre Dame offense may take a step backward, but the talent is there for it to actually improve, to carry the day if/when an experienced quarterback picks apart the defense (see: the Seminoles’ Deondre Francois).

That could not be said in 2017.

OTHER QUICK TAKEAWAYS FROM THE BLUE-GOLD GAME:
Much of this will be discussed in greater length in the coming two weeks, but …
— The interior of the offensive line — fifth-year left guard Alex Bars, fifth-year center Sam Mustipher and Kraemer at right guard — is quite a physically-imposing trio. Some defensive ends may find success against first-year starter and junior left tackle Liam Eichenberg, especially early in the season, but the inside trio should at least create massive holes for the Irish running game.

— Ideally Long can deploy Mack and Kmet together, but the spring performance of the latter certainly eases the concerns about the maturation and consistency of the former.

Notre Dame may need an unexpected influx of production from senior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery if the fifth-year tackle he is intended to line up alongside, Jonathan Bonner, does not recover fully from a wrist injury suffered in the beginning of 2017. (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP)

— Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly insists fifth-year defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner’s fitness will not be overly-effected by the wrist injury that kept him out of most of spring practice and all of the Blue-Gold Game.

“He’s been doing everything (in weight-lifting) but at lighter weight, and now he’s only a couple of weeks away from being full-go,” Kelly said Saturday. “He was already physically really gifted, so we don’t think that’s going to be a big curve for him, and he’ll be able to start training aggressively when we get back here in June.”

Consider this scribe skeptical. Not only is Kelly often overly-optimistic about injury effects and timetables, but to think missing six months of strength and conditioning will not be noticeable along the defensive interior is idealistic at best. Bonner’s 2017 emergence was a direct result of the arrival of strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Balis.

Without more of that work, the Irish will need to turn to sophomore Kurt Hinish for an increase in snaps, perhaps pushing toward 50 per game with Bonner offering 20-30 and senior Micah Dew-Treadway filling in the balance. Hinish appears to be up to the task, which is necessary, because classmate Darnell Ewell is not.

Notre Dame gains commitments of four-star defensive end and three-star offensive tackle

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At this rate, Notre Dame might fill its 2019 recruiting class by the time the school year ends. With a Sunday morning commitment of a consensus four-star defensive end followed by a Monday evening pledge from a consensus three-star offensive tackle, the Irish class has grown from three recruits to seven in just four days.

The No. 238 prospect in the country and No. 28 at defensive end, per rivals.com, Howard Cross III (St. Joseph High School; Montvale, N.J.) announced his commitment via Twitter shortly after leaving campus from a visit for the Blue-Gold Game, choosing the Irish over offers from Michigan, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, among others.

“I could tell [current Notre Dame players] really loved the school,” Cross said to Blue & Gold Illustrated. “It was really, really big to talk to them. When I was going to all the colleges, that was the main thing I wanted to do. I wanted to get the perspective of the players.”

Cross joins consensus four-star defensive end Hunter Spears (Sachse H.S.; Texas) as half of the four defensive linemen already in the Irish recruiting class. As always, no collegiate defensive line can be deep enough. Considering the previous two recruiting classes have yielded a total of two defensive ends — Kofi Wardlow and Justin Ademilola — opportunity should be aplenty for Cross and Spears early in their careers.

The defensive end duo will likely spend a not-insignificant portion of their collegiate career practices butting heads with Andrew Kristofic (Pine-Richland; Gibsonia, Pa.). If the high school of Pine-Richland jumps off the figurative page to Notre Dame recruitniks, that is because Kristofic has much experience protecting high school teammate and incoming Irish freshman quarterback Phil Jurkovec.

He chose Notre Dame, and new offensive line coach Jeff Quinn, rather than offers from a lengthy list including Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State.

“The combination that their school is able to provide being one of the very best schools in the entire country academically and one of the very athletically stands out,” Kristofic said to Blue & Gold Illustrated. “I think they have the best combination of those two things on top of being a school that is known for being able to produce such great offensive linemen is something that no other schools really have the combination of all those.

“When you can put together all the things that they can there, it’s certainly not something you can overlook or take for granted.”

The beginning of this influx of commitments came with the Friday decision of consensus four-star offensive tackle John Olmstead (St. Joseph; Metuchen, N.J.), the only other offensive lineman in the class to this point. Of the seven recruits committed to the Irish, five are four-star talents.