Thoughts on the Presser

Charlie Weis met with the media Sunday to wrap up the Boston College game and was pretty candid with his thoughts. Here are the greatest hits.

* Weis was asked to talk about the evolution of Armando Allen, who has quietly built himself into a very solid all-purpose running back, in many ways similar to his predecessor, Darius Walker.

He’s kind of a lot of elements of Darius. He’s a little faster than
Darius, but Darius, he had one skill that was underrated; he was very
good at pre-snap reads of fronts, therefore he knew where to run with
the football. I think that Armando is a little bit different in that
he’s a stronger runner for his size, but there are a lot of elements
there.

When Armando Allen first came to Notre Dame, many thought the Irish were getting a back that had the chance to break a long one every time he touched it. That certainly hasn’t been the case with Allen, but he has become a dependable running back that’s be one of the Irish’s toughest interior runners. I still haven’t given up on the big play with Armando, only because he’s made such great developmental strides this season, and I expect to see even more during his senior season.

* Weis was asked about the divergent directions the Notre Dame defense is moving with regards to run stopping and pass coverage, and was later asked to expound on the problems of the secondary. I’ll just do a little cutting together, and give you all the relevant comments made in regards to stopping the pass.

When you stop the run, you leave yourself vulnerable
in the pass. But you have to find a happy medium because what we can’t
do, as much as our run defense has improved for the last four and a
half games let’s say, where it’s just gotten better in good production,
we have to get some things fixed in coverage because they’re not just
getting yards, they’re getting too many easy yards.

I really believe our best play on defense is yet to come. I think at
the beginning of the year we had a whole bunch of problems. I think
that we had problems stopping the run, we had problems giving up
chunks, we were giving up a lot of points. We had a whole bunch of
problems.
 
Slowly but surely we’re starting to solve some of these
problems to the point now — remember, defense gives up two touchdowns
in that game… The defense gives up 14 points in that game. You’d have
to say most games you play, you give up 14, you’re going to win. It
doesn’t make a difference who you’re playing against. Most times you’d
have to assume that the defense holds them to 14, you’re going to come
out on top.

At least now what I understand the problems are, if I thought the
problems for the most part were just no good, it would be a bigger
problem with — we’d have to fix it. And I would think that with the
exception of about one ball that clearly was a jump-ball situation
where anyone could have — either guy could have made the play or could
have knocked it down, all the other plays were just a high-low, getting
beat inside, more technique things than anything else.

And I
think that because I know now what the coverage are and the answers to
the test, I think there are some things that — like I said, we’ve
previously already addressed today. There’s some things that we can do
to try to get that number down.

There’s a lot here, and there’s even more that we’ll get to later in the week when the video team can get us some visual aids to help better understand what the problem(s) is (are). I think some of the adjustments the Irish made to shore up the run defense might have hurt the passing D, so hearing Weis speak about a “happy medium” is encouraging. Also encouraging is Weis saying he understands the problems.

To me, they’re pretty obvious. This is a team playing a lot of Cover 2. Unfortunately, they play a shoddy Cover 2. Going back to Weis’ “hang your hat,” comment, if you’re hanging your hat on a coverage scheme that you’re mediocre at playing, well — that’s why you’re giving up explosive plays by the dozen.

The coverage was better Saturday, even if it didn’t feel like it. And as the defensive backs get better at knowing their roles, they’ll get better at making plays on the football. It may feel like baby steps, but the Irish have two weeks against mediocre passing defenses to get things figured out.

* Mr. Floyd is close. Very close.

We’re waiting for that CAT scan a week from Monday or Tuesday and we’ll
see how that goes. Look, Michael and I — my guess is that the CAT scan
is going to come back and say, okay, he’s healthy enough to go.
Now, every week longer you wait is better. Every week longer after
you’ve been cleared to go is better. But then I think it’ll come a
point where the doctors say to Michael and myself, okay, it’s your
decision, realizing the longer you wait, the better it is. Knowing me,
I’ll leave it on Michael, and knowing Michael, he’ll want to get out
there as quick as he possibly can. We’ll just have to wait and see how it goes. We don’t want to be stupid
here. But we’ll just have to wait and see what the CAT scan says first
before we jump to any conclusions.

As a fan, I can’t tell you how excited I am to see the Notre Dame offense back at full throttle. With Floyd back across from Tate, I expect the offense to be in a different stratosphere. All the complaints about Rudolph disappearing and the red zone struggles, I expect those to be silenced.

* After Ben Turk’s performance, the punting competition has reopened.

I had that discussion with Brian this morning, and I think after what
we saw in the game, yes, I think we have to at least let Eric have a
shot in practice and see how it goes.

I’ve mentioned before how important field position has been, but our friends over at Blue-Gray Sky had a nice nugget illustrating just how badly ND’s specialist play has hurt.

The Irish continued to lose field position on the exchange of
possessions due to inferior special teams play. BC averaged 42.0 yards
per punt to the Irish’s 32.7 average. BC had two punts of 50+ yards; ND
had none. BC had three punts downed inside the 20; ND had one.
Additionally, Boston College’s second touchdown drive started at the 44
following poor coverage on the opening kickoff of the second half. I
would probably peg the cumulative field position advantage BC obtained
through superior special teams play as comparable to a turnover or two.

ND needs to figure out a way to get this problem figured out. Whether it’s scouring the soccer team for a kickoff man or just getting the cobwebs between the ears of the punter cleaned out, the Irish have to get a better performance out of their kickoff man and punter.

* I probably got 100 comments asking where Shaq Evans was on Saturday. Rumors swirled that he was in the doghouse, but it turns out he just wasn’t in the offensive game plan.

There’s not a disciplinary issue. There was a sickness issue where he
came back from — came back and had spent some time in the infirmary
and stuff, and then Thursday before the USC game was the first time he
had been back to practice. So he really wasn’t ready to play in the
game plan for that game.
 
In this game plan he was ready to play
in the game plan as an outside receiver, but it was for Duval, and
Duval actually had one of his better games, so I wasn’t looking to get
Duval off the field the way Duval had a lot of production for us in
that game yesterday for us.

People had high hopes for Evans, but it’s been clear that he isn’t quite ready to step onto the field for the Irish yet. I’ve got to say that I was surprised — shocked, actually — that Robby Toma was playing before Evans, but it makes sense if we take Weis at his word that Toma’s a slot guy and Shaq’s an outside guy.  

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    Spring Outlook: Notre Dame’s tight ends, a surplus of depth, unproven talent

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    Notre Dame has such tight end depth, it was somewhat surprising when the Irish pursued a second tight end in the class of 2018, but the possibilities of yet another playmaker in Tommy Tremble combined with a physical option in George Takacs forced the coaching staff’s decision.

    “I always like to have that versatility each year and each signing class,” Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long said Feb. 7. “… We don’t want to pass up on a great athlete … being able to present different challenges to the defense with those kind of guys and still be very physical at the same time.”

    That is a key to remember when looking at the Irish tight ends — Long sees different purposes amid the individuals in that position’s meeting room. Tremble, for example, could line up as a receiver as often as not while Takacs might fill in as Durham Smythe most recently did, serving as an additional blocker when needed and offering sure hands otherwise. In many respects, the two roles are two different positions.

    Spring Roster:
    — Fifth-year Nic Weishar, who Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said had shoulder surgery recently, though Kelly did not offer a timetable for return.
    — Rising senior Alizé Mack.
    — Rising sophomore Cole Kmet, when he is not pitching in relief for the Irish baseball team. Kmet made his second appearance of the season Thursday night. A letdown (3.0 IP, 3 ER, 3 H, 4 K), it did not go anywhere near as well as his debut did (4.0 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 3 K).

    @NDFootball

    — Rising sophomore Brock Wright, who underwent a shoulder surgery of his own shortly following the regular season. A recent photo (left) from the @NDFootball Twitter account indicates Wright is partaking in at least some winter conditioning drills.
    — Early-enrolled freshman Takacs.

    Summer Arrivals:
    Incoming freshman Tremble.

    Depth Chart Possibilities:
    Long uses multiple tight ends, deploying both of those aforementioned archetypes at the same time. That tendency should be seen even more often in 2018 with more options now available. A full year in a collegiate program should have both Kmet and Wright ready for bigger roles, challenging Weishar for some of what were Smythe’s snaps in 2017.

    The third tight end will see opportunities. It is essentially a second-string role. If granting the argument of two different forms of tight ends, then even the fourth tight end will get chances, as he will simply be the second-stringer in that particular role.

    Kmet would seem the more likely of the rising sophomores to get a bit more time, but that only means Wright will see plenty of time in a blocking back role, just as he did in situational packages in 2017.

    Biggest Question:
    Kmet could find his way to a more prominent role if he offers something not yet seen from Mack: consistency not just on the field, but in all respects.

    Can Mack finally translate his athleticism and potential into a consistent mismatch and productive threat? At his best, he could be the product of an offensive coordinator’s daydreams, but Mack has so rarely been at his best. That applies both on and off the field, considering his multiple drops in 2017 were followed by Kelly suspending Mack for an internal team matter for the Citrus Bowl before Notre Dame even headed down to Florida.

    Another year of Mack spinning his wheels will result in a loss of playing time with the likes of Kmet and Tremble around. If Mack does not provide positive results in the spring while Kmet does, that shift could begin even before the Blue-Gold Game on April 21.

    Fifth-year tight end Nic Weishar will provide Notre Dame not only with depth and experience in 2018, but also sure hands. That alone should give him a leg up on the other tight ends entering this spring. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

    Pertinent Reader Question:
    “Every year a four- or five-star disappoints and every year a three-star or lower prospect surprises. My prediction is fall: Mack, rise: Weishar. I have been the lone man on the Weishar bandwagon for a few years now and really hope that this year he becomes the big receiving target we need.

    What are your fallers and risers for this coming year?” — Mark H.

    A logical argument can be made that “fallers” should not be labeled as such until after their collegiate careers conclude. There are so many factors that can limit a player for years before he breaks out. Consider rising senior receiver and former consensus four-star prospect Miles Boykin. As recently as New Year’s Eve, he may have been labeled a bust, but now he can lay claim to one of the most dramatic catches in Irish history and is a frontrunner for a starting role in 2018 with another year of eligibility remaining after that. He could end up with a stellar collegiate career by every measure.

    Mack has had the opportunity to shine to date, and he has not done so, but he also might have two more seasons to go to change that reputation.

    As for “risers,” Weishar makes sense and he certainly showcased his strong hands when given the chance in 2017, but his ceiling is likely not much higher than that. A couple touchdown catches, a handful of third-down conversions and a year of physical blocking would be a welcome success.

    Notre Dame’s safeties, though, could stand out to fit the criteria laid out by Mark. If — and that is a two-letter word not to be overlooked — Navy transfer and rising junior Alohi Gilman and rising sophomore Jordan Genmark-Heath end up as productive starters for the season, then they will both have exceeded the expectations set out by star ratings.

    2017 Statistically Speaking:
    Mack: 19 catches for 166 yards and a touchdown, highlighted by six receptions for 38 yards against North Carolina with rising junior quarterback Ian Book starting in place of an injured Brandon Wimbush.
    Weishar: Nine catches for 52 yards and two touchdowns.
    Kmet: Two catches for 14 yards; appeared in all 13 games.
    Wright: Appeared in 11 games, no statistics recorded.

    Notre Dame gets the letter: George Takacs
    Notre Dame gets the letter: Tommy Tremble

    Spring Outlook: Notre Dame’s running backs, as few of them as there are
    Linebackers, a proven two and then many questions

    Spring Outlook: Notre Dame’s linebackers, a proven two and then many questions

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    Any concerns about Notre Dame’s linebackers were allayed when Te’von Coney spurned the NFL to return for his senior season. That decision, and Drue Tranquill making the same move, means the Irish do not need to replace their two best playmakers at the position from last season.

    Nonetheless, defensive coordinator Clark Lea does need to figure out how to fill in for the graduated Nyles Morgan and his 92 tackles, not to mention classmate Greer Martini and his 75, good for second and fourth on the team, respectively.

    Spring Roster:
    — Two known and welcome playmaking veterans in Coney and fifth-year Tranquill.
    — More than a handful of unproven and untested possibilities in rising senior Asmar Bilal, rising juniors Jonathan Jones and Jamir Jones (no relation), and rising sophomores Drew White, David Adams and Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah.
    — A trio of early-enrolled freshmen in Jack Lamb, Bo Bauer and Ovie Oghoufo.

    Summer Arrivals:
    Incoming freshman Shayne Simon, a likely rover candidate.

    Entering 2017, Te’von Coney was not even a starting linebacker. By the end of the season he was the leading tackler, and in 2018, he will be counted on as a defensive stalwart. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

    Depth Chart Possibilities:
    Wherever Tranquill ends up — be it at rover or a more traditional linebacker position, with the latter seeming more likely — someone will need to earn the third starting role. Bilal is the front-runner for that duty, at either position, but he will need to show a quicker understanding of the game than he has in the past.

    The rising senior has always been ready physically, but he has looked up the depth chart at the likes of Morgan, Martini, Coney and Tranquill. Opportunities were not readily available. Now that one very much is, Bilal will need to either seize it or get ready to be bypassed by the newcomers.

    It would be a surprise for Lamb or Bauer to be named that third starter in their freshman season, but both could certainly land in the two-deep, as that entire second unit is up for grabs. Neither Jones showed much last season, and the linebacker recruiting emphasis of 2018 belied the coaching staffs’ opinions of the rising sophomores pretty clearly.

    Presuming Bilal steps forward and secures the starting position, and some combination of Jones, Jones, Lamb and Bauer fill two of the backup roles, only Owusu-Koromoah stands out as an obvious rover substitute. In that respect, depth remains a concern at the defense’s second level, albeit less of one than in years past thanks to the influx of four touted freshmen.

    Biggest Question:
    Where does Tranquill line up against Michigan on Sept. 1? More to the current purpose, where does he line up in the Blue-Gold Game on April 21?

    “My responsibility as linebackers coach is to put the best combination of people on the field,” Lea said Feb. 7. “I think everyone can see Drue Tranquill had a skillset, a talent base that can play multiple spots. Through the course of the winter and spring, we’ll take a look at different options.”

    The duties at rover can be handled piecemeal, accounting for the tendencies of each opponent. When facing an up-tempo, aerial attack, perhaps even rising senior cornerback Shaun Crawford could be featured there. When facing a physical, ground-bound opponent, Bilal would make more sense.

    Shifting around like that at the Buck linebacker spot makes far less sense. While Tranquill never necessarily had the speed to excel at safety, and two knee injuries only further limited him in that respect, he shined at rover in 2017. Concluding his collegiate career at linebacker is logical, both as it pertains to his development thus far and to his professional aspirations.

    2017 Statistically Speaking:
    Rarely can a defense lose two of its top-four tacklers and still return more than 200 tackles from starting linebackers. Thus is the luxury provided by both Coney and Tranquill bypassing the NFL for another year.

    Coney: 116 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss including three sacks, and one forced fumble which he recovered.
    Tranquill: 85 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss including 1.5 sacks, one interception, three pass breakups, three fumbles recovered and one fumble forced.
    Bilal: 18 tackles with 1.5 for loss.
    Jo. Jones: 10 tackles with one for loss and one pass breakup.
    Ja. Jones: Four tackles.

    A 2018 Statistical Thought:
    Presuming linebacker health, the three starters should end up as Notre Dame’s leading tacklers once again in 2018, even with the presumed drop off from Morgan to insert Bilal or Owusu-Koromoah or Lamb or … here.

    The Irish defensive line will be much improved in 2018. Once upon a time, that seemed a guarantee just because the expectations for the line entering 2017 were so low, but it instead became a strength. Developing that strength and making it the backbone of Notre Dame’s defense moving forward will serve to burgeon the linebackers’ tackle totals, both at and behind the line of scrimmage.

    Notre Dame gets the letter: Jack Lamb
    Notre Dame gets the letter: Bo Bauer
    Notre Dame gets the letter: Shayne Simon
    Notre Dame gets the letter: Ovie Oghoufo

    Spring Outlook: Notre Dame’s running backs, as few of them as there are

    A second four-star defensive lineman, Hunter Spears, joins the Notre Dame class of 2019

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    When Notre Dame got five heralded defensive line recruits on campus together in January, it turned heads. When Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston offered public optimism about the possible 2019 commitments, it raised expectations.

    Notre Dame has now secured a second of those five with the Tuesday commitment of consensus four-star defensive end Hunter Spears (Sachse High School; Texas). He joins consensus four-star defensive tackle Jacob Lacey (South Warren H.S.; Bowling Green, Ky.) as the early foundation to the recruiting class, now with four prospects pledged.

    “Honestly, just talking with the guys today — Jacob Lacey, Mazi Smith, Joseph Anderson, Nana Osafo-Mensah, and myself — if Notre Came can land all of us, that would be the dream d-line class for Notre Dame,” Spears told Irish Illustrated. “I could see another pass-rusher or two, also.”

    The other three names Spears mentioned all joined Lacey and him on Jan. 27 at an on-campus Junior Day. All five qualify as consensus four-stars, with Smith (East Kentwood; Kentwood, Mich.) a tackle, Anderson (Siegel; Murfreesboro, Tenn.) an end, and Osafo-Mensah (Nolan Catholic; Fort Worth, Texas) a possible end/linebacker hybrid.

    From left to right: Osafo-Mensah, Anderson, Elston, Smith, Lacey and Spears. (Twitter: @JacobLacey6)

    Landing all five may be ambitious, but it would also be the envy of most of the country.

    Spears already held offers from the likes of Alabama and Michigan State, despite missing his junior season with a knee injury. The Irish extended a scholarship offer to him in June, prompting an unofficial visit to watch a 49-14 Notre Dame victory over USC in October. In a video released by 247Sports.com, Spears cited that experience as one of the three primary reasons he committed, along with the educational opportunity and the “overall tradition and culture.”

    Spears shows quickness for a defensive lineman, but not such that he would ever be considered an outside linebacker in any form. His size makes him an ideal candidate to set the edge against the run or possibly move inside when the Irish need a quicker defensive line to handle certain opponents. His agility, though, will make him a three-down threat, both a pass-rusher and an edge-setter.

    Notre Dame currently has depth at defensive end, but with only one signed in the class of 2018 (Justin Ademilola) and one remaining from the class of 2017 (Kofi Wardlow), an influx will be a priority this recruiting cycle. Spears will theoretically have one season to adjust to collegiate competition before the quartet of rising juniors Daelin Hayes, Khalid Kareem, Julian Okwara and Ade Ogundeji run out of eligibility. (The first three have two seasons remaining, while Ogundeji has the possibility of three more years.)

    Hence, that Junior Day emphasis and Elston’s confidence on National Signing Day.

    “I’ve been at Notre Dame now going on for nine years, and I haven’t had a stronger group of underclassmen that I’m recruiting than I have this year in 2019,” Elston said. “This could be the best defensive line haul we’ve ever had here.”

    Expect to read that quote again and again (and possibly again) if any of the remaining three in the above photo follow Spears’ and Lacey’s lead.

    RELATED READING: ‘Accelerated’ start creates bright outlook for Notre Dame’s 2019 recruiting cycle

    Spring Outlook: Notre Dame’s running backs, as few of them as there are

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    Notre Dame will open spring practice in about two weeks. As always, the proceedings will be filled with positive reviews, optimistic outlooks, and an injury or two.

    A quick look at each position group should lend a better understanding to those perspectives and effects, beginning with the group lacking many questions — the running backs. The biggest reason there is relative certainty around the running backs is there are just so few of them following the winter dismissals of rising junior Deon McIntosh and rising sophomore C.J. Holmes.

    Spring Roster:
    Rising senior Dexter Williams (pictured above)
    Rising junior Tony Jones
    Early-enrolled freshman Jahmir Smith
    Rising junior Mick Assaf

    Summer Arrivals:
    Incoming freshman C’Bo Flemister

    No one received more praise last spring practice than Tony Jones. He had a successful 2017, but compared to that hype, it could have been considered under-performing. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

    Depth Chart Possibilities:
    At some point, either Williams or Jones will be named the Irish starter. It is quite possible that will be a distinction without much difference, as the two could certainly complement each other well in offensive coordinator Chip Long’s system, which already prefers to use multiple running backs.

    Human nature, though, dictates is more likely one back receives a majority of the carries.

    Biggest Question:
    If Williams lines up with the No. 1 offensive unit in the Blue-Gold Game (April 21) to conclude spring practice, that will be the first genuine and tangible evidence he has improved as a pass blocker. Despite his big-play speed and seeming-ease breaking tackles, Williams’ one-dimensional game rendered him as much a liability as an asset in 2017.

    Even in the Citrus Bowl victory, Williams followed up back-to-back rushes for a combined 36 yards with a blown pass protection resulting in a 13-yard sack.

    “You have to be able to protect the quarterback with all positions,” Long said Feb. 7. “That dictates a whole lot if you’re going to play a lot or just be a situational guy. It’s something you have to embrace, the physicality.

    “… That’s really the main thing, other than protecting the ball, that’ll keep a back off the field in our offense.”

    The best ability is availability, and both an ankle injury and a balky quad limited Williams in that respect in 2017. Little blame can be cast for the natural bruises of football. Nonetheless, he will need to “embrace the physicality” if he wants to become more than a situational back.

    Otherwise, Jones will be the default option. He has already shown a knack for both pass blocking and catching, making him a three-down option. Notre Dame will always prefer that rather than tip its hand to a running play every time Williams enters the game.

    2017 Statistically Speaking:
    Obviously, Josh Adams carried the burden in the running game last season. Behind rising senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush and McIntosh, Williams was only the No. 4 rusher on the roster in yards and touchdowns, while Jones was No. 4 in carries and No. 5 in yards and scores.

    Williams: 360 yards on 39 carries, a 9.2 average, with four touchdowns. Two catches for 13 yards and one score.
    Jones: 232 yards on 44 carries, a 5.3 average, with three touchdowns. Six catches for 12 yards.
    Notre Dame gets the letter: Jahmir Smith
    Notre Dame gets the letter: C’Bo Flemister