The return of Mr. Floyd

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(THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED…)

With Charlie Weis delivering the official news today at his press conference, Michael Floyd is now officially cleared to return for the Irish offense. Let’s take a look at the return of the sophomore receiver and what it means to the Irish offense.

While Golden Tate has been building up his Heisman Trophy resume, Michael Floyd has been healing his broken clavicle. Saturday’s game against Navy will represent seven full weeks the gifted sophomore has rested after his collarbone broke against Michigan State. In the two-plus games that Floyd did play, the results were pretty much transcendent.

Floyd’s 2009 season started with astonishing efficiency. He had four catches against Nevada, three of which he took to the end zone. Against Michigan, Floyd had his way with the Wolverines, and was only slowed by the pavement surrounding the playing field, which sunk a deep cut into Floyd’s leg and kept him off the field for the pivotal minutes of the game. While Floyd was out, Jimmy Clausen’s critical third down pass sailed past Floyd’s replacement, true freshman Shaq Evans, giving Michigan the chance it needed to defeat the Irish in the final seconds. Michael returned to action against Michigan State the next week, seemingly unharmed by the flesh wound and started off his afternoon with a bang, hauling in a touchdown pass from Jimmy Clausen in the corner of the end zone and moving into a tie for 9th place in the Notre Dame record books with Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown at 12 career TD receptions. Brown played 43 games in his Irish career. Floyd was playing in his thirteenth. Just minutes later, in the opposite end zone, Floyd came down with what looked like touchdown catch number 13, but a replay official somehow disagreed. While settling for a short field goal was disappointing, seeing Floyd scamper to the bench with his arm pinned to his chest was devastating.

Last year, Floyd missed the final three regular season games with a knee injury. The maturing Irish offense went 6-4 in the ten games that Floyd played during his true freshman season, averaging 285 yards in the air with him in the lineup. With Floyd out, the offense fell apart, it’s total yardage down a third and the passing yardage down to just 147 yards a game. While this  year’s offense was clearly better suited to replace Floyd, even if he was a much larger part of the offense, I had my worries.

I wrote this after the Michigan State game:

When Michael Floyd went down with a broken collarbone in the second
quarter, the Irish offense changed. With Floyd, the Irish are a dynamic
deep-strike offense, with a capable second receiver in Golden Tate and
an emerging star at tight end in Kyle Rudolph. Without Floyd, the Irish
rode the back of Armando Allen, relying on key third down conversions
from the Wildcat, or short throws to the remaining receivers. In a best
case scenario, Floyd will be back for the USC game, but a capable
second receiver needs to emerge. Duval Kamara seems to be the most
likely candidate, but we’ve yet to see any true results from the
promising start of Kamara’s career. With Floyd on the field, the Irish
can take shots down the field and open up the game with a wide array of
screen passes and runs. Without him, the Irish need to execute better
than the opposing defense, a task made more difficult with the sloppy
mental play we’ve seen thus far from the Irish. When the Irish take the
field next Saturday against Purdue, a capable second receiver must
emerge.

Golden Tate has done more than just emerge, forcing himself into the conversation for the nation’s best player. But for all the talk of the Irish offense not missing a beat, there’s been pretty good evidence that the offense has stagnated. In the red zone alone, the Irish conversion rate has plummeted. In the 10 red zone appearances the Irish made with Floyd, Notre Dame scored 7 touchdowns and kicked 2 field goals, converting 70 percent of their trips into touchdowns. In the 19 red zone appearances since Floyd was injured, the total conversion rate only dipped minimally from 90 to 84 percent, but the touchdown rate plummeted, falling from 70 down to 47 percent, dropping the Notre Dame offense to 75th in TD conversion rate.  (The 70 percent the Irish were averaging with Floyd would’ve been good for 20th.)

On a larger scale, the Irish’s total offense has also taken a hit without Floyd. While looking at yardage totals could skew the data even more, taking a look at Notre Dame’s offensive performance against the average performance of each defense does a good job comparing apples to apples. Notre Dame is gaining 91 yards more than what their opponents are giving up to the rest of their schedule. Yet to see the difference Floyd makes to the offense, note that in the games Floyd played, the Irish averaged a robust +126 yards over the average, while in the five games he missed they out-gained opponents at a more modest +68 yardage rate.

Some will argue that Floyd’s return against Navy might not be as important as getting him back and healthy for Pitt. Right now, the Irish are auditioning every week for voters and bowl representatives, and getting Floyd back in the swing of things against Navy makes a lot of sense, especially in the friendly confines of Notre Dame Stadium.

Besides, assuming he’s gotten a clean bill of health, we’ve been robbed of seeing Floyd on the field for the past six weeks. The fan in me is ready to see the Irish’s most talented player get back on the field.

(Special thanks to the always incredible FunkDoctorSpock for some statistical help…)
 

Browns pick former Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer 20th in second round

Associated Press
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After months of pointless chatter and a night spent waiting, DeShone Kizer’s NFL Draft experience ended Friday night when the Cleveland Browns drafted the former Notre Dame quarterback with the 20th pick in the second round, the No. 52 overall selection.

Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Kizer will have the opportunity to earn the starting job for the franchise less than two hours from his hometown. The Browns trotted out five different quarterbacks in 2016, only two of which remain with the team. Rookie Cody Kessler played in nine games, throwing for 1,380 yards and six touchdowns with only one interception while fellow rookie Kevin Hogan threw for 104 yards and two interceptions in four games.

The Browns have since added Brock Osweiler in a trade with the Houston Texans, though that trade was largely-viewed as a cash-for-picks swap, with the Browns “paying” for picks by taking on Osweiler’s contract in which he is owed $47 million over the next three seasons, including $16 million this season.

A year ago, the No. 52 pick (linebacker Deion Jones to the Atlanta Falcons) received a four-year, $4.546 million contract with a $1.506 million signing bonus.

Hall of fame running back and Browns legend Jim Brown announced the selection of Kizer at the draft festivities.

Speculation a year ago pegged Kizer as an early first-round pick. As the draft approached, projections of his slot varied widely, many including a second-round status. Despite first-round theatrics leading to three quarterbacks going in the first 12 picks Thursday night, Kizer had to wait another day before learning where he will start his NFL career. (more…)

Friday at 4: ‘Attention to detail’ includes Notre Dame Stadium

@NDFootball
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Brian Kelly proselytized multiple abstract concepts this spring. By the end of the 15 practices and subsequent media sessions, even the Irish coach knew some of his references to “grit” would be met by muted eye rolls from the press. If a questioner included the word in their query, Kelly reacted with tongue-in-cheek approval, “You’ve been listening.”

In his press conference the day before spring practices commenced, Kelly used the phrase “attention to detail” six separate times. While he was referring to his players on the football field, Kelly could have also been discussing the ongoing—but supposedly close to finished—construction at Notre Dame Stadium known as Campus Crossroads.

The three buildings around the exterior of the Stadium, the added suites and the video board above the south end zone have garnered the headlines. On a macro level, those are the changes of note. On a micro level, however, other details have trickled into the public stream of knowledge as the work nears its conclusion.

Over the weekend—and now reignited by a column from the South Bend Tribune’s Mike Vorel—the image of the newly-added visitors’ tunnel delighted Irish fans. Vorel likens the narrow entry to “the spot they’d stash the gladiators before feeding them to starving tigers in The Coliseum.” Assuredly, Vorel is going for dramatic effect, and it must work considering its citation here, but even a realistic view of the tunnel’s effects bodes well.

If nothing else, Notre Dame players should enjoy something of a psychological boost when racing out of their adult-sized tunnel and seeing their opponent trickle out of a tunnel seemingly-sized for ants. (Yes, the north end zone tunnel is at least three times bigger than the visitors’ tunnel.)

That pale, slanted staircase holds none of the luxuries of the home team’s entrance, something Kelly went out of his way to praise after using it in Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game. (more…)

Where Notre Dame was & is: Linebackers

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You want complete honesty? The linebacker version of this series includes no revelations, no unexpected developments, no surprising spring performances. There is an allusion to a position switch, sure, but this piece became much simpler with the rover being discussed separately Thursday.

The idea was to capitalize on the NFL Draft for the morning and let the linebackers slip by in the afternoon, noticed only by those twiddling their thumbs through the last hours of the work week. Alas, former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer was not drafted in the first round and a brief recap of his draft destination will need to await at least another day. Programming note: The NFL Draft reconvenes tonight (Friday) at 7 p.m. ET. The Green Bay Packers are on the clock. They will not draft a quarterback.

But back to the linebackers. This piece may have been intended to slip by with little fanfare, but that is not indicative of the Irish linebackers. Where Notre Dame was is so similar to where Notre Dame is simply because two experienced senior captains lead the way at linebacker.

WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS:
Aside from questions about defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s rover position, only one question stood out about this linebacker group: Who would start alongside senior Nyles Morgan: senior Greer Martini or junior Te’von Coney?

A year ago Coney recorded the fourth-most tackles on the team with 62. Martini finished fifth with 55, and his seven tackles for loss, including three sacks, dwarfed Coney’s 1.5. Yet Coney technically started nine games compared to Martini’s four.

RELATED READING: Two days until spring practice: A look at the linebackers

With the rover often lining up essentially as a linebacker, there would only be space for one of Martini or Coney in most formations.

WHERE NOTRE DAME IS:
In his first season with the Irish, Elko will have quite a luxury in referring to Coney as a backup linebacker. In some respects, that designation was inevitable as soon as Martini was named a captain. Nonetheless, Coney will see plenty of playing time.

The two captains—along with fellow captain, senior Drue Tranquill at rover—will be counted on throughout the summer and fall camp to continue the defense’s growth in Elko’s system. Elko said he installed “close to 50 percent” of his entire defense throughout spring practice. The linebackers must deal with the most difficult aspects of that learning.

“There’s been a noticeable improvement in terms of this starting to look like the defense we want this to look like as spring has gone on,” Elko said a week ago. “… Linebacker probably more than any other position, linebacker and safety, where the scheme takes some time to get used to, how you see it, how you fit it, how you feel it. Those guys have gotten better with that which has then allowed them to play faster as the spring has moved on.”

Sophomore Jonathan Jones will likely provide any further depth that may be needed in 2017, unless either of the incoming freshmen, David Adams and Drew White, excel from the outset. Irish coach Brian Kelly indicated sophomore Jamir Jones (no relation to Jonathan, but is former Notre Dame defensive lineman Jarron Jones’ brother) may be destined for time on the defensive line, in large part to Jones’s continued growth. Junior Josh Barajas let the spring come and go without mandating he be involved in these conversations, which may as well count as removing himself from the conversation in most regards.

Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Defensive Line
Where Notre Dame Was, Is & Could Be: Rover

Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Rover

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Before spring practice, the rover position was lumped in with the linebackers in positional previews. Nearly two months later, that seems to have been the right placement—the rover will likely spend most of its time at the defense’s second level.

But since curiosity about the rover and its unknown place in Notre Dame defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme ran rampant—especially when compared to the rather solid understanding of the 2017 Irish linebackers—let’s take a look specifically at the rover.

WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS:

“Who will start at [Elko’s] rover position,” this space asked. “What will his role entail?”

RELATED READING: Two days until spring practice: A look at the linebackers

Senior safety Drue Tranquill was expected to see the most time at rover, perhaps with cameos from junior linebacker Asmar Bilal and sophomore safeties D.J. Morgan and Spencer Perry (since transferred).

More than anything, though, learning how Elko intended to deploy his defensive utility knife would answer the most questions about his defense.

WHERE NOTRE DAME IS:

Tranquill will indeed lead the position, but not without much effort from Bilal.

“We’ve tried quite a few bodies out there,” Elko said Friday. “I think as spring has gone on, we’ve gotten a feel of what each of them can do, what parts of the package we can run with each of them. I think we’ve got a pretty good pulse now on how we want that thing to play out, who will be there doing what.”

Elko is excessively reluctant to discuss individual players, so asking him to expound on who will be at rover in particular situations was largely a fruitless exercise. Earlier this spring, Irish head coach Brian Kelly indicated Bilal would be featured against run-heavy offenses. That may well prove to be the case, but it is far more likely Tranquill sees the majority of the repetitions at the position.

RELATED READING: Bilal the first in at ‘versatile’ rover positon, others likely to follow

“It’s been a good fit all spring [for Tranquill],” Kelly said following Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game. “He’s a plus player there for us. He really can impact what’s happening from snap to snap. He’s a physical player and playing low to the ball is really where he can do a lot of really good things for us.”

For his part, Tranquill enjoys the position and the unique number of duties innate to it. In theory, the rover aligns mostly with the linebackers but can be relied on to provide coverage when necessary. At other times, the rover will be asked to rush the passer. That flexibility allows Elko to keep the offense guessing.

“I love the rover position,” Tranquill said. “It’s a versatile position that allows you to come off the edge, allows you to play the run, play the pass, and do a lot of different things.”

Sometimes it allows you to pretend like you’re coming off the edge and then actually embarrass a potential first-round draft pick.

In senior left guard Quenton Nelson’s defense, Tranquill did add Nelson probably won more of their battles in spring practices than the defender did.

WHERE NOTRE DAME COULD BE:

Elko indicated there could be a third primary option in his tool kit. Notre Dame has a plethora of talented cornerbacks. Last week, Kelly indicated he might ask one of them to chip in at safety in obvious passing situations. Similarly, Elko predicted junior Shaun Crawford could play at rover against particular passing attacks, a la Bilal against certain rushing offenses.

“A lot of this is dictated by who that guy is lined up and what we’re trying to do,” Elko said. “We’re going to see a lot of really talented slot receivers. We’re going to have to match up and cover them well. There’s other names other than the big linebacker/safety bodies to put at that position. [Junior safety] Nick Coleman has done that some this spring. [Junior safety] Ashton White has done that some this spring. When Shaun gets healthy, I think he’ll do that some. That is all encompassing in that position.”

The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Crawford has since announced his return to full health, which should allow him plenty of time to readjust to contact before the start of fall practice.

Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Defensive Line