Jimmy & Eric meet the press

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The captains press conference usually isn’t good for much, as the guys are usually very well media trained, but I’ve really found myself enjoying Eric Olsen and Jimmy Clausen when they’re up in front of the microphones. Olsen has a pretty good sense of humor, and has made more than his share of jokes when he’s usually stuck sitting next to his more popular teammate as Clause answers a handful of questions for every one that Olsen gets asked.

Yesterday was a little bit different, as both Olsen and Clausen had plenty to discuss.

* Eric talked about his relationship with teammate Dan Wenger and what it was like to move over to center and take the starting job of your best friend.

It’s tough, because walking in the door here from day one, Danny and I
became best friends, and we’ve been best friends since then. Everything
from going to the dining hall, going to class, living together now,
we’ve spent every minute of every day almost around each other, and
being on the football team together it’s even more time than the time
outside of football.

But I think we both understood that it wasn’t anything personal from me
to him or from him to me, it was more of a thing to help the team. So
we kind of got past that and it didn’t really affect our relationship.

Olsen went on to talk about how dedicated Wegner has been since the demotion, and how he’s basically the sixth starting lineman as far as being included in offseason work, conditioning, meetings, etc.

* Olsen was pretty candid about the last two matchups with Navy. Last season’s narrow escape after the team coasted when the score was 27-7, and the 2007 loss that broke the Notre Dame winning streak against the Midshipmen.

No offense to Navy, but that was kind of the low point of my career. I
mean, obviously that season wasn’t a season that any of us really want
to remember at all. But when you have a streak that long against a
team, you hate to be the team that gives that streak up. Again, it’s
nothing personal to them, but just so happened that they were the team
that we had that streak against.

The past few years they’ve given us a pretty good game, so you can’t
overlook effort as being something that has a significance in a
football game. That’s what we’re expecting from them this weekend.

I fully expect the Irish to play all four quarters of this game. While it’s nice that the Irish and Coach Weis rarely run up the score against an opponent, I don’t expect Notre Dame to sit back and be complacent if the Irish find themselves in another almost three scores ballgame.

* Eric was asked for a “PG version” of what CW had to say after he was flagged for his second personal foul penalty last week against Washington State.

I knew this was coming. He said something along the lines of, “Eric,
that was rude and unnecessary, and please don’t let it happen again.”
And I said, “Yes, sir.”

I tried to play dumb and act I didn’t know what they called me for. You
kind of see that in the NBC copy, slow motion, and it showed exactly
what I did. But he saw right through it and he wasn’t having that, kind
of put me in my place a little bit. That’s his feeling, so no hard
feelings.

There were probably a thousand different Notre Dame fans sitting in front of their TV giving Olsen the same type of tongue-lashing, and I’m glad Olsen went with the buttoned-up and play stupid approach. That was always my M.O.

* Jimmy was asked about the injury to teammate and friend Dayne Crist. Predictably, he took it pretty hard.

For me it’s kind of different than everyone else because I’ve known
Dayne since elementary school, and just seeing him go down like that
was something I don’t want anyone to ever have to deal with. I know in
the end Dayne is going to — after he gets the surgery done, he’s going
to be rehabbing every single day and get back a lot sooner than people
expect. Just seeing what happened and having an ACL is something just
bad and you never want that to happen to somebody else, and that’s just
a real tough injury.

He’s doing all right. Obviously he’s in the quarterback room with us,
and his spirits are up. But obviously he wants to be out there playing,
but he knows he just has to have the surgery and get back as soon as he
can. Like I said, he’s a real competitor and he’s going to want to get
back out there as soon as he can, and he’ll be back real fast.

There have been a lot of people talking about this injury and whether or not it effects Jimmy’s future at Notre Dame, and I think we’re all just taking a guess right now. I could make about five arguments for staying or going if I wanted to, but they’d all by guesses.

* And just when the theme of toes was falling off the front page, Clausen had a bit of a setback when he was tripped up on his last play in the ballgame.

It’s all right. It’s a little sore right now, but I jammed it on that
one play when the guy barely clipped my foot and I tripped over myself,
but it feels all right. It’s going to linger on for the rest of the
season. I’m going to have to deal with it. I’m just tolerating the pain
right now.

To be honest my toe was feeling really good going into the Washington
State game, and after that play it kind of set me back to a few weeks
ago where I was hurting and dealing with the pain. But hopefully it’ll
get back to where it was before the Washington State game.

Turf toe might take its place up there with nagging high ankle sprains at the most annoying injury you can suffer during a football season. At least with Clausen’s injury, it’s not as if it really takes away a weapon of his. 

* And for those of you curious about Jimmy’s academic track, he’s basically one semester away from earning a degree.

I have 15 more credits, which is five classes, and those are the only
classes. I’m majoring in sociology, and I only have one sociology
class, which is a one-credit class every Friday, and the rest are
electives. So there’s five more classes and then I’ll be able to
graduate.

Jimmy has earned a Notre Dame degree in three years. Good for him. That should be part of the recruiting package when you come and visit campus. If you’re really reading the tea leaves, Clausen’s schedule this Spring could be the biggest tell on whether he’s staying or going.

Will Wimbush, Elko and the early enrollees surprise in spring practice?

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 26: Fans congratulate Brandon Wimbush #12 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish after he ran for a 58 yard touchdown against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Notre Dame Stadium on September 26, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Umass 62-27.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Exactly 59 days from today, the Irish will take the field at Notre Dame Stadium. Sure, they will be playing against themselves, but nonetheless, it will be somewhat-competitive football played in gold helmets.

For timing context, exactly 59 days ago, you looked beneath the Christmas tree to learn if Santa Claus left you season tickets, socks or coal. I got socks. They had some of that extra cushioning, so I considered them a suitable treat.

Whether you care about my argyles or not (you don’t), for many the Blue-Gold Game and Christmas morning hold similar excitement. That fact is apparently why Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick does not concern himself when groups of alumni publicly lament his decisions, or lack thereof.

“I never worry about that,” Swarbirck told the Indianapolis Star in an exclusive interview you really should read. Go on, click the link, it will open in a new tab. You can come right back here when you are done.

“The hardest job in athletics is trying to generate passion in your program. If that sort of stuff bothers you, you can’t be the athletic director, head coach or the quarterback at Notre Dame.”

That very passion will undoubtedly lead to frame-by-frame discussions of video snippets from spring practice, parsing of each and every word Irish coach Brian Kelly says in quick interviews after those practices, and extreme pessimism and optimism about the 2017 season.

In the Christmas spirit, what toys could bring the must excitement during the spring unwrapping? Personally, the gift I was unsure of always brought the most joy. I would rather open an unexpected book than know about a charcoal-gray suit. In other words, at least for today, let’s look past the offensive line, the running backs and the inside linebackers. Instead, let’s look forward to learning about… (more…)

How did Mike Elko fare against past Irish opponents?

TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 18:  Karlos Williams #9 of the Florida State Seminoles scores the touchdown that would win the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during their game at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 18, 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Former Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder took over at that position before the 2014 season. Former Wake Forest defensive coordinator, and now VanGorder’s successor at Notre Dame, Mike Elko took over in Winston-Salem at the same time. Since then, the two programs faced common opponents nine times.

With the lone exception of Army, all these games featured ACC opponents. When it comes to talent, Wake Forest tends to be outmatched in the ACC. Recruits from 2011 to 2016 suited up for the Deacons in the 2014-16 seasons. During those six recruiting cycles, Wake Forest never finished higher than No. 10 in the conference according to rivals.com’s rankings. In 2012 and 2014, the Deacons finished at the bottom of the conference in recruiting.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, finished behind an ACC team a total of 10 times over those six years. Florida State outpaced the Irish five times, the exception being Notre Dame’s No. 3-ranked class in 2013 following its national championship game appearance. Clemson finished ahead of the Irish four times (2014 joining 2013 as the outliers), and Miami rounds the listing off with its No. 9-finish in 2012, compared to Notre Dame’s No. 20.

The point being, VanGorder and the Irish could anticipate having a stronger and deeper roster in at least six of the games discussed below. Elko and Wake Forest may have been able to make that argument—and it would be a debatable one—just once, when they faced Duke this past September.

Before comparing the two units’ successes and failures in those nine—actually, 18—contests, let’s establish two points of clarification. Notre Dame and North Carolina State played in a literal hurricane this past October. Comparing that game to any other will accomplish nothing. Furthermore, before anyone starts griping about that afternoon’s play-calling, this is an exercise discussing defensive performances, not offensive. The run:pass distribution of Oct. 1, 2016, bears no significance here.

Secondly, the other two games the Irish played fitting this criteria but after VanGorder’s dismissal—Syracuse and Army—are included below. Only so much of the scheme changed mid-season, and the personnel did not.

If you are busy catching up from a long weekend and do not have the time to look at the numbers below, a quick summary for you: In five of the eight instances, Elko’s unit fared distinctly better than VanGorder’s in multiple notable statistical categories. However, the Deacons struggled with Army’s triple-option attack, and both 2014 Florida State and 2015 Clemson blew right through the aggressive defense far easier than they did against Notre Dame.

Presented in something resembling reverse chronological order: (more…)

Four-star WR Micah Jones chooses Irish; Rees may need to wait; Other late-week reading

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A day may come when Notre Dame suffers a recruiting disappointment in the 2018 cycle, when a high school star spurns the Irish coaching staff for a foe, but it is not this day.

Rivals.com four-star receiver Micah Jones (Warren Township High School; Gurnee, Ill.) committed to Notre Dame on Friday, joining a class of now 10 recruits, including four who committed just this week.

Jones chose the Irish over offers from the likes of Iowa, Michigan State and Ole Miss, among others.

He is the first receiver among the 10 commitments and the seventh considered a four-star prospect. At 6-foot-5, 196 pounds, Jones should present a large target for whomever the Notre Dame quarterback is in the fall of 2018, most likely then-senior Brandon Wimbush.

Tom, Tommy or Thomas; Assistant Coach or Graduate Assistant?
Thomas Rees may need to wait a season before officially being a coach at Notre Dame. The legislation to approve a 10th assistant coach was expected to be voted on, passed and effective in April. A newly-added amendment may push the effective date to following the 2017 season. The amendment will be voted on immediately before the legislation itself is.

The delay makes sense. Most coaching hirings and firings occur in December and January. In theory, creating a one-timing hiring frenzy following spring football could leave many programs in the lurch. In practice, however, this is not anticipated.

“The majority of the FBS guys that I’ve talked with currently believe that 10th coach is going to come from within their own organization,” Todd Berry told the Associated Press. Berry is the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association and former coach at Army and Louisiana-Monroe. “Quality control, graduate assistants, analysts, or they’re planning on hiring somebody that’s out of work.”

A majority is not a unanimity, though, and that carousel will innately work to the disadvantage of the Group of 5 schools.

As for Rees, a graduate assistant can still work extensively with players. The most-pertinent difference between a graduate assistant and an assistant coach is the former cannot recruit. Given Notre Dame’s recent success on the recruiting trail—and the early commitment of class of 2018 consensus four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec (Pine-Richland H.S.; Gibsonia, Pa.)—Rees may not be an absolute necessity in that regard this cycle.

A Kizer Appraisal
Former NFL scout Greg Gabriel took a look at former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer this week, largely paying the draft prospect compliments.

In calling Kizer “the most talented quarterback in this draft class,” Gabriel set a high ceiling for Kizer’s spring. Part of Gabriel’s positive assessment comes from acknowledging Kizer’s responsibilities as the Irish signal-caller.

“The spread offense that Kizer played in at Notre Dame is more sophisticated than many of the spread offenses we see elsewhere at the collegiate level. The Notre Dame offense is a whole-field read scheme in which the quarterback has to go through a progression that encompasses both sides of the field. He also can change the play and/or protections at the line of scrimmage. Given all that, Kizer was asked to do more than many spread quarterbacks are asked to do.”

Gabriel also reflected on the dynamic differences for Kizer in 2015 and 2016 and what may have elicited some of his seeming stagnation.

“There was the unnecessary quarterback controversy at Notre Dame, and the offensive line wasn’t as experienced or as talented and the receivers were mostly first-year starters.”

As much as Gabriel raves about Kizer, he would be the first to tell you anything beyond individual player evaluation is a waste of air this early in the draft process. Mock drafts may be fun, but they are not much beyond that.

Take the fates of Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo, for example. Few, if any, in the NFL expect them to dress for the Cowboys and Patriots, respectively, again. Where they end up could directly impact Kizer’s draft placement.

Jaylon Smith May Be Back to Form
Former Notre Dame and current Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith posted yet another encouraging video to Twitter. This one shows Smith really might be game-ready right now and, if not, almost certainly will be by the fall. Should there be any difficulty with the embedded video below, here is a link straight to it.

OL Mabry makes third commitment this week; WR Jones may follow Friday

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rivals.com
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Two weeks ago, Irish coach Brian Kelly gave a non-answer of an answer to a question about a likely early signing period this coming December. Avoiding specifics, he indicated he thinks the effects of such a change will be seen on a case-by-case basis entirely dependent on the recruits.

“Some will, some won’t,” Kelly said. “…Each kid is going to have to react to it based upon also how their school is going to be dealing with it. Some will come off the board at the time.

“We’re expecting some to sign early, but I think our mindset is we’re going into it business as usual. We’re all going to have to fight until February.”

After this week, Notre Dame is going to have more year-long fights than anticipated. Consensus three-star offensive lineman recruit Cole Mabry (Brentwood High School; Brentwood, Tenn.) became the third prospect to offer a verbal commitment to the Irish coaching staff in less than 36 hours with his Wednesday decision. Mabry received the offer over the weekend, but waited a few days before making his decision public, lest emotions be dictating his thought process.

At 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, Mabry will have time to add muscle to his frame, with four or five offensive tackles greeting him on the Notre Dame roster in the summer of 2018. That ability to mold his style and growth may have played a part in the Irish interest.

“They love my height and athleticism and how I play,” Mabry told rivals.com. “We got to break down film and go through things that they do that pair up with how I play now. They think I’ll be a great fit in their offense.”

Mabry is the ninth Notre Dame commitment in the class of 2018, though the first offensive lineman.

Judging by new Notre Dame director of football performance Matt Balis’s agenda for the Irish roster’s Valentine’s Day morning, Mabry will have much to look forward to in terms of strength and conditioning.

Rivals.com four-star receiver Micah Jones (Warren Township H.S.; Gurnee, Ill.) is scheduled to announce his verbal commitment this Friday at 4 p.m. ET. Along with Notre Dame, Jones is considering Iowa, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ole Miss, Illinois and Northwestern. He would be the first receiver in Notre Dame’s 2018 class. Naturally, whomever Jones commits to, the recruiting fight will last until at least December, and perhaps all the way to February.