Training table needs to become a reality

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As we look back at the 2009 season, there will be plenty of time to discuss what went wrong for the Irish. But any type of analysis begins and ends with the Irish defense.

The Irish finished 87th in total defense, and during the four game losing streak that ended the season, the Irish only forced two turnovers and surrendered over 400 yards to everybody but UConn. It was abundantly clear that while the Irish were inept in every facet, the team failed because it couldn’t stop the run. After listening to the comments of Jack Swarbrick on Friday, I think we’ve gained some valuable insight into the reasons why.

“The weight loss on defense was 13 pounds per player during the season,” Swarbrick said when discussing the need to improve nutrition for the football team. “Our weight loss on the defensive side of the ball was a little shocking.”

Those numbers provide resounding proof why the Irish defense wilted as the year progressed, and were buoyed when Swarbrick revealed that only 42 percent of the football team ate dinner at the dining hall on a nightly basis.

“That doesn’t mean they aren’t eating anything,” Swarbrick said. “We have to schedule a little smarter. You can’t create obstacles for yourself.”

People seem to wince when the topic of training table is brought up, as if the idea of serving different food to student-athletes is somehow an injustice. But Notre Dame absolutely has to make changes to their nutrition game plan, and the statistics Swarbrick brought up supply resounding proof that the athletic department is light years behind.

I had the chance to tour Oregon’s football facilities last season, and was amazed at the nutrition system they have set up for their football players. Attached to the weight room and training facilities was a juice bar, where a staffer prepares nutrition shakes for players before and after workouts. Talking with Florida strength and conditioning director Mickey Marotti, who ran Notre Dame’s program from 1998 to 2005, his staff at Florida puts a gigantic emphasis on diet and nutrition, something that I’m sure Notre Dame’s staff does, but is unable to implement without specialized meal plans for scholarship athletes.

It’s interesting that during his introductory remarks, Brian Kelly mentioned nutrition when asked about winning and losing.

“Eating at Burger King at 3:00 in the morning is not going to make you the best for your 8:00 o’clock workouts,” Kelly quipped.

(If Kelly knew how bad meal participation was among his players, he’d at least be thankful those guys were eating…)

From the sounds of both the head coach and athletic director’s remarks, a change is in the works. A Student-Athlete Advisory Council brought up the issue six months ago, and right now, the university is trying to figure out a model that works best.

“It’s at the top of the list. It’s just how do you make it work,” Swarbrick said. 

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.