Dead period means coaching staff a priority


Brian Kelly’s first week recruiting at Notre Dame netted him the signature of Austin Collinsworth. With recruiting now quiet with an NCAA mandated dead period, expect Kelly to put his focus on solidifying his coaching staff.

There were whispers last week that Kelly was potentially bringing a coach with ties to Notre Dame back to South Bend, and Irish Illustrated is reporting that the mystery coach is Mike Denbrock, who coached tackles and tight ends for the Irish under Ty Willingham.

Denbrock cut his teeth at Grand Valley State, graduating from there in 1986 and then coaching there from 1992-1998, as both an offensive and defensive coordinator. It’s pretty logical for Kelly to bring a guy like Denbrock in, he’s one of “his guys,” has experienced the pressure cooker that is Notre Dame football, and also fills a need position on the staff, cross-training as a coach on both sides of the ball, but spending a lot of time tutoring offensive linemen and tight ends, two positions that need coaches.

Denbrock has been coaching under former Notre Dame wide receivers coach Trent Miles at Indiana State as associate head coach, special teams coordinator, and linebackers coach, which speaks to the versatility that Denbrock possesses on the sidelines. It also means he could help with special teams, an area of need for the Irish as well.

Denbrock certainly doesn’t raise the Q rating of this coaching staff, but I’m sure Kelly isn’t too concerned about hiring big name assistants. He worked with Denbrock side-by-side for seven years, had him coaching on both sides of the football, and has spent a long time in the college football ranks.

Most people won’t get too excited about a coach from the Willingham regime, but I’m more than willing to give this move the benefit of the doubt, and I think having a guy with previous experience at Notre Dame (besides Alford’s one season) is a huge plus. In an interview in October of 2008, Denbrock talked about his time at Notre Dame, and while he wasn’t really willing to look back and reflect on his time in South Bend, he was able to talk about some of the recruits he brought to the Irish:

“David Bruton was one of my recruits out of Ohio. David Grimes was one
of my recruits out of Detroit. They’re both team captains and playing
quite a bit. Maurice Crum played a lot of football for us while we
there. He’s a great kid from Miami. His dad obviously was a very good
football player, too.”

If Denbrock can reel in three more high-character, above-average players like Bruton, Grimes, and Crum, I think all Irish fans will be happy. Kelly has already said he doesn’t plan on announcing coaches one-by-one, so we’ll likely find out how Denbrock fits on the staff after the Sugar Bowl.

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”


Kelly confident Robinson will rebound

Notre Dame v Florida State

Corey Robinson‘s season was already off to a slow start. And that was before a difficult night at Clemson. The junior receiver came into last weekend with only four catches, held out against UMass after a pregame tweak of his knee put a scare into the Irish.

Robinson’s knee checked out fine. But mentally, it appears that the sure-handed junior is struggling.

Just before halftime against the Tigers, Robinson failed to reel in a long catch that would’ve given the Irish a much-needed touchdown heading into half. Early in the fourth quarter, a high throw from DeShone Kizer on the Irish’s first failed two-point conversion play slid through Robinson’s hands. Made worse was a mental mistake by Robinson, the Irish needing to use one of their second half timeouts when the junior wasn’t on the field.

Coached hard on the sideline by Brian Kelly and coached up by his position coach Mike Denbrock (as we saw on both Showtime and Fighting Irish Media’s ICON), the staff is doing it’s best to get Robinson’s confidence back.

With some wondering if Robinson’s struggles should open the door for talented freshman Equanimeous St. Brown, Kelly talked about their belief that the junior will return to form.

“Corey Robinson is going to get the job done. I had a very lengthy conversation with him yesterday,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I believe in Corey. Corey’s got to believe in himself, and he will. He’s got to go attack the football. He’s letting the football come to him. He’s letting it eat him up a little bit, but I believe in Corey.”

There’s no better place to showcase that belief than against Navy. The Midshipmen don’t have a defender physically capable of matching up with the 6-foot-5 Robinson, who will likely face his share of single coverage with Will Fuller likely demanding safety help.

Then it’s just a matter of Robinson showing the hands and confidence that made him one of last year’s most consistent performers.

“Once he starts attacking the football, I think we’re going to see somebody that can make the plays that we expect him to make,” Kelly said. “So I’m optimistic that we’re going to see the guy that we need to see on Saturday.”