The news that safety Kyle McCarthy, center Eric Olsen, and right tackle Sam Young were invited to the Senior Bowl isn’t especially news worthy.
McCarthy’s 101 tackles this season to go along with five interceptions put him near the top of the statistical heap for safeties in college football. Olsen’s inclusion as a Sporting News third-team All-American, along with his versatility along the offensive line make him an intriguing professional prospect. And while Sam Young didn’t compete for an Outland Trophy like many thought he would when he first stepped foot on campus, he did start 50 football games for the Irish, the only lineman at Notre Dame to ever start every game of his career.
While the trio of Irish seniors were expected to get the invite, they’ll have a lot to prove when they show up in Mobile, a veritable cattle call for the best senior college football players and NFL draft prospects.
For McCarthy, it’ll be proving that he has the elite athleticism needed to play safety at the NFL level. The past two seasons proved that McCarthy was capable of making steady tackles as a down-in-the-box safety, but the Irish’s deficiencies this season stopping the pass in Cover 2 bring legitimate questions as to whether the fifth year senior from Youngstown, Ohio can survive in the NFL as a defensive back. For Kyle to have a good Senior Bowl, he’ll need to impress the hundreds of scouts, coaches, and general managers during practice against an elite set of wide receivers and tight ends.
Olsen will likely improve his stock by showing the physicality and nasty streak that endeared him to countless Irish fans. At a reported 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds, Olsen has good size for a center, but his value will come if he can prove his versatility along the interior offensive line playing both left and right guard positions as well. Olsen is only 21-years-old, and being forced to play as a true freshman robbed him of a much needed year of development, so NFL scouts may be able to project the player Olsen can become with a year or two of seasoning as a backup in the league.
Sam Young has the chance to change his draft grade probably as much as any lineman attending the senior bowl. Young’s incredible size and length are huge assets, but this will be the first time NFL scouts and coaches will have a chance to see first-hand whether or not Young has the athleticism to be a starting offensive tackle in the NFL. Young spent 10 games at left tackle during his sophomore season, and if he’s able to survive on the blind side, he’ll likely see his stock rise to a first day pick.
Drue Tranquill was named a first-team Academic All-American. The junior safety, who returned from his second major knee injury during his three-year career, earned the honors after posting a 3.74 GPA in mechanical engineering.
Tranquill is Notre Dame’s first academic All-American since Corey Robinson earned the honor after the 2014 season. He finished second on the team in tackles with 79 and lead the team in solo stops with 52. He also had two TFLs and an interception.
Tranquill is Notre Dame’s 60th Academic All-American, the third-most of any school behind Nebraska and Penn State. He’s active in the university community, serving as a mentor for the Core Leadership Team for Lifeworks Ministry, and is a member of Notre Dame Christian Athletes. He is a also member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) and Rosenthal Leadership Academy.
It’s been too long. Let’s talk about the season, the decisions ahead and where Notre Dame stands after its nightmare of a 2016 season.
Drop your questions on Twitter @KeithArnold or in the comments below.
If you’re interested in hearing my recap on the USC game and where Notre Dame’s goes now that the season is over, give a listen to the latest episode of Blown Coverage, with Newsweek’s John Walters.
The wheels are in motion for Malik Zaire‘s exit from Notre Dame. What felt like an inevitability after Zaire lost out to DeShone Kizer after the Texas game is now a reality, as the Ohio native is expected to receive his release tomorrow, according to a report from Pete Sampson at Irish Illustrated.
Sampson identified four programs as potential landing spots for Zaire: Florida, Pitt, Michigan State and Wisconsin, Power Five programs that all had better seasons (minus the Spartans) than Notre Dame. All have uncertainty atop their quarterback depth chart, though none look like guaranteed jobs.
With Notre Dame out of a bowl, Zaire can get a jump start on looking around, capable of taking visits and finding a home after the semester. That would let him join a program in time for spring drills, where he’d compete and be able to play out his final year of eligibility.
When Zaire leaves he’ll join a line of recent quarterbacks to finish their eligibility elsewhere. Dayne Crist, Andrew Hendrix, Gunner Kiel and Everett Golson all either played or were recruited by Brian Kelly and finished their careers elsewhere. That could leave a scenario—one many predict—where the top-two on Notre Dame’s depth chart depart, Kizer to the NFL and Zaire elsewhere, turning the keys over to Brandon Wimbush who redshirted this season.
Sophomore Jerry Tillery issued an apology for two controversial incidents against USC. Notre Dame’s defensive tackle was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a referee caught him stepping on Zach Banner‘s ankle. Cameras also spotted him intentionally hitting Aca’Cedric Ware‘s head after the Trojan running back was injured after a collision with Nicco Fertitta.
Tillery wrote on Twitter:
“I want to take full responsibility for my actions on Saturday. I am truly sorry. I acted in a way that was out of character for me. What I displayed in those two instances were completely unbecoming and not indicative of the kind of player or person I am. My actions in those two instances do not represent what my family or Notre Dame has molded me to be. I want to especially apologize to Aca’Cedric, Zach, their families and anyone else affected by what I did. I assure you I will learn and grow from this moment and become a better man because of it.”
While the backlash on social media has been harsh, USC head coach Clay Helton downplayed it.
“It was a poor decision by a young person. I know it’s not Notre Dame football and I know that’s not Brian Kelly,” Helton said. “He’s been a class act the whole way and I know he’ll address it with his player and handle it in a way that he sees fit. I have always found Brian to be a man of class and integrity.”
Ware himself responded via Twitter, doing his best to put the incident to rest.
Kelly stated after the game that he’d review the incidents, both plays Kelly didn’t see happen live. With the season over, Tillery’s discipline will be handled internally.