Monday morning catch-up

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Things weren’t exactly quiet in the world of college football over the weekend. While the comments here make it seem highly unlikely many of you missed the important details, if you did step away from your computer to breath, here are a few things you missed.

* The Irish welcomed Nate Montana back to campus and the football team. Montana spent last semester at Pasadena City College, getting actual game experience as a quarterback instead of providing depth on the Irish roster. The season didn’t go all that hot for Montana — he only completed 35 percent of his passes — but he got some valuable experience, and will return to campus ready to learn Brian Kelly’s new offense and most likely will get a ton of snaps with quarterback Dayne Crist out.

* Speaking of quarterbacks, as I mentioned earlier this weekend, Notre Dame commit Andrew Hendrix spent his weekend in Gainesville visiting the Florida Gators. According to Ryan Moss of GatorCountry.com (via IrishSportsDaily.com), here are a few of the choice quotes.

“I had a blast. There were a lot of highlights from the trip, but I would say that touring the stadium was pretty special.”

“I spent a lot of time with Coach Loeffler. He was there with me every step of the visit and same with Coach Addazio he was around a lot. Coach Loeffler is a great guy who definitely knows what he is talking about and he is very personable. I’ve been privileged to get to know him over the past few months I also really like Coach Addazio. He is a tough guy but he is also a really fun guy.”

“I did get an opportunity to have dinner with Coach Meyer and his wife, which was a cool experience.”

I’m sure Irish fans will wipe more than a few drips of sweat from their brow, but that’s the recruiting world that we now live in. A kid like Hendrix is probably more confused than anything, (which could explain the complimentary Loeffler comments… Ziing!) and the staff at Florida obviously knows the game when it comes to recruiting Notre Dame commits. It’s tough to look at either depth chart and think that Florida is the better place, but best of luck to Hendrix, wherever he decides to attend college.

* Speaking of quarterbacks, a few weeks ago, I heard some rumors that Kelly and his staff were looking to bring in another quarterback to the class, perhaps as a reaction to the “few months” of conversations between Hendrix and the Gators’ staff. The rumors pointed to Dayne Crist’s backup from his days at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Bret Visciglia. Visciglia was an All-Conference and All-State junior college player and has received interest from both Tennessee and UCLA, and rumors had Notre Dame’s staff poking around as well.

Thanks to the magic of the internet, I found Visciglia and got to the bottom of it. Here’s what he had to say.

“My coach at LA Valley College has been in contact with Notre Dame,” Visciglia emailed me. “I am very close with Dayne Crist and he has mentioned my name to the coaching staff. I have not talked to Coach Kelly, but look forward to shortly. I’m hoping I could possibly add depth to the program.”

No word on whether or not Visciglia would be a scholarship player or not, but he’d be a great addition to the depth chart, adding some collegiate experience behind Crist and in front of early enrollee Tommy Rees. Personally, I’d much rather have a quarterback that wants to be a part of the program than worry about guys that may or may not be coming. Notre Dame rarely entertains junior college transfers, but if Visciglia can prove he’s academically fit and up to speed, Irish fans should welcome him with open arms.

* According to Scott Wolf of the LA Daily News, Pete Carroll officially resigned from his job as head coach of the USC Trojans Sunday night. It’s sad news for college football fans that they’re losing one of the games most energetic and elite coaches, and even more sad for Notre Dame fans when you consider that Bob Davie was the only coach at Notre Dame to defeat Pete Carroll.

Carroll’s premiere wide receiver recruit, Kyle Prater, walked away from his commitment to enroll this Monday for the second semester at Southern Cal and has reopened recruiting. Many consider the front-runners for the Illinois native to be the Irish and his home state Illini. Brian Kelly and staff may want to point out the career trajectory of Regis Benn when talking to Prater, which should scare him away from four years with Ron Zook. Prater isn’t a need in this recruiting class, but he certainly looked the part of elite recruit at the Army All-American game.

* Speaking of the Army game, Notre Dame recruits Blake Leuders and Christian Lombard played nice games, with Leuders making some athletic tackles on defense from his edge spot, a change for the high school middle linebacker. New commitment Austin Collinsworth wasn’t able to play after getting a cast put on a hand injury, but he was also in attendance.

The recruit everybody wants to know about, Seantrel Henderson, now likely eliminates USC from his college choices. It seems like this one could be an Ohio State – Notre Dame battle now, with the Buckeyes likely in the lead, due to the family’s familiarity with the coaching staff. Henderson would be the first Cretin-Derham Hall football recruit to go to Ohio State, so I’m not counting the Irish out yet, especially with the shake up in South-Central Los Angeles confusing the situation.

Swarbrick talks improvements to Shamrock Series opponents

Shamrock Fenway
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Notre Dame is taking 2017 off from the Shamrock Series. When it comes back, expect to see an improvement in opponents.

With the remodeled Notre Dame Stadium set to be finished in 2017, playing seven home games is a natural fit. But with the neutral-site series set to return in 2018, athletic director Jack Swarbrick has grand plans for improving the series that’s taken the Irish to some iconic venues, but has lacked much punch when it comes to high-profile opponents.

Speaking exclusively with Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated, Swarbrick laid out some grand plans for the revitalization of the game.

“When the opponent and the venue and the place all contribute to the story, that’s when it works the best,” Swarbrick told Irish Illustrated. “I still want to maintain that. The difference will be that many more of them now will be led by the opponent.

“Now it can be, ‘I got this opponent.’ Now where can we go with them that works with what we’re trying to do?”

With Notre Dame returning to San Antonio for the second time in the Shamrock Series and repeating an opponent with Army as well, it’s clear that this year’s game checked off some other boxes when it got decided. Swarbrick acknowledged some of the restrictions that have held him back, with the reboot of Notre Dame’s schedule with five ACC games and other television considerations really limiting the team’s options.

“What we’ve been able to do in the Shamrock Series to this point is limit ourselves to games we already had scheduled that we would move,” Swarbrick told Sampson. “It was a very small range of people that we could do these deals without getting into television conflicts. With more lead time we have the runway we need to make these games, the three pieces of it – geography, venue and opponent – come together a little bit more.”

Rumors of new venues aren’t new. Brian Kelly has discussed Lambeau Field before. There’s been talk of a game in Rome. And rumblings of Michigan’s return to the schedule won’t go away.

Just recently Kelly tweeted out a picture from another venue that wouldn’t be too shabby.

But there’s an opening for another step forward for the program and Swarbrick is the right man to lead the change. He’s already led the Irish athletic department through a move to the ACC and helped navigate the “seismic changes” that resulted in the College Football Playoff. With the ambitious Campus Crossroads project near complete this seems like a perfect next project for the head of Irish athletics to take on.

 

Irish A-to-Z: Ian Book

Ian Book
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Notre Dame’s incoming freshman steps into one of the most harrowing depth charts in college football. But he also comes to South Bend prepared, a freshman season where anything is possible.

Book may be No. 4 in a four-deep that includes three of the most intriguing quarterbacks in college football. But he’s also a play away from being the team’s backup. That’s the plan heading into freshman year, with Brandon Wimbush hoping to keep a redshirt on this season after being forced into action in 2015.

A highly productive high school quarterback, Book didn’t wow any of the recruiting evaluators. But Mike Sanford took dead aim at Book and landed a quarterback he thinks can step in and be ready if needed.

 

IAN BOOK
6’0″, 190 lbs.
Freshman, No. 4, QB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Three-star prospect who had offers from Boise State and Washington State before Notre Dame jumped in and landed him. His previous relationship with Mike Sanford from his time in Boise made the difference.

Undersized but cerebral player who was highly prolific in high school. Named conference MVP in senior season at Oak Ridge high school and was the No. 14 overall pro-style QB according to Rivals.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

If Book is going to be a big-time college quarterback, it’ll be because he’s got a knack for the game that you don’t see from his physical skill-set. He’s undersized and a little bit slight. He’s got good wheels, but doesn’t play like a speed demon.

You don’t need an elite set of tools to be successful in Brian Kelly’s system. And while a comparison to Tommy Rees will come off as a slight, it’s a compliment—especially after hearing the staff speak confidently about Book’s ability to come in and know the system well enough to be ready to play as a freshman, if necessary.

(Book is also faster than Rees, so relax everybody.)

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Unless the sky is falling, Book is wearing a redshirt. And that’s the best thing for him—even if he’ll prepare as the emergency No. 3, a duty Wimbush was pushed into last year.

A look at Notre Dame’s depth chart and the war chest of talent accumulated at the position makes these next five years look like an uphill climb to get onto the field. But until Book steps foot on campus, all bets are off.

Remember, Tommy Rees entered Notre Dame with two other quarterbacks at his position, both rated better than him by recruiting analysts. But it was Rees that pushed past the five-star recruit already on campus for two seasons and his two classmates.

Of course, DeShone Kizer, Malik Zaire and Brandon Wimbush aren’t Dayne Crist, Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa. But until we see Book at the college level, it’s a wait and see proposition.

But the freshman has a key role on the 2016 team. Even if everybody hopes he won’t have to do it.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner

Irish A-to-Z: Jonathan Bonner

Jon Bonner Rivals
Rivals via Twitter
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After two seasons of limited duty, there’s a road to the field for Jonathan Bonner. The rising junior, who spent last year mostly watching and learning as Brian VanGorder and Keith Gilmore played a skeleton rotation, has a chance to break into a position group that’s searching for answers that Bonner seems well-suited to provide.

But Bonner also plays behind the team’s best defensive lineman, with senior Isaac Rochell poised to anchor the front seven. So as the rising junior moves into his third season in South Bend, he’ll need to show a versatile set of skills to get onto the field.

 

JONATHAN BONNER
6’3″, 286 lbs.
Junior, No. 55, DL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Bonner may not have been a highly-touted recruit, but he was just starting to rack up impressive offers when he pledged to Notre Dame. Bonner earned a scholarship offer at every summer camp he attended, and his commitment to the Irish came after he dominated some of the best offensive line prospects in the country at Notre Dame’s summer camp.

An All-State performer and the defensive player of the year in St. Louis. Also a more than impressive student-athlete, with a note he wrote to himself as a grade schooler a pretty incredible piece of maturity.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2015): Played in 10 games, making 10 tackles and notching one sack. Played a season-high 39 snaps along the defensive line in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. Saw double-digit snaps against Texas, UMass, Wake Forest and Boston College.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

This seems pretty solid.

I’m buying Bonner’s future, though I’m a little less sure that he’ll break loose in 2015. With Isaac Rochell capable of being a frontline player, Bonner getting on the field might mean Rochell’s off of it, which I just don’t see happening too often.

But if there’s a beauty to Brian VanGorder’s defense—at least when it’s playing like it did the first half of the season—it’s the ability to mix and match. And if there’s no way to find Bonner a role in this defense, especially as the Irish try to find someone to come off the edge, then it’s more on the young prospect’s knowledge base than anything a coaching staff can do.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

This might not be a make or break season for Bonner, especially since he’s got a fifth year available. But I think it could be. With the opportunity to provide a disruption from the interior of the defensive line, Bonner needs to find a home in a position group that could use a versatile defender who can both hold up at the point of attack and get to the quarterback.

Bonner started at outside linebacker, but quickly moved to the front four. Last year’s progress was slowed by a turf toe injury in April, short-circuiting a sold spring. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity to contribute in 2015, but there was certainly a need for someone to provide a pass rush and Bonner wasn’t given that chance—something that speaks to where he was as a developmental prospect last year.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I think Bonner will find a niche on the inside or third downs, considering neither Jerry Tillery nor Jarron Jones look like pass rush threats. That could kick open a spot for Bonner on the inside, or it could allow him to play at the strong side if Rochell slides inside.

Of course, that’s mostly determined by Bonner, who has flashed talent and athleticism, but hasn’t translated that to the field yet. Some think Bonner is one of the most intriguing athletes on the roster, and he’s certainly one of the team’s better workout warriors. But that needs to transition to the football field with some productivity, a key development piece for Keith Gilmore and a uncertain front four.

Bonner spoke with confidence this spring that his knowledge base was now matching his skill-set. If he’s able to put everything together, he could be a very nice complementary piece to the front four.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship

Jarrett Grace signs FA contract with Chicago Bears

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 5: Jarrett Grace #59 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in action during a game against the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium on September 5, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Texas 38-3. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Former Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace has signed with the Chicago Bears. The former Rockne Award winner will continue his improbable return from a devastating leg injury during OTAs and training camp, fighting for a roster spot on the NFC North squad.

Grace worked out for the Bears at a tryout camp and Chicago made the roster move official Wednesday, signing Grace and releasing linebacker Danny Mason.

After redshirting as a freshman and sitting behind Manti Te’o, Grace moved into the starting lineup as a junior and led the Irish in tackles before suffering a severe leg injury against Arizona State. It took nearly two years for Grace to return to duty, needing to re-learn how to run as he underwent multiple procedures to repair the rod that held Grace’s bone in place.

He played in 32 games for the Irish, finishing with 78 total tackles.