Kelly talks Irish and entitlement

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Friend of the blog ESPN senior writer Bruce Feldman is down in Orlando for the AFCA Convention this week. He was able to spend some time with Irish head coach Brian Kelly and had an incredibly interesting conversation with the new head coach.

Here are a few highlights:

On how last year’s team somehow went 6-6?

Oh boy, that’s a long thing. I really think it’s three years if you
look at it. It’s three wins, six wins and six wins to be quite honest
with you. That’s (16 wins) and 22 losses. I don’t think this was just
last year. This was three years of things that needed to be attended to
and that’s why there’s been a change there. Charlie did a really good
job in a lot of areas, especially the academics. We’re here (at AFCA)
today to get the graduation rate award. I don’t think it’s been just
one year. It’s really been a culmination.

On how many players at Cincinnati he could’ve recruited at Notre Dame from an academic standpoint?

I think there’s more players I could’ve recruited academically than I could’ve athletically.

On what he thinks needs to change after a few weeks of assessments?

I sense a bit of entitlement that needs to be rectified. I think a
genuine respect for what you have and how it’s being presented to you
is the opposite end of entitlement and I need to move this program
towards that end.

Kelly hit the nail on the head with just about every answer he gave and even answers that could come across as lip-service seemed to be incredibly succinct and precisely what I’d want to hear if I was a Notre Dame fan. While Kelly downplaying recruiting isn’t something some that gets people excited, turning the focus on internal issues is a key change, especially with all the self-inflicted wounds that killed the Irish last season.

I was able to trade emails with Bruce yesterday afternoon after the interview was posted and he was effusive in his praise for Notre Dame’s new head coach. Feldman, who was one of the last major writers to stay on the Weis wagon, thinks Kelly will do big things in South Bend, and was impressed with how sharp and affable the new coach was — something that can’t hurt when dealing with reporters from ESPN. Feldman has spent 15 years in college football, a lot of time around coaches, and Irish fans should be very happy with the man now in charge.

Feldman was particularly impressed by the candor in Kelly’s answers — especially when talking about some potentially delicate issues — and how smooth the coach was when answering some tricky questions Feldman lobbed his way.

After reading Kelly’s comments a few times yesterday, one of the things I hadn’t thought of before  was the idea of entitlement. While many of us have bemoaned the fact that losing Weis means losing a coach that truly understands what Notre Dame means, Kelly tackling the issue of entitled players was a breath of fresh-air.

If there was anything that drove me nuts about the Weis era, it was the lack of fortitude in the players and the worry that a lesser team always had the ability to shock the athletically superior and higher decorated Irish squad. With Kelly — a guy who grew up loving Notre Dame for what it stood for, not necessarily what it was — he’ll be able to remind his players just how lucky they are to be getting an opportunity to play football on one of the largest national stages, at an elite academic institution, for a football team with unrivaled tradition. At the very least, he’ll spend the next nine months ingraining in the heads of the Irish players that just because you’re wearing the blue and gold of the Irish, doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed anything. 

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.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”