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. 

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.