Hendrix in, Prater likely out

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A little good news and a little bad news breaking today for Irish fans.

As first reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer, quarterback Andrew Hendrix has come back into the fold for the Irish, turning down a very attractive Florida offer to stick to his original Irish commitment. IrishSportsDaily.com, where Hendrix wrote a blog during the season, got Hendrix himself on the record about the decision-making process.

From Hendrix:

Before ND fired coach Weis, but many believed he was going to get the boot, I was unsure of the direction Notre Dame was going to take their program. I certainly did not want to be left out in the cold, so I started building a relationship with Florida’s coaches. I scheduled a visit and when Coach Kelly was hired, I went up to ND and talked with him for a long while. I really enjoyed visiting with him and discussing his plans for the program, but my Florida visit was scheduled and why not go visit to make sure I am not missing out on anything…

Leaving Florida, it looked to be set. I decided to let the wine and dine wear off a little, and when I was ready to pull the trigger but I couldn’t. My head was screaming Florida, but my gut was twisted…

I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again, Notre Dame is the best place for me academically, athletically, and spiritually, I just wanted to make sure that is what I wanted.

Keeping Hendrix on board is a good victory for Kelly and his new staff, and in the long run will likely be a good decision for Hendrix, who looks to be a perfect fit for the new Irish offense.

In the bad news category, it sounds like the hiring of Lane Kiffin means Kyle Prater will stick with his commitment to USC.

ISD’s Steve Wiltfong spoke with Prater’s high school coach, Proviso West’s Famous Hulbert, who sounded pretty sure that Prater is sticking with the Trojans.

“In all likelihood, that’s where he’s headed,” Hulbert told Wiltfong. “When you see someone’s face, you get a vibe. Kyle was very fond of him when he took a trip to Tennessee. A younger energetic guy, he was there at USC when Mike Williams set all those records, and they had their three Heisman Trophy winners. Kyle was excited about the hire and looking forward to talking with Lane Kiffin.

“It’s a better situation for Kyle now, then if Pete Carroll would’ve stayed. In terms of Coach Kiffin throwing the ball more than Jeremy Bates threw the ball in the past, and you add in the fact everyone is on an even playing field. With Kyle getting there next week, in spring ball, Kyle will be learning the plays the same as all the seniors. Everyone is going to be learning just like him. There are no previous relationships with the guys, everyone is starting square one on an even playing field.”

After reading that quote, it sounds like Hulbert considers this a done deal, and those quotes almost feel like a nudge west to his prized pupil.

Doing some research on Hulbert, it turns out he had similar options coming out of high school, when he chose the the Illini over offers from Notre Dame and USC, before a muscle-enzyme disease cut his collegiate career short. Hulbert has a powerful personality, no shortage of confidence, and his opinion probably holds quite a bit of sway on Prater.

Great get by Wiltfong, but it sounds like Prater will be a USC student by next week.

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

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Some believe that the best way to look at recruiting is in two-year increments. As programs rebuild and rosters turn over, covering the needs of a football team over two recruiting cycles  allows a coaching staff to balance its roster.

That balance is critical to the health of a program. And it’s not just the work of a rebuilding coach. As we saw in Brian Kelly’s sixth season, injuries, attrition and scheme change impacted the defense, especially in the secondary.

Another position set to deal with major change is wide receiver. Gone is All-American Will Fuller, departing South Bend after three years, scoring 29 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He’ll look to run his way into the first round of the NFL Draft. Also gone are veterans Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, putting the Irish in an unenviable position, needing to replace the team’s three leading receivers.

Reinforcements aren’t just on the way, they’re already on campus. While there’s not a ton of production to see, the recruiting stockpile has created a chance to reload for Mike Denbrock’s troop. So let’s take a look at the additions and subtractions on the roster, analyzing the two-year recruiting run as we restock the receiving corps.

DEPARTURES
Will Fuller
, Jr. (62 catches, 1,258 yards, 14 TDs)
Chris Brown, Sr. (48 catches, 597 yards, 4 TDs)
Amir Carlisle, GS (32 catches, 355 yards, 1 TD)
Jalen Guyton, Fr. (transfer)

 

ADDITIONS
Equanimeous St. Brown

Miles Boykin*
CJ Sanders
Jalen Guyton
Chase Claypool*
Javon McKinley*
Kevin Stepherson*

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Corey Robinson, Sr.
Torii Hunter, Sr.*
Justin Brent, Jr.*
Corey Holmes, Jr.*
CJ Sanders, Soph.
Miles Boykin, Soph.*
Equanimeous St. Brown, Soph.
Kevin Stepherson, Fr.*

 

ANALYSIS
Brian Kelly expects St. Brown to step into Will Fuller’s shoes. If the Irish are able to pluck another sophomore from obscurity to the national spotlight, it’ll say quite a bit about the depth and productivity the Irish staff has built at the position. At 6-foot-5, St. Brown has a more tantalizing skill-set than Fuller—and he was a national recruit out of a Southern California powerhouse. But until we see St. Brown burn past defenders and make big plays, assuming the Irish won’t miss Fuller is a big leap of faith.

The next objective of the spring is getting Corey Robinson back on track. The rising senior had a forgettable junior season, ruined by injuries and some bruised confidence. A player who has shown flashes of brilliance during his three seasons in South Bend, the time is now for Robinson, not just as a performer but as an on-field leader.

Torii Hunter Jr. is also poised for a big season. After finding reps at slot receiver and possessing the versatility to see the field from multiple spots, Hunter needs to prove in 2016 that he’s not just a utility man but an everyday starter. His hands, smooth athleticism and speed should have him primed for a breakout. But Hunter might not want to stay in the slot if CJ Sanders is ready to take over. After a big freshman season on special teams, Sanders looks ready to make his move into the lineup, perhaps the purest slot receiver Brian Kelly has had since he arrived in South Bend.

The rest of the spring depth chart should have modest goals, though all face rather critical offseasons. Justin Brent is three years into his college career and the biggest headlines he’s made have been off the field. Whether he sticks at receiver or continues to work as a reserve running back remains to be seen. Corey Holmes is another upperclassman who we still can’t figure out. Will he ascend into the rotation with the top three veterans gone, or will he give way to some talented youngsters?

Miles Boykin earned praise last August, but it didn’t get him time on the field. He’ll enter spring with four years of eligibility, same as early-enrollee Kevin Stepherson. The Irish staff thinks Stepherson has the type of deep speed that they covet, capable of running past cornerbacks and stretching a defense. Boykin has size and physicality that could present intriguing options for an offense that’ll be less reliant on one man now that Fuller is gone.

Live Video Mailbag: 40-year decision, more BVG, freshmen and more

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We’ve done plenty of mailbags, but this is our first shot at a Live Video Mailbag. This should be a better way to answer more questions and hopefully interact with a few of you as we try to work off some of yesterday’s Super Bowl snacks.

Topics on the list: The 40-year decision, more Brian VanGorder talk, the incoming (and redshirt) freshmen and a whole lot more.

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Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention

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Amidst the chaos of their live Signing Day show, UND.com ran had a far-reaching interview with head coach Brian Kelly. It was conducted by his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and his former team captain, Joe Schmidt.

So while there was a little bit of talk about the 23 recruits who signed their national letters-of-intent, there was also a very illuminating exchange on an issue that’s really plagued the Irish the past few seasons: Injuries.

Football is a dangerous game. And for as long as people play it, there’ll be impactful injuries that take players off the field. But as Notre Dame settles into what looks like their longest run of stability since the Holtz era, the focus of Kelly and Swarbrick has moved past modernizing the team’s medical services, strength program and nutrition and onto the science of injury prevention.

Here’s what Kelly said about the efforts currently taking shape:

“I think the science piece is very important, because no longer is it just about strength and conditioning,  it’s about durability. It’s the ability to continue to play at an optimal level but also with the rigors of a college schedule, and particularly here at Notre Dame, how do we maximize the time but maximizing getting the most out of our student-athletes and not lose them?

“As you know, we’ve had a couple years here in a rough stretch of injuries. And how do we have an injury prevention protocol that brings in the very best science? You’ve done a great job of reaching out in getting us those kind of resources. so I think tapping into that is probably the next piece. As well as providing the resources for our student-athletes. Continuing to look at facilities. Continuing to give our student-athletes maybe that little edge. Because everybody’s got 85 scholarships.”

It’s clear that the issue is one that’s on the radar for not just Kelly, but the athletic administration. So it’ll be interesting to see some of the steps taken as the program begins investing time and additional resources to an issue that’s really hit the Irish hard the past few seasons.

There’s plenty of other good stuff in the 13-minute interview, so give it a watch.