Coach Kelly is on the move

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Some people questioned Brian Kelly’s commitment to recruiting in his first days as the new head coach at Notre Dame. These next few weeks should quell any concerns.

Kelly will log more miles than Ryan Bingham (an Up in the Air reference, anyone?) these next two weeks as he and his coaching staff work to secure the signature of the players currently committed to the Irish while also looking to tack on a few more players at positions of need.

Sunday saw Kelly in the home of blue-chip defensive end recruit Ego Ferguson. Kelly brought with him defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, linebackers coach Kerry Cooks, and d-line coach Mike Elston with him, emphasizing the fact that Ferguson was a top priority for the new Irish coaching staff.

“Coach Kelly said the reason he brought the entire staff is because J.R. is such a dynamic player,” Ego Ferguson Sr. told IrishSportsDaily.com. “Nobody brought the entire staff to see us first of all. You could see if this was from a local standpoint like a Maryland or Virginia, but to bring the entire staff from Notre Dame is very impressive. Secondly, just the expectations of him, that was quite impressive also.”

Kelly utilizing multiple members of his coaching staff was an effective tool for Charlie Weis and company, and Kelly’s attention to detail and ability to connect with a recruit that had become especially close to the former regime should be comforting for fans that were worried about the new staff.

Monday evening saw Kelly slide up the East coast to Hazelton, New Jersey, visiting with wide receiver Bennett Jackson and his mother. Kelly and offensive coordinator Charley Molnar followed up the work of Bob Diaco, who kept Jackson from feeling the need to take an official visit to Pittsburgh.

“When Coach Diaco came in he pretty much cleared everything up with me so I just canceled it,” Jackson told IrishIllustrated.com about the potential visit.

Kelly and offensive coordinator Charley Molnar finished the deal Monday evening, and before they left New Jersey they had a relieved wide receiver confident in his decision to join the Irish.

Yesterday, Kelly found himself in Florida, courting five-star linebacker Christian Jones as well as Irish commit Gio Bernard, according to various reports on the net. The fact that Kelly could get in the door with Jones, who has offers from Alabama, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Miami, USC, and just about every other high-profile team you could think of, means Kelly isn’t afraid to go to battle with the other giants of college football when chasing down a player. And while Kelly’s visit with Bernard didn’t stop him from considering offers from North Carolina and Oregon State, where his older brother played, all reports suggest that Kelly’s message was well-received by both recruits.

Today, Kelly will find himself across the country, looking to convince safety Dietrich Riley to join him in South Bend. He’ll spend the night in Los Angeles, and then visit top-shelf athlete Anthony Barr, and try to convince Barr to follow his father’s footsteps to Notre Dame.

If we’ve learned anything this week, its that Kelly and his staff have an ambitious plan to keep this recruiting class together and continue building it as well. Whether it was Bob Diaco and Kerry Cooks ability to keep Prince Shembo in the fold, or Kelly and the staff convincing Manti Te’o and Robby Toma’s former teammate Jeremy Ioane to schedule an official visit, the new staff won’t stop recruiting until all the Signing Day faxes are in.

T minus 14 days and counting… 

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.”