Friday notes: Nix, Ticks, and NCAA kicks

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Apologies for the late edition of the Friday notes, but I was chasing a few stories for next week and hopefully they’ll come through. It was a fairly slow week news wise for the Irish, so I’ve expanded this a little bit to take a look at a few key Irish opponents as well.

* Friend of the blog, Bruce Feldman, sent over the link to his interview with incoming defensive tackle Louis Nix. It’s always nice to see a complimentary piece on the Irish at the WWL, and Feldman has always been one of the guys who seemed very fair with his coverage of the Irish the last few years, even taking loads of grief for prediction big seasons from Charlie Weis’ squad the last two years.

If you’re looking for a reason to like Louis Nix, here’s a quote that should sway you:

“Just being there myself and seeing it [the campus]. A lot of guys around
me don’t know what Notre Dame really is. They don’t know much about it,
about the great tradition and the great football. A lot of guys in
Florida just know about the Florida schools. But seeing the school and
the academics really caught me by surprise. I thought it would be a way
different atmosphere. I thought the guys would be like “high-class”
guys who wouldn’t want to hang around with a guy like me. Or I thought
everyone was like a nun or a priest. I saw a couple of priests. They
were really nice guys. But I really thought it was a place I could fit
in. Let’s put it like that. After I met the players, this was a place I
could adjust to and really appreciate it and have fun at the same time.”

Nix was also upfront and honest about enjoying the spectacle that recruiting has become, a phenomenon that takes 17-year-old high schoolers and turns them into internet celebrities. When asked about being relieved that the recruiting process is over, here’s what Nix had to say.

“I’m happy that it’s over, but at the same time, I’m not. I’m going to
miss the fame. But I’m also ready to start working out and get myself
in better shape… It’s all the people that are talking about you. You’re all over Rivals.
You’re all over the headlines. If something big happens with my life,
people will know about it. Everybody knows who I am.”

Nix might not have the internet celebrity next year, but there are plenty of Irish fans that’ll be watching him intently.
 
* Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune had a nice article on Golden Tate’s draft status, and just how important a few ticks of the stopwatch will be.

“The biggest question is: How fast is he?” ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. reflected during a conference call with a gaggle of media on Wednesday.

“He didn’t separate from the (cornerbacks) on the initial routes. But he was great after the catch in the open field, running with the footbal. He’s not a real tall kid, but he plays tough and physical in games. He shields cornerbacks from the football effectively in tight quarters.

To me, if he runs well, he could be a late-first-round pick. If he doesn’t you’re talking about second or third round for Golden.”

I’m one of Mel Kiper’s biggest fans, and since college, on Draft Day, you can find me huddled in front of the TV for about seven straight hours, instantly agreeing or blasting NFL teams as they pick. For some reason, I find myself siding with Kiper usually, but if he thinks Golden Tate is going in the third round he’s nuts.

I’m amazed at Kiper’s encyclopedia-like knowledge of draft prospects from places like Bethune-Cookman, but his analysis on Tate sounds like a guy that’s only watched the highlights from Irish games. How many corners played bump-and-run on Tate? Other than jumping slant routes, there weren’t many times that he struggled to separate from a corner. If Tate runs anything that’s sub 4.55, I think he’s in the first round. If he doesn’t, maybe he slides into the second. 

Hansen points out that Kansas City holds the fifth pick in the second round. With the Chiefs’ lack of depth at wide receiver and Weis’ first-hand knowledge of Golden, I’d be shocked if he slides any lower than there.

* Okay, I couldn’t think of anything that rhymed with Nix and ticks when it came to the NCAA, but two Irish rivals find themselves in interesting situations with the NCAA right now.

The USC Trojans are doing their best to plead ignorance to the misdoings of their athletes and coaches this week as they meet with the NCAA. I’m not hopeful, but if the NCAA doesn’t want to be looked at as complete frauds, they’ll hand down a penalty that’s befitting of the crimes that went down during the past few years under the supervision of athletic director Mike Garrett. If there’s a better example of a lack of institutional control, I’m not sure what it is.

From a great breakdown of the basics, check out Dr. Saturday’s NCAA vs. USC 101.

Meanwhile in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines find themselves caught in a sticky situation of their own making. As Michigan’s Board of Regents met to discuss the NCAA investigation into their football program, they did so confidentially. Not cool, says Michigan grad Robert Davis.

When the University of Michigan Board of Regents met this month for an update on the NCAA

The suit, filed by a U-M alumnus in Washtenaw County Circuit Court,
accuses the Board of Regents of violating the state Open Meetings Act,
which places restrictions on how and why such public bodies can meet in
private.

Robert Davis’ lawsuit says discussing the NCAA probe
isn’t a valid reason to meet privately. The Open Meetings Act allows
such boards to meet behind closed doors to discuss things such as
personnel issues, student disciplinary cases and consultations with its
attorney on certain issues. The law spells out procedures that must be
followed to go into a private session. The lawsuit claims regents did
not follow proper procedure.

Davis’ lawsuit tackles the tricky issue of open records at public universities. It’s the same type of lawsuit that helped journalists recover private emails between Texas Tech administrators and text messages of then Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. While the university had no comment, I expect some pretty interesting conversations to possibly see the light of day, a situation that probably has many inside the administration sweating. 

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.

Five things we learned: Signing Day 2016

FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2016, file photo, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly makes a call during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA College football game against Ohio State in Glendale, Ariz. Kelly has agreed to a six-year contract to stay on as coach at Notre Dame through 2021, the school announced Friday, Jan. 29,2 016.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
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There were no last minute defections. No roller coaster recruits or down-to-the-wire decisions. Heck, there were no fax machines—with Notre Dame ditching the office dinosaur for a wireless, smart phone option.

Brian Kelly inked another Top 10 recruiting class on Wednesday. And he did so in decidedly uneventful fashion.

“It’s awesome. I think that everybody should try it once in their career,” Kelly said.

So while Kelly and the Irish staff hold out hope that 5-star talents Caleb Kelly and Demetris Robertson still decide to spend their college careers in South Bend, the 23-man class announced Wednesday was another Top 10 effort and a step in the right direction for a program on very stable ground.

Let’s find out what we learned.

 

Notre Dame’s staff continued to focus on rebuilding the secondary and rushing the passer. 

Yes, Brian Kelly saw what you saw—a group that struggled getting to the passer or to field a nickel or dime personnel grouping. So they countered that in the best way they knew how: By continuing to stockpile talent.

Notre Dame added seven defensive backs and four edge defenders in the cycle. They include safeties Jalen Elliott, D.J. Morgan, Spencer Perry and Devin Studstill and cornerbacks Julian Love, Troy Pride and Donte Vaughn. Perhaps just as important is the impression some of these defenders made in their time on campus, with Kelly pointing to Elliott and Studstill’s work during summer camp really making them must-have recruits.

“Jalen Elliott competed like no player that I have seen since I’ve been coaching in a camp setting,” Kelly said. “Same thing with Devin Studstill. His skill level was of corner-like ability but had the size of the safety, and so our guys went right to them early on, and that was a focal point because we got a chance to see them up close and personal.”

At defensive end, the Irish welcome 5-star recruit Daelin Hayes, getting him on campus as he recovers from shoulder surgery. He’s joined by former Alabama commit Khalid Kareem, the strongside counterpart that is an early candidate to see the field, especially as the staff looks for someone to spell Isaac Rochell for a few snaps. Longer-term prospects include a few speed rushers—Julian Okwara (younger brother of Romeo) and Ade Ogundeji, a long-limbed, below-the-radar edge rusher.

“We’re pretty excited about the potential for some guys in this class that can answer some four-man pass rush needs that we do have,” Kelly said.

 

It may not be the biggest group, but Brian Kelly is excited about his offensive line—especially the guys he pulled from Ohio State’s backyard. 

Three recruits in the offensive line class point to a big 2017 at the position. But the three the Irish did sign—guard Parker Boudreaux and tackles Liam Eichenberg and Tommy Kraemer—have Kelly very happy.

“Parker Boudreaux has that physical presence inside like, and I’m not comparing him, but he’s a Quinton Nelson in terms of size and physicality,” Kelly said. “And then two edge guys with Liam and Tommy on the outside. Those two kids are as good as you’re going to find in the country, and couldn’t be more excited to have two kids from the state of Ohio, from two great Catholic schools in St. Ignatius and Cincinnati Elder from the state of Ohio.”

Both Eichenberg and Kraemer were priority targets for Urban Meyer and company, with neither wavering after committing to Notre Dame. Kraemer was Ohio’s Gatorade Player of the Year and an Army All-American. He’ll be able to step into the two-deep immediately, capable of playing up front if the Irish need him. Eichenberg more than held his own at the Under Armour All-American game and has a high ceiling, especially as he learns the game under Hiestand.

It doesn’t take away the sting of the Fiesta Bowl. But it’s a nice consolation prize.

 

Irish legacies Jamir Jones and Julian Okwara may have big brothers who played for Brian Kelly, but they earned scholarships on their own. 

Classmates Jarron Jones and Romeo Okwara will turn over the reins to their younger brothers, linebacker Jamir Jones and defensive end Julian Okwara. The younger duo’s commitments felt all but inevitable throughout this recruiting cycle—even if that wasn’t always the case.

Jones had to come to camp to earn a scholarship. Having played quarterback and tight end as a high school standout in Rochester, the defensive staff had to see how he moved before they could find a position for him to play.

Similarly, Okwara’s journey to Notre Dame shouldn’t be taken for granted. While his older brother leaves Notre Dame the team’s leading quarterback sacker, Julian has a better natural pass rush skill-set than the 2015 team-leader.

“Julian can separate himself in a way because he has an elite initial movement and speed that Romeo has had to try and develop,” Mike Elston said in Okwara’s Signing Day video. “Romeo has the size and the power and the aggressiveness, but Julian can really add value for us right away.”

Kelly talked about how important it was to not just land this duo, but to have them already understand what the journey is that lies ahead.

“We didn’t recruit them because their brothers were here. We recruited them because we thought they were players that fit here at Notre Dame that would be very successful,” Kelly said. “Obviously it helps when their brothers have a great experience here and really enjoy their Notre Dame experience as a student and as an athlete, so that helps you in the recruiting… those kids really fit and can stand on their own two feet.”

 

Even without Demetris Robertson in the fold, Notre Dame’s receiving class is a group to watch. 

You want productivity? Throw on a highlight tape of Javon McKinley. You want an intriguing set of physical tools? Look no further than Chase Claypool. You want a sleeper prospect who out-performed every elite prospect who came to the Irish Invasion camp? Then your man is Kevin Stepherson.

Most of the attention on Signing Day was the fate of 5-star receiver Demetris Robertson. But the trio of athletes that’ll reload the receiving corps is a group that deserves recognition even without an additional infusion.

McKinley provided the day’s only scare when his smart phone struggled to send his signature via electronic fax. Claypool sent his national letter of intent in the day after scoring 51 points on the basketball court. And Stepherson is already taking part in team workouts in Paul Longo’s strength facilities, getting a jump start with the spring semester and 15 practices as the Irish try to figure out what life looks like after Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle.

After Fuller left campus early on the back of two record-setting two seasons, Kelly said his staff has become more and more comfortable with the fact that his skill players need to develop quickly—especially with the allure of the NFL just ahead.

“If you’re really that good, you may not be here very long, and we hope that you’re here for four years and you stay, but you’ve got to be ready to compete,” Kelly said. “So our expectation in the recruiting process is for the wide receiver group to come in and compete to get on the field and be a player for us immediately.”

That’ll happen whether or not Robertson is a part of this group.

 

Amidst significant transition on both the coaching staff and recruiting office, Notre Dame managed a Top 10 class. Expect things to only get better from here. 

Let’s go back to Signing Day 2015. Within 24 hours of Brian Kelly’s press conference, he was dealing with two major changes—recruiting coordinator Tony Alford was out the door to Ohio State and Kerry Cooks was headed to Oklahoma. Two aces on the staff were gone, forcing the Irish to not just replace long-time staffers, but to find new area recruiters for the state of Texas and Alford’s stronghold in Florida.

Kelly brought in first-year college assistant Todd Lyght to work with defensive backs. He tapped the school’s rushing leader Autry Denson to handle the backs and duke it out in Florida. Mike Sanford shook up the offense as Bob Elliott moved into an off-field position. But perhaps just as important as those moves, Kelly turned over the administrative reins to Mike Elston, who moved into a recruiting coordinator position he had filled for his boss back at Cincinnati.

Elston had to reorganize a staff that saw relationships walk out the door and reboot a recruiting effort that saw significant changes behind the scenes. And in short order things got back on track and have progressed to the point that the Irish are ahead of the game, setting junior days and summer camp dates earlier than ever.

For those paying attention, they’ve noticed the improvements. Notre Dame has paid more attention to messaging—staffers more active on Twitter. There have been improvements on Instagram, Facebook and Vine—platforms that might sound like gobbledygook to grownups, but are critical pieces to a year-long recruiting effort. That should help this staff press ahead in 2017, a recruiting class that already has five members.

“With that team that we’ve put together, we’re not going to look back. It’s only going to get better,” Kelly said.

It was Elston that engineered the equipment truck visit to Savannah, a late-game recruiting move that drew a lot of attention to Notre Dame. It was recruiters like Denson who went to Alabama and got a visit out of Ben Davis, a Crimson Tide legacy who gave the Irish a much longer look than anybody could have expected. And it’s no surprise that a former Pro Bowler and first-round draft pick like Lyght was able to reel in a large group of defensive backs eager to learn from a guy who was a clear success story.

“I think each and every year, you hope that this group is the best group you’ve ever recruited,” Kelly said. “I’m hoping for that again.”