Friday notes: Everything but independence… almost

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Nothing like a little conference talk to get Notre Dame fans nice and riled up about football as the Irish basketball team makes a pretty incredible run. Mike Brey’s resurgence is pretty incredible. What next, fashionable mock turtlenecks?

Here are a few notes on everything but conference affiliations:

* While Notre Dame’s 2011 date at FedEx Field became official this week, the Chicago Tribune reported that the Irish were aiming at a game in Solider Field next.

“We were solely focused on getting (2011) closed out, but having now achieved that we will turn in earnest to nailing down the off-site game in ’12,” Swarbrick said. “Our starting point for that effort is to see if we can find the right opponent and date for a game in Chicago.”

If there’s a location that’s an absolute no-brainer for a neutral site game, this is it. Even if the Irish put Illinois on the schedule, I’d expect Notre Dame to have a home-field advantage in Soldier Field. The 2012 schedule tentatively has the Irish opening up against Navy in Dublin, Ireland (start saving your frequent flier miles for that one), and also a big nonconference matchup with Oklahoma, and a date at Arizona State. Who they’d get to play in Chicago is anyone’s guess, but I’m hoping it’s a non-traditional opponent, or perhaps someone like Northwestern, though I’d be surprised if the ‘Cats actually scheduled a out of conference game against a team like Notre Dame.

* It’s that time of year where Wonderlic scores are leaked, though never officially released. Jimmy Clausen reportedly scored a 23 on the test, well below that of Sam Bradford, who reportedly scored a 36, just behind Colt McCoy at 25, and just ahead of Tim Tebow who had a 22.

Color me unimpressed by every score but Bradford’s, and if I’m a quarterback, I’m spending just as much time prepping for the Wonderlic as I am for drills like the forty-yard-dash and bench press. While a high score isn’t necessarily a great predictor for NFL success, I think it helps a team feel a lot better about dropping $30 million on a quarterback if they think he’s got a good head on his shoulders. Football smarts might be different than classroom smarts, but I’m surprised that Team Clausen didn’t have Jimmy better prepared.

* Here’s a great note from Brian Hamilton’s story about winter workouts, and a good look at Kelly’s coaching style.

An unnamed player who ceaselessly barked in workouts that he could run a
4.5 40-yard dash. So the drills stopped. Out came four stopwatches.

And the player ran a 4.85-second dash in front of the entire team.

“Strengths and weaknesses,” Kelly said between sips of coffee Tuesday
morning. “You can’t be a great leader until you’re humble enough to
know you have some strengths and weaknesses.”

If there’s one thing about Brian Kelly that I’m really optimistic about, it’s his ability to humble his players and get them back down to reality. While I never picked it up then, it’s easy to see how Charlie Weis’ players might have picked up the perceived arrogance of their coach, especially with the early success they achieved. Expect that to be out of their system by the time Longo Beach rolls around.

* Looking for your chance to see the Irish in action for the first time during the Brian Kelly era? Blue-Gold game tickets are on sale at the Notre Dame ticket office. The game will be held April 24th at 1:30 p.m. in Notre Dame Stadium. There’s plenty of time to break down what we’ll see during the intrasquad game, but I expect a large crowd to make their way to South Bend for their first look at Kelly’s Irish.

* Received a few emails from readers about the conference conversation and I haven’t heard anything overly compelling yet. If you emailed me, I apologize about the lack of response, but trust me, you’re on the weekend to-do list.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley

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

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

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)

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.