Friday notes: Big weekend ahead

Before we get to football, the Irish basketball team got bounced from their first round game against Old Dominion and fell about three wins shy of my bracket projections. As usual, I pick the Irish to pull through in a big game and then wish I didn’t do it. While many will call this loss an indictment on Mike Brey, it’s worth pointing out that while the Irish couldn’t make the necessary adjustments when ODU switched defensive schemes, its tough to win a game when your All-American leading scorer has a goose egg in the scoring ledger for 95 percent of the game. Either way, congratulations to seniors Luke Harangody, Tory Jackson and Jonathan Peoples, members of the winningest class in Notre Dame basketball history.

On to football…

* With the Irish hosting a premiere Junior Day this weekend, the South Bend Tribune’s Bob Wieneke takes a look at who’s coming, and gets Tom Lemming to break down the talent.

Lemming estimates that 60 players could attend the event, although the
nature of unofficial visits is such that decisions to attend or not can
change on a whim.

What Lemming has seen change positively already
for first-year Irish coach Brian Kelly is ND’s fortunes with the
current juniors – the recruiting class of 2011.

Because the new
staff spent so much time holding together and adding to the class of
senior signed last month, it fell behind with juniors.

“They got
off to a slow start,” he said. “Now it seems like they’re picking up
steam. This recruiting weekend could go a long way in building what
could be an outstanding 2011 class.”

And one of the key pieces of
the equation is building familiarity of the prospects with the campus
and staff. Notre Dame will host another Junior Day on April 24, the day
of the Blue-Gold Game.

“This is the first step. The second step
is to get them (to visit) officially,” Lemming said. “The third step is
to get them to commit.”

As I mentioned earlier in the week, this is an impressive collection of talent on campus, and a large group of the players visiting come from feeder states, while a few elite guys are national recruits. We’ll see how the strategy of owning your key states works and whether or not Kelly and Co. can get a commitment this weekend. (I feel like I should be a political commentator with that last line, and we’re collecting electoral votes…)

* Pete Sampson over at IrishIllustrated.com has a nice preview on the running backs, and asked the very good question of what the shift to a passing-prone spread attacked would do to the Irish running backs’ productivity. While Sampson focused on the duo of Armando Allen and Robert Hughes as they enter their senior seasons, he also included some interesting fun facts in his “Number Crunching” section:

* 3.8 — Yards per carry by the Notre Dame ground game last year.
* 4 — Ever Irish tailback had this many stars as a high school recruit
* 5.0 — Yards per carry by the Cincinnati ground game last year.
* 7 — Seasons since a lead Irish back averaged more than five yards per carry.

It’s amazing to me that it’s been seven years since the Irish had a running back average five yards a pop on the ground. It feels like eternity since Julius Jones rumbled for 5.5 yards a carry and 1341 yards in 2003.

* Joe Montana sat down with Fox Sports for an interview and eventually talked about Jimmy Clausen’s professional football prospects. Fast-forward to the two-minute mark if you want to skip some Brett Favre talk:

 
&lt;a href=&#8221;<a href="http://video.msn.com/?mkt=en-us&#038;brand=foxsports&#038;from=sp&#038;vid=8758aca8-bb26-4009-aa06-0e6b42e84b02&#038;#8243" rel="nofollow">http://video.msn.com/?mkt=en-us&#038;brand=foxsports&#038;from=sp&#038;vid=8758aca8-bb26-4009-aa06-0e6b42e84b02&#038;#8243</a>; target=&#8221;_new&#8221; title=&#8221;Montana back under center&#8221;&gt;Video: Montana back under center&lt;/a&gt;

It’s clear that Joe thinks Jimmy’s going to be a good NFL quarterback, but even he wasn’t ready to say that Clausen had leap-frogged Sam Bradford as the first quarterback in the draft, if only because of his prototypical size. Montana’s media-savvy enough not to make waves in an interview like this, so it’s not entirely surprising that he chose not to make waves.

* Speaking of distinguished Notre Dame alumni, Raghib Ismail has a new TV gig:

Former and CFL and NFL wide receiver Raghib “Rocket” Ismail has a new
job as a television announcer for bull riding.

Ismail will serve as a correspondent for some of the Professional
Bull Riders telecasts on American cable channel Versus. He became
interested in the sport when he took part in Ty Murray’s Celebrity
Bull Riding Challenge
on CMT.

Ismail will interview riders about their lives outside of
competition, making his debut during Saturday’s broadcast from Fresno,
Calif.

After listening to Rocket at the pep rally before the USC game, I’m tempted to give bull riding a chance.

* Stick with us this weekend. If any news breaks out of Junior Day, we’ll have it covered. In the meantime, I’ll be replacing wall paper and painting my bathroom. Fun times!

Scroll Down For:

    Rochell drafted in 7th round; three other former Notre Dame players sign

    Getty Images
    28 Comments

    All the unnecessary draft conversation may have centered on DeShone Kizer, but the quarterback was not the only former Notre Dame player watching this weekend’s NFL Draft with rapt attention. Aside from Kizer, only Isaac Rochell heard his name called. The San Diego Chargers picked the defensive lineman in the seventh round Saturday with the 225th overall pick.

    Rochell finished his Irish career with appearance in 49 of 51 possible games and 167 tackles, including 22 for loss and 4.5 sacks. In 2016, he recorded 55 tackles, good for sixth on the team, with seven for loss.

    By the end of the evening, three more former Notre Dame starters had signed on with NFL teams as undrafted free agents. It should be noted, many argue the route available for undrafted free agents is preferable to that of late-round picks. An undrafted free agent can choose which of a handful of situations is preferable to him for whatever reason. A late-round pick does not have that luxury, but still makes a comparable salary.

    Linebacker James Onwualu opted to join Rochell with the Chargers. Defensive lineman Jarron Jones signed with the New York Giants. Cornerback Cole Luke latched on with the Carolina Panthers.

    Onwualu began his Irish career as a receiver before moving to linebacker before his sophomore season. He finished his career with 143 tackles, including 75 in 2016 with 11.5 for loss and three sacks. His 75 tackles finished behind only now-rising senior linebackers Nyles Morgan’s 94 and Drue Tranquill’s 79.

    Battling injuries throughout his Notre Dame career, Jones made 105 tackles with 45 in 2016. His 11 tackles for loss were outdone only by the aforementioned Onwualu total.

    Luke made 152 tackles in his Irish career, including 48 last season, and eight interceptions.

    Three more players from past years’ Irish rosters could yet find an NFL home—long snapper Scott Daly, defensive lineman-turned-tight end Chase Hounshell and running back Tarean Folston. If any or all do not sign, they can still join teams for rookie mini-camps in hopes of making a positive impression.

    RELATED READING: Browns pick former Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer 20th in second round

    Browns pick former Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer 20th in second round

    Associated Press
    50 Comments

    After months of pointless chatter and a night spent waiting, DeShone Kizer’s NFL Draft experience ended Friday night when the Cleveland Browns drafted the former Notre Dame quarterback with the 20th pick in the second round, the No. 52 overall selection.

    Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Kizer will have the opportunity to earn the starting job for the franchise less than two hours from his hometown. The Browns trotted out five different quarterbacks in 2016, only two of which remain with the team. Rookie Cody Kessler played in nine games, throwing for 1,380 yards and six touchdowns with only one interception while fellow rookie Kevin Hogan threw for 104 yards and two interceptions in four games.

    The Browns have since added Brock Osweiler in a trade with the Houston Texans, though that trade was largely-viewed as a cash-for-picks swap, with the Browns “paying” for picks by taking on Osweiler’s contract in which he is owed $47 million over the next three seasons, including $16 million this season.

    A year ago, the No. 52 pick (linebacker Deion Jones to the Atlanta Falcons) received a four-year, $4.546 million contract with a $1.506 million signing bonus.

    Hall of fame running back and Browns legend Jim Brown announced the selection of Kizer at the draft festivities.

    Speculation a year ago pegged Kizer as an early first-round pick. As the draft approached, projections of his slot varied widely, many including a second-round status. Despite first-round theatrics leading to three quarterbacks going in the first 12 picks Thursday night, Kizer had to wait another day before learning where he will start his NFL career. (more…)

    Friday at 4: ‘Attention to detail’ includes Notre Dame Stadium

    @NDFootball
    6 Comments

    Brian Kelly proselytized multiple abstract concepts this spring. By the end of the 15 practices and subsequent media sessions, even the Irish coach knew some of his references to “grit” would be met by muted eye rolls from the press. If a questioner included the word in their query, Kelly reacted with tongue-in-cheek approval, “You’ve been listening.”

    In his press conference the day before spring practices commenced, Kelly used the phrase “attention to detail” six separate times. While he was referring to his players on the football field, Kelly could have also been discussing the ongoing—but supposedly close to finished—construction at Notre Dame Stadium known as Campus Crossroads.

    The three buildings around the exterior of the Stadium, the added suites and the video board above the south end zone have garnered the headlines. On a macro level, those are the changes of note. On a micro level, however, other details have trickled into the public stream of knowledge as the work nears its conclusion.

    Over the weekend—and now reignited by a column from the South Bend Tribune’s Mike Vorel—the image of the newly-added visitors’ tunnel delighted Irish fans. Vorel likens the narrow entry to “the spot they’d stash the gladiators before feeding them to starving tigers in The Coliseum.” Assuredly, Vorel is going for dramatic effect, and it must work considering its citation here, but even a realistic view of the tunnel’s effects bodes well.

    If nothing else, Notre Dame players should enjoy something of a psychological boost when racing out of their adult-sized tunnel and seeing their opponent trickle out of a tunnel seemingly-sized for ants. (Yes, the north end zone tunnel is at least three times bigger than the visitors’ tunnel.)

    That pale, slanted staircase holds none of the luxuries of the home team’s entrance, something Kelly went out of his way to praise after using it in Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game. (more…)

    Where Notre Dame was & is: Linebackers

    Getty Images
    12 Comments

    You want complete honesty? The linebacker version of this series includes no revelations, no unexpected developments, no surprising spring performances. There is an allusion to a position switch, sure, but this piece became much simpler with the rover being discussed separately Thursday.

    The idea was to capitalize on the NFL Draft for the morning and let the linebackers slip by in the afternoon, noticed only by those twiddling their thumbs through the last hours of the work week. Alas, former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer was not drafted in the first round and a brief recap of his draft destination will need to await at least another day. Programming note: The NFL Draft reconvenes tonight (Friday) at 7 p.m. ET. The Green Bay Packers are on the clock. They will not draft a quarterback.

    But back to the linebackers. This piece may have been intended to slip by with little fanfare, but that is not indicative of the Irish linebackers. Where Notre Dame was is so similar to where Notre Dame is simply because two experienced senior captains lead the way at linebacker.

    WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS:
    Aside from questions about defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s rover position, only one question stood out about this linebacker group: Who would start alongside senior Nyles Morgan: senior Greer Martini or junior Te’von Coney?

    A year ago Coney recorded the fourth-most tackles on the team with 62. Martini finished fifth with 55, and his seven tackles for loss, including three sacks, dwarfed Coney’s 1.5. Yet Coney technically started nine games compared to Martini’s four.

    RELATED READING: Two days until spring practice: A look at the linebackers

    With the rover often lining up essentially as a linebacker, there would only be space for one of Martini or Coney in most formations.

    WHERE NOTRE DAME IS:
    In his first season with the Irish, Elko will have quite a luxury in referring to Coney as a backup linebacker. In some respects, that designation was inevitable as soon as Martini was named a captain. Nonetheless, Coney will see plenty of playing time.

    The two captains—along with fellow captain, senior Drue Tranquill at rover—will be counted on throughout the summer and fall camp to continue the defense’s growth in Elko’s system. Elko said he installed “close to 50 percent” of his entire defense throughout spring practice. The linebackers must deal with the most difficult aspects of that learning.

    “There’s been a noticeable improvement in terms of this starting to look like the defense we want this to look like as spring has gone on,” Elko said a week ago. “… Linebacker probably more than any other position, linebacker and safety, where the scheme takes some time to get used to, how you see it, how you fit it, how you feel it. Those guys have gotten better with that which has then allowed them to play faster as the spring has moved on.”

    Sophomore Jonathan Jones will likely provide any further depth that may be needed in 2017, unless either of the incoming freshmen, David Adams and Drew White, excel from the outset. Irish coach Brian Kelly indicated sophomore Jamir Jones (no relation to Jonathan, but is former Notre Dame defensive lineman Jarron Jones’ brother) may be destined for time on the defensive line, in large part to Jones’s continued growth. Junior Josh Barajas let the spring come and go without mandating he be involved in these conversations, which may as well count as removing himself from the conversation in most regards.

    Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Defensive Line
    Where Notre Dame Was, Is & Could Be: Rover