Friday notes: Lines taking shape

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We’re entering the home stretch of spring drills, and as we get there, things along the offensive and defensive fronts are starting to take shape.

* On the defensive line, coach Mike Elston seems to like what he’s been seeing.

“When Coach Kelly asked me to coach the defensive line, I was asked the question, ‘What are your expectations?’ I expect to be the best defensive line in the country,” Elston said after practice on Wednesday. “Our guys are working toward that. They’re going to be tough to block.”

While Elston sang the praises of his presumptive starting three, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Ian Williams, and Ethan Johnson, he also singled out Emeka Nwankwo for his work this spring.

“He’s a physical, athletic player,” Elston said. “We’re going to see him. He improves every day and he gets it. He’s going to be a hard guy to keep off the field.”

Adding depth at defensive end is a huge priority, especially after Lane Clelland shifted back to offensive tackle. (We can only wonder if it was his inability to thrive on defense or the result of the Matt James tragedy.) Nwankwo is going to be a key reserve and likely will get a ton of minutes, as he’s got the frame needed and the time in a college weight room that’ll give him the chance to succeed on the field.

* On the other side of the ball, the offensive line continues to shuffle as it searches for the right combination of five linemen to protect quarterback Dayne Crist. While left guard seems to be set with senior Chris Stewart, the rest of the line is still a work in progress.

“The sooner we can get set, the better, but we’re not going to rush it,” offensive line coach Ed Warinner said. “When it’s ready, it’s ready. I’d like to come out of spring with a pretty good idea of who our guys are going to be. They’re learning a completely different offense. There’s very little carryover, other than we’re playing football. The terminology is completely different, schemes and so forth. Some guys take just a little longer. We’re off to a good start.”

The widespread changes also apply to position groups and the depth chart. Trevor Robinson, who spent last year at right guard is now outside at right tackle. Braxston Cave and fifth-year center Dan Wenger seem to be trading off as the first-string center. Redshirt Zack Martin might have leapfrogged Matt Romine at left tackle, impressing the staff with his work this spring.

* The Los Angeles Times had a nice piece on former Notre Dame tight end Joseph Fauria, now a transfer at UCLA. The 6-foot-7 tight end is already on the same wavelength as Bruin quarterback Kevin Prince, as the two were teammates in high school. Fauria snagged a 10-yard touchdown pass from Prince during a Bruin scrimmage last weekend.

“As long as I stay healthy, I don’t see why we can’t do that more often,” Fauria said.

While there’s less of a role for Fauria in Brian Kelly’s offense, it’s hard not to shake your head and wonder what could’ve been when you consider that Will Yeatman, Mike Ragone, Fauria, and Kyle Rudolph could all be on this Irish roster.

* Finally, a reader sent in this video of Joe Montana working on his quarterbacking skills. Channeling Ed Helms character from The Hangover after watching Iron Mike Tyson knock out one of his buddies, you’ve just got to say, “Joe Montana… he’s still got it.”


Drue Tranquill named first-team Academic All-American

Drue Tranquill

Drue Tranquill was named a first-team Academic All-American. The junior safety, who returned from his second major knee injury during his three-year career, earned the honors after posting a 3.74 GPA in mechanical engineering.

Tranquill is Notre Dame’s first academic All-American since Corey Robinson earned the honor after the 2014 season. He finished second on the team in tackles with 79 and lead the team in solo stops with 52. He also had two TFLs and an interception.

Tranquill is Notre Dame’s 60th Academic All-American, the third-most of any school behind Nebraska and Penn State. He’s active in the university community, serving as a mentor for the Core Leadership Team for Lifeworks Ministry, and is a member of Notre Dame Christian Athletes. He is a also member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) and Rosenthal Leadership Academy.


Postseason Mailbag: Now Open

SAN ANTONIO, TX - NOVEMBER 12: Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly leads his team onto the field before the start of their game against Army in a NCAA college football game at the Alamodome on November 12, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

It’s been too long. Let’s talk about the season, the decisions ahead and where Notre Dame stands after its nightmare of a 2016 season.

Drop your questions on Twitter @KeithArnold or in the comments below.



If you’re interested in hearing my recap on the USC game and where Notre Dame’s goes now that the season is over, give a listen to the latest episode of Blown Coverage, with Newsweek’s John Walters. 


Report: Zaire set to depart with graduate transfer

Malik Zaire

The wheels are in motion for Malik Zaire‘s exit from Notre Dame. What felt like an inevitability after Zaire lost out to DeShone Kizer after the Texas game is now a reality, as the Ohio native is expected to receive his release tomorrow, according to a report from Pete Sampson at Irish Illustrated.

Sampson identified four programs as potential landing spots for Zaire: Florida, Pitt, Michigan State and Wisconsin, Power Five programs that all had better seasons (minus the Spartans) than Notre Dame. All have uncertainty atop their quarterback depth chart, though none look like guaranteed jobs.

With Notre Dame out of a bowl, Zaire can get a jump start on looking around, capable of taking visits and finding a home after the semester. That would let him join a program in time for spring drills, where he’d compete and be able to play out his final year of eligibility.

When Zaire leaves he’ll join a line of recent quarterbacks to finish their eligibility elsewhere. Dayne Crist, Andrew Hendrix, Gunner Kiel and Everett Golson all either played or were recruited by Brian Kelly and finished their careers elsewhere. That could leave a scenario—one many predict—where the top-two on Notre Dame’s depth chart depart, Kizer to the NFL and Zaire elsewhere, turning the keys over to Brandon Wimbush who redshirted this season.

Tillery apologizes for actions during USC game

Jerry Tillery 247

Sophomore Jerry Tillery issued an apology for two controversial incidents against USC. Notre Dame’s defensive tackle was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a referee caught him stepping on Zach Banner‘s ankle. Cameras also spotted him intentionally hitting Aca’Cedric Ware‘s head after the Trojan running back was injured after a collision with Nicco Fertitta.

Tillery wrote on Twitter:

“I want to take full responsibility for my actions on Saturday. I am truly sorry. I acted in a way that was out of character for me. What I displayed in those two instances were completely unbecoming and not indicative of the kind of player or person I am. My actions in those two instances do not represent what my family or Notre Dame has molded me to be. I want to especially apologize to Aca’Cedric, Zach, their families and anyone else affected by what I did. I assure you I will learn and grow from this moment and become a better man because of it.”

While the backlash on social media has been harsh, USC head coach Clay Helton downplayed it.

“It was a poor decision by a young person. I know it’s not Notre Dame football and I know that’s not Brian Kelly,” Helton said. “He’s been a class act the whole way and I know he’ll address it with his player and handle it in a way that he sees fit. I have always found Brian to be a man of class and integrity.”

Ware himself responded via Twitter, doing his best to put the incident to rest.

Kelly stated after the game that he’d review the incidents, both plays Kelly didn’t see happen live. With the season over, Tillery’s discipline will be handled internally.