Scrimmage provides some answers

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Exactly one week before the Blue-Gold game, Brian Kelly gave the members of the media and the nearly 800 coaches that attended the annual coaching clinic an advanced look, offering a completely open two-hour window for viewing.

A few notes after reading various reports:

* Looking for an early enrollee that’ll see the field first? Look no further than Tai-ler Jones, now known as T.J. Jones, who worked with the first team offense, lining up mostly in the slot between Michael Floyd and Duval Kamara. Kelly has been impressed with what Jones has brought to the offense.

“You know, T.J.’s got some real good ability,” Kelly said. “But his work volume, he’s still got the tassel on the car window from
graduation, he’s just a young kid. He’s got a chance to be a player for
us and contribute this year but boy, his work volume really tapers off.
That’s why we’ve got to get two or three guys ready at that position.”

Working in after him was Theo Riddick, a guy that many assumed would be moving from spot running back duty to full-time receiver play, but Riddick is still slightly hindered from offseason surgery.

* From everything I’ve read, Manti Te’o was an absolute beast out there today, laying the lumber on offensive players left and right. This spring, Te’o has taken the steps the coaching staff needed him to take, and I expect him to be an elite defender next season. From the sounds of it, Kelly has the same expectations.

“I think he’s in his own mind and his coaches and myself, living up maybe to some of the expectations that everyone had coming in as one of the top premiere high school players in the country,” Kelly said. “He can be a great player. He’s got a chance and he’s showing some signs of that. His recognition. His leadership. It’s exciting to watch him grow. He’s really growing quickly in a very short period of time.

Te’o also landed the biggest hit of the day (which you can see here at the fifteen-second mark), de-cleating Armando Allen on a sweep play around the right end. As Te’o becomes more comfortable and experienced, expect him to truly flourish in the new defensive system.

* It sounds like the offense is still a work-in-progress, but expect both Kyle Rudolph and Michael Floyd to excel from the start. Rudolph was limited in the scrimmage today, but was a weapon in the red zone, catching a few touchdown passes from Dayne Crist and also showing what a physical presence he is down there as well. Meanwhile, Mr. Floyd scored on an end around, caught a few short passes, and connected with Crist on a nice route down the seam as well.

* The offensive line had a new combination of starters today, with Taylor Dever getting reps at left tackle, Trevor Robinson sliding to left guard, Braxston Cave at center, Chris Stewart at right guard, and Zack Martin at right tackle.

* After practice, Kelly caught a flight to his brother’s wedding, where he’s serving as the best man.

“I’m going in flip-flops and Notre Dame green. If he doesn’t like it, strike three for him,” he joked about his brother’s second wedding.

* Both wide receivers coach Tony Alford and lineman Alex Bullard missed practice today, heading home to spend time with their ailing fathers.

“Coach Alford would be here if he could,” Kelly said. “I thought he needed to be back with his family. Our prayers and wishes are out to him. And then Alex Bullard, his dad is fighting a similar battle and we gave him the opportunity to go home this morning. That’s why our team was out on the field a little bit later, making sure we were passing our respects on to the families.”

 

Report: Tarean Folston won’t return for fifth year

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
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Tarean Folston will declare for the NFL Draft. The senior running back, who has a fifth-year of eligibility available after a medical redshirt in 2014, will instead turn his focus to preparing for the professional ranks. Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman broke the news, confirming the decision with Folston.

The departure wasn’t totally unexpected, though Folston was also a candidate for a graduate transfer. But after running for 1,712 yards over four years, the 214-pound back will hope an NFL team takes a shot on him, likely looking at tape of Folston the underclassmen to make their evaluation.

The Cocoa, Florida native burst onto the scene as a freshman against Navy when he ran for 140 yards on 18 carries in the Irish’s 38-34 win. He was Notre Dame’s leading rusher in 2014, running for 889 yards and 5.1 yards per carry  and six scores in 2014.

Expected to do big things in 2015, Folston’s season lasted just three carries, a torn ACL suffered against Texas in the season opener. After Josh Adams emerged that season, Folston fell behind him in the depth chart, getting just 77 carries in 2016.

The move clarifies a depth chart that looked to be unchanged heading into next season. But with Folston’s exit, rising sophomore Tony Jones will join Adams and Dexter Williams in the rotation. Fellow sophomore Deon Macintosh and incoming freshman C.J. Holmes will also compete for playing time.

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach

clark-lea
UND.com
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Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

 

 

 

Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

delvaughn
ASU Sports Information
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Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.