Assorted notes: Big Ten Champs, game in Denver, and June visits

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A few interesting notes from the last day or two as we push toward the summer.

While school is out, football players will report back to campus on June 7th for summer school, less than three weeks until incoming freshman and the 2010 football team get started with their summer workouts. According to some message board rumbling, offseason workouts have started even earlier for quarterback Dayne Crist, who is working out with Kyle Rudolph, Braxston Cave and Shaq Evans. They’ll be joined by Duval Kamara and Michael Floyd in the coming weeks before reporting to South Bend in early June.

(I’ll be reporting to camp around the same time, but more on that later…)

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Former Notre Dame defensive end Gene Smith has plenty to say about the Notre Dame to the Big Ten rumors. Smith is now the athletic director of Ohio State, where he’s openly pulling for Notre Dame to join the 11 teams already in the conference.

“For me, I just have to believe a Notre Dame football player winning a
conference championship and having that conference ring is a memorable
experience, and then chasing a national championship,” Smith said for the Big Ten meetings in Chicago earlier this week. “You
can do both. But when you only have one, I struggle.

“I would hope if they end up being one of the schools (invited), I hope they would consider what a conference championship means to a young person. I was blessed to be there when we were winning national championships. I won two — one as a coach, one as a player. The landscape has changed.” 

As much as I agree that the landscape in college football has changed, there’s little chance that playing for a conference championship ring would be the impetus for change. Especially in the Big Ten, which every year seems to have a distinct scheduling factor built into the formula. If the conference championship is so important, you’d think that Smith and the rest of the athletic directors would go the way of the Pac-10 and actually play for the championship.

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The Brian Kelly barnstorming tour was in Denver Tuesday night, where he spoke to a group of 500 from the alumni club, including Denver Broncos Ryan Harris, Brady Quinn and David Bruton. While Kelly hit all the standard notes, here’s an interesting bit from the piece.

Kelly arrives at Notre Dame during a time
of transition in college football. While conferences jockey for
position in the probable realignment game, Kelly staunchly stands behind
Notre Dame’s independent status.

He’s looking forward to playing Army at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 20 and
Navy in Ireland in 2012. He talked of starting series with Texas and
Florida, and a 2012 game against Miami at Chicago’s Soldier Field is
nearly finalized. He mentioned the Irish playing a potential
neutral-site game in Denver at Invesco Field at Mile High.

Kelly is reaching out to alumni on this spring barnstorming trip.
Denver was his estimated 25th stop and he started the day visiting an
alumni group in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He will be in Fresno, Calif., today.

A neutral site game in Denver would be absolutely awesome, with Invesco Field at Mile High a perfect venue in a terrific football city. You’ve got to think a game against Colorado could be the perfect usage of those annual games and would be a great experience for all involved.

(Even more ridiculous, how about the fact that Kelly’s on stop 25 of his May tour? He’d make some political campaigns blush with his hard work.)

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A final note from the Big Ten meetings, where coaches lobbied the NCAA for June official visits.

This from Dave Birkett at AnnArbor.com:


The conference’s football coaches met Tuesday to discuss legislation they want to get
in front of the NCAA board of directors. One possibility? June official
visits.

“So many kids are taking unofficial visits right now and the cost
to families is astronomical trying to go see X amount of schools in
June,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “It only
makes sense. How many of these kids are making early decisions, making
verbal commitments, without ever taking an official visit that you can
pay for to be on campus for that 48-hour window? It makes a ton of sense
to us as a group.”

This would be a huge advantage for Notre Dame as well, allowing the Irish to get recruits on campus in a warm weather month before many elite prospects make final decisions before their senior season.

(Then again, Fitzgerald is likely pushing for it because there’s no difference in the Northwestern campus between the stoic summer months and football season, when dozens of crazed NU football fans flock to Ryan Stadium.)

I’d be surprised if this got approved, because there are plenty of schools in warm weather climates that don’t want the playing field leveled, but it’s a good suggestion that would show that the NCAA is adapting to the times as opposed to staying stuck in their ways.

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

Notre Dame v Florida State
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Some believe that the best way to look at recruiting is in two-year increments. As programs rebuild and rosters turn over, covering the needs of a football team over two recruiting cycles  allows a coaching staff to balance its roster.

That balance is critical to the health of a program. And it’s not just the work of a rebuilding coach. As we saw in Brian Kelly’s sixth season, injuries, attrition and scheme change impacted the defense, especially in the secondary.

Another position set to deal with major change is wide receiver. Gone is All-American Will Fuller, departing South Bend after three years, scoring 29 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He’ll look to run his way into the first round of the NFL Draft. Also gone are veterans Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, putting the Irish in an unenviable position, needing to replace the team’s three leading receivers.

Reinforcements aren’t just on the way, they’re already on campus. While there’s not a ton of production to see, the recruiting stockpile has created a chance to reload for Mike Denbrock’s troop. So let’s take a look at the additions and subtractions on the roster, analyzing the two-year recruiting run as we restock the receiving corps.

DEPARTURES
Will Fuller
, Jr. (62 catches, 1,258 yards, 14 TDs)
Chris Brown, Sr. (48 catches, 597 yards, 4 TDs)
Amir Carlisle, GS (32 catches, 355 yards, 1 TD)
Jalen Guyton, Fr. (transfer)

 

ADDITIONS
Equanimeous St. Brown

Miles Boykin*
CJ Sanders
Jalen Guyton
Chase Claypool*
Javon McKinley*
Kevin Stepherson*

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Corey Robinson, Sr.
Torii Hunter, Sr.*
Justin Brent, Jr.*
Corey Holmes, Jr.*
CJ Sanders, Soph.
Miles Boykin, Soph.*
Equanimeous St. Brown, Soph.
Kevin Stepherson, Fr.*

 

ANALYSIS
Brian Kelly expects St. Brown to step into Will Fuller’s shoes. If the Irish are able to pluck another sophomore from obscurity to the national spotlight, it’ll say quite a bit about the depth and productivity the Irish staff has built at the position. At 6-foot-5, St. Brown has a more tantalizing skill-set than Fuller—and he was a national recruit out of a Southern California powerhouse. But until we see St. Brown burn past defenders and make big plays, assuming the Irish won’t miss Fuller is a big leap of faith.

The next objective of the spring is getting Corey Robinson back on track. The rising senior had a forgettable junior season, ruined by injuries and some bruised confidence. A player who has shown flashes of brilliance during his three seasons in South Bend, the time is now for Robinson, not just as a performer but as an on-field leader.

Torii Hunter Jr. is also poised for a big season. After finding reps at slot receiver and possessing the versatility to see the field from multiple spots, Hunter needs to prove in 2016 that he’s not just a utility man but an everyday starter. His hands, smooth athleticism and speed should have him primed for a breakout. But Hunter might not want to stay in the slot if CJ Sanders is ready to take over. After a big freshman season on special teams, Sanders looks ready to make his move into the lineup, perhaps the purest slot receiver Brian Kelly has had since he arrived in South Bend.

The rest of the spring depth chart should have modest goals, though all face rather critical offseasons. Justin Brent is three years into his college career and the biggest headlines he’s made have been off the field. Whether he sticks at receiver or continues to work as a reserve running back remains to be seen. Corey Holmes is another upperclassman who we still can’t figure out. Will he ascend into the rotation with the top three veterans gone, or will he give way to some talented youngsters?

Miles Boykin earned praise last August, but it didn’t get him time on the field. He’ll enter spring with four years of eligibility, same as early-enrollee Kevin Stepherson. The Irish staff thinks Stepherson has the type of deep speed that they covet, capable of running past cornerbacks and stretching a defense. Boykin has size and physicality that could present intriguing options for an offense that’ll be less reliant on one man now that Fuller is gone.

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.