Fantasy Camp: Full speed toward Game Day

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There’s something a little bizarre about walking out of the Notre Dame football locker room dressed in your varsity issue gear and heading to practice on the new LaBar Practice field turf. Surrounded by prospective students on campus tours and the perpetual buzz of workers either building or maintaining something on campus, we looked a little bit like one of those slow-motion scenes played in a movie montage, where the heroes are about to do something extraordinary.

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And extraordinary it was. For the first time in the camp’s history, they’ve got us campers playing our annual Blue-Gold game in full pads, something that’s one part incredible and another part terrifying. Helmets and shoulder pads certainly change the game quite a bit, especially for a roster with guys from 29- to 73-years old.

Yesterday was a long day. We were out the door for the night at 8:15, with a bus waiting to take us to the stadium locker room where a squadron of the team’s medical staff waited to tape us up and get us ready for our first practice of game week. It’s amazing what they can do to a group of guys like us, and any worried about my bum wheel were quickly erased after a few quick sessions with Jim Russ and his training staff.

I’ll come back and hit the meetings later, but the practice sessions were incredible. I got my first glimpse of life in the spread offense, and I can tell you first hand how tough it is to simply get the ball out of your hands quick enough. And a few of my wide receivers were past their 50th birthday. But working with former All-American quarterback Terry Hanratty didn’t hurt, and they squeezed as much from my five-foot-nothing frame as you could probably get. 

A lot of what we learned yesterday wasn’t meant for the internet, but merely a sneak peek behind the scenes of how this staff planned on coaching their players. From the hands-on tutelage of offensive coordinator Charley Molnar, to learning the intricacies of cloud coverage with defensive backs coach Chuck Martin, everybody’s head was spinning from the minute they stepped foot on the field or in the classroom.

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Still, after the first round of two-a-days, most are in good health and on track to play in Notre Dame Stadium Thursday afternoon, the goal for everyone. And even if we might not have understood every concept the staff showed us, we were certainly having a good time, with the coaches laughing along the way as well, doing their best to find some bit of their expertise that could help out this awe-inspiring group of athletes.

After an incredible dinner last night with Brian Kelly and the coaching staff, the rosters for the Blue-Gold game have been set. In between Gold team meetings today, I’ll try to hop on here and give you guys a bit more about our daily activities. They’ve packed this camp wall to wall with things that are dreams for Irish fans, and I’ll do my best to take you there with me.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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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
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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
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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)
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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.