Friday notes: Knee-high by the fourth of July

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The links are a little thin today, mostly because I’m on my way to northern Minnesota, where the air is fresh, the lakes are clean, and the internet is scarce. I’ll do my best to keep everybody posted, but there’s likely to be little Irish football news this weekend, so enjoy a few days with the family and stay safe around fireworks.

As we head north, we usually pass a nice long stretch of farms, where inevitably we’ll look out the window and my dad with say, “knee-high by the fourth of July.”

If you think about it, that’s where this football season is: growing, coming quickly, and hopefully head-high and ready to go come Labor Day. (Or September 4th versus Purdue.)

Here are a couple interesting tidbits that you might enjoy:

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As hard as it is for me to say it about a former player from my alma mater, the Irish missing on Seantrel Henderson was probably the best thing that could’ve happened to them. While academics were always an issue, and Henderson kept the Irish in his top five until the end, there was really no shot that he was coming to Notre Dame, and the coaching staff never even sent him a letter-of-intent for his signature on Signing Day. (Not that it would’ve mattered…)

With Seantrel making a very-late pledge to USC after being assured by new coach Lane Kiffin and staff that sanctions wouldn’t effect the team, after the NCAA dropped their bomb, Henderson was the only incoming freshman not to report to summer school, and is now supposedly waffling on his commitment, exploring other college options and even prep school. Whatever his choice, Henderson is either playing college football next year at USC or not at all — transfer rules won’t allow him to play without sitting a season. Even though his options are limited, Kiffin and his staff are re-recruiting Henderson all over again, trying to get him to campus as soon as possible, as the summer conditioning and weight-room time are most critical for offensive linemen, especially those that expect to see the field early.

While Henderson is as talented as any offensive line prospect in recent memory, Notre Dame fans should be happy to say, “not my problem.”

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Speaking of recruiting, ESPNChicago’s Wes Morgan had a nice article on how futbol helped defensive line coach Mike Elston recruit newly committed Ben Councell.

From Morgan:

Fighting Irish assistant Mike Elston (defensive line/special teams), who
recruited the Asheville, N.C., talent, took useful mental notes during
his time interacting with the recruit and his family.

“He kept in constant contact with my father,” said the 6-foot-5,
225-pound Councell, who’s set to enter his senior season at Reynolds
High. “That was a big deal, because no other school had done that. He
formed a good relationship with my parents.”

“It was a big deal for dad to watch the U.S. soccer game [vs.
Algeria], and [Elston] planned the schedule around that,” said Councell,
who chose the Irish over Georgia Tech, West Virginia, North Carolina
and South Carolina. “The whole coaching staff was hospitable. But he
took care of dad.”

Dad, who played soccer at N.C. State, had his pick from many
swanky viewing areas within the Guglielmino football complex at Notre
Dame to take in the American’s crucial World Cup tilt. 

I’m hesitant to give Elston credit because he didn’t draft me during the Fantasy Blue-Gold Game, but after spending a few days with him, it’s clear that he’s a smart and thoughtful guy. (Even if his drafting prowess is suspect.)

This article does a nice job of reminding you how much the little things matter during recruiting. While making a college choice is often a forty-year decision instead of a four year one, it’s only human nature to let small details like this play a key role in the choice.

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One of the truly national recruits on Notre Dame’s big board is New York’s Ishaq Williams, a defensive end that has already received 28 scholarship offers from just about every big-time program across the country. 

Williams plans to hit as many colleges as possible this summer to get a list of favorites. The New York Post reports that one of those summer visits is to South Bend.

Considered the top prospect in New York State by several scouting
services and a four-star prospect by Scout.com, Williams certainly has
his pick. He has received 28 BCS scholarship offers. The who’s who of
elite Division I programs includes USC, UCLA, Stanford, Penn State,
Syracuse, Maryland, Rutgers, Alabama, Miami, Notre Dame, Texas Tech and
Florida.

“I’m looking forward to it because I know it’s a necessary part of
the recruiting process,” said the 6-foot-5, 225-pound rising senior who
has already qualified academically for college and will graduate from
Lincoln in January. “I’m looking forward to narrowing it down.”

Williams,
a 17-year-old Clinton Hill native, has already visited Penn
State, Syracuse (his parents’ alma mater), Pittsburgh, Rutgers,
Maryland, and Miami. He plans to visit Notre Dame on Aug. 5, his father
Shaun said; take a trip down south to see Alabama, Florida, and Miami
again the second week of August; and go out west for USC, UCLA, and
Stanford the following week.

Williams would fill a great need for the Irish and would be one of those playmakers that could help turn the Irish defense around. Brian Kelly and staff have already made a commitment to recruiting and reestablishing their footprint in New York, and no recruit would be a better get that the New Yorker. With Bob Diaco prowling the northeast, expect the Irish to be in it until the end.

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Finally, thanks to Brendan who pointed out ESPN’s College Football Live team, who made their bold predictions for next season. While Brock Huard tried to make a splash by calling Boise State in the BCS Championship game, the real headline for Irish fans was when arch-nemesis Mark May picked Notre Dame to win 10 games under Brian Kelly.  (Andre Ware probably made the most ridiculous claim, picking Wyoming to beat Texas next year in Austin.)

Don’t believe me about May?  Take a look:

Have a great holiday weekend everybody…

Now is the time for Daelin Hayes to turn athleticism into pass rush threat

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This space has mentioned a few times the dearth of returning sacks among Notre Dame’s defensive line. It is a pertinent fact—no returning Irish defensive lineman recorded a sack in the 2016 season—but it fails to mention the flipside of that.

Most of Notre Dame’s defensive linemen had few, if any, opportunities to rush the passer in 2016. Perhaps at the top of the list of those who should bring down the opposing passer a few times this fall, sophomore Daelin Hayes has laid claim to a starting rush spot through five spring practices.

“The athleticism is what obviously stands out,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “He’s extremely athletic, he’s fit physically, 250 pounds and very strong.”

These facts are, after all, the reasons Hayes was a highly sought-after five-star recruit according to rivals.com.

“It’s the football knowledge, learning the techniques at the position in which he plays is really the piece,” Kelly continued. “It’s just learning right now for him. This is the time to do it, in spring ball.

“Squeezing down on a tight end when the back is away. Wrong-arming the puller. These are all football terms and schemes that are a bit new to him. We have to be patient with him. He’s an explosive athlete. There’s going to be some mistakes along the way, and I’m okay with that as long as he’s learning.”

Without much depth pushing for playing time behind him, Hayes will have the opportunity to make, and subsequently understand, those mistakes. Seniors Jay Hayes (no relation) and Andrew Trumbetti are mired in competition for the other end spot, while sophomores Julian Okwara, Adetokunbo Ogundeji and Khalid Kareem may have even more development ahead of them than Daelin Hayes does.

Incoming freshmen Kofi Wardlow and Jonathon MacCollister will join the fray in the summer, but for now, the younger Hayes has his chance to impress with his natural gifts while absorbing the intricacies of new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s defense.

Hayes is not a complete unknown. While Okwara made four tackles last season in 11 games and Kareem appeared in four games, Hayes saw action in every contest, finishing the season with 11 tackles, one pass breakup and one forced fumble.

“He’s an athlete,” defensive line coach Mike Elston said last week. “He’s on the edge in a two-point stance. He’s not a trained, put-your-hand-on-the-ground defensive end. He played running back in high school. He can see things better in a two-point and can diagnose quicker. He’s able to be more productive.”

It may be accurate to mention no returning Notre Dame defensive linemen tackled a quarterback for a loss last season, but it is more precise to also include the Irish have possibilities of changing that trend.

SPEAKING OF THE DEFENSIVE LINE
Notre Dame is nearly as thin at defensive tackle as it is at end. Junior Jerry Tillery leads the way with senior end-converted-to-tackle Jonathan Bonner lining up next to him thus far. Their reserves: Oft-concussed senior Daniel Cage, senior Pete Mokwuah and junior Micah Dew-Treadway with junior Elijah Taylor out for the spring with a foot injury.

Theoretically, junior Brandon Tiassum is also in the mix, and three freshmen (Kurt Hinish, Myron Tagovailo-Amosa and four-star Darnell Ewell) will join the group in the summer.

And maybe, just maybe, perhaps, possibly … Clemson graduate student transfer Scott Pagano could walk onto campus alongside those freshmen. Pagano visited Notre Dame the first week of March, and was due to look at Oklahoma and Arkansas the next two weekends, respectively. Instead, Pagano reportedly cancelled both of those visits Monday.

Pagano does still have a visit to Oregon scheduled for April 21. Until indicated otherwise, it may be prudent to presume Pagano hopes to land as close to his Hawaiian home as possible.

RELATED READING: 1 Day Until Spring Practice: A look at the defensive line

Recruiting success continues with OL Dirksen, class’s 12th commit

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Even in the doldrums of spring practice, Notre Dame’s recent recruiting success continues. Rivals.com three-star/scout.com four-star offensive lineman John Dirksen offered a verbal commitment to the Irish on Saturday, bringing the 2018 class to 12 commitments.

The 6-foot-5, 290-pounds Dirksen (Marion High School; Maria Stein, Ohio) joins consensus three-star prospect Cole Mabry (Brentwood H.S.; Brentwood, Tenn.) as the offensive linemen thus far among the 12. In three of the last four years, Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand has pulled in four recruits, with 2015’s two (Trevor Ruhland, Tristen Hoge) as the exception. This recruiting cycle could again bring a limited offensive line haul, given the likely limits on the class’s size.

While any and all current class of 2018 team rankings should be taken with many grains of salt—there are 318 days between today and National Signing Day, after all—Dirksen’s commitment solidifies the Irish hold on the No. 3 class, per rivals.com. Other recruiting services place Notre Dame even higher.

Dirksen chose Hiestand and the Irish over offers from Michigan State, Iowa State and Boston College, among others.

 

Holmes out for spring; Jones & Jones shining

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Notre Dame’s spring continued over the weekend, and is all too often the case with football, that led to an injury. Early enrollee running back C.J. Holmes will probably miss the rest of spring practice due to a separated shoulder, Irish coach Brian Kelly announced following Saturday’s practice.

“We’ll get an MRI and know a little bit further on Monday once that calms down a little bit,” Kelly said. “We’ll get a picture of that and see. He had an open repair on that same shoulder his sophomore year in high school.”

Behind three backs, including two with experience, Holmes was unlikely to see playing time in the backfield in 2017.

Of those three backs, sophomore Tony Jones, Jr., is the unknown after preserving a year of eligibility last season. In limited practice viewing, however, Jones has only impressed. He has caught Kelly’s eye, as well.

“He’s 225 pounds, can catch the ball coming out of the backfield, [is] assignment correct, and can run elusively and can get into the second level,” Kelly said. “What does that equal? He’s a pretty good back.

“Obviously he was noticeable today in his play and he got some work with the first group as well. He wasn’t just getting second-team reps.”

Jones may be getting some first-unit exposure, but expect him to remain behind junior Josh Adams in the depth chart. Considering Jones’ style is somewhat comparable to Adams’, whereas junior Dexter Williams presents something of a change of pace, Williams should see more action than the sophomore, as well.

MORE PRAISE FOR ALIZE JONES
Junior tight end Alizé Jones—rather, Alizé Mack, per his Twitter account—has taken the lead in spring’s race of who reaps the most sound bite accolades. In complimenting Jones, who missed last season due to an academic suspension, Kelly also managed to laud new offensive coordinator Chip Long.

“I think Chip is doing a terrific job with [Jones],” Kelly said. “He’s got a good relationship. He knows how to rise him up when he needs to and scold him when he needs to. Alizé needs a little bit of that.

“He’s virtually un-coverable in certain areas of the field. I don’t care at any level. You can’t cover him. He just has that kind of talent. The one that I think stands out to me in the few days is he’s committed himself to being a blocker and playing physical. If he continues to do that, we’re going to find ourselves with a lot of tight ends on the field.”

Presumably, Jones would join graduate student tight end Durham Smythe in two tight end sets. It should be remembered, Long has historically shown a preference for such formations, and with Notre Dame’s plethora of options at the position, Long’s tendencies have no need to change. For that matter, Long had some praise for Jones this weekend, as well.

“Alizé can be as good as he wants to be,” Long said Friday. “…He’s growing up each and every day. Great joy to coach, and that whole group is. He doesn’t want to let that group down. There’s no question he can be as good as he wants to be.”

Friday at 4: 40-yard dashes and absurdity

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Of all the absurd things the football world often obsesses over, the 40-yard dash may be the most useless of them. Yes, it even beats out assigning star rankings to 16- and 17-year-olds, though not by much.

For now, let’s look past the rest of the inane Draft intricacies, such as former Irish defensive lineman Jarron Jones feeling pressured to increase his vertical jump by four inches. (He did, jumping to 24.5 inches in Notre Dame’s Pro Day on Thursday.) This scribe does not have an excess of time to spend discussing Jones’s outlandish wingspan if this piece is to post by its intended, though unnecessary, 4 p.m. ET deadline.

The 40-yard dash … No football play begins from a sprinter’s stance, yet it may be the factor most crucial to a low 40 time. Former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer posted a time of 4.83 seconds in the NFL Combine earlier this month. For context’s sake, Kizer ran .07 seconds slower than Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did as a draft prospect in the 2004 combine.

Roethlisberger has had himself an excellent career, and his ability to shrug off 300-pound defensive linemen is a testament to his athleticism. Put Kizer and Roethlisberger in the open field together, though, and Kizer would presumably have outrun Roethlisberger at any point of the two-time Super Bowl champion’s career. In Indianapolis, however, Roethlisberger did a better job of getting his hips through his first couple strides of the heralded 40-yard dash.

Here, watch Kizer train for the 40, the most-hyped measurement of his combine.

“The ultimate goal is to have yourself in the best position to have your body weight back in those legs so you can create enough torque to get out as quickly as possible,” Kizer said. “A guy who is as long as I am, with long limbs that I have, I’ve got to make sure that my weight distribution is in the best position for me to get out and catch up to some of those quicker guys who are a little lower to the ground.”

What part of that sounds applicable to football? The 40 turns Kizer’s size (6-foot-4, 237 pounds) into a negative. He worries about the angle of his knees. After his throwing session at the Thursday Pro Day, Kizer summed up the draft evaluation process even more succinctly.

“This process is very different in the sense that the way you look productive in the combine and in a pro day is very different from what productivity actually looks like out on the field.”

Well put.

More pertinent to the actual game of football, Kizer’s completion percentage in the staged workout could have been higher.

Then again, he was throwing to the likes of former Irish receivers Corey Robinson and Amir Carlisle and former running back Jonas Gray. Reportedly, the only contact Gray and Kizer had before the session was Kizer emailing the former New England Patriot the planned series of routes.

The NFL Draft, where Gmail becomes a necessity.

Let’s do away with the 40. If we insist on keeping it, let’s do it twice, once from a standing start and once from a running start. Those would simulate actual football movements: A receiver getting off the line, and a ballcarrier breaking away and trying to outrun the defense.

Asking DeShone Kizer to mimic Usain Bolt is an exercise in futility, idiocy, absurdity.

Cue end of rant.

Why cite the Roethlisberger time? Many, including Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke, have readily compared Kizer to Roethlisberger this spring.

The most notable line of that scouting report (scroll down to No. 32) may be its final one, echoing Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly’s sentiments from earlier this week.

“The mystery is whether he can regain his assertiveness,” Burke writes. “If so, he could turn out to be the 2017 class’s best QB. The team that drafts him will be taking a leap of faith.”

A leap. Not a dash.

For more Notre Dame Pro Day results, click here.

And with that, this just may make the 4 p.m. posting. You know what to do.