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…

Will Wimbush, Elko and the early enrollees surprise in spring practice?

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 26: Fans congratulate Brandon Wimbush #12 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish after he ran for a 58 yard touchdown against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Notre Dame Stadium on September 26, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Umass 62-27.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Exactly 59 days from today, the Irish will take the field at Notre Dame Stadium. Sure, they will be playing against themselves, but nonetheless, it will be somewhat-competitive football played in gold helmets.

For timing context, exactly 59 days ago, you looked beneath the Christmas tree to learn if Santa Claus left you season tickets, socks or coal. I got socks. They had some of that extra cushioning, so I considered them a suitable treat.

Whether you care about my argyles or not (you don’t), for many the Blue-Gold Game and Christmas morning hold similar excitement. That fact is apparently why Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick does not concern himself when groups of alumni publicly lament his decisions, or lack thereof.

“I never worry about that,” Swarbirck told the Indianapolis Star in an exclusive interview you really should read. Go on, click the link, it will open in a new tab. You can come right back here when you are done.

“The hardest job in athletics is trying to generate passion in your program. If that sort of stuff bothers you, you can’t be the athletic director, head coach or the quarterback at Notre Dame.”

That very passion will undoubtedly lead to frame-by-frame discussions of video snippets from spring practice, parsing of each and every word Irish coach Brian Kelly says in quick interviews after those practices, and extreme pessimism and optimism about the 2017 season.

In the Christmas spirit, what toys could bring the must excitement during the spring unwrapping? Personally, the gift I was unsure of always brought the most joy. I would rather open an unexpected book than know about a charcoal-gray suit. In other words, at least for today, let’s look past the offensive line, the running backs and the inside linebackers. Instead, let’s look forward to learning about… (more…)

How did Mike Elko fare against past Irish opponents?

TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 18:  Karlos Williams #9 of the Florida State Seminoles scores the touchdown that would win the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during their game at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 18, 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Former Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder took over at that position before the 2014 season. Former Wake Forest defensive coordinator, and now VanGorder’s successor at Notre Dame, Mike Elko took over in Winston-Salem at the same time. Since then, the two programs faced common opponents nine times.

With the lone exception of Army, all these games featured ACC opponents. When it comes to talent, Wake Forest tends to be outmatched in the ACC. Recruits from 2011 to 2016 suited up for the Deacons in the 2014-16 seasons. During those six recruiting cycles, Wake Forest never finished higher than No. 10 in the conference according to rivals.com’s rankings. In 2012 and 2014, the Deacons finished at the bottom of the conference in recruiting.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, finished behind an ACC team a total of 10 times over those six years. Florida State outpaced the Irish five times, the exception being Notre Dame’s No. 3-ranked class in 2013 following its national championship game appearance. Clemson finished ahead of the Irish four times (2014 joining 2013 as the outliers), and Miami rounds the listing off with its No. 9-finish in 2012, compared to Notre Dame’s No. 20.

The point being, VanGorder and the Irish could anticipate having a stronger and deeper roster in at least six of the games discussed below. Elko and Wake Forest may have been able to make that argument—and it would be a debatable one—just once, when they faced Duke this past September.

Before comparing the two units’ successes and failures in those nine—actually, 18—contests, let’s establish two points of clarification. Notre Dame and North Carolina State played in a literal hurricane this past October. Comparing that game to any other will accomplish nothing. Furthermore, before anyone starts griping about that afternoon’s play-calling, this is an exercise discussing defensive performances, not offensive. The run:pass distribution of Oct. 1, 2016, bears no significance here.

Secondly, the other two games the Irish played fitting this criteria but after VanGorder’s dismissal—Syracuse and Army—are included below. Only so much of the scheme changed mid-season, and the personnel did not.

If you are busy catching up from a long weekend and do not have the time to look at the numbers below, a quick summary for you: In five of the eight instances, Elko’s unit fared distinctly better than VanGorder’s in multiple notable statistical categories. However, the Deacons struggled with Army’s triple-option attack, and both 2014 Florida State and 2015 Clemson blew right through the aggressive defense far easier than they did against Notre Dame.

Presented in something resembling reverse chronological order: (more…)

Four-star WR Micah Jones chooses Irish; Rees may need to wait; Other late-week reading

jones
rivals.com
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A day may come when Notre Dame suffers a recruiting disappointment in the 2018 cycle, when a high school star spurns the Irish coaching staff for a foe, but it is not this day.

Rivals.com four-star receiver Micah Jones (Warren Township High School; Gurnee, Ill.) committed to Notre Dame on Friday, joining a class of now 10 recruits, including four who committed just this week.

Jones chose the Irish over offers from the likes of Iowa, Michigan State and Ole Miss, among others.

He is the first receiver among the 10 commitments and the seventh considered a four-star prospect. At 6-foot-5, 196 pounds, Jones should present a large target for whomever the Notre Dame quarterback is in the fall of 2018, most likely then-senior Brandon Wimbush.

Tom, Tommy or Thomas; Assistant Coach or Graduate Assistant?
Thomas Rees may need to wait a season before officially being a coach at Notre Dame. The legislation to approve a 10th assistant coach was expected to be voted on, passed and effective in April. A newly-added amendment may push the effective date to following the 2017 season. The amendment will be voted on immediately before the legislation itself is.

The delay makes sense. Most coaching hirings and firings occur in December and January. In theory, creating a one-timing hiring frenzy following spring football could leave many programs in the lurch. In practice, however, this is not anticipated.

“The majority of the FBS guys that I’ve talked with currently believe that 10th coach is going to come from within their own organization,” Todd Berry told the Associated Press. Berry is the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association and former coach at Army and Louisiana-Monroe. “Quality control, graduate assistants, analysts, or they’re planning on hiring somebody that’s out of work.”

A majority is not a unanimity, though, and that carousel will innately work to the disadvantage of the Group of 5 schools.

As for Rees, a graduate assistant can still work extensively with players. The most-pertinent difference between a graduate assistant and an assistant coach is the former cannot recruit. Given Notre Dame’s recent success on the recruiting trail—and the early commitment of class of 2018 consensus four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec (Pine-Richland H.S.; Gibsonia, Pa.)—Rees may not be an absolute necessity in that regard this cycle.

A Kizer Appraisal
Former NFL scout Greg Gabriel took a look at former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer this week, largely paying the draft prospect compliments.

In calling Kizer “the most talented quarterback in this draft class,” Gabriel set a high ceiling for Kizer’s spring. Part of Gabriel’s positive assessment comes from acknowledging Kizer’s responsibilities as the Irish signal-caller.

“The spread offense that Kizer played in at Notre Dame is more sophisticated than many of the spread offenses we see elsewhere at the collegiate level. The Notre Dame offense is a whole-field read scheme in which the quarterback has to go through a progression that encompasses both sides of the field. He also can change the play and/or protections at the line of scrimmage. Given all that, Kizer was asked to do more than many spread quarterbacks are asked to do.”

Gabriel also reflected on the dynamic differences for Kizer in 2015 and 2016 and what may have elicited some of his seeming stagnation.

“There was the unnecessary quarterback controversy at Notre Dame, and the offensive line wasn’t as experienced or as talented and the receivers were mostly first-year starters.”

As much as Gabriel raves about Kizer, he would be the first to tell you anything beyond individual player evaluation is a waste of air this early in the draft process. Mock drafts may be fun, but they are not much beyond that.

Take the fates of Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo, for example. Few, if any, in the NFL expect them to dress for the Cowboys and Patriots, respectively, again. Where they end up could directly impact Kizer’s draft placement.

Jaylon Smith May Be Back to Form
Former Notre Dame and current Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith posted yet another encouraging video to Twitter. This one shows Smith really might be game-ready right now and, if not, almost certainly will be by the fall. Should there be any difficulty with the embedded video below, here is a link straight to it.

OL Mabry makes third commitment this week; WR Jones may follow Friday

mabry
rivals.com
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Two weeks ago, Irish coach Brian Kelly gave a non-answer of an answer to a question about a likely early signing period this coming December. Avoiding specifics, he indicated he thinks the effects of such a change will be seen on a case-by-case basis entirely dependent on the recruits.

“Some will, some won’t,” Kelly said. “…Each kid is going to have to react to it based upon also how their school is going to be dealing with it. Some will come off the board at the time.

“We’re expecting some to sign early, but I think our mindset is we’re going into it business as usual. We’re all going to have to fight until February.”

After this week, Notre Dame is going to have more year-long fights than anticipated. Consensus three-star offensive lineman recruit Cole Mabry (Brentwood High School; Brentwood, Tenn.) became the third prospect to offer a verbal commitment to the Irish coaching staff in less than 36 hours with his Wednesday decision. Mabry received the offer over the weekend, but waited a few days before making his decision public, lest emotions be dictating his thought process.

At 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, Mabry will have time to add muscle to his frame, with four or five offensive tackles greeting him on the Notre Dame roster in the summer of 2018. That ability to mold his style and growth may have played a part in the Irish interest.

“They love my height and athleticism and how I play,” Mabry told rivals.com. “We got to break down film and go through things that they do that pair up with how I play now. They think I’ll be a great fit in their offense.”

Mabry is the ninth Notre Dame commitment in the class of 2018, though the first offensive lineman.

Judging by new Notre Dame director of football performance Matt Balis’s agenda for the Irish roster’s Valentine’s Day morning, Mabry will have much to look forward to in terms of strength and conditioning.

Rivals.com four-star receiver Micah Jones (Warren Township H.S.; Gurnee, Ill.) is scheduled to announce his verbal commitment this Friday at 4 p.m. ET. Along with Notre Dame, Jones is considering Iowa, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ole Miss, Illinois and Northwestern. He would be the first receiver in Notre Dame’s 2018 class. Naturally, whomever Jones commits to, the recruiting fight will last until at least December, and perhaps all the way to February.