Kelly talks the past, the offense, and Jumbotron

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(Hope everybody had a nice holiday weekend. It’s depressing that summer is practically half-over, but the flip side of that is that football is coming. At least I remind myself every morning that football is coming…)

Tom Dienhart of Rivals.com had his turn with Brian Kelly and the result was a pretty interesting Q&A session that touched on some things that haven’t been beaten into the ground.

You can read the entire thing here, but I’ll give you a few of the greatest hits:

Kelly was asked about leaving Cincinnati in good shape, a pretty interesting question when you think about the animosity that came from Bearcats’ fans and players when Kelly decided to take the Notre Dame job.

What say you, BK?

“Let’s see, Sugar Bowl ? Orange Bowl. ? 12-0 ? yeah, I think we did OK.
They are getting a practice field. Football is important there now. My
job was to make it relevant. It was not relevant when I got there. That
is nothing to say about what had happened before. But we needed to make
it relevant. We did that. The program is better. Central [Michigan] was
better when I left it. Grand Valley’s was better when I left it. All
three of those programs are better.”

It’s pretty tough to disagree with that appraisal of the situation, and I’m sure fans of the last three programs Kelly has coached at will admit the same thing, with Cincy fans doing so begrudgingly.

When asked about his offense, Kelly did a good job reminding people that there were more than a few question marks remaining. None bigger than quarterback Dayne Crist, who has only attempted 20 passes in his college career.

“We have one quarterback in Dayne Crist, who didn’t play very much and tore his knee in a scrambling
opportunity [last year]. I know he had great accolades coming out of
high school. But he really hasn’t done anything at Notre Dame. He is
going to have to really prove himself. Three quarterbacks transferred
and left it as a major hole, which is why I had to bring in a number of
freshmen. But if you have to play a freshman quarterback at Notre Dame,
boy, that’s a scary proposition. I think the quarterback position is a
huge question mark.”

It’s interesting that Kelly brought up the three transfer quarterbacks, which is a reminder of what happens when you sign multiple quarterbacks to a recruiting class, a decision Kelly made last year bringing in Tommy Rees, Luke Massa, and Andrew Hendrix. It’s also a sobering reminder that Notre Dame is walking into the season with a quarterback who is incredibly inexperienced and one that’s also coming off a major knee injury.

(Though I’ve heard from a few well-placed people that Dayne is set to start throwing without a knee brace, a pretty nice update eight months after surgery.)

On a macro level, Kelly also had this to say about the state of the offense, and the personnel’s ability to capably execute the offense:

“No, not right now. But we are making progress toward that. It will take
a while for us to be full throttle here. There are enough skill
players for us to spread the field and keep pressure on defenses. It
will take us some time to condition ourselves and mentally pick up to
where we need to be. I see this as a process for us offensively. I don’t
see us hitting the ground and running. It is going to take a little
while.”

I don’t think even Kelly can convince people that the Irish’s offensive weapons won’t be able to play in Kelly’s spread, but he’s doing his best to lower expectations and keep some unpredictability, something the coaching staff worked very hard at during the Blue-Gold game, with vanilla playcalling and some “unique” defensive alignments.

Finally, credit goes to Dienhart for getting a Jumbotron mention out of Kelly, who dropped the J-bomb when asked if the Irish have the facilities to compete with any program in the nation:

“Infrastructure, no. But as you know, there are some unique things
about Notre Dame. And one is that we have no Jumbotron. We have no
advertising in the stadium. We play on grass. It’s not the head coach
saying that those are negatives. They are unique and we sometimes have
to address those in recruiting.

“We like the tradition, we like those things. But there clearly are
things that are used against us in recruiting. As far as practice
fields, training table, weight room, locker room — we have everything
we need at Notre Dame from that standpoint. And that has been the case
for five or six years.”

While the Jumbotron might have raised an eyebrow, I’m curious to see if Notre Dame might finally cave and replace the grass inside the stadium with some type of artificial surface. The Irish already practice on artificial surface and even with continual efforts to improve the turf, the grass in the stadium has been pretty mediocre for the past few seasons, with large chunks of sod coming up in nearly every home game.

All in all, a nice job by Dienhart asking some questions that hadn’t been addressed during the BK summer media tour.

Zaire says thank you to Notre Dame

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Malik Zaire #8 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes past defensive end Mike Moore #32 of the Virginia Cavaliers in the third quarter at Scott Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won, 34-27. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Getty
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Big week for The Observer. Not just for its advertising revenues, but for the classy gesture that outgoing senior quarterback Malik Zaire made this week.

Thursday’s edition included a letter to the editor from Zaire, who took to the student newspaper not to make headlines around the internet, but rather to thank the university for his experience in South Bend.

While Zaire’s time at Notre Dame is drawing to a close, he will leave as a proud alum. So while he’ll play football next season at another university, Zaire wrote the following in Thursday’s issue:

Dear Notre Dame students and staff,

My life changed for the better the moment I stepped onto the University of Notre Dame’s beautiful campus. The one goal I had set in my mind to achieve was to become a better man, a Notre Dame man. After growing through many trials and triumphs, the thing I’ve learned most from my experience was that if you don’t believe in yourself first, then no one else will. I believed in becoming a better man and succeeding through any circumstance, and I can say that I’ve truly accomplished that. I often refer to the famous quote from the movie “Catch Me If You Can” that was well put by Frank Abagnale:

“Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out.”

I’ve put my heart, soul and passion into the University, the football program, the South Bend community and the Irish community worldwide. I have the unbelievable honor to represent this University to the fullest as a student and soon-to-be alumni. Thank you to the amazing students and staff that I’ve met through the years for helping me grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be. I love the Irish and will always be an Irish alum no matter where I go! I look forward to keeping in touch. Let’s change the world!

Go Irish!

Malik Zaire

Senior
Dec. 7

Zaire is expected to compete for a starting quarterback job next year as a graduate transfer. He’s reportedly taken a visit to Wisconsin and plans to visit North Carolina as well, just two of several programs on the radar as Zaire looks to step in and win a starting Power 5 job.

 

 

 

ESPN’s Kiper & McShay: Kizer should return to Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 29: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish drops back to pass during the game against the Miami Hurricanes at Notre Dame Stadium on October 29, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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It’s evaluation season. With college football’s regular season over, the focus now turns to the stay-or-go decision that faces many of college football’s best players. Return for another season? Or head to the NFL?

That’s the big question facing DeShone Kizer. Viewed as a can’t-miss prospect by some earlier in the season, Kizer now awaits feedback from the NFL’s advisory board, who’ll give him either a first-round grade, a second-round grade, or none — essentially serving as a message to return to school.

That feedback is something Kizer’s requested, with Brian Kelly revealing that Kizer is one of four underclassmen requesting a review, joined by Mike McGlinchey, Nyles Morgan and Quenton Nelson. 

And while most still think it’s merely a formality before Kizer heads to the NFL, two of the media’s most well-established pundits, ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, are among those who actually think Kizer should stay in school.

In ESPN’s 25 questions about the 2017 NFL Draft, Kiper and McShay focus their attention on potential first-round quarterbacks:

There’s really only one guy right now, and he might not even enter the draft. That’s North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, a fourth-year junior who is in his first season as the starter. Trubisky has thrown 28 touchdown passes to only four interceptions, but he’s still green — with another year of seasoning, he could be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. He’s not ready to play right away in the NFL.

I don’t see any other first-rounders in the group. Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, a third-year sophomore, has to go back to school. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson has taken a step back this season. Underclassmen Luke Falkand Patrick Mahomes could use another year in school, and they don’t project as first-rounders.

McShay echoed Kiper’s evaluation of Kizer, stating: “Kizer needs another year.” And if the Irish get that, it means they’ll have a 1-2 depth chart of a third-year starter in Kizer and junior Brandon Wimbush, who saved a year of eligibility in 2016 and has three remaining.

Kizer’s been clear that he hasn’t made up his mind, planning on talking with his family about the decision in the weeks following the season. And with the year-end banquet this weekend with Notre Dame hosting the “Echoes,” that decision might come sooner than later.

Last year, the NFL draft wasn’t kind to the Irish roster. Four key players gave up eligibility to head to the NFL, with Ronnie Stanley going in the Top 10 to the Baltimore Ravens and Will Fuller joining him as a first-round selection after going to the Houston Texans. Even injured, Jaylon Smith was taken near the top of the second round by Dallas and C.J. Prosise was a third-round selection of the Seattle Seahawks.

Underclassmen have until January 16th to declare.

 

Swarbrick discusses the state of Irish football program

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Jack Swarbrick spoke extensively about the state of the Notre Dame football program. Released last Friday and a part of Swarbrick’s weekly podcast, the Irish athletic director covered the laundry list of hot-button issues, including Brian Kelly’s status, the NCAA order to vacate wins that Notre Dame is appealing, and the challenge of winning football games in today’s environment.

The entire 25 minutes are worth a listen, as Swarbrick and Nolan cover just about every question and complaint that’s out there. And in case you don’t have that time, here’s a quick breakdown:

 

Swarbrick on the 2016 season. 

“It was an extremely disappointing year. Every player, every coach, myself, other administrators involved in the program, we all share the same view. There’s no way around that conclusion. It’s not bad breaks, it’s not a play here, a play there. We didn’t do what we need to do. So we do start from that perspective.

“I think there’s a danger in overreacting to any one piece of information that you get in the course of the evaluation of football programs. That begins with, it looks one way from a this-season perspective, but it feels a little different to me from a two-season perspective.”

 

Swarbrick on the evaluation process: 

“I’m looking at the program. Wins and losses are a huge indicia of where the program is, but it’s not the only one. More important to me, frankly, is the experience of our students. My interaction with them and what their interactions with the coaches, and the environment and are we meeting their expectations. Now, we clearly didn’t meet their expectations competitively this year, because they want to win, too. But on many of the other things, the program elements are in good shape.”

 

On the off-field issues, and the challenges that faced the football team this fall. 

“I don’t want to do anything to minimize the disappointments, whether they’re competitive or unacceptable behavior in the last game at USC by one of our players, obviously, which just isn’t acceptable, it isn’t okay. The disciplinary issues we had to deal with at the front of the year, none of those are acceptable, all of those go into the evaluation, but those are the only ones that sort of get the public scrutiny. I’m dealing with the other 120 young men who are for the most part like my co-host James (Onwualu), doing everything right, making every right decision, having a real positive experience. You’ve got to look at it all, not just isolated elements of it.

 

Discussing the disappointment of the NCAA’s ruling to vacate wins and why the university is appealing: 

“If you’d merely expelled the students, you wouldn’t get this penalty. But because you went though an educative process and kept them in school and adjusted credits and made those things, you subjected yourself to this penalty. That seems like a bad message to send, but that’s one that we’re continuing to advocate for down the road.”

 

On the challenges of winning in today’s college football, as opposed to 30 years ago. 

“I think undoubtedly it is harder. Now, people from that era may have a different view. But there are things that make it harder. But it doesn’t make any difference. It’s harder to win basketball games than it was back then. It’s harder to do a number of things.

“We don’t treat any of that as an excuse or a reason to have different goals. I sort of embrace that. Some of those things that you might view as obstacles are ultimately the things that we have to offer young people. It is the eliteness of the institution and the quality of the education. You can’t say it’s an obstacle and then talk about how great it is because it helps you. That’s the way it is. I wouldn’t trade anything for the circumstance we now compete in. I think it is exactly what it should be. We have to do a better job with it, that’s all.”

Report: Corey Holmes set to transfer

Irish Illustrated / Matt Cashore
Matt Cashore / Irish Illustrated
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Receiver Corey Holmes is transferring from Notre Dame. The junior, who has two seasons of eligibility remaining, will look for a new program after earning his degree this summer, Tom Loy of Irish247 reports.

Holmes told Irish247:

“It’s just the best decision for me. I’m graduating this summer and I’m just going to find the best fit for me to finish things up.”

Even after a strong spring, Holmes saw little action this season, though he played extensively against USC in the season finale. He had four catches against the Trojans, a large part of his 11 on the year, also his career total.

That Holmes wasn’t able to find a consistent spot in the rotation is likely a big reason why he’s looking for a new opportunity. After opening eyes after posting a 4.42 40-yard dash during spring drills, the Irish coaching staff looked for a way to get Holmes onto the field. But after losing reps at the X receiver on the outside, Holmes bounced inside and out, never finding a regular spot in the rotation, playing behind Torii Hunter Jr. and Kevin Stepherson on the outside and CJ Sanders and Chris Finke in the slot.

Holmes has two seasons of eligibility remaining, redshirting his sophomore season. Because he’ll earn his degree this summer, he’ll be able to play immediately next year. Irish 247 reports that Holmes is looking at Miami, UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona and North Carolina, though he’ll have a semester to find other fits.