Friday notes: Visits, the hall, losses, and more

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There’s been a lot of interest in yesterday’s topic of ranking Irish players, and I’m thinking about digging into that evaluation this weekend. While Mel Kiper and Todd McShay call talent evaluators and watch “game film,” I’ll rely on a couple cold ones, a scratch notebook, my DVR from last year’s games, and a lot of guessing. (Always an under-credited source.)

In other news, did you hear that LeBron James decided to go to Miami? (Think that solves anybody’s question on whether or not LeBron was an alpha-dog…)

On with the notes…

If you’re following the recruiting ins and outs of the Irish, this should be a pretty important month for the Irish. According to IrishSportsDaily.com, Notre Dame has some prominent blue-chip prospects coming to town in the next month, including WR Kasen Williams, OT Antonio Richardson, DE Anthony Rabasa, and DE Ishaq Williams. According to Steve Wiltfong, both RB Justice Hayes and OLB/Freak Christian French are hoping to get to town this weekend as well.

Every one of these guys hold Irish offers and each would be big-time gets for the current coaching staff, who are having a good week with the news that Aaron Lynch is still calling the Irish his number-one team after some waffling between Florida State, and that DE/TE Troy Niklas, a prototype giant for the Irish defense at end, is down to Stanford and Notre Dame, and he hasn’t even met the current coaching staff, which he plans to do when he gets to campus sometime in the next month.

If you want to get more in-depth about recruiting, there are certainly better places to go, but these are the types of guys that the Irish can chase hard after now, with 12 recruits already committed and the class probably staying around 18-20 recruits.  As they say, coffee is for closers, but if you’re an Irish fan, you’ve got to feel good that Tony Alford’s middle name might as well be Folgers. (Working on my stand-up routine, bear with me…)

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Former Notre Dame great Tim Brown will return to South Bend to be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame next week, a fitting award to one of the great players in Irish history. Brown was a two-time All-American for the Irish, won the Walter Camp Award as a senior, and was the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy.

Said Lou Holtz of his prized player back in 1988, “I can’t imagine that there’s anyone else who can have such a major aeffect on a football game in as many ways as Tim Brown can.”

Here’s the 2010 Hall of Fame enshrinement class from D-IA players:

     Pervis Atkins — HB, New Mexico State
     Tim Brown — WR, Notre Dame
     Chuck Cecil — DB, Arizona
     Ed Dyas — FB, Auburn
     Major Harris — QB, West Virginia
     Gordon Hudson — TE, Brigham Young
     William Lewis — C, Harvard
     Woodrow Lowe — LB, Alabama
     Ken Margerum — WR, Stanford
     Steve McMichael — DT, Texas
     Chris Spielman — LB, Ohio State
     Larry Station — LB, Iowa
     Pat Swilling — DE, Georgia Tech
     Gino Torretta — QB, Miami
     Curt Warner — RB, Penn State
     Grant Wistrom — DE, Nebraska

I’m happy to see Chuck Cecil, the human heat-seeking missile, get inducted, he was always a favorite of mine growing up.

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Earlier this week, Notre Dame lost a great man in former assistant coach Tom Pagna, who died at 77 of heart failure.

Pagna was a trusted assistant of Ara Parseghian, and an offensive coach that was part of two national championship teams, developing many Irish greats, and having a deeper impact on the lives of many of his former players with his oversized personality.

I’ve never met Pagna, but those that had, knew him as a true Notre Dame legend, and someone that stayed in the community, working on Irish football broadcasts as well as becoming head of the Notre Dame Alumni Association, which is a rare feat, as WNDU’s Jeff Jeffers points out, for a graduate of Miami of Ohio.

Visitation is today from 2 to 8 p.m. at Welsheimer North Funeral Home in South Bend, with the funeral Saturday at 11 a.m. at Christ the King Church.

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Finally, it looks like the Jack Swarbrick has decided on a replacement for coach Dave Schrage, who was “not retained” after four mediocre seasons helming the Irish baseball program. Just about every media outlet has named Boston College’s Mike Aoki as Schrage’s successor, and the South Bend Tribune reports that Aoki has already told his team that he’s heading to South Bend.

“We are losing a good guy,” BC catcher Garret Smith told the Tribune. “Coach Aoki is a real competitive guy. He puts you in an environment where you can achieve.”

Aoki went 114-104-1 in his four seasons at BC, not particularly an inspired record at first sight, but considering that the Eagles play in the ACC and are the only cold-weather team in the league, it should be a good hire.

(Only worry is the following tweet from ESPN’s Keith Law: “Looks like BC baseball coach Mik Aoki is going to Notre Dame, where he can carry on their fine tradition of blowing out arms.”)

Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Combine
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Notre Dame will send ten former players to the NFL Scouting Combine. The annual event in Indianapolis serves as the unofficial apex of draft season, a meat-market where the best professional prospects are poked, prodded, questioned and tested in a variety of on- and off-field drills.

Heading to the festivities from Notre Dame are:

Chris Brown, WR
Sheldon Day, DT
Will Fuller, WR
Nick Martin, C
Romeo Okwara, DE
C.J. Prosise, RB
KeiVarae Russell, CB
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, OLB
Ronnie Stanley, OT

For a prospect like Smith, it’ll be teams first opportunity to talk to the elite prospect and check his progress medically as he returns from a Fiesta Bowl knee injury. Russell will also be a non-participant in physical drills, waiting until Notre Dame’s Pro Day to go through testing.

Invites to Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Elijah Shumate are crucial in finding their way into the draft, as the three former Irish starters participated in the Shrine Bowl, where scouts had an early look at them. Likewise, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day continue their ascent, both coming off strong Senior Bowl weeks.

For Irish fans, it’ll be fun to watch early-enrollees Fuller and Prosise test. Both are expected to be some of the fastest players at their position. Brown may also have the ability to surprise teams, with his track background and leaping ability capable of earning him an extended look. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will look to impress as well, hoping to check out as one of the draft’s most impressive athletes at offensive tackle.

Ohio State led all schools with 14 invites. National Champion Alabama had nine former players invited.

 

WR Corey Robinson named Notre Dame student body president

Notre Dame v Florida State
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On Wednesday, wide receiver Corey Robinson added another impressive title to his resume as a student-athlete at Notre Dame: Student Body President.

The junior, paired with classmate Becca Blais as his vice presidential running mate, won a majority of the votes cast by his fellow students, a runaway winner with 59.4% of the votes, nearly triple the next highest vote getter.

Robinson posted the following on Twitter, thankful for the opportunity to serve his fellow students:

Robinson’s time at Notre Dame has been filled with accomplishments both on and off the field. He was named an Academic All-American as a sophomore. He’s a six-time Dean’s List member in the prestigious Program of Liberal Studies and is also pursuing a sustainability minor. He’s won the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award as well.

That’s quite a bit on the plate of Notre Dame’s lone senior wide receiver. But as you might expect, Robinson is well prepared for the next challenge ahead.

“I’ve planned ahead, gotten all of my hard work out of the way this semester, and I’m finishing up my senior thesis,” Robinson told The Observer. “I’m doing all the hard stuff now so in the fall and the spring, I just have to take two classes pretty much.”

Robinson’s other contributions as a student-athlete at Notre Dame include One Shirt one Body, an opportunity for college athletes to donate their athletic apparel to local communities. Robinson has presented the plan to the ACC as well as the NCAA, earning immediate support from both organizations.

 

Mailbag: Now Open (scheduling input requested)

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 01:  Actors Mike Myers (L) and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth from "Wayne's World" onstage during the 17th annual MTV Movie Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre on June 1, 2008 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Okay folks, we’ve had enough semi-positive encouragement to keep the video mailbag going for another week. With that said, I’ll need some reader participation to keep this thing rolling on.

As always, submit your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold. You can also ask your questions live via Facebook. You’ll need to LIKE THIS PAGE first, and then at the appropriate time, head on over to watch and participate.

To that point, let’s pick a time that works for everyone. Right now, here are the options that work at Inside the Irish HQ.  Weigh in and the best time wins. (How’s that for a democracy?)

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Restocking the roster: Offensive Line

Notre Dame offensive line
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When Notre Dame takes the field this spring, there’ll be two very large holes in the offensive line that need filling. All-American left tackle Ronnie Stanley is gone. As is captain Nick Martin at center. Both three-year starters leave Harry Hiestand with some big decisions to make in the coming months as the Irish look to fill those key positions and still field a unit with the ability to dominate in the trenches.

The Irish have had incredible stability at left tackle, with Stanley sliding in seamlessly after four seasons of Zack Martin. Perhaps the best six-year run in the program’s storied history at the position, Stanley will likely join Martin as a first-rounder, back-to-back starters at a key spot that often dictates the play of one of the most important units on the field.

Replacing Nick Martin could prove equally tricky. Rising junior Sam Mustipher served as Martin’s backup in 2015, filing in capably for Martin after an ankle sprain took him off the field briefly against UMass. But Mustipher will face a challenge this spring from rising sophomore Tristen Hoge, the first true center recruited by Hiestand and Brian Kelly since they arrived in South Bend.

Kelly talked about 2017 being a big cycle on the recruiting trail for restocking the offensive line. You can see why when you look at the depth, particularly at tackle. Let’s look at the work that’s been done the previous two classes as Notre Dame continues to be one of the premier programs recruiting in the trenches.

 

DEPARTURES
Ronnie Stanley
, Sr. (39 starts)
Nick Martin, Grad Student (37 starts)

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Tristen Hoge
, C
Trevor Ruhland
, G
Jerry Tillery
, T
Parker Boudreaux
, G
Tommy Kraemer
, T
Liam Eichenberg
, T

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Hunter Bivin, T
Quenton Nelson, LG
Sam Mustipher, C
Steve Elmer, RG
Mike McGlinchey, RT

Alex Bars*, T
Colin McGovern*, G/T
Mark Harrell*, C/G
Tristen Hoge*, C
John Montelus*, G
Jimmy Byrne*, G
Trevor Ruhland*, G

*Has an additional year of eligibility remaining. 

ANALYSIS:
It’ll be a fascinating spring up front for the offensive line. We’ll get our first look at potential replacements and see if the Irish staff values a veteran presence (as it has done in the past) or puts former blue-chip recruits in position to become multi-year starters.

For now, I’m putting last season’s backups in line to ascend to starting spots. That’s not to say I think that’s what’ll happen. Hunter Bivin may have been Stanley’s backup last season, but as long as Alex Bars is fully recovered from his broken ankle, I think he’s the best bet to step into that job. Sharing reps at guard—not a natural spot for Bars to begin with—was more about getting him some experience, with the aim to move him into the lineup in 2016. That allows Bivin to be a key swing reserve, capable of playing on either the right or left side.

At center, the decision is less clear cut—especially since we’ve yet to see Tristen Hoge play a snap of football. Size and strength is a genuine concern at the point of attack for Hoge, not necessarily the biggest guy hitting campus. But it sounds like he’s had a nice first season from a developmental standpoint, and if he’s a true technician at the position, he could be a rare four-year starter at center if he’s able to pull ahead of Mustipher this spring.

On paper, the other three starting jobs don’t seem to be in question. Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey are ready to step to the forefront. Concerns about Steve Elmer’s buy-in will certainly be answered by spring, there’s little chance he’ll be on the field in March if he’s not going to be around in August. I’m of the mind that Elmer’s too good of a character guy to leave the program, even if his life doesn’t revolve around football 24/7. Now it’s time for him to clean up some of the flaws in his game, the only starter from last season who held back the Irish from being a truly elite group.

Depth isn’t necessarily a concern, but there isn’t a ton of it at tackle. That happens when you move a guy like Jerry Tillery to defensive line and lose a player like Stanley with a year of eligibility remaining. That could force the Irish to cross-train someone like Colin McGovern, a veteran who can swing inside or out if needed. McGovern seems to be a guy who would start in a lot of other programs, but has struggled to crack a two-deep that’s now filled with former blue-chip recruits, all of them essentially handpicked by Hiestand and Kelly.