Counting down the Irish: 10-6

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Get caught up on the rankings and read the lists for 25-21, 20-16, and 15-11.

As the list gets closer to the top, the usual suspects seem to pop up. I’ll leave the analysis for Monday when we unveil the top-five, but here are the rankings for 10-6 on the Irish roster.

Gotta hand it to Pat for his ranking of Ben Turk. That’s an absolutely bold pick, and I’d tend to give him the Billy Madison treatment, but I appreciate him throwing it out there, and I don’t want Turk to beat me up for trashing his ranking.

On to the rankings…

Frank of UHND;

10. Ian Williams, NT: Williams looked his best as a frosh in a 3-4 defense, but wasn’t as effective the past two seasons.
9. Dayne Crist, QB: If Crist ends the season higher up on this list, Notre Dame fans will be very, very happy with year one of Brian Kelly.
8. Armando Allen, RB: He might not have developed into the home run threat we all thought he would be, but he’s become a very good all-around back.
7. Darius Fleming, OLB: Fleming has the potential to be a lot higher on this list and should put up impressive sack and tackle for loss totals this year.
6. Chris Stewart, LG: Stewart is going to be one of the leaders of the team this season and has come a long way during his career.

Anthony of Clashmore Mike:

10. Trevor Robinson, OL: Great agility and mean streak are a strong combination.
9. Steve Filer, OLB: May be the best athlete among the outside linebackers.
8. Ethan Johnson, DE: Moving back to his more natural position should pay dividends.
7. Chris Stewart, LG: Road grading lineman has great agility and is the leader of the front five.
6. Gary Gray, CB: Possibly the best all-around member of the secondary.

Matt of Her Loyal Sons:

10. Kapron Lewis-Moore, DE: The highest solo tackle count among defensive linemen in 2009.
9. Steve Filer, OLB: Our stats show that if he’s on the field, he’s actually busy making tackles.
8. Armando Allen, RB: Career rushing yards per carry of 4.5. Just a shoestring away from breaking out big one of these days.
7. Manti Te’o: Instincts and speed for catching his prey not seen since Jurassic Park.
6. Brian Smith, OLB: Still the leader of the linebacker pack, even in terms of tackles.

Chris and Matt of Rakes of Mallow:

10. Darius Fleming, OLB: Fleming is a hair less athletic than his fellow Chicagoan Filer, but he’s got football smarts to really make an impact in Diaco’s “No-Crease” 3-4 defense.
9. Chris Stewart, LG: Can we please nickname this fifth-year 1L “The Professor” or “The Judge?”
8. Kapron Lewis-Moore, DE: The big man from Texas showed flashes last year after spending his redshirt bulking up. A true 3-4 DE, this could be a big year for the man they call KLM.
7. Ethan Johnson, DE: The big muchacho is finally back where he belongs as a 3-4 DE. Let your talents show, sir.
6. Ian Williams, NT: My little brother tells me that Ian Williams is a blast to hang out with. Also, he’s big and awesome.

Pat, man of the people:

10. Ben Turk, P: Hear me out. Turk’s 38-yard average may look poor but that is a misleading stat. After a poor start and absolutely atrocious performance against Pitt, Turk averaged 45.5 yards per punt on his next 8 kicks. For a frame of reference, the 2008 Ray Guy Winner Matt Fodge averaged 42.9 yards per boot.
9. Chris Stewart, LG: Provides experience and size on the line that seemed to struggle during Weis’ tenure.
8. Armando Allen, RB: Second in total offense last year, has the ability to be a true dual-threat RB in Kelly’s spread offense.
7. Kapron Lewis-Moore, DE: After a decent year last season, he has the ability to really shine in Kelly’s defensive system.
6. Ethan Johnson, DE: Arguably the best player on ND’s D-line, Johnson racked up only 32 tackles last season but he did lead the team in sacks.

Keith:

10. Ian Williams, NT: I think the senior plugger will put together a nice final season in the middle of a 3-4 front.
9. Darius Fleming, OLB: Fleming’s been the only guy who seemed to make plays behind the line of scrimmage under the previous regime. Put him in a defensive system that thrives making plays behind the line, and I expect big things out of him.
8. Dayne Crist, QB: This could be too high or too low, but Kelly’s exploits with quarterbacks in his system give every reason to think Crist, a highly-touted prospect, will thrive.
7. Armando Allen, RB: I’ve got a hunch that the knock against Allen — who for some reason can’t break a long run — will be non-existent after running behind Ed Warinner’s offensive line.
6. Brian Smith, OLB: I’m obviously higher on Smith than most, but he’s got everything needed to be a very good drop linebacker in this system. He may have lost some fan’s confidence, but he’s got the coaching staff’s. 

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.

Notre Dame adds two top defensive back commits; Elliott officially a ‘Husker

allen
rivals.com
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It’s early. It’s really, really early. Not in the day, though this post is scheduled for an a.m. hour. No, it is early in the 2018 recruiting cycle. Any piece of news, each commitment, everything should be taken with two grains of salt.

Nonetheless, Notre Dame—and more specifically, new Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko and defensive backs coach Todd Lyght—enjoyed Tuesday’s recruiting news when two consensus four-star coverage men committed to the Irish.

Safety Derrik Allen (Lassiter High School; Marietta, Ga.) and cornerback Kalon Gervin (Cass Tech; Detroit, Mich.) joined a class of now eight commitments, six of which play on the defensive side of the ball.

Gervin, the No. 11 cornerback in the class according to rivals.com, waited mere days after attending Notre Dame’s Junior Day over the weekend. Irish coach Brian Kelly and staff’s failure to land a recruit at Gervin’s position in the 2017 haul actually helped reel in the recruit with offers from Florida, LSU, Michigan and dozens others.

“The opportunity to play right away, they didn’t sign a cornerback this last class,” Gervin told Blue & Gold Illustrated helped sway him. “Also, the education is second-to-none. It speaks for itself.”

Allen, pictured at top, has leaned toward Notre Dame for months. The No. 3 safety in the country per Rivals, he chose the Irish over the likes of Alabama, Clemson and Florida State.

Elliott officially to Nebraska

The two highly-touted defensive backs will not have the chance to learn under the tutelage of Bob Elliott. Nebraska officially announced the hiring of the former Notre Dame safeties (2012-13) and linebackers (2014) coach. Elliott spent the last two seasons serving as a special assistant to Kelly, focusing largely on defending the triple-option attacks of Army, Navy and Georgia Tech.

Elliott rejoins former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco in Lincoln. Diaco was hired as the Cornhuskers’ defensive coordinator in January.

The Lincoln Journal Star’s Brian Cristopherson reports Elliott will make a nice wage in eastern Nebraska.