Weekend leftovers: Recruiting, Dayne, Sully & Stew

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You can tell football season is approaching because the amount of information flowing on the internet is picking up as we head into August. This weekend’s recruiting flurry, with four verbal commitments in a span of 24 hours, has to be one of the better weekends for recruitniks that I can remember. As I mentioned before, landing recruits is important, but landing recruits at positions of need is even more crucial, and the Irish did that with all four players that pledged.

As usual, recruiting guru and usually pro-Irish analyst Tom Lemming, thought that Brian Kelly and company did a good job.

“It’s unbelievably, exceptionally unusual at this time of year,” Lemming told the Chicago Tribune. “For Notre Dame to get them at this time of the year without proving themselves as coaches and with everyone on vacation, it was mind-boggling.

Notre Dame will be almost done by September 1. It gives them four extra months to start on the junior class.”

Because of the roster balance and the available fifth-year players that’ll likely return next season, Kelly won’t win any recruiting titles like Charlie Weis did in his first full season with the Irish. But in many ways this class is better suited for the Irish roster, an issue the previous regime never figured out, and eventually doomed Charlie Weis.

*****

Staying with recruiting, if you’re looking for another really big fish out there that Notre Dame is chasing, look no further than Brooklyn’s Ishaq Williams. While many didn’t think that the Irish would have a legitimate chance chasing down the blue-chip athlete with offers from just about every major program in the country, Notre Dame will be getting a rare summer visit in the next few weeks.

Rivals.com’s Mike Farrell reports:

“As soon as I finish work and practice I’m headed off to a few schools,” Williams said.

“I’m
not exactly sure about all of the schools I’m going to but I know I’m
gonna go to Notre Dame, Florida and California. Plus, I’ll hit up a few
schools around the area.”

That will amount to thousands of miles
worth of air travel and a huge time investment, but Williams believes it
will pay off in the long run.

He hasn’t been too focused on the
recruiting process yet but he believes the upcoming visits will help him
make an informed choice later.

“I’m going to try to get it down to about ten schools before the start of the season,” he added.

If you’re looking for a reason why I think the Irish will be in this one until the end, look at defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. A New Jersey native, Williams falls into Diaco’s region, and I fully expect the charismatic defensive coordinator to be a force on the recruiting trail.

If the Irish could add Williams to the stable of Clay Burton, Brad Carrico, Ben Councell, Aaron Lynch, Anthony Rabasa, and Tony Springmann, that’d be the most impressive collection of edge players assembled since the Holtz era.

(At least on paper…)

*****

The Chicago Tribune’s Brian Hamilton had an excellent profile of quarterback Dayne Crist in the Sunday edition of the Tribune. While you could say that Crist’s destruction of the one pound King Burger at the Oaken Bucket was impressive, Crist’s leadership seems to have teammates believing in the untested quarterback.

“Even though he was behind Jimmy, whether it was in the weight room or
the classroom or on the practice field, everybody always viewed Dayne as
a leader,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said.

“When you come here, just because you’re not the guy, you can still work
hard. There are right ways to lead. Not everybody is a good leader.
There are right ways to lead, and he definitely understands that.”

Whether its his physicality or leadership ability, Crist reminds me a lot of Brady Quinn, a comparison that I’m sure Kelly and offensive coordinator Charley Molnar would settle for immediately.

*****

Former Irish center John Sullivan enters his second training camp as the Minnesota Vikings starting center, but does so with a heavy heart after losing his father Rick earlier this summer.

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

As he approaches the start of training camp Friday and his second
season as a starter, Sullivan has tried to maintain that stoic demeanor
while dealing with the death of his father.

“It’s one of those things that happens in life,” Sullivan said. “The
Vikings were great to me and my family. A lot of support there. “

Rick Sullivan died June 7 because of a heart attack at age 69 after returning home from a visit with his son.

The Sullivans became close to the family of former Litchfield star
John Carlson when Carlson and Sullivan were teammates at Notre Dame.
Rick Sullivan and John Carlson Sr., a coach at Litchfield High, became
good friends as they traveled to Notre Dame games around the country.
The two families spent the weekend together in the Twin Cities in early
June, and Rick died the day he returned home to Connecticut.

“We had a great time, a fitting good-bye,” Sullivan said. “It’s an unfortunate circumstance, but he had a good life.”

It’s good to see Sullivan playing to his potential after a disappointing end to his career at Notre Dame. The 2007 season saw Sullivan take a step backwards, struggling with his play under center as well as snaps from the shotgun. His draft stock plummeted and a potential first-day pick went in the sixth round. Now he’s starting for one of the NFC’s best teams, anchoring one of the best offensive lines in football.

*****

Finally, NCAA’s Champion Magazine profiled Notre Dame student-athletes Chris Stewart and Tim Abromaitis, heralding both for their great work in the classroom as well as on the field (or court in Abromaitis’ case.)

Stewart, who has started the past 22 games on the offensive line, will be what is believed to be the first active Notre Dame football player to attend law school when he begins taking classes next fall. He earned his history undergraduate degree by compiling a 3.5 grade-point average in three-and-a-half years.

The article also goes on to point out that Stewart might have his mother to thank for his athletic abilities, basketball Hall of Famer Lusia Harris-Stewart, one of the greatest centers to ever play basketball, a three time national champion at Delta State, a silver medalist for the US National team at the 1976 Olympics, and the winner of the Broderick Cup, awarded to the top female collegiate athlete in the country.

“She never really talked about her accomplishments when I was growing up,” said Stewart, who is 6-5 and 344 pounds. “As I got older, I started questioning her about all the trophies in the house. I remember asking her why we had this huge bowl that we never use, and why do you have it on the counter? That’s when she explained what the Broderick Cup was.”

It seems Stewart’s modesty might come from his mother.

WR Lenzy makes 11th commitment, brings speed to Irish

lenzy
rivals.com
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At what point does an impressive recruiting roll become something more? When does it become a harbinger of things to come, even if not for a few seasons? How many notable commitments in a row establishes a class as special?

If the answer to any of the above is 11 commitments by the end of February, including five within two weeks, then Notre Dame is there following consensus four-star athlete Braden Lenzy’s announcement Thursday evening.

The Tigard High School (Portland, Ore) receiver/cornerback chose the Irish over offers from USC, Oregon and Michigan State, among a litany of others. In all, nine Pac-12 schools chased Lenzy—and a 10th, Washington, had shown interest—per rivals.com.

Lenzy will fit the leading 2018 need voiced by Irish coach Brian Kelly three weeks ago on National Signing Day 2017.

“Elite speed on offense will be a primary goal for us,” Kelly said Feb. 1. “Guys that can change the game on one possession. I think we’ll see that… We want a couple of home run hitters. We don’t care if they’re Darren Sproles’s size. We’re going to come off the board in terms of profile. We want some guys that can change the game on offense with elite speed.”

At 6-foot, 175 pounds, Lenzy is taller than Sproles’s 5-foot-6, but it is still his speed that drew Notre Dame’s interest.

“They made it clear they want me to do kickoff return and use me as a deep threat across the field,” he told Irish Illustrated. “Just being kind of an athlete, similar to what I’ve been doing already in high school, just on a bigger scale with a quarterback that can throw it a lot farther.”

Presuming Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush is that arm in 2018, throwing great distances should not be an issue. Between Lenzy and fellow 2018 commit Micah Jones, covering those distances should be a reasonable request, as well.

Lenzy brings Notre Dame’s class of 2018 to 11, including eight four-stars according to Rivals’ rating system. Current scholarship projections indicate the class will not be a large one, meaning the Irish coaching staff has already garnered the commitments of more than half the class. Once again, though, Kelly’s sentiment regarding recruiting timing should be remembered.

“We’re all going to have to fight until February.”

SWARBRICK’S TAKE ON RECRUITING
Kelly credited Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick with much assistance in securing the country’s No. 13 recruiting class in 2017. A refresher on those comments:

“In a lot of instances, [Swarbrick] had to be there to support our football program and talk to recruits about where this program is and where it’s going,” Kelly said. “There are questions when a family comes on campus. He reminded them about the investment we were making in staff and what we were doing for the present and for the future.”

Swarbrick did not dispute the factual nature of any of that in an interview with the Indianapolis Star, but he did contest the need for praising what he saw as part of his job, one of the preferred parts of his job, at that.

“I can’t say anything about this year felt all that different,” Swarbrick told Star reporter Laken Litman. “Some asked questions about the future of the program and can we compete for a national championship. And I would talk about the elements of the program we were focused on improving.”

Swarbrick and Litman discussed a number of items in the second-half of the interview released by the Star, including Notre Dame’s facilities, a possible early signing period in football and if the Oct. 8, 2016, game against North Carolina State should have been played. Spoiler: No. Then why was it? Go check it out.

Swarbrick also told Litman he likes to write in his free time.

“I tend to think strategically with a pen in my hand.” Swarbrick added he is currently scribbling away on where he thinks college athletics are headed.

This scribe, for one, would be most interested in skimming those legal pads.

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.