Michael Floyd is a man on a mission

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It’s hard to call anyone that’s a preseason first-team All-American anonymous. But two weeks into fall camp, Michael Floyd might as well have vanished, getting little mention from head coach Brian Kelly or members of his staff when talking about the team. Since Kelly’s arrival, Floyd’s work within the program has been done under far dimmer lights than the player many of us saw dominate during his six-plus games last season.

Getting off on the right foot might have been part of the problem. Floyd’s offseason wasn’t one to be proud of, his ticket for underage drinking and involvement in a fight back home in Minnesota over the holidays did little to make the coaching staff believe they had a team leader.

Even more intriguing, when I spent time with the coaching staff in June as summer conditioning workouts got underway, I had the sneaking suspicion that the new coaching staff wasn’t all that impressed with the game tape they had reviewed of their inherited star receiver. While no one would say it, I got the feeling that many thought Floyd was just “another guy,” his headlines and kudos a product of the media machine swirling around Notre Dame and head coach Charlie Weis’ explosive downfield passing game.

That perception of Floyd was confirmed today by Kelly when he spoke to the national press during Notre Dame’s media day.

“Michael Floyd,” Kelly said as he measured his words. “I thought Michael Floyd was over-hyped. I thought he was, at times, average.”

Kelly’s commentary mirrored some of the exact things I heard back in June, but also echoed some of the knocks we’ve heard about the great offensive players of the Weis era, players that put up numbers befitting top NFL draft picks but found themselves sliding down to be picked when the signing bonuses lacked the extra zeroes. Brady Quinn, draft slide. Jimmy Clausen, draft slide. Golden Tate, draft slide. Even players like John Carlson and Ryan Harris, guys that have been successful during their brief NFL careers didn’t go anywhere near as high as many thought they were capable of going.

Kelly even provided the details for his subpar critique of Notre Dame’s current offensive star.

“He ran down the field and they threw it up,” Kelly said. “He wasn’t a precision
route-runner. He wasn’t asked to be. He was a match-up guy. You never
saw him in position to run the dig or the drive or one-on-one where he
had to beat press coverage on a slant on 4th-and-1. All those things
that go to winning football games, I didn’t see all that. Maybe it’s
because they had Golden Tate and he did all that for them. So my evaluation of Mike was based upon the film I’ve had.”

There were whispers and worries on message boards that Floyd was unhappy with the coaching change, unwilling to buy in with the commitment demanded by the new coaching regime. During his same comments, Kelly also refuted that notion unequivocally.

“In 20 years, I have not had a player who has worked as hard as Michael Floyd has worked,” Kelly continued. “And I mean that. He has out-worked everybody on the offensive side of the ball to the
point where he has single-handedly set the bar for everybody else needs
to bring their play.

“The last couple of days in situational live, he’s been dominant. He’s been dominant. And believe me, I’m not easily impressed. Again, going back to where I thought he was, watching film last year, wasn’t all that impressed with him. I’ve been very impressed with his work. He’s been outstanding, and he’s
set a bar for the way all our other players need to compete on a
day-to-day basis.

“That’s the Mike Floyd story.”

While the statistics won’t agree, the critique of Floyd’s body of work at Notre Dame is a fair one. Floyd’s first two seasons, both disrupted by injuries, never had him running precision routes or working as a complete receiver. Weis seemed content to take advantage of the match-up problems inherent with a physical receiver like Floyd, choosing to have his star wideout simply beat opponents as opposed to develop into a complete weapon.

While his numbers certainly look the part of an All-American, that reliance on Floyd’s jump ball game, that complacency to simply depend on Michael to beat the defensive back also contributed to Notre Dame’s mediocrity in the red zone, and didn’t help Michael’s development as a player.

(You could argue that injuries played the largest factor when choosing Floyd’s role in the game plan. With a cracked clavicle, both the coaching and medical staff likely wanted to keep him alone in space, away from the big collisions in the middle of the field.)

If what we heard today is any indication, it’s clear that Kelly and wide receivers coach Tony Alford (who saw first-hand what Floyd can do last season) have every intention on turning #3 into a complete wide receiver. More importantly, Michael’s embraced the challenge, pushing both himself and his teammates to new heights.

If you’re looking for a clue on what Kelly expects from Floyd this season, look no further than that wry smile that crept its way onto the head coach’s lips when he was talking about Floyd. That should be all you need to know.

Browns pick former Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer 20th in second round

Associated Press
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After months of pointless chatter and a night spent waiting, DeShone Kizer’s NFL Draft experience ended Friday night when the Cleveland Browns drafted the former Notre Dame quarterback with the 20th pick in the second round, the No. 52 overall selection.

Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Kizer will have the opportunity to earn the starting job for the franchise less than two hours from his hometown. The Browns trotted out five different quarterbacks in 2016, only two of which remain with the team. Rookie Cody Kessler played in nine games, throwing for 1,380 yards and six touchdowns with only one interception while fellow rookie Kevin Hogan threw for 104 yards and two interceptions in four games.

The Browns have since added Brock Osweiler in a trade with the Houston Texans, though that trade was largely-viewed as a cash-for-picks swap, with the Browns “paying” for picks by taking on Osweiler’s contract in which he is owed $47 million over the next three seasons, including $16 million this season.

A year ago, the No. 52 pick (linebacker Deion Jones to the Atlanta Falcons) received a four-year, $4.546 million contract with a $1.506 million signing bonus.

Hall of fame running back and Browns legend Jim Brown announced the selection of Kizer at the draft festivities.

Speculation a year ago pegged Kizer as an early first-round pick. As the draft approached, projections of his slot varied widely, many including a second-round status. Despite first-round theatrics leading to three quarterbacks going in the first 12 picks Thursday night, Kizer had to wait another day before learning where he will start his NFL career. (more…)

Friday at 4: ‘Attention to detail’ includes Notre Dame Stadium

@NDFootball
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Brian Kelly proselytized multiple abstract concepts this spring. By the end of the 15 practices and subsequent media sessions, even the Irish coach knew some of his references to “grit” would be met by muted eye rolls from the press. If a questioner included the word in their query, Kelly reacted with tongue-in-cheek approval, “You’ve been listening.”

In his press conference the day before spring practices commenced, Kelly used the phrase “attention to detail” six separate times. While he was referring to his players on the football field, Kelly could have also been discussing the ongoing—but supposedly close to finished—construction at Notre Dame Stadium known as Campus Crossroads.

The three buildings around the exterior of the Stadium, the added suites and the video board above the south end zone have garnered the headlines. On a macro level, those are the changes of note. On a micro level, however, other details have trickled into the public stream of knowledge as the work nears its conclusion.

Over the weekend—and now reignited by a column from the South Bend Tribune’s Mike Vorel—the image of the newly-added visitors’ tunnel delighted Irish fans. Vorel likens the narrow entry to “the spot they’d stash the gladiators before feeding them to starving tigers in The Coliseum.” Assuredly, Vorel is going for dramatic effect, and it must work considering its citation here, but even a realistic view of the tunnel’s effects bodes well.

If nothing else, Notre Dame players should enjoy something of a psychological boost when racing out of their adult-sized tunnel and seeing their opponent trickle out of a tunnel seemingly-sized for ants. (Yes, the north end zone tunnel is at least three times bigger than the visitors’ tunnel.)

That pale, slanted staircase holds none of the luxuries of the home team’s entrance, something Kelly went out of his way to praise after using it in Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game. (more…)

Where Notre Dame was & is: Linebackers

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You want complete honesty? The linebacker version of this series includes no revelations, no unexpected developments, no surprising spring performances. There is an allusion to a position switch, sure, but this piece became much simpler with the rover being discussed separately Thursday.

The idea was to capitalize on the NFL Draft for the morning and let the linebackers slip by in the afternoon, noticed only by those twiddling their thumbs through the last hours of the work week. Alas, former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer was not drafted in the first round and a brief recap of his draft destination will need to await at least another day. Programming note: The NFL Draft reconvenes tonight (Friday) at 7 p.m. ET. The Green Bay Packers are on the clock. They will not draft a quarterback.

But back to the linebackers. This piece may have been intended to slip by with little fanfare, but that is not indicative of the Irish linebackers. Where Notre Dame was is so similar to where Notre Dame is simply because two experienced senior captains lead the way at linebacker.

WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS:
Aside from questions about defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s rover position, only one question stood out about this linebacker group: Who would start alongside senior Nyles Morgan: senior Greer Martini or junior Te’von Coney?

A year ago Coney recorded the fourth-most tackles on the team with 62. Martini finished fifth with 55, and his seven tackles for loss, including three sacks, dwarfed Coney’s 1.5. Yet Coney technically started nine games compared to Martini’s four.

RELATED READING: Two days until spring practice: A look at the linebackers

With the rover often lining up essentially as a linebacker, there would only be space for one of Martini or Coney in most formations.

WHERE NOTRE DAME IS:
In his first season with the Irish, Elko will have quite a luxury in referring to Coney as a backup linebacker. In some respects, that designation was inevitable as soon as Martini was named a captain. Nonetheless, Coney will see plenty of playing time.

The two captains—along with fellow captain, senior Drue Tranquill at rover—will be counted on throughout the summer and fall camp to continue the defense’s growth in Elko’s system. Elko said he installed “close to 50 percent” of his entire defense throughout spring practice. The linebackers must deal with the most difficult aspects of that learning.

“There’s been a noticeable improvement in terms of this starting to look like the defense we want this to look like as spring has gone on,” Elko said a week ago. “… Linebacker probably more than any other position, linebacker and safety, where the scheme takes some time to get used to, how you see it, how you fit it, how you feel it. Those guys have gotten better with that which has then allowed them to play faster as the spring has moved on.”

Sophomore Jonathan Jones will likely provide any further depth that may be needed in 2017, unless either of the incoming freshmen, David Adams and Drew White, excel from the outset. Irish coach Brian Kelly indicated sophomore Jamir Jones (no relation to Jonathan, but is former Notre Dame defensive lineman Jarron Jones’ brother) may be destined for time on the defensive line, in large part to Jones’s continued growth. Junior Josh Barajas let the spring come and go without mandating he be involved in these conversations, which may as well count as removing himself from the conversation in most regards.

Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Defensive Line
Where Notre Dame Was, Is & Could Be: Rover

Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Rover

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Before spring practice, the rover position was lumped in with the linebackers in positional previews. Nearly two months later, that seems to have been the right placement—the rover will likely spend most of its time at the defense’s second level.

But since curiosity about the rover and its unknown place in Notre Dame defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme ran rampant—especially when compared to the rather solid understanding of the 2017 Irish linebackers—let’s take a look specifically at the rover.

WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS:

“Who will start at [Elko’s] rover position,” this space asked. “What will his role entail?”

RELATED READING: Two days until spring practice: A look at the linebackers

Senior safety Drue Tranquill was expected to see the most time at rover, perhaps with cameos from junior linebacker Asmar Bilal and sophomore safeties D.J. Morgan and Spencer Perry (since transferred).

More than anything, though, learning how Elko intended to deploy his defensive utility knife would answer the most questions about his defense.

WHERE NOTRE DAME IS:

Tranquill will indeed lead the position, but not without much effort from Bilal.

“We’ve tried quite a few bodies out there,” Elko said Friday. “I think as spring has gone on, we’ve gotten a feel of what each of them can do, what parts of the package we can run with each of them. I think we’ve got a pretty good pulse now on how we want that thing to play out, who will be there doing what.”

Elko is excessively reluctant to discuss individual players, so asking him to expound on who will be at rover in particular situations was largely a fruitless exercise. Earlier this spring, Irish head coach Brian Kelly indicated Bilal would be featured against run-heavy offenses. That may well prove to be the case, but it is far more likely Tranquill sees the majority of the repetitions at the position.

RELATED READING: Bilal the first in at ‘versatile’ rover positon, others likely to follow

“It’s been a good fit all spring [for Tranquill],” Kelly said following Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game. “He’s a plus player there for us. He really can impact what’s happening from snap to snap. He’s a physical player and playing low to the ball is really where he can do a lot of really good things for us.”

For his part, Tranquill enjoys the position and the unique number of duties innate to it. In theory, the rover aligns mostly with the linebackers but can be relied on to provide coverage when necessary. At other times, the rover will be asked to rush the passer. That flexibility allows Elko to keep the offense guessing.

“I love the rover position,” Tranquill said. “It’s a versatile position that allows you to come off the edge, allows you to play the run, play the pass, and do a lot of different things.”

Sometimes it allows you to pretend like you’re coming off the edge and then actually embarrass a potential first-round draft pick.

In senior left guard Quenton Nelson’s defense, Tranquill did add Nelson probably won more of their battles in spring practices than the defender did.

WHERE NOTRE DAME COULD BE:

Elko indicated there could be a third primary option in his tool kit. Notre Dame has a plethora of talented cornerbacks. Last week, Kelly indicated he might ask one of them to chip in at safety in obvious passing situations. Similarly, Elko predicted junior Shaun Crawford could play at rover against particular passing attacks, a la Bilal against certain rushing offenses.

“A lot of this is dictated by who that guy is lined up and what we’re trying to do,” Elko said. “We’re going to see a lot of really talented slot receivers. We’re going to have to match up and cover them well. There’s other names other than the big linebacker/safety bodies to put at that position. [Junior safety] Nick Coleman has done that some this spring. [Junior safety] Ashton White has done that some this spring. When Shaun gets healthy, I think he’ll do that some. That is all encompassing in that position.”

The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Crawford has since announced his return to full health, which should allow him plenty of time to readjust to contact before the start of fall practice.

Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Defensive Line