Weber State v Boston College

And in that corner… The Boston College Eagles

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As the Irish enter the second quarter of their season, they travel to Chestnut Hill to take on Boston College. It’s a another great rivalry game for the Irish, pitting the only two Catholic colleges playing D-I football against each other.

While last year’s contest went the way of the Irish, the decade has been dominated by BC, with the previous six meetings going to the Eagles. This year’s Boston College team sits at 2-1, but is coming off a dispiriting loss at the hands of Virginia Tech. It’s tough to tell what kind of team the Irish face with BC’s wins coming against Weber State and Kent State, but if there’s anyone that can do it, its Bill Maloney, the proprietor of the popular Boston College blog Eagle in Atlanta. Bill was kind enough to answer a few questions for us, and even kinder to talk Jay, one of the founding fathers of the defunct blog Blue-Gray Sky, out of retirement for a quick Q&A.

We asked, Bill answered. Hope you enjoy.

Inside the Irish: It seems as if there’s plenty of concern amongst Eagles fans, and while
BC still sits at 2-1, that one loss is certainly disheartening. What’s
morale like for fans?

Morale is mixed. People are excited about the start of the Chase Rettig
era. But those same people are a little disheartened by how Frank
Spaziani handled the qb depth chart. Many predicted Shinskie’s struggles
and wish that the staff had given Rettig more snaps though the spring
and summer.

ITI: We’ll get to the quarterback situation later. What’s wrong with the
running attack? It looks like both Harris and Phifer are putting up
decent numbers, yet BC is only rushing for running for 115 a game.

The running attack has two problems. One, the offensive line has not performed up to its usual standards. Montel
Harris is doing what he can but he can’t make something out of nothing on every play.

I
think other teams have also made a point to shut down BC’s ground
attack. They wanted Shinskie to beat them through the air. And as we saw
against Virginia Tech, that was a good idea.

ITI: How do you feel BC is progressing under Frank Spaziani in his second year as coach?

I was not a fan of the Spaz hire but give him credit for producing a
wining season given all the issues BC faced last year. The next few
weeks will be a better test of what Spaz is or isn’t capable of as a
coach. BC has enough pieces to compete for the division title. Will Spaz
have them ready and have aggressive gameplans? That remains to be seen.

ITI: So Shinskie is out and you’re reporting that freshman Chase Rettig will
be getting the start. What can Irish fans expect out of him, or Mike
Marscovetra?

Rettig is a true freshman, so no one has ever seen him play. The
buzz based on his high school film and the spring game is that he has a
strong arm and is a quick study of offenses, however he lacks accuracy
and touch. I expect them to slim down the playbook and give him a just
few things to do.

If Marscovetra sees action it will be because
Rettig did not perform well. Marscovetra is fine, but tends to make the
dump off throw and still has trouble with pocket awareness.

ITI: Obviously the return of Mark Herzlich is one of the stories of the
year. How has he looked since coming back? How good has BC’s defense been?

Considering all that he’s been through — including missing summer
practices — Herzlich has been amazing. He looked a little rusty early
on but was very good against Virginia Tech. His speed doesn’t seem to be
at 2008 levels, but I don’t know if that is because of the cancer, the
stress fracture, the rod in his leg or just not having enough time to
prepare for the season. Regardless, he’s been a huge addition to the
team and I expect him to get better as the season progresses.

I
think the scores of these games have been a little misleading and that
BC’s defense has been very good. The playmakers are all at linebacker
but the front four and secondary are experienced and decent players.
Notre Dame will be their toughest test but pass heavy offenses play into
BC’s bend but don’t break schemes.

ITI: What does BC need to do to win this football game?

I think BC
needs to confuse Crist and force him into bad throws. On offense, I
think they need to put it on Montel Harris’ shoulders and not Rettig’s.
If the BC offensive line plays well, the team can win.

ITI: Gut Feeling?

Making your debut as a true freshman on national TV against Notre Dame
really only has two outcomes. It will be a horrible failure or a
storybook success. I am leaning towards success. I think BC doesn’t need
Rettig to do much. If he can make a few throws and avoids mistakes, the
BC defense will do the rest.

*****

Special thanks to the Eagle in Atlanta, one of the best sources for BC news on the web. He’s worth the add on Twitter as well.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”

Hiestand key to Ronnie Stanley’s ascent

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame holds up a jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #6 overall by the Baltimore Ravens during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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With Ronnie Stanley ending Notre Dame’s top-ten draft drought (seriously, we are running out of things to complain about), the Irish left tackle became Baltimore’s answer for a cornerstone along their offensive line. And as Ozzie Newsome, John Harbaugh and the rest of the Ravens well-respected staff did their due diligence, credit was heaped onto offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.

“One of my very best friends in coaching is Harry Hiestand,” Harbaugh said. “I talked to Harry a long time…all about Ronnie and he couldn’t speak highly enough about his character, to his intelligence, to his toughness. So you have people you trust in the profession and that goes a long way.”

That opinion of Hiestand is hardly specific to Harbaugh. It’s actually one of the many reasons Brian Kelly hired Hiestand when the Irish and Ed Warinner parted ways. Here’s Notre Dame’s head coach from his initial press release introducing Hiestand as his new line coach.

“When I was searching to fill this position, I asked some of the most respected offensive line coaches in football whom they would recommend,” Kelly said. “And Harry’s name was routinely mentioned as one of the best. His history of developing NFL-caliber offensive linemen speaks for itself, and I know our linemen will learn a lot from him.”

In an era where developing offensive lineman—not just at the college level but for play in the professional ranks—what Hiestand is doing is pretty special. Zack Martin certainly stands above the rest already, a Pro Bowl and All-Pro performer just two years after being a first round draft pick. Chris Watt was selected in the third round by the San Diego Chargers, and expect Nick Martin off the board by the time the evening is over.

 

For as surprising as Hiestand’s effectiveness is on the recruiting trail, maybe it shouldn’t be after you hear the raves that come from those that appreciate his work. That’s especially important as NFL coaches like Pete Carroll bemoan the lack of fundamentals some offensive linemen possess as they prepare for life in the professional ranks.

Here, CoachingSearch.com’s Chris Vannini pulled an interesting snippet from the Super Bowl winning head coach, with the Seahawks taking the drastic approach of converting defensive lineman at the NFL level because they think they’re better suited for the physicality.

“The style of play is different,” Carroll said. “There will be guys that we’re looking at that have never been in a (three-point) stance before. They’ve always been in a two-point stance. There are transitions that have to take place. In the last couple years, we’ve seen pretty strong adjustments by college offensive coordinators to adjust how guys are coming off the ball. They’re not as aggressive and physical-oriented as we like them to be.

“It is different. There is a problem. I looked at a couple guys this week, and I couldn’t find a running play where a guy came off the ball and had to knock a guy off the football. There wasn’t even a play in the game. It’s hard to evaluate what a guy’s gonna be like. We learn to, but it’s not he same as it’s been.”

The good news for Irish fans, especially after having to replace back-to-back first-round left tackles, is that there’s more talent coming through the pipeline. Mike McGlinchey’s move to the left side is already taking root. Left guard Quenton Nelson has earned raves from Kelly. Projected starting right tackle Alex Bars sounds not that far off, either.

In Stanley, the Irish found a talented high school athlete and molded him into a first-round pick. They did so even as he battled injuries that made it hard to dedicate time in the weight room, and bounced him around the offensive line from the right side to the left to find him playing time. Yes, he was a four-star recruit. But as we saw last night, star-rating takes a very large backseat to development.

With Stanley joining rarified air—he and Will Fuller make 66 first-round selections in program history—the Las Vegas native goes up on the wall as an aspiration for present and future Notre Dame lineman.

Just as importantly, he’s another tip of the cap to Hiestand.

 

For more reaction to the NFL Draft, give a listen to the latest episode of Blown Coverage, my podcast with John Walters.