Tuesdays with BK: WMU (and Wednesday) edition

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Yesterday afternoon, Brian Kelly addressed the media to discuss things other than Kyle Rudolph’s season ending injury. Specifically, Kelly talked Bill Cubit’s Western Michigan Broncos.

Here’s a slice of what he said, courtesy of the video guys:

 

A few observations:

It’s amazing how candid Kelly is when dealing with the media. I think back to the injury of Jimmy Clausen last year and it felt like Fort Knox when trying to get information. Losing Rudolph is a true blow, but Kelly seems to actually live his “Next Man In” philosophy, something that has to help the morale of the team, especially guys like Tyler Eifert and Mike Ragone.

You’ve got to think the injury helps the odds of Rudolph returning to Notre Dame for his senior year, but Rudolph wouldn’t address it yesterday.

For me all my thoughts have been dedicated to figuring
out when I’m going to have surgery and where I’m going to have surgery.
Just getting that done as soon as possible,” Rudolph said. “My focus is
all on getting my leg to 100 percent and the first step in that is
surgery as soon as possible and getting that taken care of and going
from there, starting my rehab and getting on the right track to getting
healthy.”

I’m not in the business of interpreting quotes, but if I had to guess it was pretty clear that Rudolph was gone after this season if he stayed healthy.

*****


As much as people are calling the Western Michigan game a week off, I think Kelly’s time in the MAC conference is a huge benefit for the Irish. Kelly was quick to dismiss any comparison between the Broncos and some of the I-AA opponents that dot the schedules of other college football powers.

Well, I think there’s two things. One, you know, playing I-AA opponents
is one thing. This is a MAC opponent. And so that’s a little bit
different,” Kelly said.

He talked about the mindset he had at Central Michigan when they played major opponents from BCS conferences.

“It’s a free shot. Doesn’t cost anything and you pick up the check at the
end of the game no matter what happens. This is an opportunity to go to
Notre Dame, and obviously, get a great victory,” Kelly said.
 
“So, you know, we had our football team, we had every trick play in the
book, we had every fake and punt and kickoff and we just told our kids
to go after it and play hard and enjoy themselves.”

*****

Not to pat myself on the back too much, but last week I made the analogy of Dayne Crist having to learn a different language when comparing the transition from Charlie Weis’ offense to Brian Kelly’s spread attack.

Yesterday, BK made me sound smart:

“I think the best way to describe it is that he’s learning a new
language,” Kelly said about his quarterback Crist’s development. “He started with French and we are teaching him Spanish. That
development of understanding the nuances, is ongoing. I like where he’s
going with it. He’s developing a sense of the quarterback position as
seen through the eyes of a spread quarterback. And those are some
different — there are some clear differences there.”

During the Pregame 12 Pack, I’ll breakdown the first six starts of Dayne Crist’s career. While his play has been a little streaky, it’s clear that Dayne bought a Rosetta Stone or something.

*****

While Rudolph’s injury news was front and center, the prognosis on Taylor Dever was certainly better.

“There’s some things that he does right now that you would not even know
he has an injury,” Kelly said. “Getting off the ball, firing off and that kind of had
us believing last week he would be fine. And then he got into some pass
sets, didn’t feel quite as comfortable and then pregame, he felt, you
know, really, he was hindered a bit. That’s when we made the move.”

After a sack on the opening play, Zack Martin acquitted himself quite nicely at right tackle, his first game there in his career. And Kelly had nothing but good things to say about Martin’s replacement, Matt Romine.

Good for Romine — a highly regarded recruit that put in the work and now gets a chance to start. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kelly kept Dever out of Saturday’s game, allowing him an opportunity to heal up for one more week, and Romine to gain more confidence on the edge.

*****

Predictably, after six games somebody of course brought up the subject of bowl games, when asking for the definition of success in year one of the Kelly era. Not surprisingly, BK didn’t take the bait.

“Success for us is winning football games. There’s no two ways about it.
As I see it through my eyes, that’s success. And winning games is how we
are going to talk about success as a football team,” Kelly said.

“There are also other things that I’m looking for which I said from the
very beginning is that I want to be a better football team in November
than I was in September. So those will be pretty clear to you, to everybody in this room and to
myself, because they are going to keep track of the wins and you are
going to keep watching our football team. I think we are all going to be
able to say, this is a successful year based upon, this is a better
football team in November, and, they have won some football games.”

All that being said, don’t expect the Irish to turn down a bowl game this year, as Kelly made it clear he’d be incredibly disappointed if the Irish didn’t make it to one. 

“If that means that we didn’t win enough games, that would be disappointing, absolutely,” Kelly said.

An extra month of practice will be absolutely essential for an Irish football team that could have a ton of weapons coming back in 2011.  

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. 

Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller taken in first round of NFL Draft

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 Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller were taken in the NFL Draft’s first round. Both came off the board on night one, with Stanley the first offensive tackle taken and Fuller the second receiver selected.

Stanley joins the Baltimore Ravens, a key addition to a franchise needed help along the offensive line. He’s Notre Dame’s first Top 10 pick since 1994, ending a draught that’s spanned since Bryant Young was taken by San Francisco.

Fuller will join a Houston Texans offense that just spent major money on quarterback Brock Osweiler and running back Lamar Miller. To back up that investment, the Texans added college football’s most dangerous deep threat, trading up to spot No. 21 to pair Fuller with DeAndre Hopkins on the outside.

Linebacker Jaylon Smith was not selected in the first round. Both he and Myles Jack, widely considered to be Top 10 talents, slid down the board because of knee injuries. (Both also have loss-of-value insurance policies, cushioning that blow.)

The draft continues tomorrow with rounds two and three. Smith should be selected then, along with Sheldon Day, Nick Martin, and potentially C.J. Prosise.

Demetris Robertson set for Sunday decision (finally!)

Demetris Robertson
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Five-star recruit Demetris Robertson is ready to make a college decision. Finally.

Months after National Signing Day, the last recruit on the board for Notre Dame is ready to pick the place he plans to go to college. And after setting an announcement date for Monday, Robertson is even pushing things forward, with a Sunday decision now in the books.

For Irish fans still paying attention to the twists and turns of this recruitment, Robertson will announce his decision from the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta. (An homage to Jimmy Clausen, anyone?)

Here’s Rivals.com with the news after talking with Robertson’s brother and guardian.

“We were going to have it on Monday, but things got mixed up so we moved it up a day,” Carlos Robertson said. “It will be at 1 p.m., right there in that 1-2 time frame, somewhere in there.”

But it’s happening.

“His mind’s made up,” Carlos Robertson said. “Everything’s locked, but he wanted to have it, have a little public deal, but I think he knows where he wants to be.”

Robertson also cleared up why the decision is being held in Atlanta.

“We’re not from Savannah, we’re actually from right below the Atlanta area, so it will give everybody, the aunts, the uncles, everybody a chance to come,” he said. “It only made sense.”

While this recruitment has felt like a soap opera, it’s worth pointing out that there’s absolutely no reason to fault Robertson for making this decision on a timeline that he decides. National Signing Day may feel like a holiday to college football fans, but it’s really just the earliest date a letter-of-intent can be signed.

With hopes of gaining admittance into Stanford, Robertson reportedly retook his ACT multiple times, trying to make a better score. Usually that’s cause for applause, not derision. He’s also spent time further evaluating his other options, some closer to home—Georgia, Alabama—others with a significant academic profile—Cal and Notre Dame among them.

The Irish’s pursuit of Robertson has been well documented, including a visit from the team semi-truck. It’s also a recruitment where most are still in the dark. While Notre Dame is certainly still in the running, there’s no gut feeling on this one way or the other, even among those inside the program.

After averaging 15 points a game as a guard for the Savannah Christian basketball team, Robertson is preparing to compete in the state track meet, running multiple sprint events and the long jump. That type of athleticism is what has the Irish coaching staff sold on Robertson as a wide receiver, a potential replacement for Will Fuller (and two other starters) as Notre Dame restocks a depth chart that’ll also feature spring star Kevin Stepherson and incoming freshmen Chase Claypool and Javon McKinley.

With some feeling home state Georgia has moved ahead in the race, Robertson’s brother Carlos says his younger brother did what was best for him, taking his time and making a decision for himself.

“It was totally his decision, lock himself in the room, however he had to do it. This was something he had to decide on his own,” the elder Robertson told Rivals.com.