Tuesdays with BK: Tulsa edition

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With the honeymoon officially over after last week’s loss to Navy, Brian Kelly met with the assembled media.

Here’s a slice of what he said:

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Some thoughs:

I’m feeling pretty good about my injury diagnosis of Ian Williams, with the “no surgery” call part in my one paragraph of medical analysis. Again, I’m no doctor, but from what I’ve heard an MCL tear and MCL sprain are practically the same thing, depending on the severity.

Here are Kelly’s official comments on the injury:

“Well, it seems to be the worst-kept secret in America. Ian Williams will be out four to six weeks, and we will be able to modify any of those comments based upon when we can get him moving around again. It’s an injury that some come back quicker than others. We’ll be able to get a better feel for it probably next week after we get it to calm down and go from there.”

When asked if it was a sprain or tear, Kelly was crystal clear.

“Sprain,” he said. “No surgery.”

I guess that would qualify as the lone ray of sunshine from the Navy game.

*****

The Kona Schwenke era begins at Notre Dame, one season ahead of schedule.

I don’t think anybody expected to have Kona Schwenke make his way into the two-deep this season, and the best thing for him would’ve been saving a year of eligibility. But the injury to Williams, and a general lack of depth reshuffled the entire defensive front’s depth chart, with Sean Cwynar moving into the starting nose guard slot.

“Sean’s been a consistent performer in there when Ian came out of the game so, we feel good about Shaun stepping in for that position,” Kelly said. “The next player, really, for us, is Hafis, and Sean can’t play the whole game. He doesn’t have the work volume to do that yet. So Hafis and Sean, together, can get that done. So that then meant who becomes the next guy in at the defensive end, and we want to take a good look at Kona. So Kona would be that next defensive end, and whether it’s for Ethan or whether it’s for Kap, who knows. We’ll kind of see how that plays out this week and then Emeka, we believe Emeka can give us some reps, as well.”

Kelly was clear why he was willing to burn a year of eligibility in the ninth week of the season.

“Got to help us win games. This is still about winning, and we are in that mode where we have got to win some more games obviously,” Kelly said. “You know, getting to a Bowl game is very important, so this isn’t one of those, let’s ride out the streak here. We need help.”

*****

One of the better points made during the press conference was that of the “growing pains” experienced not just on the offensive side of the ball, but on the defensive side as well.

“There’s a lot of ways to look at it. It’s not like we were in the top 20 in defense last year,” Kelly said. “So I think if we had a national caliber-defense last year, we probably would be a little bit concerned right now. I think we have made great strides defensively, even putting in a new scheme with the 3-4 defense. So I think it’s perspective. My perspective is, and I see it every day, is that we have made very good progress defensively and I think we’ll continue to make that as we go forward.”

While many don’t like to hear this and feel like it’s Kelly making excuses, there’s a widely known old axiom that mentions chicken salad and… well — other chicken stuff, and I think that’s probably befitting of the situation here.

*****

Besides the achievement of just reaching the postseason, one of the biggest reasons why the Irish want to get to a bowl game is the extended practice time.

“It’s an important goal. We need those 15 practices,” Kelly said. “They are very important to the development of our program and moving forward. Those 15 practices are important. So, you know, getting to a Bowl game allows you more time with your players. I need more time with our guys. Our coaches need more time with our players. So, yeah, it’s very important to us, and it’s important to the development of our program.”

One of the reasons I thought the Irish should’ve gone to a bowl game last year was to get the extra practices needed to develop the youth on this roster, though the logistics of that would’ve been an absolute nightmare, with most of Kelly’s staff coaching at Cincinnati, and quarterback Dayne Crist less than three months into rehabbing his ACL.

 

 

Report: Tarean Folston won’t return for fifth year

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
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Tarean Folston will declare for the NFL Draft. The senior running back, who has a fifth-year of eligibility available after a medical redshirt in 2014, will instead turn his focus to preparing for the professional ranks. Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman broke the news, confirming the decision with Folston.

The departure wasn’t totally unexpected, though Folston was also a candidate for a graduate transfer. But after running for 1,712 yards over four years, the 214-pound back will hope an NFL team takes a shot on him, likely looking at tape of Folston the underclassmen to make their evaluation.

The Cocoa, Florida native burst onto the scene as a freshman against Navy when he ran for 140 yards on 18 carries in the Irish’s 38-34 win. He was Notre Dame’s leading rusher in 2014, running for 889 yards and 5.1 yards per carry  and six scores in 2014.

Expected to do big things in 2015, Folston’s season lasted just three carries, a torn ACL suffered against Texas in the season opener. After Josh Adams emerged that season, Folston fell behind him in the depth chart, getting just 77 carries in 2016.

The move clarifies a depth chart that looked to be unchanged heading into next season. But with Folston’s exit, rising sophomore Tony Jones will join Adams and Dexter Williams in the rotation. Fellow sophomore Deon Macintosh and incoming freshman C.J. Holmes will also compete for playing time.

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach

clark-lea
UND.com
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Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

 

 

 

Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

delvaughn
ASU Sports Information
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Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.