Kelly talks bye week

1 Comment

Having not met with the media since his emotional press conference after the Tulsa game, Brian Kelly spent roughly 20 minutes answering questions as the Irish prepare to take a well-deserved weekend away from football.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Unfortunately, Kelly’s suspicions are confirmed, and Armando Allen has played his last football game in a Notre Dame uniform, with the damage to his hips extensive.

“Armando had surgery today in Tennessee, and it was a specialist. Had only one of the hips repaired. He’s going to have to have another one,” Kelly said. “There was a lot of things in there that showed that maybe this was an injury he’s had for many, many, many years. They’re talking about the timetable to be between 3-4 months.”

Allen exits Notre Dame with the fifth most all-purpose yards in school history, behind Julius Jones, Autry Denson, Allen Pinkett, and Tim Brown, and just in front of Raghib Ismail and Golden Tate, pretty illustrious company.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Allen’s football career, and I suspect that the NFL team that gambles on signing or drafting Armando won’t regret it. He’s a versatile guy, has a nice burst, and if Ryan Grant’s NFL success showed us anything, it’s that a Notre Dame running back doesn’t have to have great collegiate success to have a rock solid NFL career.

*****

With Dayne Crist out for the season, Kelly has moved true freshman Andrew Hendrix into the third quarterback position. When asked if Hendrix was ready to be thrust into game duty, the answer was pretty emphatic.

“His head is spinning. It’s a lot,” Kelly said. “We really tried more than anything else to slow it down. He’s not involved much right now in game-planning. It’s more about just understanding the big picture. Want to make sure he can get the snap, hand it off, if he needs to do that. We’re really going slow with him at this point.”

Hendrix may turn out to be the quarterback of the future for the Irish, and his work on the scout team this year has been impressive by all accounts. But Crist’s injury exposed one of the biggest worries Kelly had going into the season, a gaping lack of depth at the quarterback position.

*****

During the off week, Kelly held a scrimmage for the guys who haven’t gotten a lot of playing time, almost a development report for those freshman and sophomores that haven’t broken into the two-deep. Kelly pointed out a number of players that stood out.

“A number of players. Cam Roberson did a very nice job,” Kelly said. “Alex Welch. Christian Lombard. Kendall Moore was all over the field. To name a few. I was really pleased. Louis Nix, a very difficult guy to block. It was good to see some of those kids play.”

Irish fans expected a guy like Louis Nix to potentially see the field as a freshman, but Nix didn’t show up to camp in optimal shape, and Kelly and his staff have been wise not to play too many young players along the offensive and defensive lines, saving some much needed eligibility.

I was really impressed with what I saw out of Roberson in preseason camp, and with the running back depth as thin as it is with Allen hurt and Gray not yet getting on the field after suffering a knee injury, I wouldn’t have been shocked to see Roberson work his way into the two-deep.

*****

With the Irish getting an extra week of preparation for Utah, Kelly was asked if now-starting quarterback, true freshman Tommy Rees, has taken a more vocal role as “the man” running the Irish offense. Kelly laughed the question off.

“None of that. I would’ve liked to have him walk in and say, coach, don’t worry about it, I got this thing, it’s on my back, let’s roll,” Kelly almost jokingly said. “He’s still a true freshman. He’s got really good savvy, he’s got a great understanding of our offense in a very short period of time, but let’s make no mistake about it. He’s a true freshman that has had one game, and he’ll continue to get better. He loves the game, he’s a great, competitive kid, but we have to take into account that he’s a young player.”

Rees really impressed me with his ability to throw the ball on the short completions, with Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated pointing out that Rees went 11 for 11 on passes that covered five yards or less, but missed on every throw that went over 20 yards.

(Let’s hope Utah doesn’t notice this trend.)

*****

While many traditionalists would revolt, sign me up for the Irish changing the natural grass in Notre Dame Stadium to field turf. And while Kelly tried to be diplomatic about it, it sounds like he wouldn’t mind the change either.

“The offense, obviously, is such that we like to play fast. And I think it’s pretty clear that that surface plays very fast. It’s not going to be my decision,” Kelly said. “I know that I’ll have my say, and that’s all it will be. I want the best for our football players. I want the best for our team and the best for the kind of offense that we run. I know we’ve been able to play really fast on those surfaces. Don’t know that that’s going to be enough to push it over the top, but it’s more about the kind of team we’re putting together.”

I’ve been pretty vocal in my complaints about the grass in Notre Dame Stadium, and every game you seem to see the turf monster reach out and tackle someone, often times to the detriment of the Irish. I’m not advocating a big Jumbotron or Muscle Milk advertisements on the stadium walls like USC does, but Michigan made the switch to field turf and nobody seemed to really notice.

The Irish offense is going to be predicated on speed and the Irish have done a very good job upgrading that part of the football team, and will continue to do so under Kelly. It only makes sense for Notre Dame to consider changing the surface, considering that the grounds crew hasn’t found a good way to keep the grass in good condition for even half a season, let alone an entire year.

Rochell drafted in 7th round; three other former Notre Dame players sign

Getty Images
28 Comments

All the unnecessary draft conversation may have centered on DeShone Kizer, but the quarterback was not the only former Notre Dame player watching this weekend’s NFL Draft with rapt attention. Aside from Kizer, only Isaac Rochell heard his name called. The San Diego Chargers picked the defensive lineman in the seventh round Saturday with the 225th overall pick.

Rochell finished his Irish career with appearance in 49 of 51 possible games and 167 tackles, including 22 for loss and 4.5 sacks. In 2016, he recorded 55 tackles, good for sixth on the team, with seven for loss.

By the end of the evening, three more former Notre Dame starters had signed on with NFL teams as undrafted free agents. It should be noted, many argue the route available for undrafted free agents is preferable to that of late-round picks. An undrafted free agent can choose which of a handful of situations is preferable to him for whatever reason. A late-round pick does not have that luxury, but still makes a comparable salary.

Linebacker James Onwualu opted to join Rochell with the Chargers. Defensive lineman Jarron Jones signed with the New York Giants. Cornerback Cole Luke latched on with the Carolina Panthers.

Onwualu began his Irish career as a receiver before moving to linebacker before his sophomore season. He finished his career with 143 tackles, including 75 in 2016 with 11.5 for loss and three sacks. His 75 tackles finished behind only now-rising senior linebackers Nyles Morgan’s 94 and Drue Tranquill’s 79.

Battling injuries throughout his Notre Dame career, Jones made 105 tackles with 45 in 2016. His 11 tackles for loss were outdone only by the aforementioned Onwualu total.

Luke made 152 tackles in his Irish career, including 48 last season, and eight interceptions.

Three more players from past years’ Irish rosters could yet find an NFL home—long snapper Scott Daly, defensive lineman-turned-tight end Chase Hounshell and running back Tarean Folston. If any or all do not sign, they can still join teams for rookie mini-camps in hopes of making a positive impression.

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

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

Associated Press
50 Comments

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
6 Comments

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

Getty Images
12 Comments

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