Tuesdays with BK: Utah edition

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As he does on Tuesdays at noon, Brian Kelly addressed the assembled media and talked Utah and the state of the Irish football team coming off a much needed bye week.

The fine folks in the video department brought us the greatest hits:

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Some thoughts:

Even though the Irish have sophomore Nick Tausch on the roster, Brian Kelly addressed the fifth-year possibilities of walk-on kicker/folk hero David Ruffer, while pretty much deftly avoiding the difficult roster decisions that await the coaching staff in the next few weeks.

“Those are things that I really haven’t touched upon yet relative to those guys that may come back for that fifth year, or are eligible to come back for that fifth year,” Kelly said.

“I will probably do that here over the next week or so, or can kind of start to filter through some of those guys that may have an interest in coming back, and as you know, some want to graduate and move on. We are just starting to get our hands around it. I think we have 36; 36 seniors, including a number of walk-ons. So we have to sit down and work on that pretty soon. Ruffer in particular has obviously had an incredible year. Certainly, if things would work out academically for him, you know, that option would be open on our end.”

The Irish have been wasting scholarships on specialists that don’t play for the last five years with guys like Brandon Walker and Ryan Burkhart, so keeping Tausch around even with Ruffer and incoming freshman kicker Kyle Brindza isn’t all that bad.

Anybody that’s an Irish fan should be cheering for Ruffer to return, if only for him to reap the roughly $50,000 reward of graduate school in exchange for two remarkable years of kicking.

*****

We mentioned Kyle Rudolph’s decision that he’s faced with yesterday, but a reporter finally addressed the elephant that’s been in the room all season, with Michael Floyd and Rudolph having to decide whether or not they’ll test the NFL Draft waters or return for a senior season.

Kelly admitted that he — just like every other Irish fan — doesn’t want to deal with that.

“I try not to get into those conversations. Generally, my experience has been — they will come into my office and they will ask a question like, ‘Coach, what do you think?’ And of course, we already know what their answer is or they wouldn’t have asked me,” Kelly said. “So I’ve tried to wait until the end of the season. They have got a lot of things on their mind relative to, you know, playing and injuries and things of that nature. Again, to answer your question, we’ll wait till the end of the year.”

If both Floyd and Rudolph leave, I won’t blame them, though if they walk away from a senior season to go anywhere but the first round, they’ve made a mistake. If Floyd walks away, he’ll still go down in the record books as one of the best statistical players Notre Dame has seen. Rudolph hasn’t had near the effect on the field, but he’s got the chance to go in the middle of the first round, something that hasn’t happened with an Irish player in quite some time. Still, their legacy won’t be one that’ll have them adored like Irish legends of the past, especially if they walk away after a .500 (at best) season.

*****

With the loss to Tulsa, the senior class has set an ignominious record, becoming one the all-time loss-leading classes in Notre Dame history. What was looked upon as one of the best recruiting classes in the country turned into one of the worst four-year runs in school history, a good lesson for all those recruitniks out there.

Still, Kelly had nothing but great things to say about the group of seniors playing their final game in Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday.

“Our seniors, I will say this publicly: They have had to build this foundation,” Kelly said. “And they have been forced to dig a hole, and digging that hole is that foundation that we are talking to. They have had to put a lot on their shoulders, and for that, they will always be welcome here at Notre Dame.”

While everybody hoped to be better than 4-5 at this point in the season — especially the players and coaches — Kelly was wise in both praising the departing players and welcoming them back with open arms, a practice Kelly has done since walking in the door with former players, a practice that was embraced far too late by the Weis regime. Kelly also understood how important the veterans on this football team were in establishing the work ethic needed to turn around a program struggling with systemic issues.

*****

Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix took more snaps during the off week than they probably did all season combined. Kelly was asked what he saw out of his freshman duo.

“”You can see the athleticism of Hendrix, strength of arm, and then you can see the strengths that Tommy has in picking up a game plan, where it comes natural to him,” Kelly said. “You go into a practice and he understands what you’re trying to accomplish. He’s got to be able to accomplish those things, but his recognition is really good for a true freshmen, and you can see the athleticism of an Andrew Hendrix, but it’s hard to put it all together right now because he has a very, very shallow base of what we want to accomplish.”

There may not be a better comparison when talking about Rees and Hendrix than the quandry the Irish faced a decade ago at quarterback with freshman Matt LoVecchio and Carlyle Holiday. While the Irish offense under Bob Davie was hardly ever praised, the coaching staff engineered game plans around the true freshman LoVecchio and rode him to the Fiesta Bowl, even while many Irish fans expected the Irish future under center to be the dynamic Holiday, whose athleticism was easy to notice.

That’s not to say that Rees will go the way of LoVecchio and transfer away from the program while Hendrix grabs hold (or is given) the starting quarterback job, but this is clearly a case where one quarterback’s knowledge base is farther ahead than the others when they walk onto campus. We’ll just wait and see where it is after two or three seasons.

 

 

Restocking the roster: Running Backs

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Josh Adams #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs for a 26-yard gain against the USC Trojans in the first half 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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Notre Dame’s running back depth chart was tested to its max less than 10 minutes into the season opener. The projected two-deep, Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, were both lost for the year—Bryant out of school as an academic and disciplinary casualty by the start of fall camp and Folston because of a knee injury suffered on his third carry of the season.

Welcome back to Notre Dame, Autry Denson.

The school’s all-time leading rusher in his first season as a running back coach had to be feeling a little woozy. He had a converted wide receiver taking featured-back carries and a true freshman a little over a year removed from his own major knee injury serving as his primary backup.

That the Irish had their most prolific running season under Brian Kelly says quite a bit about the job that Denson did. It’s also a credit to the offensive line blocking, the adjusted scheme that also protected two new starting quarterbacks, and the talent that remained at the position.

Spring presents new challenges. Tarean Folston should be a little over seven months removed from ACL surgery, making him doubtful to do anything more than wear a red jersey. With C.J. Prosise‘s departure, Adams goes from record-setting rookie to spring starter, with Williams likely carrying a large load as well.

Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh arrive this summer, reinforcements on the way. But before we get there, let’s take a look at the pre-spring roster at running back.

 

DEPARTURES
C.J. Prosise (156 carries 1,032 yards, 11 TDs)
Greg Bryant (lost preseason 2015)

 

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Josh Adams (117 carries, 835 yards, 6 TDs)
Dexter Williams (21 carries, 81 yards, 3 TDs)
Tony Jones Jr.
Deon McIntosh 

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Tarean Folston,* Sr.
Josh Adams, Soph.
Dexter Williams, Soph.
Justin Brent,* Junior

*Additional year of eligibility remaining.

 

ANALYSIS: This might be a position battle deferred to fall camp, especially if Folston is still in recovery mode. At this point, it doesn’t make sense to rush back from an ACL tear for 15 practices, so while the rising senior may be chomping at the bit to return, it’s better to save it until August.

Folston will likely be the team’s most versatile back, but keeping Adams off the field will be a hard chore. His breakaway speed was on display multiple times in 2015, with his record-setting run against Wake Forest the team’s longest play from scrimmage. Adams also likely added some mass and physicality to his game in the offseason weigh-training program, giving the Irish someone capable of hitting the big play and also moving the sticks in short yardage situations.

The staff believes that Dexter Williams is a talented back, so with three solid contributors on the roster before Jones or McIntosh hit campus, it’ll be fun to see how snaps get sorted. (From that perspective, you can only wonder how they’d have dealt with the champagne problem of having Prosise around…) Justin Brent remains an option as well, though the attrition from the receiving corps makes you think he’ll be back at receiver.

The wildcard in all of this is Folston. He’s a unique talent with natural ability you just can’t teach. If he’s fully recovered and ready to engage in a position battle, there won’t likely be a drop off even with the early departure of Prosise.

 

Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Combine
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Notre Dame will send ten former players to the NFL Scouting Combine. The annual event in Indianapolis serves as the unofficial apex of draft season, a meat-market where the best professional prospects are poked, prodded, questioned and tested in a variety of on- and off-field drills.

Heading to the festivities from Notre Dame are:

Chris Brown, WR
Sheldon Day, DT
Will Fuller, WR
Nick Martin, C
Romeo Okwara, DE
C.J. Prosise, RB
KeiVarae Russell, CB
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, OLB
Ronnie Stanley, OT

For a prospect like Smith, it’ll be teams first opportunity to talk to the elite prospect and check his progress medically as he returns from a Fiesta Bowl knee injury. Russell will also be a non-participant in physical drills, waiting until Notre Dame’s Pro Day to go through testing.

Invites to Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Elijah Shumate are crucial in finding their way into the draft, as the three former Irish starters participated in the Shrine Bowl, where scouts had an early look at them. Likewise, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day continue their ascent, both coming off strong Senior Bowl weeks.

For Irish fans, it’ll be fun to watch early-enrollees Fuller and Prosise test. Both are expected to be some of the fastest players at their position. Brown may also have the ability to surprise teams, with his track background and leaping ability capable of earning him an extended look. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will look to impress as well, hoping to check out as one of the draft’s most impressive athletes at offensive tackle.

Ohio State led all schools with 14 invites. National Champion Alabama had nine former players invited.

 

WR Corey Robinson named Notre Dame student body president

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On Wednesday, wide receiver Corey Robinson added another impressive title to his resume as a student-athlete at Notre Dame: Student Body President.

The junior, paired with classmate Becca Blais as his vice presidential running mate, won a majority of the votes cast by his fellow students, a runaway winner with 59.4% of the votes, nearly triple the next highest vote getter.

Robinson posted the following on Twitter, thankful for the opportunity to serve his fellow students:

Robinson’s time at Notre Dame has been filled with accomplishments both on and off the field. He was named an Academic All-American as a sophomore. He’s a six-time Dean’s List member in the prestigious Program of Liberal Studies and is also pursuing a sustainability minor. He’s won the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award as well.

That’s quite a bit on the plate of Notre Dame’s lone senior wide receiver. But as you might expect, Robinson is well prepared for the next challenge ahead.

“I’ve planned ahead, gotten all of my hard work out of the way this semester, and I’m finishing up my senior thesis,” Robinson told The Observer. “I’m doing all the hard stuff now so in the fall and the spring, I just have to take two classes pretty much.”

Robinson’s other contributions as a student-athlete at Notre Dame include One Shirt one Body, an opportunity for college athletes to donate their athletic apparel to local communities. Robinson has presented the plan to the ACC as well as the NCAA, earning immediate support from both organizations.

 

Mailbag: Now Open (scheduling input requested)

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 01:  Actors Mike Myers (L) and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth from "Wayne's World" onstage during the 17th annual MTV Movie Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre on June 1, 2008 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Okay folks, we’ve had enough semi-positive encouragement to keep the video mailbag going for another week. With that said, I’ll need some reader participation to keep this thing rolling on.

As always, submit your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold. You can also ask your questions live via Facebook. You’ll need to LIKE THIS PAGE first, and then at the appropriate time, head on over to watch and participate.

To that point, let’s pick a time that works for everyone. Right now, here are the options that work at Inside the Irish HQ.  Weigh in and the best time wins. (How’s that for a democracy?)

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