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.

 

 

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

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.”