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Tuesdays with BK: Sun Bowl edition

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Welcome back to the season’s final Tuesdays with BK, this time coming from El Paso, Texas. In front of a different crowd than usual, Brian Kelly discussed hot topics like Duval Kamara, the future of Michael Floyd, keys to defeating the Hurricanes, and carrying Sun Bowl momentum into 2011.

Our friends over at UND.com have video of the press conference here, but I’ll give you some of the greatest hits:

The news of Duval Kamara’s abscense from the Sun Bowl was explained by the fuzzy “personal reasons” yesterday, and when asked about it today, Brian Kelly didn’t have much to add, other than a little bit of displeasure in the entire situation.

“I’d like to stick him in a snow drift in New Jersey,” Kelly said, referencing the inclimate weather that hit Kamara’s hometown, before answering seriously.

“Personal reasons is the reason why he’s not here,” Kelly said before finalizing Kamara’s status for the game. “I would not know whether or not he shows up in El Paso or not.”

Personal reasons or not, it sounds like Kamara will end his career at Notre Dame in the head coach’s dog house, likely from a decision made over the three-day holiday break.

***

We’re going to dig into the decision Michael Floyd has to make later, but when Kelly was asked what it would mean if the Sun Bowl was Floyd’s last game in a Notre Dame uniform, he had a thoughtful response.

“These decisions that are made relative to whether they come back or not, I really don’t spend much time on it,” Kelly said. “I look at the present. And in the present, Michael Floyd is somebody that impacted our entire football team. And he impacted it by the way he worked every day in practice. He set a standard, from my perspective, of how you want champions to practice and prepare. Great work ethic, great with understanding what it takes to be a great player. If he does decide it’s in his best interests to move on to the NFL, whether I agree or not, is really immaterial, what he leaves is a standard I can point to moving forward: That’s how you prepare, that’s how you practice. Look at Michael Floyd.”

Floyd sits near the top of every receiving record in Notre Dame history and if he returns for his senior season he’ll likely be guaranteed his name doesn’t go anywhere for quite some time. That said, after sniffing around our mutual hometown and high school alma mater, I’ve got a feeling that Friday’s game might be MMF’s finale.

***

Tim Prister of Irish Illustrated played a game of fill-in-the-blanks with Kelly, where the head coach tried to relay the key to an Irish victory. Not surprisingly, it included slowing down Miami’s pass rush and protecting freshman quarterback Tommy Rees.

“Number one, we have to be able to protect Tommy,” Kelly said. “That’s absolutely critical. We can’t put this game in a situation where he has to go out as a freshman and decide the outcome. And then defensively, find a way to balance stopping the run with the ability to play the ball in the air down the field. They’re going to run the football, and they’re going to take shots with some skilled players. In other words, you can’t sell out against the run, or you’re going to get in 1-on-1 matchups that Miami can exploit. It’s balance on defense and don’t put Tommy Rees in a position where he has to make plays.”

Keeping Rees protected is the obvious priority, but stopping a Hurricane running attack that could help open up the play-action pass game is critical for the Irish defense. While most of the talk has been about Notre Dame’s strong defense in November, for the season, the Irish have done a pretty good job limiting the run. After a slow start out of the gates (thanks to a killer game by Denard Robinson), the Irish held defenses to a very respectable 3.6 yards a carry in the final nine games of the season, even including the debacle against Navy.

With Ian Williams back anchoring the nose and Darius Fleming coming on of late, the Irish should have a good chance to contain a Miami offense filled with talent, but lacking cohesion.

***

Beating Miami on Friday would give the Irish eight victories for the season, their first four-game winning streak since 2006, and an awful lot of momentum going into 2011. Kelly talked about what this bowl game means for the Irish heading into next season.

“Any time you take two weeks to practice, you’re always thinking about preparation for the opponent, but you also have an eye towards the future,” Kelly said. “It’s like anything else — you’re going to live in the present but you’re always going to have an eye towards the future. So this clearly, for both teams, there’s 2011 out there as well. We want to win the football game. So the most important thing is the right now. But in the evaluation process over the past couple weeks, you’re also looking at those guys that are going to impact your team in 2011. It’s very, very important to our players, our coaches, everybody associated.”

The Irish’s ceiling could hinge on the return of Floyd and tight end Kyle Rudolph to the offense, but you can be assured that expectations for 2011 — whether deserved or not — will be sky high for next year.

(At least by this guy…)

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

Notre Dame v Florida State
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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?)

***

 

Restocking the roster: Offensive Line

Notre Dame offensive line
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When Notre Dame takes the field this spring, there’ll be two very large holes in the offensive line that need filling. All-American left tackle Ronnie Stanley is gone. As is captain Nick Martin at center. Both three-year starters leave Harry Hiestand with some big decisions to make in the coming months as the Irish look to fill those key positions and still field a unit with the ability to dominate in the trenches.

The Irish have had incredible stability at left tackle, with Stanley sliding in seamlessly after four seasons of Zack Martin. Perhaps the best six-year run in the program’s storied history at the position, Stanley will likely join Martin as a first-rounder, back-to-back starters at a key spot that often dictates the play of one of the most important units on the field.

Replacing Nick Martin could prove equally tricky. Rising junior Sam Mustipher served as Martin’s backup in 2015, filing in capably for Martin after an ankle sprain took him off the field briefly against UMass. But Mustipher will face a challenge this spring from rising sophomore Tristen Hoge, the first true center recruited by Hiestand and Brian Kelly since they arrived in South Bend.

Kelly talked about 2017 being a big cycle on the recruiting trail for restocking the offensive line. You can see why when you look at the depth, particularly at tackle. Let’s look at the work that’s been done the previous two classes as Notre Dame continues to be one of the premier programs recruiting in the trenches.

 

DEPARTURES
Ronnie Stanley
, Sr. (39 starts)
Nick Martin, Grad Student (37 starts)

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Tristen Hoge
, C
Trevor Ruhland
, G
Jerry Tillery
, T
Parker Boudreaux
, G
Tommy Kraemer
, T
Liam Eichenberg
, T

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Hunter Bivin, T
Quenton Nelson, LG
Sam Mustipher, C
Steve Elmer, RG
Mike McGlinchey, RT

Alex Bars*, T
Colin McGovern*, G/T
Mark Harrell*, C/G
Tristen Hoge*, C
John Montelus*, G
Jimmy Byrne*, G
Trevor Ruhland*, G

*Has an additional year of eligibility remaining. 

ANALYSIS:
It’ll be a fascinating spring up front for the offensive line. We’ll get our first look at potential replacements and see if the Irish staff values a veteran presence (as it has done in the past) or puts former blue-chip recruits in position to become multi-year starters.

For now, I’m putting last season’s backups in line to ascend to starting spots. That’s not to say I think that’s what’ll happen. Hunter Bivin may have been Stanley’s backup last season, but as long as Alex Bars is fully recovered from his broken ankle, I think he’s the best bet to step into that job. Sharing reps at guard—not a natural spot for Bars to begin with—was more about getting him some experience, with the aim to move him into the lineup in 2016. That allows Bivin to be a key swing reserve, capable of playing on either the right or left side.

At center, the decision is less clear cut—especially since we’ve yet to see Tristen Hoge play a snap of football. Size and strength is a genuine concern at the point of attack for Hoge, not necessarily the biggest guy hitting campus. But it sounds like he’s had a nice first season from a developmental standpoint, and if he’s a true technician at the position, he could be a rare four-year starter at center if he’s able to pull ahead of Mustipher this spring.

On paper, the other three starting jobs don’t seem to be in question. Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey are ready to step to the forefront. Concerns about Steve Elmer’s buy-in will certainly be answered by spring, there’s little chance he’ll be on the field in March if he’s not going to be around in August. I’m of the mind that Elmer’s too good of a character guy to leave the program, even if his life doesn’t revolve around football 24/7. Now it’s time for him to clean up some of the flaws in his game, the only starter from last season who held back the Irish from being a truly elite group.

Depth isn’t necessarily a concern, but there isn’t a ton of it at tackle. That happens when you move a guy like Jerry Tillery to defensive line and lose a player like Stanley with a year of eligibility remaining. That could force the Irish to cross-train someone like Colin McGovern, a veteran who can swing inside or out if needed. McGovern seems to be a guy who would start in a lot of other programs, but has struggled to crack a two-deep that’s now filled with former blue-chip recruits, all of them essentially handpicked by Hiestand and Kelly.