Gary Gray Robert Blanton

Friday notes: Tuitt, Diaco’s D, Recruiting and more

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There’s plenty we can talk about, so let’s get it all out there as we enter the final days of the 2011 recruiting season. (Meanwhile in Ann Arbor, new head coach Brady Hoke has  a semi-vacant coaching staff and only 11 commitments, with some hanging by a thread…)

Bravo to Pete Sampson at IrishIllustrated.com for getting the definitive Stephon Tuitt interview. Tuitt recaps what the hectic process was like and why he flipped back to Notre Dame just a day after committing to Georgia Tech. (Here’s a hint — his initials are BK):

“What really shocked me was when he told me multiple times that if I was just some great player out there that everybody loved and everybody recruited, if I was just a good football player, that he never would have came,” Tuitt said. “He said the reason he came was that I’m a great football player, a great character person and to have both of those, to be able to handle myself in public and keep positive eyes on me, that was important.

“That’s like all the work I’ve been doing, not putting myself in the spotlight. I really appreciated that.”

While many Georgia Tech fans have Tuitt’s mom all but forcing him to Notre Dame, Tuitt squashed that rumor pretty quickly, while also explaining to Sampson why he sat down with the Irish coaches after his high school coach announced that he wouldn’t be meeting with anybody other than Georgia Tech coaches.

“Out of respect I wanted to at least give him a chance to talk,” Tuitt said. “When a head coach says he’s going somewhere and he stops the flight and turns it completely back around, then gets all the defensive coaches and they’re sitting in your living room, that was an honor for me.”

Sounds like the man in charge also has some recruiting chops…

***

When he’s not being compared favorably to Chuck Norris (by men) and Don Draper (by the ladies), Bob Diaco has turned into a closer on the recruiting trail, something I’ve been talking about since the opening days of Diaco’s tenure.

While it was a bit harder to trumpet Diaco’s virtues after the dispiriting loss to Navy, I take great pride in staying firmly entrenched on the Diaco bandwagon, even if I was the only guy on there for a while. But after a stretch of games that had to be included in some of the most dominating team defensive of the modern ND era, the unit’s improvement has been startling.

Even with a secondary down to two healthy scholarship safeties and three cornerbacks that had seen any playing time, the improvement there (with a huge assist by defensive backs coach Chuck Martin) was amazing.

Here’s your fun fact of the week:

2009 — Yards Per Attempt (Passing): 8.0 — T-99th in the country.
2010 — Yards Per Attempt (Passing): 6.4 — T-28th in the country.

2009 — Touchdown passes allowed: 17 — T-50th in country
2010 — Touchdown passes allowed: 11 — 8th in the country.

We’re going to do way more statistical stuff this offseason that I’m really excited about, but those two stats are pretty amazing when you consider how hamstrung the secondary was this year.

***

While Brian Kelly was back on campus talking to the media today, he’s been visiting recruits homes and keeping his foot on the gas pedal until the ink is dry on Signing Day. We will spend plenty of time talking about the class ND brings in, but every recruit that joins the class likely means one less fifth-year player is coming back to play.

I tweeted it earlier, but it’s official: David Ruffer is coming back to school. But as Notre Dame awaits word on two-way lineman Troy Niklas, running back Savon Huggins, and long-snapper Bryce Haynes, there’s going to be a very interesting game of roster management going on in the football offices at the Gug.

Kelly mentioned that every fifth year candidate has applied for another year, which says a lot about how much the veterans bought into the new regime. Unless there’s a rash of transfers, Notre Dame won’t be able to accept all of them back. While it sounds cut throat, this is a great problem for Notre Dame to have, and finally gets the school a little pub on the fantastic website OverSigning.com, which has been documenting this dirty little secret for quite some time.

***

Here’s some required reading, done by some other websites this week:

* The boys at Rakes of Mallow break down the Zone Read. Great Xs and Os stuff.

* Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune goes deep on this all-things ND football chat.

* ESPN Chicago talks with Aaron Lynch about the chaos of recruiting.

* Bob Davie talks to the Free Press about former Notre Dame assistant coach Greg Mattison and his return to Michigan. Mattison left the Baltimore Ravens to take the same job at Michigan.

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.