Urban Meyer

Friday notes: Kiel, juniors, camps and more

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Before we kick-off the notes portion of the show, I wanted to give a quick apology if it’s been a little up-and-down here the past week or two. I’m trying to get my off-season legs under me, and a lot of the work I’m doing for the website isn’t quite ready for broadcast.

If you’re one of those readers that is trying to decide whether or not they should just hibernate and comeback in August, you’ll be making a big mistake, as we’ve got some infinitely cool stuff ready to lead us through spring practice and into preseason.

(Pep talk over. Commence notes column.)

For those of you staying up to speed on your recruiting, the Irish are in the running for two of this year’s biggest quarterback prospects, Maty Mauk and Gunner Kiel. Both have ties to the Irish program — Kiel’s uncle Blair played quarterback for the Irish and Mauk’s brother Ben played quarterback for Brian Kelly at Cincinnati.

Both already have dozens of scholarship offers and project well in Kelly’s offensive system. While Kiel was slated to stop in South Bend for an unofficial campus visit before this weekend’s junior day, Christian McCollum from IrishSportsDaily.com reports that inclement weather has pushed the family to reschedule the visit.

Obviously, getting a recruit on campus sooner than later is a priority for the Irish coaching staff, but any rumors that Kiel or his family may have already shut the door on the Irish seem to be ill-founded, and in some ways the Irish could have a situation where both Mauk and Kiel will push each other in the Irish’s favor, as Notre Dame will likely only take one quarterback, and the QB carousel will only stop once in South Bend.

I’ve got a feeling we’ll be hearing a lot about these two quarterbacks over the next few months so buckle up and I’ll keep you posted.

***

Bad weather or not, the Irish coaching staff is still holding a junior day this weekend, with over two dozen recruits planning on attending. As of this morning, here are the recruits with offers that plan on being on campus:

Nicky Baratti, QB/S — Spring, Texas
Maty Mauk, QB — Kenton, Ohio
Mike Moore, DE — Hyattsville, Maryland
Tom Strobel, DE — Mentor, Ohio
Dan Voltz, OL — Barrington, Illinois

Baratti lists as a quarterback or athlete, but it’s pretty clear that he’s being targeted as a safety, a position where the Irish are in need of numbers and playmakers. We’ve covered Mauk, who would finalize the Irish’s quarterbacking plans if he committed (though I’m sure BK and crew could find room for Kiel if he wanted to join as well.) Moore is a monstrous athlete with elite offers, and it looks like it could be Diaco vs. Larry Johnson Sr. part two for the prototype 3-4 defensive end. Strobel fits that mold of a Kelly “Big Skill” athlete, measuring in at 6-6, 240-pounds, and the ability to play with a hand on the ground as well as in space. Voltz has also seen his stock rise considerably, adding offers from SEC powers Alabama and Auburn over the last few weeks.

You can’t expect the Irish to walk out of the weekend with a commitment, but expect some great in-roads to be made, especially important with recruits like Moore and Baratti.

***

Hard core chalk-talk might not be up everybody’s alley, but if you’re a football coach or merely interested in an absolutely riveting collection of offensive minds, you should seriously consider attending the  Notre Dame Football Coaches Clinic.

It’s hard to top two of Kelly’s featured guests, former Irish wide receivers coach Urban Meyer (yeah, I guess he made a little noise in Gainesville) and Oregon Ducks head coach Chip Kelly. The fact that Meyer and Kelly accepted BK’s invitation to come back and speak certainly shines highly on Kelly’s reputation among his peers and more importantly, puts three of the biggest spread offensive innovators in the same room, something that high school coaches or football nuts have to find incredibly intriguing.

Charley Molnar, Bob Diaco, and the rest of the Irish coaching staff will all be presenting, and they’ll also be joined by high school coaches Mickey Wilson of Myrtle Beach High School in South Carolina and Rick Finotti, the head coach of St. Ed’s High School, a powerhouse program in Ohio.

The event takes place from Thursday March 24 – 26 and includes access to two Notre Dame spring practices.

***

While I’m stumping for Notre Dame camps, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the annual Notre Dame Football Fantasy Camp, which is taking place again this summer from May 31 – June 4th.

If donning the full uniform of the Fighting Irish, being coached by the entire coaching staff, and playing a fully refereed football game in Notre Dame Stadium is your thing, than you’ll likely want to see if you can scratch together what it takes to make this dream a reality.

Last year, I was lucky enough to attend, and got a first hand look at what being coached by guys like Bob Diaco, Mike Elston and Chuck Martin was like. Even better, throughout the week, it was like a revolving door of former Irish greats working with both teams, with guys like Tony Rice, Chris Zorich, Allen Pinkett, Terry Hanratty, and dozens more dropping by to share their experience.

Football operations director Chad Klunder, who runs the camp, has already confirmed former Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung for this summer. If you’ve got some cash saved up and want to go through some middle-aged wish fulfillment, it’s definitely worth some serious thought.

***

A few quick links:

* If you’re wondering what helped bring Greg Mattison back to Michigan, a great relationship with Brady Hoke probably helped, but so did a guaranteed $750,000, which has a chance to bump to $900,000 if the Wolverines win the Big Ten.

* Jonas “Meatball” Gray 1, Dustin “Screech” Diamond 0. (Still looking for the video, though.)

* Harrison Smith’s interceptions, broken down by ND messageboard coach Busco21.

 

 

Irish A-to-Z: Ian Book

Ian Book
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Notre Dame’s incoming freshman steps into one of the most harrowing depth charts in college football. But he also comes to South Bend prepared, a freshman season where anything is possible.

Book may be No. 4 in a four-deep that includes three of the most intriguing quarterbacks in college football. But he’s also a play away from being the team’s backup. That’s the plan heading into freshman year, with Brandon Wimbush hoping to keep a redshirt on this season after being forced into action in 2015.

A highly productive high school quarterback, Book didn’t wow any of the recruiting evaluators. But Mike Sanford took dead aim at Book and landed a quarterback he thinks can step in and be ready if needed.

 

IAN BOOK
6’0″, 190 lbs.
Freshman, No. 4, QB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Three-star prospect who had offers from Boise State and Washington State before Notre Dame jumped in and landed him. His previous relationship with Mike Sanford from his time in Boise made the difference.

Undersized but cerebral player who was highly prolific in high school. Named conference MVP in senior season at Oak Ridge high school and was the No. 14 overall pro-style QB according to Rivals.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

If Book is going to be a big-time college quarterback, it’ll be because he’s got a knack for the game that you don’t see from his physical skill-set. He’s undersized and a little bit slight. He’s got good wheels, but doesn’t play like a speed demon.

You don’t need an elite set of tools to be successful in Brian Kelly’s system. And while a comparison to Tommy Rees will come off as a slight, it’s a compliment—especially after hearing the staff speak confidently about Book’s ability to come in and know the system well enough to be ready to play as a freshman, if necessary.

(Book is also faster than Rees, so relax everybody.)

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Unless the sky is falling, Book is wearing a redshirt. And that’s the best thing for him—even if he’ll prepare as the emergency No. 3, a duty Wimbush was pushed into last year.

A look at Notre Dame’s depth chart and the war chest of talent accumulated at the position makes these next five years look like an uphill climb to get onto the field. But until Book steps foot on campus, all bets are off.

Remember, Tommy Rees entered Notre Dame with two other quarterbacks at his position, both rated better than him by recruiting analysts. But it was Rees that pushed past the five-star recruit already on campus for two seasons and his two classmates.

Of course, DeShone Kizer, Malik Zaire and Brandon Wimbush aren’t Dayne Crist, Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa. But until we see Book at the college level, it’s a wait and see proposition.

But the freshman has a key role on the 2016 team. Even if everybody hopes he won’t have to do it.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner

Irish A-to-Z: Jonathan Bonner

Jon Bonner Rivals
Rivals via Twitter
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After two seasons of limited duty, there’s a road to the field for Jonathan Bonner. The rising junior, who spent last year mostly watching and learning as Brian VanGorder and Keith Gilmore played a skeleton rotation, has a chance to break into a position group that’s searching for answers that Bonner seems well-suited to provide.

But Bonner also plays behind the team’s best defensive lineman, with senior Isaac Rochell poised to anchor the front seven. So as the rising junior moves into his third season in South Bend, he’ll need to show a versatile set of skills to get onto the field.

 

JONATHAN BONNER
6’3″, 286 lbs.
Junior, No. 55, DL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Bonner may not have been a highly-touted recruit, but he was just starting to rack up impressive offers when he pledged to Notre Dame. Bonner earned a scholarship offer at every summer camp he attended, and his commitment to the Irish came after he dominated some of the best offensive line prospects in the country at Notre Dame’s summer camp.

An All-State performer and the defensive player of the year in St. Louis. Also a more than impressive student-athlete, with a note he wrote to himself as a grade schooler a pretty incredible piece of maturity.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2015): Played in 10 games, making 10 tackles and notching one sack. Played a season-high 39 snaps along the defensive line in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. Saw double-digit snaps against Texas, UMass, Wake Forest and Boston College.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

This seems pretty solid.

I’m buying Bonner’s future, though I’m a little less sure that he’ll break loose in 2015. With Isaac Rochell capable of being a frontline player, Bonner getting on the field might mean Rochell’s off of it, which I just don’t see happening too often.

But if there’s a beauty to Brian VanGorder’s defense—at least when it’s playing like it did the first half of the season—it’s the ability to mix and match. And if there’s no way to find Bonner a role in this defense, especially as the Irish try to find someone to come off the edge, then it’s more on the young prospect’s knowledge base than anything a coaching staff can do.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

This might not be a make or break season for Bonner, especially since he’s got a fifth year available. But I think it could be. With the opportunity to provide a disruption from the interior of the defensive line, Bonner needs to find a home in a position group that could use a versatile defender who can both hold up at the point of attack and get to the quarterback.

Bonner started at outside linebacker, but quickly moved to the front four. Last year’s progress was slowed by a turf toe injury in April, short-circuiting a sold spring. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity to contribute in 2015, but there was certainly a need for someone to provide a pass rush and Bonner wasn’t given that chance—something that speaks to where he was as a developmental prospect last year.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I think Bonner will find a niche on the inside or third downs, considering neither Jerry Tillery nor Jarron Jones look like pass rush threats. That could kick open a spot for Bonner on the inside, or it could allow him to play at the strong side if Rochell slides inside.

Of course, that’s mostly determined by Bonner, who has flashed talent and athleticism, but hasn’t translated that to the field yet. Some think Bonner is one of the most intriguing athletes on the roster, and he’s certainly one of the team’s better workout warriors. But that needs to transition to the football field with some productivity, a key development piece for Keith Gilmore and a uncertain front four.

Bonner spoke with confidence this spring that his knowledge base was now matching his skill-set. If he’s able to put everything together, he could be a very nice complementary piece to the front four.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship

Jarrett Grace signs FA contract with Chicago Bears

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 5: Jarrett Grace #59 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in action during a game against the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium on September 5, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Texas 38-3. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Former Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace has signed with the Chicago Bears. The former Rockne Award winner will continue his improbable return from a devastating leg injury during OTAs and training camp, fighting for a roster spot on the NFC North squad.

Grace worked out for the Bears at a tryout camp and Chicago made the roster move official Wednesday, signing Grace and releasing linebacker Danny Mason.

After redshirting as a freshman and sitting behind Manti Te’o, Grace moved into the starting lineup as a junior and led the Irish in tackles before suffering a severe leg injury against Arizona State. It took nearly two years for Grace to return to duty, needing to re-learn how to run as he underwent multiple procedures to repair the rod that held Grace’s bone in place.

He played in 32 games for the Irish, finishing with 78 total tackles.

Irish A-to-Z: Grant Blankenship

Notre Dame v Syracuse
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Notre Dame’s junior defensive end has an unclear status entering his third season in the program. Suspended by Brian Kelly this spring after playing minimal snaps as a sophomore, the Texas native already had an unclear path to the field even before you consider his status as a member of the team and student at the university.

After playing in 11 games as a true freshman, Blankenship struggled to make progress after adding the mass needed to play on the strong side. With the depth chart at defensive end already in question, Blankenship is a true unknown entering 2016.

 

GRANT BLANKENSHIP
6’5″, 278
Junior, No. 92, DE

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A late-riser on the recruiting scene, Blankenship turned down an offer from Charlie Strong to stick with his commitment to Notre Dame, his favorite program as a child. An early target by former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, and he stuck with Notre Dame even after Diaco departed for UConn.

Not highly rated, Blankenship fell outside the 250 recruits on 247’s composite.

 

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Played in 11 games, making 12 tackles including one TFL. Didn’t play against Navy or LSU. Made three tackles against Syracuse.

Sophomore Season (2015): Appeared in three games, making one assisted tackle. Played a season-high 10 snaps against UMass.

 

WHAT WE PROJECTED LAST YEAR

Blankenship’s participation took a step backwards. He looked like a potential redshirt until he played in garbage time. Partial credit, at best. Nobody gave Rochell and Day a break.

It’s too hard to project Blankenship as a 30-snap-a-game contributor. But if he’s forced into action, the experience he got last season will come in handy. More likely, Blankenship will be part of an expanded front seven depth chart, and will make it easier to keep guys like Isaac Rochell and Sheldon Day fresh.

As a second-year player, he and Andrew Trumbetti have a chance to both make big steps forward this season. If either can help a pass rush that needs to win more from base packages, it’ll be huge for the defense. Expect new defensive line coach Keith Gilmore to get this through to Blankenship, who likely derives fuel from being overlooked, something he certainly was last season.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

We’ll know a lot more about Blankenship’s future when the Irish enroll in summer school. If he’s there, it’ll signal that there’s a road back onto the team. If not, it’ll be another washout at defensive end, a position that’s been very difficult to keep together.

At this point, barring some remarkable change to his production or the depth chart, there doesn’t look like much of a road to playing time for Blankenship, at least not with Isaac Rochell on the roster in front of him.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Very unclear.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Blankenship was a part of a different program come next fall or buried on the depth chart at Notre Dame. The one reason for optimism is the position he plays. There’s opportunity at defensive end, especially if you can rush the passer.

Blankenship hasn’t show that ability yet. Part of that came from gaining a ton of weight between his freshman and sophomore seasons. The other part of it was scheme—he was recruited by Bob Diaco to play a different type of end.

Let’s get Blankenship out of the doghouse and back onto the field before we look for optimism.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin

 

This week’s episode of Blown Coverage features me pitching John Walters on the perfect three-year solution for Notre Dame’s QB conundrum. And a bunch of other stuff. Enjoy.