Friday notes: Kiel, juniors, camps and more

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Browns pick former Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer 20th in second round

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After months of pointless chatter and a night spent waiting, DeShone Kizer’s NFL Draft experience ended Friday night when the Cleveland Browns drafted the former Notre Dame quarterback with the 20th pick in the second round, the No. 52 overall selection.

Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Kizer will have the opportunity to earn the starting job for the franchise less than two hours from his hometown. The Browns trotted out five different quarterbacks in 2016, only two of which remain with the team. Rookie Cody Kessler played in nine games, throwing for 1,380 yards and six touchdowns with only one interception while fellow rookie Kevin Hogan threw for 104 yards and two interceptions in four games.

The Browns have since added Brock Osweiler in a trade with the Houston Texans, though that trade was largely-viewed as a cash-for-picks swap, with the Browns “paying” for picks by taking on Osweiler’s contract in which he is owed $47 million over the next three seasons, including $16 million this season.

A year ago, the No. 52 pick (linebacker Deion Jones to the Atlanta Falcons) received a four-year, $4.546 million contract with a $1.506 million signing bonus.

Hall of fame running back and Browns legend Jim Brown announced the selection of Kizer at the draft festivities.

Speculation a year ago pegged Kizer as an early first-round pick. As the draft approached, projections of his slot varied widely, many including a second-round status. Despite first-round theatrics leading to three quarterbacks going in the first 12 picks Thursday night, Kizer had to wait another day before learning where he will start his NFL career. (more…)

Friday at 4: ‘Attention to detail’ includes Notre Dame Stadium

@NDFootball
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Brian Kelly proselytized multiple abstract concepts this spring. By the end of the 15 practices and subsequent media sessions, even the Irish coach knew some of his references to “grit” would be met by muted eye rolls from the press. If a questioner included the word in their query, Kelly reacted with tongue-in-cheek approval, “You’ve been listening.”

In his press conference the day before spring practices commenced, Kelly used the phrase “attention to detail” six separate times. While he was referring to his players on the football field, Kelly could have also been discussing the ongoing—but supposedly close to finished—construction at Notre Dame Stadium known as Campus Crossroads.

The three buildings around the exterior of the Stadium, the added suites and the video board above the south end zone have garnered the headlines. On a macro level, those are the changes of note. On a micro level, however, other details have trickled into the public stream of knowledge as the work nears its conclusion.

Over the weekend—and now reignited by a column from the South Bend Tribune’s Mike Vorel—the image of the newly-added visitors’ tunnel delighted Irish fans. Vorel likens the narrow entry to “the spot they’d stash the gladiators before feeding them to starving tigers in The Coliseum.” Assuredly, Vorel is going for dramatic effect, and it must work considering its citation here, but even a realistic view of the tunnel’s effects bodes well.

If nothing else, Notre Dame players should enjoy something of a psychological boost when racing out of their adult-sized tunnel and seeing their opponent trickle out of a tunnel seemingly-sized for ants. (Yes, the north end zone tunnel is at least three times bigger than the visitors’ tunnel.)

That pale, slanted staircase holds none of the luxuries of the home team’s entrance, something Kelly went out of his way to praise after using it in Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game. (more…)

Where Notre Dame was & is: Linebackers

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You want complete honesty? The linebacker version of this series includes no revelations, no unexpected developments, no surprising spring performances. There is an allusion to a position switch, sure, but this piece became much simpler with the rover being discussed separately Thursday.

The idea was to capitalize on the NFL Draft for the morning and let the linebackers slip by in the afternoon, noticed only by those twiddling their thumbs through the last hours of the work week. Alas, former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer was not drafted in the first round and a brief recap of his draft destination will need to await at least another day. Programming note: The NFL Draft reconvenes tonight (Friday) at 7 p.m. ET. The Green Bay Packers are on the clock. They will not draft a quarterback.

But back to the linebackers. This piece may have been intended to slip by with little fanfare, but that is not indicative of the Irish linebackers. Where Notre Dame was is so similar to where Notre Dame is simply because two experienced senior captains lead the way at linebacker.

WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS:
Aside from questions about defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s rover position, only one question stood out about this linebacker group: Who would start alongside senior Nyles Morgan: senior Greer Martini or junior Te’von Coney?

A year ago Coney recorded the fourth-most tackles on the team with 62. Martini finished fifth with 55, and his seven tackles for loss, including three sacks, dwarfed Coney’s 1.5. Yet Coney technically started nine games compared to Martini’s four.

RELATED READING: Two days until spring practice: A look at the linebackers

With the rover often lining up essentially as a linebacker, there would only be space for one of Martini or Coney in most formations.

WHERE NOTRE DAME IS:
In his first season with the Irish, Elko will have quite a luxury in referring to Coney as a backup linebacker. In some respects, that designation was inevitable as soon as Martini was named a captain. Nonetheless, Coney will see plenty of playing time.

The two captains—along with fellow captain, senior Drue Tranquill at rover—will be counted on throughout the summer and fall camp to continue the defense’s growth in Elko’s system. Elko said he installed “close to 50 percent” of his entire defense throughout spring practice. The linebackers must deal with the most difficult aspects of that learning.

“There’s been a noticeable improvement in terms of this starting to look like the defense we want this to look like as spring has gone on,” Elko said a week ago. “… Linebacker probably more than any other position, linebacker and safety, where the scheme takes some time to get used to, how you see it, how you fit it, how you feel it. Those guys have gotten better with that which has then allowed them to play faster as the spring has moved on.”

Sophomore Jonathan Jones will likely provide any further depth that may be needed in 2017, unless either of the incoming freshmen, David Adams and Drew White, excel from the outset. Irish coach Brian Kelly indicated sophomore Jamir Jones (no relation to Jonathan, but is former Notre Dame defensive lineman Jarron Jones’ brother) may be destined for time on the defensive line, in large part to Jones’s continued growth. Junior Josh Barajas let the spring come and go without mandating he be involved in these conversations, which may as well count as removing himself from the conversation in most regards.

Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Defensive Line
Where Notre Dame Was, Is & Could Be: Rover

Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Rover

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Before spring practice, the rover position was lumped in with the linebackers in positional previews. Nearly two months later, that seems to have been the right placement—the rover will likely spend most of its time at the defense’s second level.

But since curiosity about the rover and its unknown place in Notre Dame defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme ran rampant—especially when compared to the rather solid understanding of the 2017 Irish linebackers—let’s take a look specifically at the rover.

WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS:

“Who will start at [Elko’s] rover position,” this space asked. “What will his role entail?”

RELATED READING: Two days until spring practice: A look at the linebackers

Senior safety Drue Tranquill was expected to see the most time at rover, perhaps with cameos from junior linebacker Asmar Bilal and sophomore safeties D.J. Morgan and Spencer Perry (since transferred).

More than anything, though, learning how Elko intended to deploy his defensive utility knife would answer the most questions about his defense.

WHERE NOTRE DAME IS:

Tranquill will indeed lead the position, but not without much effort from Bilal.

“We’ve tried quite a few bodies out there,” Elko said Friday. “I think as spring has gone on, we’ve gotten a feel of what each of them can do, what parts of the package we can run with each of them. I think we’ve got a pretty good pulse now on how we want that thing to play out, who will be there doing what.”

Elko is excessively reluctant to discuss individual players, so asking him to expound on who will be at rover in particular situations was largely a fruitless exercise. Earlier this spring, Irish head coach Brian Kelly indicated Bilal would be featured against run-heavy offenses. That may well prove to be the case, but it is far more likely Tranquill sees the majority of the repetitions at the position.

RELATED READING: Bilal the first in at ‘versatile’ rover positon, others likely to follow

“It’s been a good fit all spring [for Tranquill],” Kelly said following Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game. “He’s a plus player there for us. He really can impact what’s happening from snap to snap. He’s a physical player and playing low to the ball is really where he can do a lot of really good things for us.”

For his part, Tranquill enjoys the position and the unique number of duties innate to it. In theory, the rover aligns mostly with the linebackers but can be relied on to provide coverage when necessary. At other times, the rover will be asked to rush the passer. That flexibility allows Elko to keep the offense guessing.

“I love the rover position,” Tranquill said. “It’s a versatile position that allows you to come off the edge, allows you to play the run, play the pass, and do a lot of different things.”

Sometimes it allows you to pretend like you’re coming off the edge and then actually embarrass a potential first-round draft pick.

In senior left guard Quenton Nelson’s defense, Tranquill did add Nelson probably won more of their battles in spring practices than the defender did.

WHERE NOTRE DAME COULD BE:

Elko indicated there could be a third primary option in his tool kit. Notre Dame has a plethora of talented cornerbacks. Last week, Kelly indicated he might ask one of them to chip in at safety in obvious passing situations. Similarly, Elko predicted junior Shaun Crawford could play at rover against particular passing attacks, a la Bilal against certain rushing offenses.

“A lot of this is dictated by who that guy is lined up and what we’re trying to do,” Elko said. “We’re going to see a lot of really talented slot receivers. We’re going to have to match up and cover them well. There’s other names other than the big linebacker/safety bodies to put at that position. [Junior safety] Nick Coleman has done that some this spring. [Junior safety] Ashton White has done that some this spring. When Shaun gets healthy, I think he’ll do that some. That is all encompassing in that position.”

The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Crawford has since announced his return to full health, which should allow him plenty of time to readjust to contact before the start of fall practice.

Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Defensive Line