Weekend notes: Floyd, QBs (present and future), and more

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Let’s tackle one of the more interesting tidbits first. It’s expected that Michael Floyd will be meeting with ResLife this afternoon to ultimately determine his university punishment for his drunk-driving arrest that happened in mid-March, just before spring football practice was set to start.

Floyd’s been on indefinite suspension from all football activities, missing the first 10 practices of the Irish spring season, and has been held out of all other football activities since. He made a brief appearance on Twitter a few nights ago that got the internet humming, and supported his former teammates at ND’s Pro Day yesterday.

The meeting originally set for yesterday was rescheduled for today, certain sources have told me, and that meeting will hold the key for Michael’s future at Notre Dame. One thing I can report for certain — Floyd’s already committed to getting his life back on track, something Brian Kelly mentioned nearly a week ago, and he’s also committed to getting his degree from Notre Dame, one of the main reasons he decided to stick around for his senior season in the first place.

There’s likely no disciplinary measure that’ll make everybody happy. The hardliners can make a compelling argument that his career should be over, and they’ve got precedence to support their case. There’s also a valid case to be made that Floyd’s punishment could’ve already been served, as long as he continues on the straight and narrow. The likely outcome? Who honestly knows. For every Will Yeatman fiasco you can look at the level-headed punishment of Mike Ragone last year, a marijuana arrest last May that cost the tight end nothing in terms of games.

It’s possible the university will discipline Floyd academically and leave his athletic punishment up to the football staff and athletic department. If that’s the case, expect most of the penance to be done in either public service or private, and a suspension in the range of 1-2 games. Again, this is only an educated guess based on what I’ve been hearing, but Floyd will have to continue to prove he deserves this second chance, and in many ways the timing of this gives him the opportunity to prove it before the season starts.

(By 5pm tonight, this entire bit could be proven completely wrong, so don’t get your hopes up…)

***

It was Dayne Crist’s turn in the spotlight and if you’re looking for articles on him you are in luck. It was thought that if Crist could return healthy he’d be in the driver’s seat for the QB competition and that’s proven correct.

In fact, his knee surgery is once again a non-factor after being a huge concern.

“I don’t notice it,” Crist said. “I really don’t notice it out there at all. The treatment becomes less and less post-practice. I feel really fortunate and really blessed that I’m where I’m at right now. I’m just continuing to get stronger in the weight room from a lower body standpoint. That’s just me being behind for several months, but I don’t feel like there’s a huge drop-off. I’m still being real active and making up a lot of ground in there.”

There’s no benefit for Brian Kelly to announce a starting quarterback publicly at the end of spring. That said, there’s isn’t much of a benefit to him announcing that decision internally either, and he’s only committed to pairing down the depth chart to three-deep, which will likely be what happens in preseason camp.

Regardless of if the starting job stays in limbo, it’s clear Crist has taken over a leadership role on the offense, a personality trait of the quarterback’s that’s never been in doubt.

***

Turning to quarterbacks yet on the roster, ESPN’s Bruce Feldman took a look at the top QB recruiting battles in 2012, and Notre Dame target Gunner Kiel topped the list.

From Feldman:

Kiel has a great first name for a QB. He also has a strong pedigree. His uncle, Blair Kiel, was a quarterback for Notre Dame and in the NFL, and his older brothers also are QBs — Drew played at Illinois State and Dustin is with the Indiana Hoosiers. The younger Kiel’s arm has wowed scouts.

Kiel’s recruitment hasn’t gotten crazy, but the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder joked that “it’s getting there.” Kiel said he is determined not to rush his thought process. “I want to make a decision whenever I’m ready,” he said Tuesday night. “I’m trying to get to know these situations to find the perfect fit for me.”

Kiel said he isn’t one to surf around the web in hopes of getting a feel for what other QBs and colleges may be up to. “I don’t really follow it,” he said. “I’m just letting the cards play out and go with the flow.”

Of course, it helps that he’s probably on top of a bunch of schools’ wish lists and may get the right of first refusal. Among the many programs in the mix are Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, Tennessee, Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri.

There’s been a lot of speculation that Kiel is leaning to Notre Dame (he said he rooted for the Irish growing up but added that he was always “a fairweather fan” and changed allegiances often depending on which team was hot). He said his next move is to fly to Oklahoma to check out the Sooners’ program on Thursday.

Kiel figures to have an impact on other QBs in his class. According to the South Bend Tribune, one of them could be Maty Mauk, the younger brother of former Cincinnati Bearcats passer Ben Mauk, who played for Brian Kelly at UC. “I met with Maty Mauk recently and I definitely believe he’s leaning to Notre Dame,” Chicago-based recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. “I think he would have committed to Notre Dame already had his mother not insisted on him visiting other schools.

“Gunner Kiel recently had a great visit to Notre Dame, enough so that I think at this early stage the Irish are either the favorites or even with the other favorites. If [the Irish] take Mauk early, they could lose Kiel.”

It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.

There are certainly worse situations for the Irish to be in with both Mauk and Kiel truly interested in the Irish, but it seems like Kiel wants to take his time.

***

We noticed him earlier in the week and coaches have been talking about the nice spring Dan Fox has put together. With Prince Shembo and Danny Spond taking most of the reps at the ‘Dog’ linebacker position, Fox has moved inside, where he’s competing for the spot next to Manti Te’o, a competition that’s getting him a lot of reps with Anthony McDonald down with a torn pectoral muscle and Te’o limited from most action, in all likelihood the Blue-Gold game as well.

Fox talked about the position shift and the changes he’s made to improve since last season, when he initially slide inside.

“Last year I was kind of figuring out playing inside linebacker, trying to read the run real fast and then getting out in my pass drops,” Fox said. “Every time you play a position for two years you are going to feel a little bit more comfortable because you have the whole year of experience under your belt. That helps a lot.”

Fox’s ascent coincides with a very candid and public statement by defensive coordinator Bob Diaco when discussing what Carlo Calabrese has to do to continue as the starting linebacker next to Te’o.

“Carlo has to clean his game up. He has to get himself to a point where he’s not a liability of one of those 11 and right now he is,” Diaco said. “He needs to improve all areas. He needs to improve on his run fits and his eye progression in his run fits. He needs to clean up his pass fits and the fundamentals of how to get that done. He needs to clean up his cardio so that he can play harder longer. He needs to clean up, just in general, his game. If he wants to be the starting inside linebacker at Notre Dame and not be 11 of 11, then he’s got work to do.”

There are five more practices for this to play out, including all fall camp, but it’s clear that Diaco is taking a move from the Brian Kelly playbook on his message to Calabrese.

 

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

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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