Michael FloydA

After four month purgatory, Floyd reinstated with Irish

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Less that two weeks after torching a gifted Miami Hurricanes secondary for two touchdowns and 109 yards, Michael Floyd made a decision that had many praising his maturity: he was returning to Notre Dame for his senior year, turning down the opportunity to be selected early in the NFL Draft.

“I’m returning to Notre Dame for three reasons: to earn my degree, return Notre Dame to the top and improve myself as a player,” Floyd said back in January. “I promised my mom I would graduate from Notre Dame and I am 40 credit hourse shy of that goal. I chose to attend Notre Dame in part because I knew it was a 40-year decision and not a four-year decision.”

The decision was hailed as a good one not just for Irish fans and Floyd, but for college football. That decision, and any goodwill Floyd had earned for it, evaporated a little over two months later, when the wide receiver was arrested by campus police for driving drunk, less than a mile from his apartment.

What followed was rocky purgatory that put Floyd’s fate as both a Notre Dame student and record-breaking football player in jeopardy.

“The last four months have been the most humbling stretch of time in my life,” Floyd said in a statement released today by the university. “I embarrassed myself, my family, the university, my football team and many more people.”

That stretch is officially over, Notre Dame announced this morning. When the Irish open camp this Saturday, they’ll do it with No. 3 back on the roster, as Brian Kelly announced that Michael Floyd has earned his way back onto the Irish football team.

“From the very beginning of this process, Michael knew what was expected for him to be a member of our football program,” Kelly said in a statement. “I told Michael that football needed to become of less importance to him while he worked on personal growth. Over the last four months, Michael impressed those that had close contact with him including professional advisors. Based on my own observations, I am very pleased with the progress Michael has made since March. That is why I am comfortable reinstating him to our football team. Michael knows that he must continue on this positive track. I look forward to witnessing the development he has made based on lessons learned from this situation and how that will lead to better choices in the future.”

That Floyd, Notre Dame’s best player and lifeblood of the offense, is back on the team after a March run in isn’t all that unexpected, especially after he navigated his way through a gauntlet that included Notre Dame’s Residence Life office and the city’s legal system. And while many will look to make a grander statement on Notre Dame’s relaxed disciplinary branch or a football program willing to bend to adapt, Kelly isn’t going to waste his time battling cynics.

“I really can’t,” the head coach said. “Those that are cynics and skeptics about relationships with 18 to 21 year olds and don’t know the work that we do with these young men on a day-to-day basis, I can’t explain to them the number of hours we put in with these young men. They’re going to be out there, and they can have those opinions but I think we take this very serious. We’re talking about somebody we want to make sure gets his degree and is a very productive member of our society.”

Both Kelly and Floyd will be made available to reporters this afternoon, but the football program finally let the general public in on what’s been going on the past four months, where Floyd’s absence hung like the lone cloud over a team trending in a very positive direction. The Irish’s leading receiver wasn’t just unavailable to media requests or absent from team practices and the televised Blue-Gold game, he didn’t exist on the team’s roster, in their media releases or on the team’s website. Left to work and train on his own, Floyd relied on a work-ethic widely praised by fellow players and coaches alike.

“I went through the motions, the same as if I was out there playing,” Floyd said. “I didn’t work out with the team, but as soon as the team was done, I was in there. Working out. If we had practice, I was in Loftus or wherever I could be running routes. Kind of just going through the paper of running routes, making sure I could keep up with my stamina and my endurance bcause it’s rough out there.”

With the indefinite nature of Floyd’s suspension and his uncertain return to college football, rumors swirled through the media that Floyd may entertain playing in the CFL, or potentially apply for the NFL’s supplemental draft. After a four month silence, Floyd dispelled the rumors of pondering a jump from Notre Dame to professional football.

“When I said I was coming back to school I said I was coming back to have this season be a wonderful season and also get my degree,” Floyd said. “There was no chance in my mind that I was going to go to the NFL Supplemental draft.”

Floyd’s path is now clear to play during the Irish’s opening game against South Florida, now just a month away. While he’s officially been stripped of his captaincy (he and Harrison Smith were the team’s only captains), he’ll still be looked upon for leadership by the coaching staff.

“I think Michael Floyd has always been on the field, the ‘A’ student. I don’t think there’s anybody on our football team that would question his dedication to football,” Kelly said. “What we question is whether he was making the right decisions off the field. I think our players have observed the things that he’s done, he’s gotten a chance to integrate back with our team over the summer and I think he’s working toward building that respect back with his teammates.”

That process has already started this summer, as Floyd was cleared to participate in unofficial workouts with his teammates.

“It feels great, just knowing that things are going in a positive way right now,” Floyd said of the summer work. “I’m with my teammates, having fun, throwing the ball around, and talking to coaches, it’s all going real well.”

There’s no denying that Floyd’s reinstatement will put an even bigger target on his back. For a player that’s spent just about every day he’s had on the football field in the spotlight, the Irish’s star receiver is a mild-mannered, quiet, and introverted 21-year-old. To Floyd’s credit, he knows the process will be ongoing.

“I know I made a mistake. I’m moving forward from it,” Floyd said. “I’m making sure that I keep the values that still stay in me. Be acccountable to the team. Be responsible and be a leader. And maintain this positive attitude I have.”

With Floyd back with the team as camp opens, the Irish can focus on bigger issues, like what quarterback they plan to have throwing passes to their star receiver. As for any lingering effects from the four-month layoff or tempered expectations for the senior receiver who had a junior season some would call disappointing, Brian Kelly said all he needed to in one sentence.

“I just think the sky’s the limit for Michael Floyd.”

Swarbrick talks improvements to Shamrock Series opponents

Shamrock Fenway
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Notre Dame is taking 2017 off from the Shamrock Series. When it comes back, expect to see an improvement in opponents.

With the remodeled Notre Dame Stadium set to be finished in 2017, playing seven home games is a natural fit. But with the neutral-site series set to return in 2018, athletic director Jack Swarbrick has grand plans for improving the series that’s taken the Irish to some iconic venues, but has lacked much punch when it comes to high-profile opponents.

Speaking exclusively with Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated, Swarbrick laid out some grand plans for the revitalization of the game.

“When the opponent and the venue and the place all contribute to the story, that’s when it works the best,” Swarbrick told Irish Illustrated. “I still want to maintain that. The difference will be that many more of them now will be led by the opponent.

“Now it can be, ‘I got this opponent.’ Now where can we go with them that works with what we’re trying to do?”

With Notre Dame returning to San Antonio for the second time in the Shamrock Series and repeating an opponent with Army as well, it’s clear that this year’s game checked off some other boxes when it got decided. Swarbrick acknowledged some of the restrictions that have held him back, with the reboot of Notre Dame’s schedule with five ACC games and other television considerations really limiting the team’s options.

“What we’ve been able to do in the Shamrock Series to this point is limit ourselves to games we already had scheduled that we would move,” Swarbrick told Sampson. “It was a very small range of people that we could do these deals without getting into television conflicts. With more lead time we have the runway we need to make these games, the three pieces of it – geography, venue and opponent – come together a little bit more.”

Rumors of new venues aren’t new. Brian Kelly has discussed Lambeau Field before. There’s been talk of a game in Rome. And rumblings of Michigan’s return to the schedule won’t go away.

Just recently Kelly tweeted out a picture from another venue that wouldn’t be too shabby.

But there’s an opening for another step forward for the program and Swarbrick is the right man to lead the change. He’s already led the Irish athletic department through a move to the ACC and helped navigate the “seismic changes” that resulted in the College Football Playoff. With the ambitious Campus Crossroads project near complete this seems like a perfect next project for the head of Irish athletics to take on.

 

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
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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.