Brian Kelly spring ball

Tuesdays with BK: Moving on to Pitt

2 Comments

With a win against Michigan State in the rearview mirror, the Irish and head coach Brian Kelly move on to Pittsburgh and Todd Graham, who put himself on the map last year when his Tulsa team can to Notre Dame and shocked the Irish 28-27 last October. The win propelled a Tulsa team that was 4-3 to a 10-win season, putting its head coach on the national radar, where he was eventually scooped up by Pitt after its hiring and firing of former Miami (Ohio) coach Mike Haywood.

Graham came to Pittsburgh and has installed his up-tempo offensive attack while changing the culture of a physical pro-style program that Dave Wannstedt ran. The transition has been a mixed bag so far, with the Panthers sitting at 2-1 after a shocking defeat to Iowa courtesy of a fourth quarter collapse by the Panthers, exposed a few glaring deficiencies that still showed up against cupcakes Buffalo and Maine.

With both coaches familiar with the others’ personnel and system, Kelly is keeping the focus on his team as they prepare for their trip to the Steel City.

“You can’t come to practice now that you’ve won a game and feel as though, okay, we’ve arrived, because we certainly haven’t,” Kelly said this afternoon. “There are a lot things that we need to get better at if we’re going to be a consistent winner. Right now, they know they’ve got a lot of work ahead of them. I want to continue to see the same attention and focus in how we practice and carry that over into Saturday.”

Here are some highlights from Kelly’s Tuesday press conference. As usual, I’ll have some thoughts below.

 

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

 

It turns out that unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on TJ Jones was a mistake by the Big Ten officiating crew.

“We got a clarification that that, in fact, is not a penalty,” Kelly said. “That was clarified yesterday by the Big 10 officials. Now, if he does that and puts it in somebody’s face or jumps into the Michigan State band, then that would be an unsportsmanlike penalty.”

Before we get a bunch of people citing their conspiracy theories, it’s good that this was addressed now and not in a game that was a close contest. With the Irish and a variety of other teams putting their team’s logo on the palms of their gloves, it was only a matter of time before someone was flagged for a penalty.

“We literally went over this specifically, because our gloves have the Fighting Irish on the inside,” Kelly explained. So when you put your gloves together, the fighting Irishman is on the inside of the gloves. So that’s my job immediately, because I saw that. That’s like giving your eight year old a lighter, you know what I mean? I knew this thing was going to be something that we were going to have to deal with. Certainly we brought it up and got the green light, so there was miscommunication along the way.”

It’s weird that SEC teams have been doing this since last year and nobody gets flagged. Notre Dame does it and a Big Ten official flags it. Chalk it up to an “innocent mistake” I guess.

***

Kelly got off the line of the press conference when he was asked if his 1-2 team had to worry about looking ahead.

“I’ll worry about that when they win six, seven, eight, nine in a row. We’re certainly not at that point yet,” Kelly said before getting out the winner. “We have not been infected with success yet. I’ll know when that happens. We need to win more and be consistent and attention to the detail things.”

A success infection. I think that sounds like a college football coach’s dream.

***

With the Tulsa game far enough in the past to think about again, Kelly was asked about Graham’s squad last year and was pretty candid with his answer.

“Well, they proved to be a very good football team. As you know, a top 25 team, 10-win plus team. It was a really athletic team. They had very good skill on the offense,” Kelly said. “I know people say, ‘Oh, it’s Tulsa.’ They were really skilled on offense. They had very dynamic players. They were opportunistic. They returned a deflected ball for a touchdown. They had a punt return. It was very opportunistic team defensively, an aggressive team defensively, and an outstanding veteran quarterback in their system. They had really good skilled players on the offensive side of the ball.”

There are certainly a lot of people that are still saying “Oh, it’s Tulsa,” but you tend to forget that the Golden Hurricane ended the season with seven straight wins, an impressive accomplishment regardless of what conference you’re in.

***

For the first time this season, the Irish didn’t have a 100-yard rusher or 100-yard receiver. But Kelly pointed out some of the important factors that led to convincingly handling a Michigan State team that was thought to be a top 15 team.

“You know, if you looked at it statistically, if you put up the stats of first three games and said, Pick which game they won, I don’t know that you would pick this one,” Kelly said. “But I think we all know how games are won: You control the line of scrimmage. I think really when we really pare it all down, our ability to have a running game that opens up so many other things that we can do, where we can get a one-on-one match up and hit T.J. Jones for a big touchdown. So if we go back to it, the Louis Nixes and a Sean Cwynars that are grinding it out inside, and the Chris Watts and Trevor Robinsons. Those are the guys that really had an impact.”

It was this nucleus that had Irish fans excited about the season and the potential of this group. The good news is, that didn’t change after two unfortunate Saturdays. Of course, the running game stalled out a bit in the second half, giving Kelly and Ed Warinner plenty of ammunition this week as they look to get a complete performance out of the offensive line.

Restocking the roster: Running Backs

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Josh Adams #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs for a 26-yard gain against the USC Trojans in the first half of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Getty Images
7 Comments

Notre Dame’s running back depth chart was tested to its max less than 10 minutes into the season opener. The projected two-deep, Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, were both lost for the year—Bryant out of school as an academic and disciplinary casualty by the start of fall camp and Folston because of a knee injury suffered on his third carry of the season.

Welcome back to Notre Dame, Autry Denson.

The school’s all-time leading rusher in his first season as a running back coach had to be feeling a little woozy. He had a converted wide receiver taking featured-back carries and a true freshman a little over a year removed from his own major knee injury serving as his primary backup.

That the Irish had their most prolific running season under Brian Kelly says quite a bit about the job that Denson did. It’s also a credit to the offensive line blocking, the adjusted scheme that also protected two new starting quarterbacks, and the talent that remained at the position.

Spring presents new challenges. Tarean Folston should be a little over seven months removed from ACL surgery, making him doubtful to do anything more than wear a red jersey. With C.J. Prosise‘s departure, Adams goes from record-setting rookie to spring starter, with Williams likely carrying a large load as well.

Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh arrive this summer, reinforcements on the way. But before we get there, let’s take a look at the pre-spring roster at running back.

 

DEPARTURES
C.J. Prosise (156 carries 1,032 yards, 11 TDs)
Greg Bryant (lost preseason 2015)

 

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Josh Adams (117 carries, 835 yards, 6 TDs)
Dexter Williams (21 carries, 81 yards, 3 TDs)
Tony Jones Jr.
Deon McIntosh 

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Tarean Folston,* Sr.
Josh Adams, Soph.
Dexter Williams, Soph.
Justin Brent,* Junior

*Additional year of eligibility remaining.

 

ANALYSIS: This might be a position battle deferred to fall camp, especially if Folston is still in recovery mode. At this point, it doesn’t make sense to rush back from an ACL tear for 15 practices, so while the rising senior may be chomping at the bit to return, it’s better to save it until August.

Folston will likely be the team’s most versatile back, but keeping Adams off the field will be a hard chore. His breakaway speed was on display multiple times in 2015, with his record-setting run against Wake Forest the team’s longest play from scrimmage. Adams also likely added some mass and physicality to his game in the offseason weigh-training program, giving the Irish someone capable of hitting the big play and also moving the sticks in short yardage situations.

The staff believes that Dexter Williams is a talented back, so with three solid contributors on the roster before Jones or McIntosh hit campus, it’ll be fun to see how snaps get sorted. (From that perspective, you can only wonder how they’d have dealt with the champagne problem of having Prosise around…) Justin Brent remains an option as well, though the attrition from the receiving corps makes you think he’ll be back at receiver.

The wildcard in all of this is Folston. He’s a unique talent with natural ability you just can’t teach. If he’s fully recovered and ready to engage in a position battle, there won’t likely be a drop off even with the early departure of Prosise.

 

Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Combine
Getty Images
6 Comments

Notre Dame will send ten former players to the NFL Scouting Combine. The annual event in Indianapolis serves as the unofficial apex of draft season, a meat-market where the best professional prospects are poked, prodded, questioned and tested in a variety of on- and off-field drills.

Heading to the festivities from Notre Dame are:

Chris Brown, WR
Sheldon Day, DT
Will Fuller, WR
Nick Martin, C
Romeo Okwara, DE
C.J. Prosise, RB
KeiVarae Russell, CB
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, OLB
Ronnie Stanley, OT

For a prospect like Smith, it’ll be teams first opportunity to talk to the elite prospect and check his progress medically as he returns from a Fiesta Bowl knee injury. Russell will also be a non-participant in physical drills, waiting until Notre Dame’s Pro Day to go through testing.

Invites to Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Elijah Shumate are crucial in finding their way into the draft, as the three former Irish starters participated in the Shrine Bowl, where scouts had an early look at them. Likewise, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day continue their ascent, both coming off strong Senior Bowl weeks.

For Irish fans, it’ll be fun to watch early-enrollees Fuller and Prosise test. Both are expected to be some of the fastest players at their position. Brown may also have the ability to surprise teams, with his track background and leaping ability capable of earning him an extended look. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will look to impress as well, hoping to check out as one of the draft’s most impressive athletes at offensive tackle.

Ohio State led all schools with 14 invites. National Champion Alabama had nine former players invited.

 

WR Corey Robinson named Notre Dame student body president

7 Comments

On Wednesday, wide receiver Corey Robinson added another impressive title to his resume as a student-athlete at Notre Dame: Student Body President.

The junior, paired with classmate Becca Blais as his vice presidential running mate, won a majority of the votes cast by his fellow students, a runaway winner with 59.4% of the votes, nearly triple the next highest vote getter.

Robinson posted the following on Twitter, thankful for the opportunity to serve his fellow students:

Robinson’s time at Notre Dame has been filled with accomplishments both on and off the field. He was named an Academic All-American as a sophomore. He’s a six-time Dean’s List member in the prestigious Program of Liberal Studies and is also pursuing a sustainability minor. He’s won the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award as well.

That’s quite a bit on the plate of Notre Dame’s lone senior wide receiver. But as you might expect, Robinson is well prepared for the next challenge ahead.

“I’ve planned ahead, gotten all of my hard work out of the way this semester, and I’m finishing up my senior thesis,” Robinson told The Observer. “I’m doing all the hard stuff now so in the fall and the spring, I just have to take two classes pretty much.”

Robinson’s other contributions as a student-athlete at Notre Dame include One Shirt one Body, an opportunity for college athletes to donate their athletic apparel to local communities. Robinson has presented the plan to the ACC as well as the NCAA, earning immediate support from both organizations.

 

Mailbag: Now Open (scheduling input requested)

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 01:  Actors Mike Myers (L) and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth from "Wayne's World" onstage during the 17th annual MTV Movie Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre on June 1, 2008 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Getty Images
11 Comments

Okay folks, we’ve had enough semi-positive encouragement to keep the video mailbag going for another week. With that said, I’ll need some reader participation to keep this thing rolling on.

As always, submit your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold. You can also ask your questions live via Facebook. You’ll need to LIKE THIS PAGE first, and then at the appropriate time, head on over to watch and participate.

To that point, let’s pick a time that works for everyone. Right now, here are the options that work at Inside the Irish HQ.  Weigh in and the best time wins. (How’s that for a democracy?)

***