Weekend six pack: plane tracker edition

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With a bowl game still to be determined, the Irish aren’t quite sure when their next game is. For players, that means a week where there isn’t a whole lot to do.

“I hate not knowing what to do with your free time,” linebacker Carlo Calabrese tweeted yesterday.

Well that makes a few thousand of us, Carlo. We’ve got a few hundred days to talk about what’s happened this season. But in a week where players twiddled their thumbs, Brian Kelly just earned enough miles to fly platinum all year.

After starting on the West Coast last weekend, Kelly criss-crossed the country, with the university’s Cessna Citation hitting nine airports before returning to South Bend around 7 p.m. Thursday night. Where did he go? Well — Let’s roll out a special weekend six pack and talk about it.

1. The battle with USC has just begun. 

The Trojans definitely got the better of the Irish on the field this year. But right now, Notre Dame is out to a lead, and trying to run out the clock with two of their most talented California recruits. Cousins Tee Shepard and Deontay Greenberry are two of the highest profile recruits that Notre Dame has currently committed. Shepard will walk onto campus with a good shot to win immediate playing time in the secondary. Greenberry is the closest thing the Irish have to Michael Floyd, and he’s not on the roster until June.

If it were up to Lane Kiffin and his coaching staff, neither will end up on the Irish roster. Within the last 48 hours, hard-core recruitniks were thrown for a tizzy when news broke that both Shepard and Greenberry planned on seeing USC this weekend. Brian Kelly reportedly took his in-home visit with Shepard earlier in the week while Mike Denbrock was welcomed into the Greenberry household. The cousins always said they’d take their official visits, but a spook job this late in the game by the Trojans — who have somehow proclaimed themselves champions of a division they weren’t technically allowed to compete for — have Irish fans worried.

According to this tweet, the worries on Shepard should be alleviated, as it appears Shepard is going nowhere except South Bend in January to enroll early. As for Greenberry, Brian Kelly has wisely saved his in-home visit, and while the Trojans may get their opportunity to entertain the 6-foot-3 wide receiver, just one look at the depth charts and his cousins decision to enroll at South Bend, and the Irish are still doing more than all right.

2. This coaching staff doesn’t take no for an answer. 

It’s amazing to think that Notre Dame is out to almost a dozen uncommitted recruits, has just a handful of spots left in the class, and is still working even harder on players that most don’t think they have a chance with. The best two examples are across the country from each other: Arizona offensive lineman Andrus Peat and South Florida cornerback Brian Poole.

Today, offensive line coach Ed Warinner put plenty to think about in Peat’s ear, and the super blue-chip prospect moved the Irish back into consideration after cooling on the team considerably. Jason Sapp of BlueandGold.com has more:

“I’d say it helped,” he shared of Notre Dame’s chances of being in the group of schools he’s looking at for his other officials. “I’m considering taking a visit again now.

“I just got a better feel for Coach Warinner, who would be my position coach if I went there, and my parents and I got to ask any questions we had about the program. I’m not sure if I’m going to take an official there yet, but I’m going to call (Irish head coach Brian) Kelly tomorrow and possibly set one up.”

Adding another massive left tackle prospect would help stockpile talent on the offensive front. But adding a guy like Poole — who has long been committed to the Florida Gators — would satisfy a huge need for the Irish, and Tony Alford‘s on the case. According to multiple reports, the Poole family is high on a Notre Dame education and has taken a look at the depth chart in front of him, giving the Irish a legitimate chance to flip another Top 100 player in the country, who has offers from just about every power team in the Southeast.

3. Carolina on the mind. 

There’s a big fish still out there. It’s Keith Marshall, the talented running back from Raleigh, North Carolina, that has Mark Richt and Brian Kelly doing battle. Marshall was named Gatorade’s National Player of the Year yesterday, and has decided to announce his college choice on December 6th, with the intention of enrolling in school early.

Yet that’s far from the only open line the Irish have down in the Carolinas. The Irish are once again hitting the area hard, and Kelly has gone and visited a trio of Carolina commitments — Charlotte natives Mark Harrell and Romeo Okwara, and also South Carolina wide receiver Chris Brown, who reported to BlueandGold.com’s Jason Sapp that he was fully qualified for next year.

All three of those recruits are below-the-radar targets, and Okwara is particularly high on the Irish board, with Notre Dame unwilling to take blue-chip recruit Tommy Schutt‘s commitment with Okwara ready to pledge Irish. Okwara is incredibly young, making his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame something that’s easily projectable.

4. Irish fans are already getting ready to re-hate Urban Meyer.

More than a few eyebrows were raised when Kelly announced Urban Meyer would be talking at the staff’s annual coaching clinic last offseason. Didn’t this new staff know that Meyer, even if he was out of coaching, was the enemy?

Well — if Kelly wasn’t aware of it then, he’ll certainly be more mindful of it now that they’ll be running into each other on the recruiting trail. The first collision? None other than current Irish offensive line commitment Taylor Decker. But don’t worry Irish fans, Decker’s rock solid in his commitment.

“Urban Meyer called my high school coach but I didn’t talk to him directly and one of the coaches came to the school and talked to my coach,” Decker told Irish Illustrated. “My coach said it was very brief and that coach Meyer said they were interested in me. As far as I’m concerned I’m still committed to Notre Dame.”

Decker’s been committed to the Irish since March, making him one of those old reliable recruits you tend to undervalue. But the fact that in the first days of Meyer’s term in Columbus he’s talking to the Vandalia, Ohio native, well — the Irish’s prom date just got a lot more attractive.

5. It’s not 4 a.m. yet, but Bob Diaco’s back on the case.

One of the sneaky good recruiters on this coaching staff is defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who handles the Northeast for the Irish. Last year, that meant reeling in five-star recruit Ishaq Williams at 4 a.m.when he waited outside the family’s Brooklyn home. No word on when Diaco secured the visit, but he’s talked New Jersey safety Elijah Shumate — one of the best players in the region — into an official visit for later in December. If it’s up to Diaco, he’ll be joined by his teammate cornerback Yuri Wright, who is another cornerback that could likely walk onto campus and compete for a job.

The Irish aren’t recruiting the Northeast all that hard this year, but getting Shumate and Wright on campus will be a big benefit, and if that happens Diaco proved last year he’ll go the extra mile to land them.

6. Enjoy recruiting in moderation. 

Let’s dump the sixth one out and start drinking some water. It’s the beginning of December. If we get too hot into this, we’ll be one-eyed texting by the end of the month and rolled up in a corner and fast asleep with our shoes on before Signing Day rolls around a few months from now. That’s no way for us to be, and this will never be a hotbed for recruiting news, though I’ll certainly do my best to keep you up to speed.

Still — it deserves a mention: The internet is a very open playground, and there’s now really easy ways to follow your favorite athletes and recruits, be it on Twitter, Facebook, or whatever it is the kids are enjoying these days. But it deserves an even stronger mention — consider the recruiting world the zoo. Stare all you want at the lions and tigers, but please — don’t touch them. Nothing good can happen.

So cheer for your favorite team to sign that five-star running back or quarterback, but please use your head. Don’t send messages, emails, Twitter messages, or anything else to these kids pushing them to a school. If you donate money to your favorite college, you might be committing a recruiting violation. Even if you don’t, it’s just plain weird. Think back to those days when you were 17. Would you want to see the 2011 you poking around in your life as you try and pick a college? Me neither.

Following spring practice, will Notre Dame continue habitual progress?

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By no means is Irish coach Brian Kelly going to measure Alizé Mack’s progress by if the junior tight end makes his bed every morning. Mack’s mother might—mine would certainly factor it in—but when Kelly cited the need to start the day with hospital corners, he was simply trying to make a point.

“He’s taking care of business off the field, which invariably it always comes back to this,” Kelly said Wednesday. “If you’re taking care of work in the classroom and you’re starting the day right, making your bed—I’m just using that analogy—if you start the day right, it’s going to trend the right way and it’s trending the right way on the field for him.”

Mack is the most obvious example of a needed change in habits. When you miss a season due to academic issues, reconfiguring your priorities becomes a topic of conversation. His instance, though, serves as a readily-cited example of a more widespread concern. Of all the optimistic conversation and concerted change following last season’s 4-8 disappointment, Kelly’s preaching of good habits simultaneously appears as the most abstract aspect and the easiest understood.

“It starts with guys being aware of it first,” Kelly said following Notre Dame’s Blue-Gold Game on Saturday. “Then once they are aware that they need to have these good habits to be good football players, then you start to see it show itself in good run support angles. You see it offensively, guys always lined up properly. We had very few penalties today, and that’s a product of some of the habits that are being built on a day-to-day basis.”

It makes sense. If a receiver doesn’t realize he lined up a few feet closer to the sideline than desired, for example, then he will make that same mistake the next time, especially if he still makes a catch on the play. Next time, the defensive back may be more able to capitalize on the gift of less route uncertainty.

It is unrealistic to expect anyone, let alone a 19- or 20-year-old, to display this exacting discipline on the football field without practicing it throughout the rest of the day. Successfully cutting corners in one area of life convinces the psyche it can be done anywhere. Thus, Kelly has needed to harp on his charges about their off-field activities, including—but perhaps not seriously—making their beds.

“I think we ask our guys to do a number of different things on a day-to-day basis,” Kelly said. “First of all, understanding how habits carry over to what they do in the classroom and what they do on the football field.”

Kelly and his coaching staff have had four months to make this impression. The issue is, bad habits are hard to break. They’re usually more fun, anyway. As Kelly pointed out, the rewards of good habits are slow in coming. Delayed gratification, if you will.

“I think our guys understand that it takes time to build those habits, because some of them have bad habits, and to get rid of those bad habits, you really have to be creating good habits over a long period of time,” Kelly said. “That’s the process that is hard for these guys, because it takes time, and they want it to happen right away.

“Sometimes they forget and they just want to go out and play. If you go out and play, but you don’t do it the right way, it’s going to get you beat.”

This all sounds well and good, and some of the effects were evident Saturday. There were few penalties (none, in fact, according to the official statistics), the quarterbacks took advantage of the receiving corps’ size and missed their targets high. But soon comes the toughest time to continue this trend.

Kelly and his staff have worked on the Irish to internalize these lessons. Now, Kelly and his staff will cover the country in recruiting. In a few weeks, the players will scatter home for a break before returning for a summer session spent in the weight room and classroom. If they slip back into old habits, the last four months were spent fruitlessly.

Mack played well Saturday. The question has never been does he have physical talent. He undeniably does.

The question has been, is and will be: Did you make your bed today, Alizé?

What we learned: Hayes, Book star in Notre Dame’s spring finale

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Time spent on a traditional game wrap of a spring intrasquad exhibition seems misspent. Gold won Notre Dame’s annual Blue-Gold Game 27-14 led by rising sophomore quarterback Ian Book. The first-string defense (Gold) held the first-string offense to an average of 5.4 yards per play. For context’s sake: Last season Notre Dame gained an average of 6.1 yards per play and held opponents to 5.4.

With that abbreviated recap out of the way, what did Saturday’s pseudo-game environment show about the Irish? If the 20,147 in attendance paid attention, they had the chance to learn a few things:

Daelin Hayes will be ready to hit a quarterback in September
Notre Dame’s quarterbacks were off limits all spring. Bulls might charge when they see red, but the Irish defensive line has had to remember to ease up when they come across a quarterback’s red jersey. If sophomore defensive end Daelin Hayes had forgotten that Saturday, Notre Dame might not have any quarterbacks left to play in the fall.

“At the end of the day, we’re on the same team,” Hayes said, dismissing any bitterness about the quarterbacks’ protections. “We have to keep our guys healthy. I wasn’t frustrated, but come September 2, you know.”

Officially, Hayes was credited with three sacks and another tackle for loss among his seven tackles. Admittedly, gauging sacks is tricky when the quarterback does not actually go to the ground. How many of Hayes’ three sacks and the defense’s 11 total would have been evaded if the defender needed to do more than touch the passer? That answer is highly subjective, but discounting Hayes’ numbers would miss the bigger picture.

“We showed [pressure] in as far as the quarterback wasn’t getting really comfortable, not having all day to throw back there,” Hayes said. “I think it’s been huge, buying into that process. Seeing it come to fruition today was huge.”

Senior end Jay Hayes (no relation) notched two sacks and sophomore end Ade Ogundeji came the closest to tackling a red jersey when he stripped junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush from behind. The defensive line has been expected to be a weak point for the Irish moving forward, but the spring performance indicates it has a chance at holding its own. These accomplishments bear further merit considering Notre Dame’s offensive line is widely-considered one of its few spots of expected quality.

RELATED READING: Now is the time for Daelin Hayes to turn athleticism into pass rush threat

“I think it’s pretty clear Daelin Hayes is going to be around the football and be a disruptive player for us,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “I’d have to watch the film, but it seemed like [sophomore end] Julian Okwara was a hard guy to block coming off the edge, as well.”

Ian Book provides some peace of mind
Book was not spectacular, but he was also far from incompetent or intimidated. In his first action on the field at Notre Dame Stadium, Book completed 18-of-25 passes for 271 yards and a touchdown, highlighted by a 58-yard connection with sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson. Meanwhile, junior Brandon Wimbush completed 22-of-32 passes for 303 yards.

Bluntly, one has not needed to follow Notre Dame for very long to fit that “long enough” qualification. Last season’s backup, Malik Zaire, saw competitive action against both Texas and Stanford. In 2015, DeShone Kizer came off the bench to start 11 games after Zaire suffered a season-ending ankle injury. (more…)

What Notre Dame players should you actually watch? Plus, catch up on reading

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If technology does its part, this will post as its typist meanders toward finding his credential for the Blue-Gold Game to conclude Notre Dame’s spring practice. If technology doesn’t do its part, well, then this will be lost to the cobwebs of the internet. Such as it goes.

This space has spent much of the past week discussing what to look for in the 12:30 p.m. ET exhibition. Worry about the big picture, not the individuals. Fret about the macro, not the micro.

RELATED READING: Focus on Notre Dame’s dueling new schemes, not the indivdual players
Blue-Gold Game primer with help from Notre Dame’s coordinators
Four defensive positions to watch on Notre Dame’s spring game
Four offensive positions to watch on Notre Dame’s spring game

But, if insistent on focusing on singular players, look to the inexperienced, the names you are unfamiliar with. The 15th and final practice of spring may be no more than a practice in reality, but it is in front of nearly 30,000 fans in Notre Dame Stadium. Some players do not have so much as that minimal experience.

“The Blue-Gold Game, specifically, is a time for us to emulate a game-like situation,” senior safety/linebacker/rover Drue Tranquill said. “Especially for guys like freshmen, second-semester guys coming in, it’s a great opportunity for them to get that game feeling, but also continue to take steps in the process to get better.”

The question on the tip of your tongue is a fair one. If you are unfamiliar with the names, how are you supposed to focus on those players? How are you to know who fits the appropriate tunnel vision version of perspective?

Let’s turn to Irish coach Brian Kelly’s mentions from Wednesday–primarily, sophomore defensive end Julian Okwara, sophomore long snapper John Shannon, senior kicker Sam Kohler, sophomore defensive end Khalid Kareem and sophomore safety Jalen Elliott.

Obviously, that is just a sampling. Less obviously, this post’s purpose may or may not be to link to previous reading material and remind you of the vague but pertinent purposes to today’s endeavor. It is neither be-all nor end-all. It is simply another opportunity to gauge what may come down the line.

But hey, how about a prediction? Per Kelly, the first-team offense and second-team defense will be in blue, against the first-team defense and second-team offense in white.

PREDICTION: Blue 37, White 21

HOW TO WATCH
As a recurring reminder, the Blue-Gold Game kicks off at 12:30 p.m. ET on Saturday and will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network, as well as streamed online at ndstream.nbcsports.com and on the NBC Sports app.

Friday at 4: Four offensive positions to watch in Notre Dame’s spring game

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There are two common ways of looking at the annual spring game.
It is the last action involving Notre Dame football readily available for public consumption until Sept. 2, 133 days away.
Or it is an exercise rife with contradiction exacerbated by hype, yielding little-to-no reliable intelligence.
Like much of life, the most accurate assessment falls somewhere between those two views.

If junior running back Dexter Williams breaks off two 50-yard-plus touchdown runs, does that mean he will have multiple big plays in 2017? Not at all. It does mean he will likely have more opportunities for them, though. Just like in spring’s previous 14 practices, the Irish coaches will take what they see and apply it moving forward.

The past—and as of Saturday evening, the Blue-Gold Game will qualify as the past—does not dictate the future, but it can influence one’s approach to it.

Aside from Williams (see the second item below for more on him and the running backs), what other players/positions could influence their future roles the most with their performance to close spring?

BIG PASSING TARGETS: Alizé Jones and Co.
In this instance, big is meant literally. Notre Dame has an embarrassment of riches of tall, long, physical tight ends and receivers. Junior Alizé Jones earns specific mention here due to his inaction last season. Irish fans and coaches alike have a better idea of sophomore receiver Chase Claypool and junior receiver Miles Boykin. They have 2016 film to look at.

Jones, however, sat out the season due to academic issues. His on-field performance largely remains a question mark, but if he combines this spring’s praise with his 6-foot-4 ½ frame holding 245 listed pounds, that could turn into an exclamation point.

“He’s a perfect fit,” new Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long said Friday. “That’s why I recruited him like crazy when I was at Arizona State. He’s a prototypical [tight end], a guy who can run, who can catch.

“The biggest thing about Alizé is he’s taking great pride in his blocking ability right now, his presence of being an end-line guy, his protection and his overall physicality. When you think like that, you’re going to become a better receiver.” (more…)