Harry Hiestand, Frank Omiyale, Roberto Garza

Kelly reportedly close to hiring new offensive line coach

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Rumors are swirling out of Knoxville that Brian Kelly is close to hiring Tennessee offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. (In fact, here’s a report that says it’s a done deal.) If the reports are true, Hiestand will almost immediately hit the recruiting trail, with his first order of business being committed recruits Taylor Decker, Mark Harrell and Ronnie Stanley. Decker might be the first to get Hiestand’s attention, as Urban Meyer, along with former Irish coaches Ed Warinner and Tim Hinton, are pressing Decker to take an official visit to Columbus.

After promoting from within at offensive coordinator and with position coach Scott Booker (what position is still to be determined), Kelly looks to have gone outside his coaching tree to hire Hiestand, who spent the last two seasons with Derek Dooley in Tennessee.

At 53 years old, Hiestand has spent over 20 years in the coaching ranks, starting his career after an injury ended his playing career at East Stroudsburg University. He bounced around early in his career before working nearly exclusively as an offensive line coach with stops at Toledo, Cincinnati (where he coordinator the offense during an 8-3 campaign), then jumped to Missouri before spending a large chunk of time with Illinois. During his time working under Ron Turner, Hiestand tutored 12 All-Big Ten offensive linemen. If you’re looking for an impressive stat, every senior starting lineman that Hiestand coached signed an NFL contract. Hiestand added assistant head coach to his title for his final five seasons with the Illini.

Hiestand has also spent significant time in the NFL, moving north to Chicago as the offensive line coach with the Bears, joining Lovie Smith‘s staff in 2005. Those Bears squads won 24 regular season games in his first two seasons, going to the Super Bowl in 2006. Hiestand was purged from the Bears coaching staff with most of the offensive staff after the 2009 season.

Asking the general public to rate a positional coaching hire is risky business, and Hiestand’s name hasn’t drawn rave reviews from the message board crowd, which you almost have to come to expect at this point. His two seasons under Dooley, where he was one of the Vol’s highest paid coaches, haven’t done much to enhance his reputation, as the program had a ton of youth playing along the offensive line while the running game struggled.

Yet Hiestand’s reputation hasn’t been tarnished, and Kelly is far from the first coach to head to Knoxville to ask about Hiestand, with Urban Meyer inquiring first as he assembled his Buckeye staff. If Hiestand is indeed coming to Notre Dame, he’ll reportedly also be paying a hefty buy-out, half of his scheduled 2012 schedule according to VolQuest.com.

Hiestand doesn’t have much experience with running quarterbacks, but after 22 years in both the college and professional game, he won’t have much of a problem making his techniques fit Kelly’s scheme. And while people are quick to assume that an older position coach won’t be a recruiting asset, take one look at Mike Denbrock and you’ll realize good recruiters come in all shapes, sizes, and ages.

Nothing has been made official, but with the recruiting season in its final weeks, expect an offensive line coach to be named — and put on the road — quickly. Kelly still has one more opening on his staff to fill.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”