Gunner Kiel

With classes set to begin, did the Irish flip two blue-chips?

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You’ve got to hand it to Brian Kelly and his assistants. A year after reeling in the trio of Ishaq Williams, Stephon Tuitt, and Aaron Lynch in dramatic fashion, the Irish are close to landing two of the nation’s most heralded recruits, amidst even more extraordinary circumstances than last year.

With the spring semester set to start tomorrow, the Irish might have pulled a rabbit out of the hat: five-star quarterback Gunner Kiel might be headed to Notre Dame after all. Multiple website — though first reported by Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.com — are reporting that Kiel hasn’t enrolled in classes at LSU and instead will stay home in Indiana, giving Kelly and the Irish offense the No. 1 quarterback on their board in the most miraculous of fashions.

Less than three weeks ago, Kiel turned down the Irish and instead chose to enroll early at LSU, giving the nation’s top team one of the country’s best quarterbacks. Kiel impressed at the US Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, where nearly every report had Kiel ready to head to Baton Rouge where he’d give Les Miles a pro-style quarterback (something badly needed after watching the BCS National Championship game). But someone forgot to tell the Irish coaching staff that Kiel had decided where he’d spend the next four years, and even amidst a coaching transition that gutted the offensive side of the ball, the Irish did enough to make today’s flurry of reporting possible.

We won’t know if Kiel’s attending Notre Dame until he’s actually enrolled in classes, and while there’s plenty of smoke surrounding the story, there’s nothing definitive yet coming from the Kiel family. In a 36 hour period Irish fans went from being apoplectic about a recruiting class that was seemingly crumbling, with Ronald Darby opening things up and Taylor Decker choosing Ohio State, to potentially ecstatic as the Irish have potentially added the best quarterback in the class. And that might not even be the most important feat of the week, with the defensive side of the ball potentially hitting both short term and long term jackpots.

As the Pac-12’s recruiting landscape dramatically altered with Tosh Lupoi leaving Cal and heading to Steve Sarkisian’s Washington staff, Notre Dame looked more and more like the potential landing spot for Arik Armstead, one of the nation’s premiere defensive linemen. Armstead also likely comes with his older brother Armond, a former starter for USC that sat out this season after the school wouldn’t medically clear him after an undisclosed issue. Armond will have one year of eligibility remaining, and he visited Notre Dame Sunday and Monday with his father to meet with the coaching staff to discuss his role in the team’s future. Arik joined Armond at Auburn earlier this weekend, where the younger Armstead took his final recruiting visit before heading to a classroom this week. What classroom is still to be determined.

Arik’s enrolled at Cal, Notre Dame and Auburn, filling out the necessary paperwork so he can simply arrive on campus and attend classes. He’s reportedly eliminated Cal after the move of Lupoi to Washington, a shocking twist when you consider Cal was the odds-on favorite to land the two-sport star. The brothers reportedly will enroll as a package, and are waiting for the family to reunite tonight before making a decision.

There’s a chance that all of this doesn’t end well for the Irish, and all this glitter doesn’t turn into recruiting gold for the Irish. But more importantly, after a week of getting beat up by the Notre Dame faithful for the changes in the coaching staff and the perceived weakness in this recruiting class, it’s another stark reminder that Kelly has assembled a group of coaches that continually fight until the very end for players they truly want. (For instance, even though Jordan Westerkamp reconfirmed his commitment to Nebraska, that hasn’t stopped Notre Dame from going after him.)

While that dogged determination hasn’t brought enough wins to campus yet, it’s helping to build a program that’ll likely deliver more in the near future, especially if Monday’s magic turns out to be as promising as it seems.

UPDATE: 1:20 a.m. ETDouglas Farmer of Notre Dame’s school newspaper The Observer reports that Gunner Kiel is officially enrolled. He’s on campus and set to move into O’Neill Hall.

 

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.”