Michael Floyd combine

Salvi earns scholarship, rebuilding, recruiting, and combine


News has broken from the Twitter accounts of several Notre Dame players that walk-on safety Chris Salvi has earned a scholarship for next season. The move will bring the senior back for a fifth-year, one that will give Salvi a shot at earning a graduate degree for free, and solidifies some depth on the back end of the defense, not to mention gives Irish special teams one of their best coverage men back for another season.

Salvi’s return was likely solidified when the Irish left a few empty seats on the recruiting bus, with Notre Dame only signing 17 players to the class of 2012. While an official announcement hasn’t been made, it’ll be interesting to see what players come back and fill out the 85 man scholarship roster. From what the whispers have been, it sounds like other than the obvious returning seniors — Kapron Lewis-Moore, Jamoris Slaughter, Braxston Cave — guys like John Goodman and Mike Golic Jr. will also return. No word on the others, but expect something soon.

Not everybody is going to have the straight-to-the-silver-screen story of David Ruffer, but Salvi’s run at ND is pretty impressive, too, with the game ball and game captaincy a pretty impressive feat. He’s thought of as more than just a walk-on to this staff, and after talking to some people close to the program, I know there wouldn’t be much hesitation to put Salvi in at safety, where he’ll likely be in the mix as well as on all coverage units. Congrats to the Lake Forest, Illinois native.


In other news, the guys over at One Foot Down have been doing a pretty cool feature on rebuilding the Irish football program. That term alone is enough to get some hard-core domers up in arms, but it’s a thoughtful read filled with some well-made points, and it’s worth your time if you’re combing the net for some good Irish reading this weekend.

To butcher their work accordingly, here’s the basic breakdown of their four-part series:

  • Part One: Build and keep a staff, and beat ranked teams. (Agree!)
  • Part Two: Avoid losing seasons, get good QB play. (Double-Agree!)
  • Part Three: Get your depth chart healthy, keep up in the arms race. (Yep!)
  • Part Four: Dominate bad competition, stop losing bad games, find the right guys. (Nodding.)

Nice work by Eric Murtaugh, who really dug into this one. Well worth your time.


Lastly, with Davonte Neal finally on board with the Irish, it’s time to begrudgingly turn our attention to the class of 2013. No, I haven’t been under a rock and I’ve noticed the early returns Michigan has had in recruiting, with Brady Hoke gobbling up some impressive verbal commitments, from a lot of guys that also had Notre Dame offers. Last season, it was easier to dismiss the players Hoke was taking, many of whom didn’t have offers from Notre Dame or didn’t seem like true fits in Brian Kelly’s scheme.

But there’s no question that guys like Kyle Bosch, Logan Tuley-Tillman and Taco Charlton were on Notre Dame’s radar, and the ridiculous 12 verbal commitments the Wolverines have currently puts them in Texas territory for this time of year.

Yet here’s a reminder to those Irish fans pulling your hair out. Those early commitments from guys like Taylor Decker, Ronald Darby, and Deontay Greenberry? They didn’t last. Coming off an 11-win season and a victory in Sugar Bowl, you’d expect a great return in recruiting and credit Hoke and company for taking advantage. But the Wolverines will have to earn it this season, facing a schedule that opens with Alabama instead of Western Michigan, and features away games at Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State.

If you’re getting worked up about recruiting with over 11 months to go before Signing Day, you might need to take a step back and reevaluate things. We already know that a commitment won’t stop the Irish coaching staff from coming after players (nor will it stop Urban Meyer). But the Irish will look to start building their recruiting momentum at an upcoming Junior Day.


Lastly, six Notre Dame football players are at the NFL Scouting Combine, the annual cattle call where college football’s best pro prospects are herded together and put through interviews, testing, and workouts.

Notre Dame has Robert Blanton, Taylor Dever, Darius Fleming, Michael Floyd, Jonas Gray, and Harrison Smith attending, with the microscope most closely focused on Floyd, who has some character questions thanks to last offseason’s DUI arrest.

Immediate reports have Floyd acquitting himself quite well with reporters, and he’ll meet with several teams — some of whom will consider taking Notre Dame’s all-time leading receiver in the first round of the draft.

As of now, here’s the official measurements of the former Irish players in attendance, compared to their roster listing at Notre Dame (I’ll update as the reports come in):

Robert Blanton: 6-0, 196, 6-1, 200
Taylor Dever: 6-5, 298, 6-5, 301
Darius Fleming: 6-2, 245, 6-2, 255 (This will be an interesting, I expect Fleming to be 6-1, 245.)
Michael Floyd: 6-3, 220, 6-3, 224
Jonas Gray: 5-10, 223, 5-10, 230
Harrison Smith: 6-1, 213, 6-2, 214

Swarbrick: Kelly will be back in 2017

SOUTH BEND, IN - AUGUST 30:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish watches as his team takes on the Rice Owls at Notre Dame Stadium on August 30, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Brian Kelly will be coaching Notre Dame in 2017. That’s according to his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

So even with a 2-5 record and a difficult slate still to come, there will be no change atop the Irish football program.

“Brian will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year,” Swarbrick told ESPN.com.

Swarbrick’s vote of confidence is nothing new—he’s taken a similar stance in his weekly appearances the past few weeks. But it likely became necessary as the season continues to frustrate, and Notre Dame’s head coaching position becomes part of the hot seat discussion.

But even with plenty to accomplish during this week off, both on the field and in the classroom, Kelly was out front and on the ESPN airwaves, openly shouldering the blame of this season’s failures, while also mentioning this is the youngest team at Notre Dame since 1972.

See the entire segment here:


Bye Week Mailbag: Now Open

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 15: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs the ball during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on October 15, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 17-10. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

It’s been too long. Or maybe it hasn’t.

Against my better judgment, I’m opening up the mailbag. Drop your questions below or at Twitter @KeithArnold.

How we got here: The Defense

05 September 2015:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder stands with his players in action during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

The first of a multi-part series as we look at the 2-5 Irish at the bye week. 


Notre Dame’s season was sunk by Brian VanGorder’s defense. That sentence is much easier to write after seeing the unit without its former coordinator. But it was just as clear after watching the Irish play their first four games of 2016 that Brian Kelly needed to make a change. The Irish gave up a combined 124 points in their three September defeats, a season-high for either yards or points (against FBS competition) for Texas, Michigan State and Duke.

For many VanGorder detractors, the move came four games too late. The Irish were plagued by big plays and schematic breakdowns throughout 2015 (and before), a fatal flaw of a defense filled with talented personnel that too often underperformed.

How did the Irish get here? Any why did Kelly make the decision to hire VanGorder—a decision that has already impacted his legacy in South Bend?

Let’s look back.



When Brian Kelly tapped VanGorder to replace Bob Diaco, he was hiring a coach who seemed like an evolutionary next step. While Diaco’s 3-4 base and point prevention philosophies were the perfect tonic for improving a team that was wrecked by the Tenuta era, Alabama undressed the Irish at the end of the 2012 season, a simplicity in Notre Dame’s scheme that received a few comments from Alabama players in the postgame glow that likely had Kelly wondering if they’d hit their ceiling.

That’s an important factor to remember when Kelly was hiring Diaco’s replacement. Because the foundation of the defense was well established. Kelly needed someone to build on top of it.

That likely made VanGorder’s pitch music to Kelly’s ears. Because while Diaco relied heavily on his base set, VanGorder’s DNA included sub-packages, complementary parts, Rex Ryan-inspired blitzes, and a philosophy that no throw would be conceded— underneath or otherwise.

Add to that Kelly’s personal relationship with VanGorder. Kelly had watched his former Grand Valley State colleague from the beginning of his career. He had seen him work with young players and believed in him as a teacher (something he referenced multiple times when he introduced VanGorder to the local media) before blazing his own trail, earning a head coaching opportunity at Wayne State, a high-profile coordinator position at Georgia and eventually making his way to the NFL—for a long time, farther up the food chain than Kelly.

Perhaps that was enough to dismiss his chaotic year at Auburn, when the Tigers season—and defense—went up in smoke as Gene Chizik was fired and VanGorder’s defense gave up 63 to No. 20 Texas A&M, 38 to No. 5 Georgia, and were blown out 49-0 to Alabama—after after mid-October.

But for a variety of reasons, likely his success turning to coaches with a personal connection, Kelly once again did so, hiring an NFL position coach who was a few years removed from being an elite-level coaching target for a vacancy that was a high-profile national opening.



The challenge with VanGorder’s struggles always seemed to be the caveats. Injuries decimated his first defense, a group that shutout Michigan and stymied Stanford, but crumbled by the end of the season, with USC naming a number and the Irish tumbling after giving up big, ugly scores to Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC.

The 2015 defense had strong moments—dominating Texas, holding Clemson to 24 points and nice wins over option opponents Georgia Tech and Navy—but obviously imploded late against Stanford and never stood a chance against Ohio State, with injuries once again leveling the depth chart.

But there were improvements. Between 2014 and 2015 VanGorder’s unit got a better handle on up-tempo attacks. An offseason committed to stopping the option saw those goals achieved with successful defensive performances against Georgia Tech and Navy. And even if VanGorder’s veteran-heavy 2015 unit was mostly moving on (the talent exodus is staggering now that you look at it), most had talked themselves into believing that Year Three would have better institutional knowledge for all, a depth chart ready to step in and perform.

[A necessary footnote: Luck certainly wasn’t on VanGorder’s side. Injuries, transfers and suspensions certainly didn’t do him any favors, either. Whether it was the disappearance of edge rushers—Kolin Hill, Jhonny Williams, Bo Wallace—or the loss of KeiVarae Russell and Max Redfield, injuries to Jarron Jones, Shaun Crawford, Nick Watkins and Drue Tranquill, there was always the defense VanGorder hoped to put on the field… and then the one that he actually did.]



Austin, Texas. Opening night, 2016.

The Irish defense was exposed against the Longhorns, shredded by both the power running attack and freshman Shane Buechele’s passing. It was an all-systems failure: Scheme, blown assignments, questionable personnel decisions—all pointing back to a game plan that required a bunch of assumptions (new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert was difficult to scout), but nonetheless was a disastrous start.



Even if Kelly gave the staff’s performance a passing grade, by noon after the loss to Duke, the decision was made to relieve VanGorder of his duties.

“This is a difficult decision,” Kelly said in a statement. “I have the utmost respect for Brian as both a person and football coach, but our defense simply isn’t it where it should be and I believe this change is necessary for the best interest of our program and our student-athletes.”



While Kelly won’t likely go any deeper into the decision to make the change than he’s done in a few media sessions, it’s telling just how different the defense is organized with VanGorder out the door.

Full-unit meetings have been turned into position group teaching sessions. Depth chart’s have been reshuffled, resulting in major personnel changes. A base three-man front has taken over as the status quo. And the defense has stopped giving up points and big plays, especially after they found their footing against Syracuse.

Where Kelly goes from here is anyone’s guess—especially considering he’s still trying his best to get this season under control. But after tapping into his personal coaching network to fill a premium vacancy, don’t expect Kelly to settle on the familiar—or for Swarbrick to allow it—when his roster is loaded with young talent and in need of a fundamentally sound plan.

CB Elijah Hicks commits to Notre Dame

Irish 247

Just hours after one member of Notre Dame’s 2017 class stepped away, another took his place. Southern California defensive back Elijah Hicks committed to the Irish. The four-star prospect, an all-purpose defender who can play safety, cornerback and contribute in special teams, pulled the trigger just days after taking his official visit to South Bend.

He made the news official via Twitter and recorded a commitment video with Irish 247’s Tom Loy. And even as Notre Dame’s season continues in the wrong direction, Hicks bought in to the message being sold by the Irish coaching staff, picking Notre Dame over programs like UCLA, USC, Michigan and Washington.

A year after stocking up the secondary—Hicks gives the Irish a nice piece to pair with Paulson Adebo and all-purpose athlete Isaiah Robertson. And as we watch Troy Pride, Julian Love, Donte Vaughn and Devin Studstill might a quick impact on the back end, Hicks compares favorably to that quartet, another prospect with elite offers who will come into South Bend ready to fight for a spot in the two-deep.

Hicks told Irish247.com why he pulled the trigger now:

“I chose Notre Dame because on my official visit I felt comfortable and it felt like home,” said Hicks. “One of my favorite quotes about Notre Dame is, ‘Other teams play college football, Notre Dame is college football.’ Coach Lyght, I feel like he could give me the tools that’s necessary to make it to the NFL and have a long career. Also, they have a rich tradition and great academic support.”

Hicks plays for La Mirada High School, the same program that produced reserve Irish tight end Tyler Luatua. He returns Notre Dame’s 2017 class to 18, a Top 10 group by any evaluation.