Tommy Rees BC

Kelly announces QB derby a four-man race heading into spring

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In his first official press conference marking the start of spring practice, it didn’t take long for Brian Kelly to field a question about his unsettled quarterback depth chart. In fact, it was the first one asked. With the Irish plagued by inconsistency at the position last season, and going through three different options last year, Kelly announced it was open season at the position most responsible for offensive competency next season.

“I think it’s important that if they’re all going to get an equal opportunity to compete for the position,” Kelly said.

With that, the four-man race between juniors Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix, sophomore Everett Golson, and early-enrollee Gunner Kiel begins. And while hyperbole tends to become the norm during spring practice, it’s not too much of an overstatement to think that this positional race could not only define next season, but also the head coaching era.

With first-year offensive coordinator Chuck Martin coaching the quarterbacks and running the day-to-day operations of the offense, implementing a fair competition meant dialing back an offensive system that might have been too advanced for even Rees, the elder statesman of the group, to completely grasp (or at the very least execute without making major mistakes). With Martin getting his first official minutes working with the position, starting an evaluation process at a similar knowledge base is a smart decision.

“We’ve kind of taken a step back and really looked at our offensive structure, and we’re going to make it so all four of the guys that are here can compete at a fair level, because Tommy has got, as you know, the best knowledge base,” Kelly said. “But if we started the spring with page 50 of the playbook, Tommy would be ahead of everybody. So not to put him at a disadvantage but to give it an equal footing for all, we’ve kind of scaled it back, so the spring, it’s going to give all the quarterbacks, including a midyear in Gunner and of course the two young guys, an opportunity to truly compete for the position.”

While it’s too early to jump to any true conclusions, this is certainly the type of rhetoric you’d want to hear if you were hoping for a fresh start at the position. With a new coordinator communicating Kelly’s vision of the offense, dialing things back to the basics should let Martin and Kelly measure apples to apples, as opposed to having to grade each quarterback on how well they do the things they already understand, a slippery slope that makes evaluation — and objectivity — a difficult task.

As you’d expect, Kelly wasn’t quick to offer a decision date, likely realizing any time before the Irish head to Dublin will be good enough. For the first time since Kelly’s opening date against Purdue in 2010, the offense has a bit of mystery to it, with Martin, an unknown at quarterback, and some interesting skill position moves (more on that later) working in the Irish’s favor.

For now, spring is simply about improving a unit that made far too many mistakes and needs to find a capable triggerman for the Irish offense. While we’ll have 15 practices to parse comments and dissect the limited window we’ll get into the Irish offense, the very important step of clearing the records and starting anew is a promising first step.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

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.