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Diaco talks defense (and werewolves)

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My affinity for Bob Diaco continues to grow. While some Irish fans still haven’t forgiven him for his defense’s first game against Navy and the option, Diaco has transformed a unit that was among the worst in Notre Dame history into the strength of the football team.

More importantly, he embodies what’s needed as a defensive coordinator. He’s a young, emotional, and fiery leader that’s done everything from work-in on block destruction drills to quote Gandhi. As passionate of a coach I’ve ever seen, Diaco successfully connects with his players because he equates the Xs and Os on the field with the Xs and Os in life — truly believing in the principles he teaches as a guideline to survival both on and off the field.

That said, you’ve got to love Diaco just as much for his interviews. Always inclined to give you a thoughtful response while not trying to give anything proprietary away, Diaco does his best to keep the company secrets protected, but also give a respectful answer to an interviewer or question, even when it’s to his detriment. (His postgame comments after the Navy loss created such a firestorm that the coordinators were kept off limits the rest of the 2010 season.) That’s made for some curious quotes from Bob, who has tongue-tied himself more than a few times as he attempted the delicate balancing act.

Here are some updates Diaco gave earlier this week on the state of his defense, courtesy of BlueandGold.com. For those scoring at home, Diaco also used “werewolf” for the second time publicly, this time bestowing the term on safety Austin Collinsworth after deeming freshman Jarrett Grace one a few months ago.

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Because it’s such a great quote, here’s Diaco on Collinsworth:

“Collinsworth is having a nice spring. He’s a little werewolf, man. I love that guy. He’s hard not to like. He’s all energy. He is a high-collision player. He is fast when he steps on the gas pedal. He’s got some things, obviously, that he needs to work on, but he’s one of the more entertaining players to watch and be around. If your energy bucket is a little empty, hang around Austin a little bit and it’ll be filled back up in a hurry.”

There’s about a dozen great things about that quote, right down to the almost use of passion bucket, a Dan Patrick Show favorite. But for Irish fans wondering about the secondary and Collinsworth’s ability to jump into a three-safety rotation, this seems to support the fact that there are plenty of questions surrounding the unit, but Collinsworth isn’t one of them.

While I wasn’t in attendance for it, new IrishSportsDaily.com contributor Sean Stires also grabbed these quotes from Diaco’s presser:

On Ishaq Williams, and his improvement from last season to this year:

“Ishaq is learning how to practice,” Diaco told ISD. “He’s learning how to compete at this level and prepare to compete at this level. That’s what he’s learning how to do. There’s a lot less plays where he’s loafing or not giving effort. There’s more plays where he’s giving either the expected level of effort and then also what we would consider to be exceptional effort. There’s a lot more of those plays and a lot less of the plays where we’re just trying to get him to learn how to practice. He’s improving his game.”

On Prince Shembo, who is settling in at the ‘Cat’ linebacker position that was manned by Darius Fleming last year.

“Prince is gonna play Cat,” Diaco told ISD. “Maybe (Kelly) was speaking more to the fact that he can play Dog, and that he did play Dog all year long and that those positions are basically mirrored. He’s doing a great job and working hard out there. We’ve got a lot to replace. We had a lot of great players leave the program.”

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

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

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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.