Bob Diaco hat

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.”

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

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Some believe that the best way to look at recruiting is in two-year increments. As programs rebuild and rosters turn over, covering the needs of a football team over two recruiting cycles  allows a coaching staff to balance its roster.

That balance is critical to the health of a program. And it’s not just the work of a rebuilding coach. As we saw in Brian Kelly’s sixth season, injuries, attrition and scheme change impacted the defense, especially in the secondary.

Another position set to deal with major change is wide receiver. Gone is All-American Will Fuller, departing South Bend after three years, scoring 29 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He’ll look to run his way into the first round of the NFL Draft. Also gone are veterans Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, putting the Irish in an unenviable position, needing to replace the team’s three leading receivers.

Reinforcements aren’t just on the way, they’re already on campus. While there’s not a ton of production to see, the recruiting stockpile has created a chance to reload for Mike Denbrock’s troop. So let’s take a look at the additions and subtractions on the roster, analyzing the two-year recruiting run as we restock the receiving corps.

DEPARTURES
Will Fuller
, Jr. (62 catches, 1,258 yards, 14 TDs)
Chris Brown, Sr. (48 catches, 597 yards, 4 TDs)
Amir Carlisle, GS (32 catches, 355 yards, 1 TD)
Jalen Guyton, Fr. (transfer)

 

ADDITIONS
Equanimeous St. Brown

Miles Boykin*
CJ Sanders
Jalen Guyton
Chase Claypool*
Javon McKinley*
Kevin Stepherson*

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Corey Robinson, Sr.
Torii Hunter, Sr.*
Justin Brent, Jr.*
Corey Holmes, Jr.*
CJ Sanders, Soph.
Miles Boykin, Soph.*
Equanimeous St. Brown, Soph.
Kevin Stepherson, Fr.*

 

ANALYSIS
Brian Kelly expects St. Brown to step into Will Fuller’s shoes. If the Irish are able to pluck another sophomore from obscurity to the national spotlight, it’ll say quite a bit about the depth and productivity the Irish staff has built at the position. At 6-foot-5, St. Brown has a more tantalizing skill-set than Fuller—and he was a national recruit out of a Southern California powerhouse. But until we see St. Brown burn past defenders and make big plays, assuming the Irish won’t miss Fuller is a big leap of faith.

The next objective of the spring is getting Corey Robinson back on track. The rising senior had a forgettable junior season, ruined by injuries and some bruised confidence. A player who has shown flashes of brilliance during his three seasons in South Bend, the time is now for Robinson, not just as a performer but as an on-field leader.

Torii Hunter Jr. is also poised for a big season. After finding reps at slot receiver and possessing the versatility to see the field from multiple spots, Hunter needs to prove in 2016 that he’s not just a utility man but an everyday starter. His hands, smooth athleticism and speed should have him primed for a breakout. But Hunter might not want to stay in the slot if CJ Sanders is ready to take over. After a big freshman season on special teams, Sanders looks ready to make his move into the lineup, perhaps the purest slot receiver Brian Kelly has had since he arrived in South Bend.

The rest of the spring depth chart should have modest goals, though all face rather critical offseasons. Justin Brent is three years into his college career and the biggest headlines he’s made have been off the field. Whether he sticks at receiver or continues to work as a reserve running back remains to be seen. Corey Holmes is another upperclassman who we still can’t figure out. Will he ascend into the rotation with the top three veterans gone, or will he give way to some talented youngsters?

Miles Boykin earned praise last August, but it didn’t get him time on the field. He’ll enter spring with four years of eligibility, same as early-enrollee Kevin Stepherson. The Irish staff thinks Stepherson has the type of deep speed that they covet, capable of running past cornerbacks and stretching a defense. Boykin has size and physicality that could present intriguing options for an offense that’ll be less reliant on one man now that Fuller is gone.

Live Video Mailbag: 40-year decision, more BVG, freshmen and more

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We’ve done plenty of mailbags, but this is our first shot at a Live Video Mailbag. This should be a better way to answer more questions and hopefully interact with a few of you as we try to work off some of yesterday’s Super Bowl snacks.

Topics on the list: The 40-year decision, more Brian VanGorder talk, the incoming (and redshirt) freshmen and a whole lot more.

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Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention

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Amidst the chaos of their live Signing Day show, UND.com ran had a far-reaching interview with head coach Brian Kelly. It was conducted by his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and his former team captain, Joe Schmidt.

So while there was a little bit of talk about the 23 recruits who signed their national letters-of-intent, there was also a very illuminating exchange on an issue that’s really plagued the Irish the past few seasons: Injuries.

Football is a dangerous game. And for as long as people play it, there’ll be impactful injuries that take players off the field. But as Notre Dame settles into what looks like their longest run of stability since the Holtz era, the focus of Kelly and Swarbrick has moved past modernizing the team’s medical services, strength program and nutrition and onto the science of injury prevention.

Here’s what Kelly said about the efforts currently taking shape:

“I think the science piece is very important, because no longer is it just about strength and conditioning,  it’s about durability. It’s the ability to continue to play at an optimal level but also with the rigors of a college schedule, and particularly here at Notre Dame, how do we maximize the time but maximizing getting the most out of our student-athletes and not lose them?

“As you know, we’ve had a couple years here in a rough stretch of injuries. And how do we have an injury prevention protocol that brings in the very best science? You’ve done a great job of reaching out in getting us those kind of resources. so I think tapping into that is probably the next piece. As well as providing the resources for our student-athletes. Continuing to look at facilities. Continuing to give our student-athletes maybe that little edge. Because everybody’s got 85 scholarships.”

It’s clear that the issue is one that’s on the radar for not just Kelly, but the athletic administration. So it’ll be interesting to see some of the steps taken as the program begins investing time and additional resources to an issue that’s really hit the Irish hard the past few seasons.

There’s plenty of other good stuff in the 13-minute interview, so give it a watch.