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Weekend notes: Shembo, Hiestand, Heuerman, and more

Mar 30, 2012, 8:21 PM EDT

ishaq-williams-numbers-full

Brian Kelly met with the media after practice today, with the biggest piece of news being an injury to linebacker Prince Shembo. Spotted wearing a boot on his left foot, Kelly didn’t seem overly concerned about a slight case of turf toe, which will keep him off the field for a handful of days.

An injury to any of the outside linebackers on the roster would put the Irish in a precarious situation, but right now it lets Ishaq Williams get a taste of the starting job. Williams has been an interesting test case this spring, with both Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco mentioning the changes in Williams’ energy level during practice.

“He’s getting there. He’s getting there. The light is starting to go on,” Kelly said. “There were a couple of instances today where there were some one-on-one match-ups between Troy Niklas and Ishaq Williams… Pretty exciting stuff. He’s getting there. He’s got to do it consistently, but we know what he’s capable of when it all starts to come together.”

You can see the exchange in UND.com’s video (embedded right below here), and the smile that comes to Kelly’s face shows you just how impressive both Williams and Niklas are as athletes.

There’s no reason to think Shembo’s injury is a serious one, but it sounds like Justin Utupo would be a guy that could potentially flex out to the ‘cat’ linebacker position, as it wouldn’t make any sense to shift Niklas back to defense after spending the spring and offseason transitioning.

Here’s the Kelly’s entire exchange with the press from earlier.

***

The early returns on new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand are excellent. While the early returns on every new assistant coach are usually good, Hiestand has immediately shown himself an impressive recruiter and someone the players have latched onto from the get-go.

As someone that was extremely excited about the Ed Warinner hire when it happened, I expected the loss of Warinner to Ohio State be something that hurt the Irish offense. But from snooping around people close to the program, and just listening to some of the players and their reactions to Hiestand, it’s clear that the fit is a good one and the transition has been ultimately positive — almost addition by subtraction according to some.

Pete Sampson at IrishIllustrated.com has a great article showing just how much allegiance Hiestand’s players show him, with former All-Pro center Olin Kreutz visiting South Bend this week to spend time on the field with the Irish offensive line.

Chris Watt walked into the film room and stumbled across a legend.

Deep inside the Gug watching videos of Notre Dame’s offensive line was former Chicago Bear Olin Kreutz, a six-time Pro Bowl center. For a Chicagoland senior who grew up driving to Bears training camps, the introduction offered a shot of star power and insight into Harry Hiestand.

“I was definitely surprised,” Watt said. “How much he really wants to come back and help (Hiestand) and cares about him says a lot.”

Kreutz attended Notre Dame’s practice Wednesday morning and stayed after to work with the line on technique. In the afternoon the 13-year NFL star planned to watch tape with Hiestand, breaking down a group Notre Dame’s new line coach has drilled for just five practices.

Kreutz and Hiestand spent five years together with the Bears, which included a Super Bowl run in 2006. He attended a spring practice at Tennessee last year when Hiestand worked in Knoxville, driving more than eight hours to get there.

We’ll ultimately know how well Hiestand does with this line after watching it work next fall, but if Kreutz is any indication, Hiestand’s players stay tremendously loyal to him.

***

After a week where the Irish recruiting class made staggering in-roads, Notre Dame is entertaining one of the nation’s top tight ends, with Naples, Florida’s Mike Heuerman on campus this weekend. The line for Heuerman’s signature is pretty distinguished, and if the Irish are going to win out, they’ll need to beat schools like LSU, Miami, Florida State, and Ohio State, where Heuerman’s brother Jeff plays tight end for for Urban Meyer.

That said, the Irish sales pitch is pretty impressive, with Jake Brown getting a great quote from Heuerman on new offensive coordinator Chuck Martin‘s sales pitch.

“I was on the phone with Coach Martin,” Heuerman told Brown. “He was telling me, ‘When you’re here to watch practice this is our every day practice. When you see what we’re doing with the tight ends you’ll definitely be stunned and almost blown away and you’ve got to understand we’re not doing this Thursday and Friday because Mike Heuerman will be in town. This is what we do every single practice and this is what we plan on doing in the games.’”

If you listened to Kelly’s presser from above, it’s pretty clear the Irish are going to be playing two tight ends a lot of the time, with Eifert likely detached from the line and a physical mismatch with a cornerback. While Eifert is listed as a TE, he might as well be a jumbo-WR, and the battle to play the traditional tight end position is a three-man race between Ben Koyack, Troy Niklas, and Alex Welch, with Jake Golic also in the mix.

The switch of Niklas to the offensive side of the ball was a head-scratcher for some — especially when they turned down an elite TE recruit in Taylor McNamara. But when you consider they needed someone physically ready to be an in-line blocker first and a pass catcher second, it explains why you go to someone as physically impressive as Niklas, who is essentially an slightly undersized, more athletic left tackle.

***

Finally, Notre Dame welcomed five walk-ons to the football program this spring. I’ve already spotted a few of these guys in the UND videos, but here are the official roster listings:

  • No. 67: Kevin Carr, DE | 6-7, 325 | junior (Nashville, Tenn./Montgomery Bell Academy)
  • No. 17: Charlie Fiessinger, QB | 6-1, 185 | sophomore (Mason, Ohio/Moeller)
  • No. 63: Grant Patton, DE | 6-6, 256 | senior (Louisville, Ky./Saint Xavier)
  • No. 94: Dominic Romeo, DE | 6-6, 245 | junior (Turlock, Calif./Pitman)
  • No. 84: Andre Smith, WR | 6-2, 190 | sophomore (Davie, Fla./North Broward Prep)

One walk-on that’s also making some noise in camp is Minnesotan Connor Little, who is in the rotation at the ‘dog’ linebacker with Ben Councell and Danny Spond. Little, a six-foot-three, 225-pound freshman was a recruited walk-on from Hill-Murray High School in St. Paul, and had some opportunities to play Ivy League football before choosing Notre Dame.

 

 

  1. bernhtp - Mar 30, 2012 at 9:09 PM

    These walk-ons are certainly way bigger than Rudy.

    • herringbonesports - Mar 31, 2012 at 12:17 AM

      I’m glad to hear about so many quality returns from your research on Heistand. The OL seemed to show a lot of improvement at times in 2011 and if that is trending up we’ll be glad to see it.

      I like hearing how much he likes Bennett Jackson at this point. Love that kid and his intensity. I honestly believe Jalen Brown has the skills to keep the 1-deep solid. Lot’s of work on that depth though.

  2. jimbasil - Mar 31, 2012 at 8:22 AM

    Kelly’s praise of Goodman appears to be a good thing. I’m hoping so, being a Goodman guy since day 1. My concern with his praise is, with his overall performance in his yrs at ND has he been an unknown quality or is it that the other WR’s are just not all that good? In other words why is it only now that Kelly sees the light with Goodman if he is now going to be that “go-to-guy”?

    Sure, Goodman may have been slacking off and he had Floyd ahead of him, but what of employing him sparingly over the past two seasons and not motivating him to be all he can be? If he is that good, why was Jones put ahead of him? Is it the he’s-a-Weis-guy and not-mine that has been in place all this time?

    It just seems curious to me.

    • rico75 - Mar 31, 2012 at 12:59 PM

      you mean like Jonas Gray?

      • jimbasil - Mar 31, 2012 at 2:44 PM

        I’d like to think that but Hughes would be more akin to what I’m talking about.

      • rico75 - Mar 31, 2012 at 5:26 PM

        yeah, Hughes is another good example. There just seems to be some guys, no matter how much of a stud they seem to be, get behind an established player and just…wait. They just seem willing to accept that the “star” in front of them has the job and they’ll just wait their turn. In Goodman’s case he’s seen Floyd in front of him and figures he might as well settle in and wait his turn. At least I hope that’s what he’s thinking ’cause I’m with you, I’d love to see Goodman have a great year.

  3. jomilly - Mar 31, 2012 at 9:33 AM

    I know everyone talks about the how good the o line was last year. And I would have to agree to a certain extent. But dont forget any good team we played, our offensive line looked like swiss cheese. Im glad we have a new coach there, this guy seems to be legit. Lets get those horses moving more of the big boys in college football.

    • jimbasil - Mar 31, 2012 at 10:24 AM

      “…our offensive line looked like swiss cheese.” Only after Golic came in. Golic worked hard and was learning, so that is part of it. Outside of that, they performed well. The BC game it looked as though the BC D had Kelly’s playbook in hand and with Rees’s inability to move, the corners created all sorts of havoc. IMO

  4. joeschu - Mar 31, 2012 at 10:18 AM

    Does anyone else wish he’d just stand up one day and say:
    “Rees is the emergency QB, Gunner’s wearing that red shirt in more than just practice, and we’re now locked in a Goldrix battle to the death for the 1 & 2 spots for this year.”

    It is so worrisome that no one in that group is separating. Can someone feed me the positive spin on this?

    • jimbasil - Mar 31, 2012 at 10:31 AM

      Yeah, sure, but are either Hendrix or Golson good enough? We think so, just on mobility and arm strength alone I’d think that. I also think one of those two will emerge as the #1 guy. TR did come in and play well when there wasn’t anyone esle ready to go, so it’s not so out of the norm to give him his fair opportunity as the incumbent even if you’re sure he won’t be #1.

      Alas, for us, I’d like to hear the battle is between AH and EG sooner than later.

    • bernhtp - Mar 31, 2012 at 11:25 AM

      Whether or not Kelly believes that the real choice is between Hendrix and Golson, he won’t say it now because he doesn’t believe it is good for the development of the team. He articulates a process, an objective meritocracy, that seeks the buy-in of all players and the work ethic to rise to the top. Absent an obvious leader (e.g., Te’o or MMF last year), he wants his players to go out everyday and earn their position. This is especially try at QB where the position underperformed and cost the team a much better season.

    • nudeman - Mar 31, 2012 at 12:04 PM

      joe
      Yes, I wish he’d say that, but he isn’t going to. It would immediately demoralize the non winner(s) and I think he’d be afraid someone will x-fer before Autumn.

      Your assessment is probably accurate (Goldrix battle and GK redshirting), but based on several things I’ve read and heard in podcasts, videos, etc, I am starting to get the feeling TR is still very much in the mix.

      Maybe I’m adding 2+2 and getting 5, but when I hear Sampson and Prister in their podcast talk of how Rees is playing much better this Spring; when I read Keith glowingly write about his play and beefed up physical stature; when I read the first sentence in another article that says “The scrimmage started with Tommy Rees taking the snaps with the first unit” … wow.

      Speechless.

      I know BK wants to make this an open and fair thing, but please … NO-O-O.

      Yet we KNOW he loves Tommy, and it looks like he’s bending over backward to accommodate a kid with walk-on ability. I don’t get it.

      • cameronemclaughlin - Mar 31, 2012 at 4:50 PM

        What’s really going to worry you is the near flawless performance Tommy’s going to put up in the spring game. If his skill set is unchanged from last year he won’t make any huge plays, but he’ll be efficient and accurate.

        The other gentlemen better be sharp, or at least produce enough exciting big-gainers to make a sharp contrast with TR’s careful style.

      • rico75 - Mar 31, 2012 at 5:17 PM

        “Speechless”…we can only hope.

      • joeschu - Apr 2, 2012 at 10:41 AM

        I’m with you nude… it feels almost like some sort of media cover-up where there’s this odd, secret momentum behind the incumbent despite the groundswell of public opposition (hmm… this is DNC-TV, I mean NBC).

        BTW, I don’t see the x-fer thing. The only guy “eliminated” in that scenario is Rees and he ain’t goin anywhere.

    • txirish2 - Mar 31, 2012 at 3:26 PM

      Kelly also said that the way he is running spring practice, nobody is getting an opportunity to separate themselves early, because he is drilling fundamentals. As it progresses and the QBs begin to work on running the offense is should become more apparent.

  5. joeschulz - Mar 31, 2012 at 10:34 AM

    Thanks, Keith, for an informative and positive rundown.

  6. getsome99 - Apr 1, 2012 at 12:42 PM

    I just don’t understand all of this backlash from the fans against Tommy Rees. Yes, we all hope Everette Golson will be the next Tony Rice, but the reality is, nobody has seen the kid play.

    Tommy Rees is only a junior. He won the starting job as a freshman from a former #1 ranked QB recruit, the offense looked better with him under center, and he led the team to quite a few W’s.

    I think it may be the narcissistic nature of the ND fan base that prohibits us from appreciating Rees more. We get too caught up in what Rees didn’t do or can’t do without any optimism that he can improve.

    You can’t blame the Mich loss on Rees, or even the USF loss for that matter (Rees made his share of mistakes, but I believe ND would have won handily had TR started that game). Take away those 2 losses and ND is playing in a BCS bowl game.

    I’m not saying Rees is going to win the starting job this year, just that we should try to keep things in perspective. Hendrix didn’t really blow anybody away in his few appearances and we have not even seen Golson take a snap yet. Plus, has Rees really been THAT terrible considering all the other issues this team has been trying to overcome in Kelly’s first 2 seasons?

    • rico75 - Apr 1, 2012 at 10:22 PM

      An intelligent, rational post. Thanks man! I agree completely.

    • c4evr - Apr 2, 2012 at 1:42 AM

      And how much of Tommy Rees’ inconsistent play can be traced back to BK’s inept handling of the QB position?? I think the kid has handled himself well as the #1 guy. Everybody seems to want him gone, but of the 2, Kelly has made more bonehead moves overall. That’s right, I’m putting it back on BK, so rev up those ‘Thumbs Down’ buttons…

    • nudeman - Apr 2, 2012 at 10:13 AM

      Re: “all this backlash against Tommy Rees” … let me help you.
      It’s because he is slow, a turnover machine and just isn’t very good

  7. nudeman - Apr 2, 2012 at 10:14 AM

    Keith
    “pain-staking”?

    I believe that would be “painstaking”

  8. getsome99 - Apr 2, 2012 at 10:45 AM

    I’m not saying Rees didn’t throw picks, but how many of those picks bounced off a receivers hand, back, helmet, etc…it wasn’t TR’s fumble that cost ND the USC game. The 1st one was on Crist and the last one was on Wood.

    Bottom line is how many games did TR cost ND last year because of his turnovers. Mich game? USF 1st half? USC game? There’s 3 of the 4 losses right there. A lot of things to fix on the team. You’ve said yourself many times that the issue with this team is lack of discipline, which I agree with. So why hate on TR when he contributed more to the team’s success than he had their failures?

    Every phase of the tram broke down at some point the past 2 seasons, which puts a lot of pressure on a young QB. I think Rees did admirably well considering the circumstances and this alone should give him the edge to win the job this year.

    Let’s hope the other 3 are good enough to compete/win the job. But until we actually see them play, none of us can say any one of them deserves to be the starter over Rees. Just blowhard, premature and uninformed opinions at this point.

    • nudeman - Apr 2, 2012 at 11:11 AM

      There is sufficient body of evidence to support the ABR (anybody but Rees) stance.
      It’s been debated here a thousand times.

      Re: contributing more to their success than failures, he plays well vs. Maryland, Wake, Navy etc and poorly against Michigan, Stanford, USC and FSU.
      Most including me think it’s time to move on.

  9. getsome99 - Apr 2, 2012 at 12:01 PM

    He’s played poorly against Mich and USC? He’s the only ND QB to beat USC in the past 10 years and only the 2nd QB to win a bowl game in that same stretch.

    ND was pretty beaten up by the Stanford game and I recall horrible line play from that game. Plus, there’s no shame in losing to Stanford. Luck picked apart ND’s defense like it was practice. Dog piling Rees’ record with misleading statements about Michigan and USC is what I take issue with.

    I hear what you’re saying, it’s just not accurate. I agree TR needs to improve, but who are you going to move on to? You have no idea what Golson will do in an actual game but you already made up your mind that he should be the starter?

    • irishbornraised - Apr 3, 2012 at 6:16 PM

      Stanford comment isn’t fair, ND was the only team all year to hold luck under 30 pts, and tbh, you can say everyone was playing bad, but when AH went in he outscored stanford

  10. getsome99 - Apr 2, 2012 at 12:08 PM

    As for being debated here a thousand times, I’ve read your posts and have heard your bias against Rees. Which is why I challenge you to support your comments with football facts.

    I understand a lot of fans want a better QB. The majority of fans are ball watchers and don’t really analyze the rest of the game away from the ball. Which is why the QB will always get all the blame or all the glory. However, you’re talking about benching a player with a 12-4 (1-1 in bowls) overall record in favor of ‘anyone but him’ sight unseen.

    What self entitled narcissistic planet are you from?

    • nudeman - Apr 2, 2012 at 1:26 PM

      How does wanting a QB other than Tommy make me a narcissist?
      Settle down

      Facts:
      1) Costly turnovers against Michigan. 2 INTs and at least one fumble
      2) Beat USC in spite of his poor play. 3 INTs, fumbled once and 149 yards passing

      That’s 7 turnovers in 2 games.
      Led a nice final drive against Michigan; but the final drive against USC was all Hughes.
      Please forgive me if I’m not impressed.

      Overall people here are sick of me writing about it. Not much new ground here.

  11. getsome99 - Apr 2, 2012 at 1:42 PM

    Already said he needs to work on turnovers. I think a lot of those will be eliminated once the rest of the team starts executing consistently.

    Too many times, I felt Rees had to carry the load to compensate for other’s mistakes. The discipline factor: turnovers and penalties. There are not of lot young QB’s out there that can overcome these issues by themselves, let alone any that ND has had on their roster. This problem goes back to the Clausen days. Jimmy was a better QB than Rees statwise and also had a much stronger arm, but the outcomes were no better in terms of wins and losses.

    The narcissism is your self-entitled attitude where you think you can evaluate QB’s better from your couch than the coaches who work with them everyday. As much pressure as their is for Kelly to win, do you really think he’s going to not play the QB who gives the team the best chance to win? Plus, you beat this drum every chance you get. I’m asking if the ignorance is legit or if you just do this for attention?

    • nudeman - Apr 2, 2012 at 1:57 PM

      getsome
      I don’t know what your problem is here.
      YOU and others here raised the QB issue, not me. I responded to YOUR post.

      An opinion from the couch? Yes, I’m entitled to that, same as you
      Not sure that makes either of us narcissistic, friend

      I’m done with the TR talk
      We disagree
      Let’s move on

  12. getsome99 - Apr 2, 2012 at 1:45 PM

    Carry the load as in having to make tough plays in tough scenarios. Drive killing penalties, 3rd and longs, etc.

  13. getsome99 - Apr 2, 2012 at 2:57 PM

    Nice spin. Let’s hope you don’t mention it again.

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