Chuck Martin 2

Practice Report: Day Eleven update

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but Notre Dame has a new offensive coordinator. Not just any offensive coordinator, but a guy who just got done spending two years coaching safeties. And his pedigree? Before being a defensive position coach he was ran a D-2 football program in Michigan. National championships or not, that’s got “small-time” written all over it. From a glance, Brian Kelly, at an inflection point in his tenure at Notre Dame, chose a guy that has never coached offensive players in major college football to fix the Fighting Irish offense and a four-headed quarterbacking conundrum.

Of course, Chuck Martin belies any bullet-point bio you assign him. And while the above paragraph doesn’t misstate any of the material facts, it’s a huge disservice to one of the best coaches on the Irish staff, and one of Kelly’s most trusted lieutenants. Spend any time around the Irish football program, and it isn’t hard to notice the impact Martin makes. That’s why when Charley Molnar accepted the UMass job Kelly didn’t hesitate to point the offensive in Martin’s hands. It may have ended up costing him offensive line coach Ed Warinner, but it’s helped breathe confidence into a unit that desperately needed it after falling apart down the stretch.

The crew at UND.com put together this look at offensive coordinator Chuck Martin and his work with the Irish offense. As usual, I’ll provide some thoughts along the way.

  • 0:14 — That’s the spirit Jack Nolan. Finish strong on this 15-practice Irish issue-gear apparel swag fest.
  • 0:46 — Martin states that nobody has taken control of this offense or football team yet. Mostly because nobody has earned it yet — through success. (Another indicator that Tommy Rees‘ 12-4 record isn’t going to do him any favors as the Irish evaluate the QB position.)
  • 1:10 — Watching the four candidates go through the same drop back and throw drill one thing is certain: Equipment manager Ryan Grooms has got his guys wearing a motley mix of mismatched helmets. Hopefully they’ll break out the gold domes for the spring game.
  • 2:13 — Martin says what he enjoys most about switching to offense and working hand-in-hand with Kelly is that they share the “same aggressive nature” when attacking defenses. After getting way too horizontal in their passing game and vanilla in their play calling, it’ll be interesting to see how differently the Irish attack defenses with Martin helping to script the game plans.
  • 3:00 — “We’re preparing for the fourth quarter at USC in front of 90,000 hostile fans in the rain, hail sideways, everything’s against you, injuries, and trying to find a way to make a big play,” Martin says. That’s all.
  • 3:25 — “If there’s a pathetic old Division-III free safety that can rattle you, I’m pretty sure the Mike linebacker at USC is going to scare the hell out of you,” Martin says. “If I can get you off your game, then we’re pretty certain you’re not the guy we want out there at USC to win the big game in the big moment.”
  • 4:07 — Daniel Smith, getting an earful from Martin. No week is more important than this one for Smith, who has all eyes on him with the depth chart dwindling.
  • 4:57 — For those wondering if the Irish are working on those horrifically scary, almost backwards swing passes, the answer is yes.
  • 5:15 — And equally scary is that the one rep we see with Andrew Hendrix and John Goodman gets dropped, with Goodman looking for the ball too late.
  • 5:16 — Before you freak out in the comments, that’s EXACTLY what spring practice is for.
  • 5:24 — “That’s it George,” Martin screams at running back George Atkinson. “You’ve got great hands, George. I don’t believe what anybody tells me differently. Your hands are fine.”
  • 6:08 — Irish working fade throws in the corner of the end zone. Martin gets on his QBs for poor throws. “Out of bounds, no reason. We’ve got a touchdown and you just took it from us. 81,000 people want to yell and scream touchdown and you just threw it out of the end zone.”
  • 6:30 — Walk-on wideout Nick Fitzpatrick from Mishawaka gets barked at, then praised, by Martin for getting dominated by Josh Atkinson on a deep ball, but then rebounds to catch a slant the next rep.
  • 6:44 — Robby Toma could have a very big year in Martin’s new offense. He looks very sharp running away from Austin Collinsworth on a flag, making a nice catch and nearly taking out the cameraman.
  • 6:55 — Danny Smith makes a nice catch on Jalen Brown, using his hands like a savvy veteran. “Hallelujah! Everett! He’s always open, awesome job!” Martin exclaims.
  • 7:05 — Cierre Wood looks pretty dynamic. So has Theo Riddick. This could be a very fun two-headed monster, especially if they don’t have to run on that slop Stanford called grass.
  • 7:25 — Chuck Martin, Academic All-American at Millikin University out-duels pre-med Andrew Hendrix in a game of mental jousting.
  • 7:33 — Martin gets on Gunner Kiel for missing an open Riddick down the seam. “High and outside and we’ve got a 30-yard completion. Pretty ball, incomplete… We’re going to lead the nation in pretty balls incomplete.”
  • 7:50 — “You’re convincing me you can’t do it. I believe you can,” Martin says to Tommy Rees.
  • 8:15 — Rees hits Tyler Eifert on a nice red-zone route. “That’s all you’ve got to do,” Martin says. “It doesn’t matter. He’s always open, if you throw it high and away from the defense. They can’t defend that guy unless we defend him.”
  • 8:30 — This time Hendrix throws a TD to Eifert over cornerback Cam McDaniel‘s best efforts. “I don’t know why you’d want to do anything else,” Martin says.

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Swarbrick talks improvements to Shamrock Series opponents

Shamrock Fenway
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Notre Dame is taking 2017 off from the Shamrock Series. When it comes back, expect to see an improvement in opponents.

With the remodeled Notre Dame Stadium set to be finished in 2017, playing seven home games is a natural fit. But with the neutral-site series set to return in 2018, athletic director Jack Swarbrick has grand plans for improving the series that’s taken the Irish to some iconic venues, but has lacked much punch when it comes to high-profile opponents.

Speaking exclusively with Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated, Swarbrick laid out some grand plans for the revitalization of the game.

“When the opponent and the venue and the place all contribute to the story, that’s when it works the best,” Swarbrick told Irish Illustrated. “I still want to maintain that. The difference will be that many more of them now will be led by the opponent.

“Now it can be, ‘I got this opponent.’ Now where can we go with them that works with what we’re trying to do?”

With Notre Dame returning to San Antonio for the second time in the Shamrock Series and repeating an opponent with Army as well, it’s clear that this year’s game checked off some other boxes when it got decided. Swarbrick acknowledged some of the restrictions that have held him back, with the reboot of Notre Dame’s schedule with five ACC games and other television considerations really limiting the team’s options.

“What we’ve been able to do in the Shamrock Series to this point is limit ourselves to games we already had scheduled that we would move,” Swarbrick told Sampson. “It was a very small range of people that we could do these deals without getting into television conflicts. With more lead time we have the runway we need to make these games, the three pieces of it – geography, venue and opponent – come together a little bit more.”

Rumors of new venues aren’t new. Brian Kelly has discussed Lambeau Field before. There’s been talk of a game in Rome. And rumblings of Michigan’s return to the schedule won’t go away.

Just recently Kelly tweeted out a picture from another venue that wouldn’t be too shabby.

But there’s an opening for another step forward for the program and Swarbrick is the right man to lead the change. He’s already led the Irish athletic department through a move to the ACC and helped navigate the “seismic changes” that resulted in the College Football Playoff. With the ambitious Campus Crossroads project near complete this seems like a perfect next project for the head of Irish athletics to take on.

 

Irish A-to-Z: Ian Book

Ian Book
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Notre Dame’s incoming freshman steps into one of the most harrowing depth charts in college football. But he also comes to South Bend prepared, a freshman season where anything is possible.

Book may be No. 4 in a four-deep that includes three of the most intriguing quarterbacks in college football. But he’s also a play away from being the team’s backup. That’s the plan heading into freshman year, with Brandon Wimbush hoping to keep a redshirt on this season after being forced into action in 2015.

A highly productive high school quarterback, Book didn’t wow any of the recruiting evaluators. But Mike Sanford took dead aim at Book and landed a quarterback he thinks can step in and be ready if needed.

 

IAN BOOK
6’0″, 190 lbs.
Freshman, No. 4, QB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Three-star prospect who had offers from Boise State and Washington State before Notre Dame jumped in and landed him. His previous relationship with Mike Sanford from his time in Boise made the difference.

Undersized but cerebral player who was highly prolific in high school. Named conference MVP in senior season at Oak Ridge high school and was the No. 14 overall pro-style QB according to Rivals.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

If Book is going to be a big-time college quarterback, it’ll be because he’s got a knack for the game that you don’t see from his physical skill-set. He’s undersized and a little bit slight. He’s got good wheels, but doesn’t play like a speed demon.

You don’t need an elite set of tools to be successful in Brian Kelly’s system. And while a comparison to Tommy Rees will come off as a slight, it’s a compliment—especially after hearing the staff speak confidently about Book’s ability to come in and know the system well enough to be ready to play as a freshman, if necessary.

(Book is also faster than Rees, so relax everybody.)

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Unless the sky is falling, Book is wearing a redshirt. And that’s the best thing for him—even if he’ll prepare as the emergency No. 3, a duty Wimbush was pushed into last year.

A look at Notre Dame’s depth chart and the war chest of talent accumulated at the position makes these next five years look like an uphill climb to get onto the field. But until Book steps foot on campus, all bets are off.

Remember, Tommy Rees entered Notre Dame with two other quarterbacks at his position, both rated better than him by recruiting analysts. But it was Rees that pushed past the five-star recruit already on campus for two seasons and his two classmates.

Of course, DeShone Kizer, Malik Zaire and Brandon Wimbush aren’t Dayne Crist, Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa. But until we see Book at the college level, it’s a wait and see proposition.

But the freshman has a key role on the 2016 team. Even if everybody hopes he won’t have to do it.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner

Irish A-to-Z: Jonathan Bonner

Jon Bonner Rivals
Rivals via Twitter
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After two seasons of limited duty, there’s a road to the field for Jonathan Bonner. The rising junior, who spent last year mostly watching and learning as Brian VanGorder and Keith Gilmore played a skeleton rotation, has a chance to break into a position group that’s searching for answers that Bonner seems well-suited to provide.

But Bonner also plays behind the team’s best defensive lineman, with senior Isaac Rochell poised to anchor the front seven. So as the rising junior moves into his third season in South Bend, he’ll need to show a versatile set of skills to get onto the field.

 

JONATHAN BONNER
6’3″, 286 lbs.
Junior, No. 55, DL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Bonner may not have been a highly-touted recruit, but he was just starting to rack up impressive offers when he pledged to Notre Dame. Bonner earned a scholarship offer at every summer camp he attended, and his commitment to the Irish came after he dominated some of the best offensive line prospects in the country at Notre Dame’s summer camp.

An All-State performer and the defensive player of the year in St. Louis. Also a more than impressive student-athlete, with a note he wrote to himself as a grade schooler a pretty incredible piece of maturity.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2015): Played in 10 games, making 10 tackles and notching one sack. Played a season-high 39 snaps along the defensive line in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. Saw double-digit snaps against Texas, UMass, Wake Forest and Boston College.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

This seems pretty solid.

I’m buying Bonner’s future, though I’m a little less sure that he’ll break loose in 2015. With Isaac Rochell capable of being a frontline player, Bonner getting on the field might mean Rochell’s off of it, which I just don’t see happening too often.

But if there’s a beauty to Brian VanGorder’s defense—at least when it’s playing like it did the first half of the season—it’s the ability to mix and match. And if there’s no way to find Bonner a role in this defense, especially as the Irish try to find someone to come off the edge, then it’s more on the young prospect’s knowledge base than anything a coaching staff can do.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

This might not be a make or break season for Bonner, especially since he’s got a fifth year available. But I think it could be. With the opportunity to provide a disruption from the interior of the defensive line, Bonner needs to find a home in a position group that could use a versatile defender who can both hold up at the point of attack and get to the quarterback.

Bonner started at outside linebacker, but quickly moved to the front four. Last year’s progress was slowed by a turf toe injury in April, short-circuiting a sold spring. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity to contribute in 2015, but there was certainly a need for someone to provide a pass rush and Bonner wasn’t given that chance—something that speaks to where he was as a developmental prospect last year.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I think Bonner will find a niche on the inside or third downs, considering neither Jerry Tillery nor Jarron Jones look like pass rush threats. That could kick open a spot for Bonner on the inside, or it could allow him to play at the strong side if Rochell slides inside.

Of course, that’s mostly determined by Bonner, who has flashed talent and athleticism, but hasn’t translated that to the field yet. Some think Bonner is one of the most intriguing athletes on the roster, and he’s certainly one of the team’s better workout warriors. But that needs to transition to the football field with some productivity, a key development piece for Keith Gilmore and a uncertain front four.

Bonner spoke with confidence this spring that his knowledge base was now matching his skill-set. If he’s able to put everything together, he could be a very nice complementary piece to the front four.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship

Jarrett Grace signs FA contract with Chicago Bears

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 5: Jarrett Grace #59 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in action during a game against the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium on September 5, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Texas 38-3. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Former Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace has signed with the Chicago Bears. The former Rockne Award winner will continue his improbable return from a devastating leg injury during OTAs and training camp, fighting for a roster spot on the NFC North squad.

Grace worked out for the Bears at a tryout camp and Chicago made the roster move official Wednesday, signing Grace and releasing linebacker Danny Mason.

After redshirting as a freshman and sitting behind Manti Te’o, Grace moved into the starting lineup as a junior and led the Irish in tackles before suffering a severe leg injury against Arizona State. It took nearly two years for Grace to return to duty, needing to re-learn how to run as he underwent multiple procedures to repair the rod that held Grace’s bone in place.

He played in 32 games for the Irish, finishing with 78 total tackles.