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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Restocking the roster: Offensive Line

Notre Dame offensive line
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When Notre Dame takes the field this spring, there’ll be two very large holes in the offensive line that need filling. All-American left tackle Ronnie Stanley is gone. As is captain Nick Martin at center. Both three-year starters leave Harry Hiestand with some big decisions to make in the coming months as the Irish look to fill those key positions and still field a unit with the ability to dominate in the trenches.

The Irish have had incredible stability at left tackle, with Stanley sliding in seamlessly after four seasons of Zack Martin. Perhaps the best six-year run in the program’s storied history at the position, Stanley will likely join Martin as a first-rounder, back-to-back starters at a key spot that often dictates the play of one of the most important units on the field.

Replacing Nick Martin could prove equally tricky. Rising junior Sam Mustipher served as Martin’s backup in 2015, filing in capably for Martin after an ankle sprain took him off the field briefly against UMass. But Mustipher will face a challenge this spring from rising sophomore Tristen Hoge, the first true center recruited by Hiestand and Brian Kelly since they arrived in South Bend.

Kelly talked about 2017 being a big cycle on the recruiting trail for restocking the offensive line. You can see why when you look at the depth, particularly at tackle. Let’s look at the work that’s been done the previous two classes as Notre Dame continues to be one of the premier programs recruiting in the trenches.

 

DEPARTURES
Ronnie Stanley
, Sr. (39 starts)
Nick Martin, Grad Student (37 starts)
Mark Harrell, Sr* (No Starts, fifth-year available)

*Harrell’s departure is not confirmed, though expected.  

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Tristen Hoge
, C
Trevor Ruhland
, G
Jerry Tillery
, T
Parker Boudreaux
, G
Tommy Kraemer
, T
Liam Eichenberg
, T

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Hunter Bivin, T
Quenton Nelson, LG
Sam Mustipher, C
Steve Elmer, RG
Mike McGlinchey, RT

Alex Bars, T
Colin McGovern,* G/T
Tristen Hoge*, C
John Montelus*, G
Jimmy Byrne*, G
Trevor Ruhland*, G

*Has an additional year of eligibility remaining. 

ANALYSIS:
It’ll be a fascinating spring up front for the offensive line. We’ll get our first look at potential replacements and see if the Irish staff values a veteran presence (as it has done in the past) or puts former blue-chip recruits in position to become multi-year starters.

For now, I’m putting last season’s backups in line to ascend to starting spots. That’s not to say I think that’s what’ll happen. Hunter Bivin may have been Stanley’s backup last season, but as long as Alex Bars is fully recovered from his broken ankle, I think he’s the best bet to step into that job. Sharing reps at guard—not a natural spot for Bars to begin with—was more about getting him some experience, with the aim to move him into the lineup in 2016. That allows Bivin to be a key swing reserve, capable of playing on either the right or left side.

At center, the decision is less clear cut—especially since we’ve yet to see Tristen Hoge play a snap of football. Size and strength is a genuine concern at the point of attack for Hoge, not necessarily the biggest guy hitting campus. But it sounds like he’s had a nice first season from a developmental standpoint, and if he’s a true technician at the position, he could be a rare four-year starter at center if he’s able to pull ahead of Mustipher this spring.

On paper, the other three starting jobs don’t seem to be in question. Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey are ready to step to the forefront. Concerns about Steve Elmer’s buy-in will certainly be answered by spring, there’s little chance he’ll be on the field in March if he’s not going to be around in August. I’m of the mind that Elmer’s too good of a character guy to leave the program, even if his life doesn’t revolve around football 24/7. Now it’s time for him to clean up some of the flaws in his game, the only starter from last season who held back the Irish from being a truly elite group.

Depth isn’t necessarily a concern, but there isn’t a ton of it at tackle. That happens when you move a guy like Jerry Tillery to defensive line and lose a player like Stanley with a year of eligibility remaining. That could force the Irish to cross-train someone like Colin McGovern, a veteran who can swing inside or out if needed. McGovern seems to be a guy who would start in a lot of other programs, but has struggled to crack a two-deep that’s now filled with former blue-chip recruits, all of them essentially handpicked by Hiestand and Kelly.

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

Notre Dame v Florida State
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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)

 

2015-16 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

BVG
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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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