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Pregame Six Pack: Blue & Gold (and a certain Irish victory)

Apr 20, 2012, 6:11 AM EST

Blue-Gold-27

It may count the same as the other fourteen practices allotted by NCAA rules during the spring, but there will be plenty of eyeballs on the last official workout of the school year for the Irish. With a national broadcast on NBC Sports Network kicking off at 1:30 p.m. ET, a spring spent mostly working away from the eyes of media will be opened up for all to see in high definition, tightening the microscope on a Notre Dame football program that’s had a roller-coaster spring.

From position changes to unexpected departures, a quarterback battle that’ll likely last deep into August, and a wide receiving corps in desperate need of reinforcements, plenty has happened since the Irish ended the 2011 season with a disappointing loss to Florida State.

To get you up to speed, the pregame six pack will give you six fun facts, tidbits, leftovers and miscellaneous musings, as we prepare for a football game where the Irish are certain to win.

***

While the focus should stay on the players on the field, the most intriguing football player on campus is still Aaron Lynch.

Brian Kelly isn’t in the business of talking people into staying. In his first days as coach at Notre Dame, he wished wide receiver Shaq Evans well, unwilling to re-recruit a talented player to a team where he wasn’t committed to playing. While mystery still surrounds cornerback Tee Shepard‘s departure, Kelly didn’t blink when Shepard went home to Fresno, looking more and more a lock to never set foot on campus again after being one of the Irish’s most steadfast (and important) recruits.

A week ago, Kelly addressed the media without flinching, announcing that rising star defensive end Aaron Lynch “has quit the football team.” While he remains on campus finishing the semester before deciding where to take his prodigious talents, it appears that Kelly is fine with living the credo “next man in.” But that doesn’t mean his family is.

Thursday evening, Alice Lynch, Aaron’s mother and an active presence on Twitter, took to the popular social networking website to seek the help of former Irish defensive end Justin Tuck. “Please go to Zahm Hall and tell my son Aaron what a bad decision he is making by leaving ND. Thank you.”

The message spread like wildfire across the web, and certainly confirmed the suspicions of many that the younger Lynch is making a unilateral decision, one that wasn’t run by his mother, teammates, or coaches. That Lynch’s mother would reach out of Notre Dame’s best NFL player, a defensive end that battled culture shock in South Bend to become one of the best ambassadors of the university playing professional football, shows both the power of social media, and the lengths Lynch’s mother is willing to go to talk sense into her son.

Former Irish player Spencer Boyd took to Twitter today to announce Lynch would be joining Skip Holtz‘s South Florida team this summer, and there were other reports that Lynch would be visiting Tampa for a visit this weekend. But the fact Lynch’s mother would reach out to Tuck, who is serving as an honorary captain this Saturday, gives you the feeling that the final chapter in Lynch’s Notre Dame career may not have been written in ink.

***

With the depth chart at wide receiver dwindling, it’s time for Daniel Smith and Davaris Daniels to step up.

As the Irish enter the first year of life after Michael Floyd, they’ll walk into Saturday’s scrimmage with a depth chart more than a little short. With incoming freshman Justin Ferguson and Chris Brown not coming to campus until summer, even at full strength, it was tough to field a complete depth chart at the outside receiver positions.

Add to that some untimely injuries this spring, and the lack of receivers was a big reason Kelly decided against a traditional scrimmage that split the roster in half. With fifth-year senior John Goodman suffering a minor ankle injury that’ll likely keep him out of the spring game and Luke Massa suffering an ACL injury that’ll likely keep him sidelined into next season, the Irish are down to four scholarship players at the outside receiver positions — a number that just isn’t enough in a spread offense.

But the shortage should benefit two players that were persons of interest this spring: rising junior Daniel Smith and soon-to-be sophomore Davaris Daniels. Both have been under close watch by Kelly, and both seem to have performed up to task.

After bearing the brunt of some candid comments by Kelly, Daniels — who has already been pronounced one of the most dynamic athletes on the roster by the head coach — turned in a steady week of practice and has the staff feeling like he’ll be ready to go come fall.

“This last week, DaVaris Daniels really stepped up his play and became a guy that we can feel comfortable now saying that he’s going to help us win games next year,” Kelly said. “That’s a really important thing.”

After battling a difficult depth chart and some injury woes in his first two years in the program, Smith, a South Bend native that’s yet to make much of a difference on the field, made it through spring practice unscathed and ready to use his 6-foot-4 frame for some good.

“Daniel is important to us,” Kelly said this week. “We need him to come up and be a consistent player for us, and it’s been about injuries for him. He’s got the injury bug and it looks like he’s kicked it because he made every spring practice and he hadn’t been able to do that in his previous time here. So a really positive step for Daniel Smith this spring.”

TJ Jones returns the most snaps at the receiver position, and we’ll see if he can make a leap as an upperclassman after battling through a challenging season off the field last season. We’ll also see walk-on Andre Smith getting some reps, as the North Broward Prep, Florida prospect has done some nice things this spring.

***

While Kelly’s declared the playbook open, don’t expect to see all the new wrinkles.

Talking with coaches the past two years, the Blue-Gold game was one of the least efficient practices of the season. In Brian Kelly’s first year, the offense ran about as vanilla as it could possibly go, with Irish fans dazzled at a quick pace, and more than fine with seeing the same three running plays. On defense, Bob Diaco made sure his unit didn’t run a single alignment that they’d use during the season.

Last season, Kelly and company were happy to get out of the workout unscathed, with defensive starters pulled quickly, Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees both protected and pulled quickly, and the second half given to Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson, not to mention the breakout performance of Aaron Lynch.

With four quarterbacks that need to see live bullets, and new offensive coordinator Chuck Martin running the show, Kelly has reversed course on what he’s trying to get out of the spring’s final workout.

“We’re going to show,” Kelly said. “Everybody has film on us. So we’re going to run our offense and our defense, and our quarterbacks are live, all four quarterbacks are live. They need to be live, they need to be part of it.”

Making his quarterbacks live is a luxury the Irish didn’t have in Kelly’s last two spring games, both featuring Crist rehabilitating a major knee injury. And while each quarterback will be treated like any other ball carrier, don’t truly expect to see all the new wrinkles come out, especially with Martin and Kelly completely revamping the personnel groupings.

One new play in particular to watch for? The “Fly Sweep” that West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen used to shred Clemson’s defense with in the Orange Bowl. (For the genesis of the play, here’s a great rundown.) We’ve already seen the play in UND.com practice videos, meaning Martin and Kelly won’t be afraid to show it again. With talented slot versatility with guys like Robby Toma, Theo Riddick, incoming freshman Davonte Neal and even Cierre Wood, don’t be surprised to see this come into play on Saturday.

***

Jamoris Slaughter will only be adding to his versatility.

After dropping down into the box last season to play outside linebacker against Air Force, the defense found one of its most versatile weapons in safety Jamoris Slaughter. After losing most of his junior year with a nagging foot injury suffered in the opener against Purdue, Slaughter showed his value by moving seamlessly from the back of the defense to the front seven, working well taking on both pulling guards and speedy receivers, filling in for field linebacker Prince Shembo, who struggled playing out of position for most of the year.

With field cornerback a major concern with Lo Wood and Josh Atkinson battling it out for the job across from junior Bennett Jackson, don’t be surprised to see Slaughter working in at another spot, optimizing one of the Irish’s most flexible players. What looked like an experiment at cornerback earlier in the spring is now clearly cross-training.

“I don’t think it’s an experiment,” Kelly said. “He’s in there if we need him. If we get into a bind or we lose a guy or two, he can go in there. I remember when I played baseball, I carried two gloves: a catcher’s mitt and a first baseman’s glove. That’s kind of what we’re doing with Jamoris. He’s our safety, but he’s got to be ready to go if we need him.”

There’s no cornerback help coming in the fall, with Shepard gone and the Irish unable to bring in any other recruits after players like Yuri Wright and Anthony Standifer had to be taken off the recruiting board. While Cam McDaniel has shown promise in his 14 practices learning a new position, getting the cornerbacks off the field healthy is of the utmost importance, as is making sure Slaughter can play anywhere. With the coaches confident that Zeke Motta and Austin Collinsworth can handle safety reps, adding another dimension to Slaughter’s game will only help.

***

It’s a recruiting reunion on campus this weekend for the Irish.

In years past, the Blue-Gold game has been a showcase weekend for the Irish coaching staff as they unofficially welcome handfuls of recruits to campus. That’ll stay the same this weekend, though most recruits coming to campus have already given their pledge to the Irish.

Nine of the ten verbal commitments to the Irish will be in South Bend this weekend for the Blue-Gold game. Offensive linemen Hunter Bivin, Steve Elmer, Mike McGlinchey and Colin McGovern will all reunite after seeing each other at the Irish’s last junior day. They’ll be joined by cornerback Devin Butler, defensive end Jacob Matuska, wide receivers James Onwualu and Corey Robinson and quarterback Malik Zaire. The only commitment that can’t make it this weekend is New Jersey cornerback Rashad Kinlaw.

The Irish hoped to get an appearance from uber-recruit Jaylon Smith, but the Fort Wayne product — who was timed running a 4.4, and dazzled at his regular outside linebacker/defensive end position before taking reps as a 6-foot-3, 230-pound shutdown cornerback at an Adidas combine recently — will be playing in a seven-on-seven tournament.

But fear not, Irish fans. Notre Dame has its own secret weapon working on Smith. None other than the school’s most popular athlete, All-American point guard Skylar Diggins. After Smith tweeted out candidates like Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and USC, Diggins — for all of her 230,439 followers to see — tweeted back at Smith, “Irish. Easy.”

***

Blue-Gold performance is no indicator for future earnings.

There are plenty of reasons to watch the Blue-Gold game on Saturday. (First of all, it’s your last chance to watch the Irish on TV until you’re up at dawn to see them playing Navy in Dublin.) But take anything that happens on the field with a grain of salt. A great performance in the Blue-Gold game is just that: A great performance in a spring scrimmage. For every performance like Aaron Lynch had last season, there’s one by Kyle Budinscak, who racked up five sacks during the 2001 spring game. (He never had more than three sacks in a season.) Cierre Wood’s big 2010 Blue-Gold game was a sign of things to come, while Junior Jabbie‘s breakout 2007 performance is noting more than a fun footnote in Irish lore.

With live quarterbacks, ones-versus-ones, and legitimate competition at several key positions, there’s plenty you can glean from the only up-close look at the Irish we’ll get until Dublin. But a terrific (or terrible) performance by anyone — quarterbacks included — may be big news to us, but only one of many data-points to coaches.

Saturday will be a fun one and will likely give a few hints at what’s to come. But if you’re expecting to reach any conclusions, you’ll walk away disappointed.

 

 

 

 

  1. bernhtp - Apr 20, 2012 at 6:57 AM

    Keith: great article.

    I see near zero likelihood of Lynch rejoining the team. If I were Kelly and Lynch came to me saying that he reconsidered, I would make it clear that he would need to really join the team – no petulance, drama, prima donna acting, and no special accommodations – and that this would be a final decision, i.e., there would be no future release for transfer anywhere else. I really don’t think this will happen. Aaron is probably better off at USF or wherever. I wish him well.

    • nudeman - Apr 20, 2012 at 1:08 PM

      I disagree, though I’m definitely in the minority.

      Highly likely he goes to USF, sees an inferior program (in every regard) and has a “WTF?” moment. Also, he’s been getting worked on by a lot of people, including Davaris Daniels’ dad and possibly Justin Tuck.

      I’m not saying he will definitely be back; but I am saying that it’s more likely than you make it out to be. Maybe 40-50%. Maybe even 51%.

      • nudeman - Apr 20, 2012 at 3:53 PM

        More on Lynch/Justin Tuck from the SB Trib
        This is far from over

        http://www.southbendtribune.com/sports/sbt-notre-dame-football-tuck-talks-lynch-20120420,0,3538758.story

      • bernhtp - Apr 20, 2012 at 4:28 PM

        Nude: assuming he does wish to rejoin, do you disagree with what I said the response needs to be, especially really joining the team and ensuring he understands that Notre Dame would be the last college he ever played for because there would never be another transfer release?

      • nudeman - Apr 20, 2012 at 4:33 PM

        Absolutely agree.

        It’s not as simple as him saying he wants to come back and them taking him. He needs to apologize to the team, it needs to be sincere and heartfelt, and he needs to start out at #2 on the depth chart behind Kapron.

        And on other sites, there has been a lot of mention about special treatment he’s received. I don’t know what that means, but he needs to understand there is no more of that.

        This is a teaching opportunity for a young man who seems to need it badly.

        Let me ask you a question: Based on the SBT article and anything else you’ve read/heard, do you still think the possibility is near zero?

      • bernhtp - Apr 20, 2012 at 4:58 PM

        Let’s put it this way: I wrote my post after I saw an article early this morning mentioning the tweet by Ms. Lynch and the possibility of Justin Tuck speaking with Aaron.

        Again, I see the likelihood of Lynch rejoining the team to be minuscule. Maybe we should pray that Aaron mounts a horse for Damascus during a thunderstorm.

      • nudeman - Apr 20, 2012 at 5:14 PM

        bern
        Wow, you are one tough sell.
        I actually feel like it WILL happen, though not quite ready to bet the ranch.

        If he does head to Damascus in a thunderstorm, once struck what should he change his name to? “Saul” would be an ironic choice, I think you’d agree. How about “Hubert”? “Leo”?

      • akirish - Apr 20, 2012 at 6:05 PM

        I agree with nude on this. Lynch is 19 and seemingly made this decision with little or no support from his family. Although I’m inclined to say good riddance to his drama and penchant for personal fouls, I believe there is an even chance he once again changes his mind and stays at ND. It is easily the best decision he could make, and although he seems emotional and prone to snap decisions, i don’t get the sense he is stupid. If it does happen, I’ll be curious to see how BK and the team handles the situation.

      • dmac4real - Apr 20, 2012 at 6:48 PM

        I dont think the situation is that tricky. With the VERY low chance he comes back, we welcome him with open arms. The kid is a beast, and he has not represented Notre Dame in a poor way at any time. I would love to have him back.

      • dickasman - Apr 21, 2012 at 1:29 PM

        Guys, I’ve decided to open up a forever 21 store near nd campus in honor of Aaron lynch. We r gona sell da crap outta bedazzled nd Irish logo boy shorts. Don’t blame me when teenage pregnancy rates go up by1000 %. I’m doing my part to help out nd football anyway I can. Since I already have 2 jobs, I’ll need a partner! Who’s with me?

      • dickasman - Apr 21, 2012 at 1:31 PM

        I’m really upset that alyce didn’t tweet me. All she had to do was ask for crying out loud. I’m all about forever 21 n wet seal n Charlotte russe.

      • irishbornraised - Apr 22, 2012 at 12:13 AM

        I think the best route for BK should Lynch want back in would be to tell him that he would have to not only redshirt this year, but actually stay for a 5th year, obviously there’s no way to be sure, not to mention this is all hypothetical, SB is not going to change for him, and neither are the academic requirements.

  2. cpfirish - Apr 20, 2012 at 9:36 AM

    Lets all get over lynch! He is gone!!

    • dickasman - Apr 21, 2012 at 1:33 PM

      No lets not. Can “good” win over evil this just one time?

  3. irishdodger - Apr 20, 2012 at 10:05 AM

    I wish him the best & for his sake, ope he makes the NFL. I wish these kids realized how slim their chances are of really making the League. Even for a phenom like Lynch, all it takes is one major injury & he’s left w/ a surgical scar & hopefully a degree.

  4. 1historian - Apr 20, 2012 at 10:06 AM

    First of all we should all acknowledge the fact that if Lynch weren’t one of the most coveted defensive recruits to Notre Dame in recent memory and a freshman all-American, this would be a non-story.

    If he changes his mind (again) and goes to Coach Kelly, Coach should make him go in front of the whole team and plead his case – to his teammates, because this involves them too.

    He must be one confused KID, and I wish him nothing but the best, no matter where he goes – or stays.

    • dickasman - Apr 20, 2012 at 12:40 PM

      Why would anybody make anyone get up in front of the whole team? Are you kidding? Bobby D and BK should stand up along next to him and french kiss him and dryhump him. While I am super pssed and disappointed that he decided to leave but having a few days to digest it, I understand it better. He’s 18 and Its freaking South Bend man. My freaking hillbilly great great grandmother wouldn’t want to live there. Having said that, if you suffer through those 4 years, the payoff begins immediately for the rest of your life. But no, I’d be like dude, go get your jock strap and pads on son, and treat it like as if he never left and move on.

      • nudeman - Apr 21, 2012 at 11:40 AM

        They would make him go before the team because the TEAM is what this is all about. A guy can’t walk out because he’s having a bad hair day, take a couple weeks off, then just return, no questions asked.

        How would you feel if you were KLM?

        BTW: If he wants to come back, and if he signs up for what they want him to do, there is ZERO chance the team says “no thanks”.

      • dickasman - Apr 21, 2012 at 1:22 PM

        Nude you and I should start dating. Your last sentence, my entire paragraph.

  5. domer77blowsgoats - Apr 20, 2012 at 11:26 AM

    ah love to see the pre-game six pack back!! but such a tease…

    I hope to see all 4 QBs go live against the 1s – don’t really care too much to see EG go against anything but our best – I believe he’s our best chance if his game is there – he just looks the part, especially in that picture above

    even moreso I don’t want to see this message board full of TR hate after he gets named starter

    Go Irish!

    • domer77blowsgoats - Apr 20, 2012 at 12:39 PM

      p.s. loved the Kyle Budinscak reference!!

      he almost killed me one night during a heated poker match as “there is no possible way a flush beats a straight!” he stood up, I sat down, he took the pot…

    • dickasman - Apr 20, 2012 at 2:52 PM

      I’ll be the first in line for Tommy Rees french kissing club the minute he starts playing like a starting QB at a major program, believe me. I don’t care who starts but they need to play well enough. Nobody hates anybody other than the posters on here hating me. You guys are all the haters. Hypocratic much?

      • ndgoldandblue - Apr 20, 2012 at 4:15 PM

        What do you mean by hypocratic? Do you mean hypocritical or Hippocratic, as in a Hippocratic Oath?

      • dickasman - Apr 21, 2012 at 1:18 PM

        I mean hydroponic, the same stuff ragone was messin with

    • nudeman - Apr 21, 2012 at 11:42 AM

      I will make you this deal, Goat: I won’t blast Rees when he’s named the starter IF you don’t pronounce him as a great QB and start citing his W-L record after Navy and Purdue.

      Deal?

  6. jerseyshorendfan1 - Apr 20, 2012 at 12:45 PM

    Keith, sorry I may have missed this but will you be live-blogging the Blue Gold game tomorrow? The only thing that makes game day any better is having the insight of you and other fans as the game plays out. Yes, even Stacy.

    • Keith Arnold - Apr 20, 2012 at 2:19 PM

      Live Blogging indeed. Have a few other tricks up my sleeve as well. Looking forward to chatting with you all… We might need to do a weekly live-chat just for fun.

      • andy44teg - Apr 20, 2012 at 3:15 PM

        Keith,
        Love the weekly live chat idea. It’d be nice to have one that’s run by an actual ND fan instead of someone just getting paid to cover ND ( ie Matt For Tuna)

      • nudeman - Apr 20, 2012 at 3:40 PM

        Any way we can make it Skype video?
        Would love to see what some of the clowns here look like.

        Go Irish
        Go TR

      • brendanunderscoreg - Apr 20, 2012 at 10:56 PM

        Will there be a live video feed on the website in addition to the blog? Just moved and haven’t switched DirecTV over, yet.

      • brendanunderscoreg - Apr 21, 2012 at 12:11 PM

        So I should take the silence as a “no”, correct?

  7. don74 - Apr 20, 2012 at 4:09 PM

    I find the discussion regarding the potential of Lynch’s return ironic. Many say he shouldn’t be welcomed back, others say only if he prostrates himself before the team and one, the guy with 12 thumbs down, writes strap in the jock and play. What I find ironic is we are joined in rooting for Our Lady’s University and we have forgotten the Prodigal Son. It’s interesting that we spend much time talking about how different the ND experience is but when faced with an emotion charged decision we forget what joins us. I for one am a wayward Catholic and certainly don’t mean to preach to any one. But seriously, let’s try and live what we say.

    • bernhtp - Apr 20, 2012 at 5:02 PM

      I/we believe in forgiveness and redemption, but also contrition and penance.

      It’s too late for a mere “never mind.”

      • don74 - Apr 20, 2012 at 7:22 PM

        He didn’t sin. He broke no law. He did not run afoul of the university’s code of conduct. He left the fold. What is there to repent or be contrite about? If he comes back with his heart in it, he’s back.

      • bernhtp - Apr 21, 2012 at 12:13 PM

        Don, do you disagree with the notion that if he is taken back, it needs to be permanent? Maybe Kelly needs to bring Regis Philbin in and solemnly ask “is that your final answer?” I believe that it would be appropriate in this circumstance to make it clear that these would be no further releases for transfer.

        With that said, I believe the entire conversation is moot because the probability that Lynch sincerely asks to return might need to be expressed in floating point scientific notation.

    • nudeman - Apr 21, 2012 at 11:45 AM

      Don
      He broke no laws, correct.
      He’s only guilty of immaturity, like 96% of us were at 19.

      But you can’t walk out on teammates who are counting on you and just come back when you want.

      The TEAM is more important than any one guy. He has to acknowledge that with some respectful comments to them of that nature

  8. sgtpuddin - Apr 20, 2012 at 7:16 PM

    Kapron Lewis Moore is going to play great for the Irish this fall. No worries about no. 19

  9. mtflsmitty - Apr 21, 2012 at 12:57 AM

    Predictions for the game…
    – #1 OL outplays the defensive front seven.
    – D. Daniels breaks out for a big day. Two 25 plus plays
    – RB Atkinson top rusher
    – TR gets a B-; AH A-; EG B; GK C-
    – Golden Tate catches zero passes for zero yards, coming up just shy of his 2011 NFL per game averages; while MF is a top 10 pick reminding all current players to stay in school.

    Go IRISH. Hope everyone enjoys the show.

  10. dickasman - Apr 21, 2012 at 1:16 PM

    Can you watch the game on Internet?

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