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Robert Blanton and Darius Fleming selected in fifth round of NFL Draft

Apr 28, 2012, 6:04 PM EDT

Robert Blanton

Two more former Irish players had their names called in the NFL Draft today, with Robert Blanton and Darius Fleming getting selected in the fifth round of the draft. That makes four players selected from the 2011 squad, joining first-round picks Michael Floyd (#13) and Harrison Smith (#29).

Blanton went with the 139th overall pick to the Minnesota Vikings, joining Smith in the Twin Cities as the Vikings revamp their secondary. Fleming was the 165th pick in the draft, joining Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco squad and a 49ers defense that was already a dominant unit. He’ll join former teammate Ian Williams in the Bay Area.

Blanton’s selection by Minnesota continues a wave of Notre Dame players on the Vikings roster, joining John Sullivan, Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson and Smith. After playing cornerback for the Irish, Blanton’s projected as a safety at the next level, but will likely be given a chance to play corner in the Vikings Cover 2 defense under head coach Leslie Frazier.

Fleming opened some eyes with an impressive Pro Day showing. He’s the first Irish linebacker selected in the draft since Courtney Watson went in the second round of the 2004 draft. Playing with both his hand on the ground as a defensive end and as a ‘Cat’ linebacker in Brian Kelly’s 3-4 system, Fleming has also cross-trained as a inside linebacker in his draft prep, where the 6-foot-2, 245-pound Chicago native profiles. He’ll also have the chance to be an immediate contributor on special teams.

Jonas Gray, who suffered a major knee injury late in the season, still expects to hear his name called in the draft’s seventh round.

  1. kiopta1 - Apr 28, 2012 at 7:04 PM

    Go ND. GL in the NFL and represent ND well.

  2. jerseyshorendfan1 - Apr 28, 2012 at 9:24 PM

    Congrats to both Blanton and Fleming. Also congrats go out to Jonas Gray who signed with Miami and Taylor Dever who signed with the Cowboys as free agents.

  3. fnc111 - Apr 28, 2012 at 10:26 PM

    If Jonas didn’t get hurt late in the year he would’ve been a second or third round pick. At least he is getting a chance and can make some good money on the practice squad potentially. Expect him to be a star when fully ready to go in 2013. Five really good ND prospects picked up this weekend by NFL teams. How did Kelly lose five games again with all the talent he had? Oh yea he thinks TR is good. The down fall of ND football is by two people. TR and BK. on a side note Ron Zook looks even worse with 4 of his players going in the top 50 picks and he led the Illini to a 6-6 season. No wonder he got canned.

    • ndoneill - Apr 28, 2012 at 11:26 PM

      Nice comment for the first three sentences. Not so much for the last. How melodramatic “the downfall of ND football.” How about BK being great at player development getting these guys to this point? How many CW blue chip HS recruits ended up as busts? If BK is doing just fine. TR won’t be the starter next season if EG or AH can step up and claim the spot. Designing more run plays for the QB and simplifying the offense to evaluate everyone on an equal footing are pretty obvious indications that BK WANTS one of these more athletic guys to step up and take it. He’s paving the way for it. They just have to prove they can handle it.

      • bernhtp - Apr 29, 2012 at 10:13 AM

        This is exactly right.

        TR will only start this year if the other fail to step up and take the job. Kelly clearly wants them to. He has a bias in this direction. If Golson or Hendrix even get very close to be able to execute as well as Rees, they will be put on the field because he sees the upside and wants them to develop. Rees only plays if he is clearly and materially better. I am mystified by those that criticize Kelly for this.

        Dan Murphy and Lou Somogyi in the B&G podcast had some interesting analysis of the QB play in the spring game. They concluded that Tommy played far better before the ball was snapped – understanding the offense/play, properly reading the defense, and making the appropriate checks. Golson executed better after the ball was snapped, showing his athletic ability and big arm. They also thought that Hendrix might be the Goldilocks “just right” combination of the two.

      • nudeman - Apr 30, 2012 at 2:55 PM

        I guess I am not permitted to comment on the TR/QB topic.
        But I will say that bern, I think you’ve got things laid out exactly right.

        BTW, on Jonas Gray, I sure hope the guy makes it. I admire the way he stuck with things and blossomed in year 4. But as far as him becoming a “star”, not so sure. I say that NOT because he lacks ability or won’t be able to overcome his injury.

        But RBs are practically being phased out these days in the NFL.

      • bernhtp - Apr 30, 2012 at 4:15 PM

        It’s difficult not to admire Jonas for his turnaround, perseverance and attitude. There are some great Jonas quotes in this article about Kelly and the future of the Irish program.

      • nudeman - May 1, 2012 at 9:50 AM

        I thought those comments from Gray were the essence of “damning with faint praise”. If I had to boil down what he said into a simple paraphrased sentence it would be “I don’t like BK and don’t necessarily agree with what he’s doing or how he’s coaching, but yeah, I guess I played well under him”.

        As Lombardi would say “What in the hell is goin’ ON out there?”. Why is it so many ex players go out of their way to take potshots or tweet thinly veiled insults? One day it’s Armando Allen, the next day it’s Jonas Gray. There have been others. I ask the question in all sincerity because I don’t know the answer.

        Is this a “Weis guys vs. Kelly guys” issue? Does BK alienate players? I take no side, because I don’t know the answer. But I will say that guys like Jonas Gray and Michael Floyd – two guys who BK pulled off the scrap heap and had their best years under him – seem to have little or nothing good to say about Kelly. I have not read everything Floyd has said since getting drafted, but if there ever was a guy who should have said “I owe an awful lot to Coach Kelly”, this was the guy.

      • nudeman - May 1, 2012 at 10:19 AM

        Appending the Michael Floyd observation from above, here’s what I am saying: There is no individual on the entire ND roster who owes more to BK than Floyd.

        If I’m Floyd, here’s what I’m saying: “I owe a lot to Coach Kelly. My life was a little undisciplined and at times out of control. He came in, let me know what it would take to stay at ND and become a better person and player. I had my best year ever under Coach Kelly and want to thank him”

        Maybe he HAS said that. If so, I missed it.

      • bernhtp - May 1, 2012 at 11:19 AM

        Nude: I disagree. I didn’t see this as faint praise at all. I can’t pull up the article right now due to the B&G site being down, but my recollection is that Jonas was saying that things were really tough with Kelly at the outset, but they improved radically after he bought into the new system. He also said that he is optimistic about the future of ND football and there is a better mood among the team than before (alluding to Weis).

        I have also seen interviews of Floyd where he explicitly credited and thanked Kelly (and the administration) for sticking by him, supporting him, and giving him another chance. Ultimately it’s what they do that counts, and Floyd appears to have been active in recruiting (Kinlaw), which would not have happened if he didn’t view Kelly and Notre Dame as a positive experience.

      • nudeman - May 1, 2012 at 11:43 AM

        I can’t pull up the article now either, but it seems to me it was full of qualified, half hearted “compliments”. There is room for reasonable people to disagree on this, though.

        On Floyd, glad to hear he credited Kelly. I have no idea if he had spiraled out of control in his personal life or if he was no bigger of a drinker/party guy than anyone else and was just extremely unlucky in getting DUI’d 2 or 3 times. Most likely he had a problem or was well on his way to having a problem.

        But clearly BK came in and laid down the law and Floyd responded.

      • bernhtp - May 1, 2012 at 1:36 PM

        B&G is now back up. Here are his thoughts on Kelly:

        “He’s like the president; you may not agree with him all the time, but he’s our leader and you have to be behind him 100 percent,” Gray said back in January. “The time is now. Coach Kelly is going to right the ship. We don’t have all the talent in the world coming back next year, but we have a solid group. I know those guys are going to give it their all and Coach Kelly is going to make sure this thing is turned around.

        “Sometimes with fans, the patience level isn’t always where it should be. I know a lot of people were talking about this year being the year, but I think next year will be the year. It’s always a year you don’t expect for a team to show what it’s really about. Coach Kelly is the guy for the job.”

        With a penchant for telling jokes and playing video games, the amateur comedian was told by Kelly in fall camp last August that he needed to get serious as a senior.

        “There were times my junior year when he and I clashed and I wasn’t agreeing with what he was doing,” Gray said. “But when you buy into it, it all works.”

        “He is very misunderstood as a person and as a coach. People see the way he acts sometimes on the sidelines. That’s just his competitive, fiery spirit. He just wants to win so bad. The best way I like to describe him sometimes is just an average guy who will make some mistakes, but he’s a phenomenal leader. The atmosphere in the program is just so much better than I can remember.”

        The last line, in particular, gives a very optimistic view of ND football under Kelly, especially relative to what he saw before.

        I think your original takeaway was not due to Shakespearean faint praise, but Jonas’ (or the editor’s) lack of Shakespeare’s command of the language.

  4. gracehall1980 - Apr 29, 2012 at 2:15 PM

    Congratulations, gentlemn. The best of luck to all of you in an incredibly difficult business.

    As a Bears fan living in the Twin Cities, this is making it incredibly difficult to cheer for and revel I the Vikings futility.

  5. kleinick - Apr 30, 2012 at 3:44 PM

    Congrats D. Fleming!! St. Rita High School!!

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