Malik Zaire

Weekend notes: Rees, Anzalone, Zaire, and more

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As much as I enjoy reading the 200 odd comments (I’m trying to get figured out the technical bugs) about the arrests of Tommy Rees and Carlo Calabrese, let’s do our best to get some football discussed on here. First — Let’s put a pin in the Rees discussion (for now), as nothing more — from a material perspective at least — will break until Rees’ court appearance, scheduled for mid-May.

Rees’ arrest makes things even more interesting going into the summer. With four quarterbacks tasked with taking charge during summer workouts to get a firm grasp on the starting job, having one guy potentially facing school suspensions and serious legal issues seems like it could be a mighty distraction. That said, for all the bluster that’s come and gone since late Wednesday night, here are my thoughts on what’s most likely going to happen.

  • Most people continue to compare this to the Michael Floyd DUI situation. As I said before, take the test case of Mike Ragone instead. Ragone’s arrest had many people up in arms after he was stopped on the Indiana Toll Road with marijuana, but the school didn’t impose the draconian punishment that it did on Kyle McAlarney. Instead, Ragone received an undisclosed punishment (most likely meted out during summer school), and was with the team from day one of fall camp.
  • Floyd also had in his favor timing. Getting arrested right before spring ball gave Kelly and the coaching staff the ability to discipline him during the 15-practice spring session. Many made a big deal of Floyd being allowed to work out during voluntary workouts over the summer, but in reality, that voluntary nature likely makes it difficult for the coaching staff to regulate who does and doesn’t work out with the team. I don’t expect Rees to face any limitations during summer workouts, especially after his court date in a few weeks.

From a football perspective, there’s no way that this incident can help Rees win the starting job. Any altercation with police shows bad decision-making in action, and after a season where Tommy made too many on the field, a big one off the field doesn’t help either. Whether it’s an All-American wide receiver or a reserve tight end, Brian Kelly has been consistent with his punishment of players. So while we can all hypothesize about a one or two game suspension for Rees, history has shown we’re far more likely to see him in uniform against Navy than not.

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One of Notre Dame’s top linebacking targets has reopened his commitment after pledging to Ohio State. Alex Anzalone, A Wyomissing, Pennsylvania linebacker with offers from just about every powerhouse program in the country, took back the commitment he made to Urban Meyer during the Buckeyes’ spring game and reopened his recruitment. The Irish had been on Anzalone’s short-list before the commitment and are hoping to get back in on the talented linebacker, a position of need in the 2013 recruiting class.

Anzalone was initially evasive with his reasons for walking away from his commitment, but in an interview with the Reading Eagle, his father, Dr. Sal Anzalone, was more than candid.

“There’s a disconnect between what Alex thought was there and what is actually there,” Dr. Anzalone told the Eagle. “Something’s just not right at Ohio State. It’s not for him.”

The younger Anzalone, pictured here with Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer  after making his commitment (getting the Charlie Weis championship ring treatment), fell immediately for the Ohio State experience. But many are speculating that what happened on that recruiting trip also led to his decision to eliminate the Buckeyes nine months before signing day.

Most point the finger at “super-fan” Eric Waugh, who had built up quite a following on Twitter sending motivational tweets and messages to Buckeye players and recruits. That, in and of itself, tiptoes the line of acceptability. Adding an even creepier element to all of this is Waugh’s past. The Lantern, the Ohio State school newspaper, first reported that Waugh is a registered sex offender, and the school’s compliance department warned student-athletes of Waugh, after multiple photos of Waugh with Buckeye players and recruits had been posted on Waugh’s twitter page.

One photo featured Anzalone with Irish commitment Mike Heuerman, and blue-chip defensive end Joey Bosa, taken over the Scarlett and Gray game weekend.

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That seemed to be all that the Anzalone family needed to turn the bus around and back out from the Buckeye commitment. Per an ESPN Recruiting Nation story, Anzalone was already on shaky ground with his decision, and that experience solidified it.

That was enough to spook Anzalone, who already had experienced some regret about his early college decision, his father said.

“You would think that these kinds of people would be kept at a distance away from recruits,” Sal Anzalone said. “The fact that he got close to recruits was the issue. Keep people like this away from them. I can’t be everywhere.”

Sal Anzalone urged his son to decommit after word began to spread about Waugh.

“Separate yourself,” Sal Anzalone said, “because you don’t want the NCAA thinking that you’re being influenced by this joke.”

Taking the sex-offender angle out of this, communicating with student-athletes and perspective student-athletes via the internet is never a good idea. I’ve said it multiple times before, but it’s an eligibility and NCAA rules-laden minefield, and also a slippery slope that far too often causes more harm than good.

(Irish fans taking shots at Tee Shepard and Aaron Lynch via Twitter and Facebook take note.)

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Back to the football field, Irish commitment Malik Zaire competed for a spot in the Elite 11, held this year just a few miles from the Inside the Irish HQ in Redondo Beach, California. Zaire was working out in Columbus, where a collection of the Midwest’s best quarterbacks competed for a coveted invite to the finals in California.

Multiple reports have Zaire holding his own, among the three most talented players at the camp along with Ohio State commit Jalin Marshall and Michigan commitment Shane Morris. It was Morris that locked down an invitation to the South Bay yesterday, with Zaire among the final choices. He’ll compete again today.  (Don’t feel bad Irish fans, Morris is at his second camp location, after failing to get an invite earlier in the offseason.)

“I think I came out and I did a pretty good job,” Zaire told Irish Illustrated. “I saw a lot of things I need to work on but at the same time I competed well with Shane and the other guys. I have a little bitter taste in my mouth, but I’ll definitely be back out tomorrow and try to win that spot.”

Without the ability to show-off the running skills that made him one of the best dual-threat prospects in the 2013 recruiting class, Zaire had to earn his keep with his throwing arm and fundamentals, things that he seemed to do just fine.

“I’ve never met him, didn’t even know who he was until today,” wide receiver prospect Jack Wangler told ESPN.com about Zaire. “But I liked the way he threw the ball. I didn’t even know him and I felt like I could’ve played with him all day. I think every receiver felt that way.”

We’ll be tracking down Yogi Roth, who has worked as both a QB coach at the college level and hosts the Elite 11 television coverage for ESPN, to get more on Zaire. But early reports are in that the Irish’s QB recruit seems to be every bit the player Notre Dame fans hoped for.

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To end this story on a far different note, Coldplay was at the Hollywood Bowl last night, and paid tribute to Adam Yauch, better known as MCA of the Beastie Boys. Thought this was a pretty cool rendition of a classic.

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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