Malik Zaire

Weekend notes: Rees, Anzalone, Zaire, and more


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.


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.



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.)


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 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.


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.

How we got here: Roster Attrition

Rees Golson Kiel

There is the team you recruit and then the team that you coach. And for Brian Kelly, the team he could be coaching certainly isn’t the one that’s taking the field.

Turnover on the Notre Dame roster is by no means exclusive to the Kelly era. For as long as you’ve likely been following Irish football, players have been coming and going–often times sooner than four or five years.

But as we look at the sources of this disappointing season, how this became Notre Dame’s youngest roster since 1972 is worth a look. Because as Brian Kelly struggles to win with a team that’s playing a stack of underclassmen while his fourth and fifth-year classes are all but gone, it’s amazing to see the attrition that’s struck this roster, especially considering this should be when the Irish are feeling the benefits of their national title game appearance.

From fifth-year candidates to sophomores, 20 signees have left the Irish program. That includes transfers, dismissals, withdrawals, injuries or walking away. (It doesn’t include leaving early for the NFL.)

The talent drain has taken big names and small, included five-star prospects like Gunner Kiel, Eddie Vanderdoes, Greg Bryant and most recently Max Redfield. It’s featured shortened career of projected 2016 starters Steve Elmer and Corey Robinson, and shown the bad luck the Irish staff has had bringing in pass rushers.

Let’s look at how this team got so young.


Gunner Kiel, QB — 5 star
Tee Shepard, CB — 4 star
Davonte Neal, WR — 4 star
Will Mahone, RB — 3 star
Justin Ferguson, WR — 3 star

Recap: The second phase of Brian Kelly’s star-crossed quarterback run came after Gunner Kiel transferred after a redshirt season, leaving before Everett Golson was declared academically ineligible. Had Kiel stuck around, who knows what would’ve happened. The departure of Tee Shepard was also costly, the highly-touted cornerback never dressing for the Irish after his early enrollment didn’t help clear up academic issues that seemed to plague him for the rest of his football playing career.

Neal reemerged at Arizona, moving to the defensive side of the ball. Mahone’s high-profile dismissal came after an ugly incident in his hometown of Youngstown, but resulted in a life-changing turnaround. Add in the early departures (though successful careers) of Ronnie Stanley and CJ Prosise and you begin to see how this group certainly accomplished plenty, but left a ton on the table.


Greg Bryant, RB — 5 star
Max Redfield, S — 5 star
Eddie Vanderdoes, DT — 5 star
Steve Elmer, OL — 4 star
Corey Robinson, WR — 4 star
Mike Heuerman, TE — 4 star
Doug Randolph, DL — 4 star
Rashad Kinlaw, DB — 3 star
Michael Deeb, LB — 3 star

Recap: This group could’ve redefined the roster. While Bryant and Redfield never played up to their potential before being cut loose from the university, a front-line defensive lineman like Vanderdoes would’ve changed the complexion of the Irish defense.

Below the radar, the losses of Steve Elmer and Corey Robinson certainly hurt more than we expected. Neither were breakaway talents, but both more than good enough to been veteran starters on a team that clearly needed a few more of them.

The bottom half of this list almost stands out just because they were big swings and misses. With the Heuerman, Kinlaw, and Deeb, the Irish took shots on a few less-than-elite names and came up empty, with Heuerman and Deeb never able to shake off injuries before eventually going on medical hardships. A big recruiting class coming off a historic season, this group had plenty of success, but could’ve been more.


Nile Sykes, LB — 3 stars
Grant Blankenship, DE — 3 stars
Kolin Hill, DE — 3 stars
Jhonathon Williams, DE — 3 stars

Recap: Four defenders, four front seven players, three pass rushers. When Irish fans wonder where the pass rush is, it’s misses like this that end up really hurting. Sykes, Hill and Williams were hardly national prospects. Blankenship was an early target with modest offers, though a strong senior season brought interest from Texas.

Hill’s pass rush skills were evident from his situational use as a freshman. His departure left a hole, and he’s now the second-leading tackler behind the line of scrimmage for Texas Tech. Sykes never made it onto the Irish roster, and is now the sack leader for Indiana. Williams is now in the mix at Toledo, a reach by the Irish staff who saw him as a developmental prospect.


Mykelti Williams, DB — 4 star
Jalen Guyton, WR — 3 star
Bo Wallace, DE — 3 star

Recap: Three wash outs that seemed like promising prospects when they committed. Williams was especially important, a key piece at a position of need who is now reviving his career at Iowa Western CC. Guyton is also taking the Juco route, the leading receiver at Trinity Valley CC in Texas. Wallace is an edge rusher now at Arizona State, never making it to campus after Brian Kelly spoke highly of the New Orleans prospect on Signing Day.


Swarbrick: Kelly will be back in 2017

SOUTH BEND, IN - AUGUST 30:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish watches as his team takes on the Rice Owls at Notre Dame Stadium on August 30, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Brian Kelly will be coaching Notre Dame in 2017. That’s according to his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

So even with a 2-5 record and a difficult slate still to come, there will be no change atop the Irish football program.

“Brian will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year,” Swarbrick told

Swarbrick’s vote of confidence is nothing new—he’s taken a similar stance in his weekly appearances the past few weeks. But it likely became necessary as the season continues to frustrate, and Notre Dame’s head coaching position becomes part of the hot seat discussion.

But even with plenty to accomplish during this week off, both on the field and in the classroom, Kelly was out front and on the ESPN airwaves, openly shouldering the blame of this season’s failures, while also mentioning this is the youngest team at Notre Dame since 1972.

See the entire segment here:


Bye Week Mailbag: Now Open

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 15: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs the ball during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on October 15, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 17-10. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

It’s been too long. Or maybe it hasn’t.

Against my better judgment, I’m opening up the mailbag. Drop your questions below or at Twitter @KeithArnold.

How we got here: The Defense

05 September 2015:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder stands with his players in action during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

The first of a multi-part series as we look at the 2-5 Irish at the bye week. 


Notre Dame’s season was sunk by Brian VanGorder’s defense. That sentence is much easier to write after seeing the unit without its former coordinator. But it was just as clear after watching the Irish play their first four games of 2016 that Brian Kelly needed to make a change. The Irish gave up a combined 124 points in their three September defeats, a season-high for either yards or points (against FBS competition) for Texas, Michigan State and Duke.

For many VanGorder detractors, the move came four games too late. The Irish were plagued by big plays and schematic breakdowns throughout 2015 (and before), a fatal flaw of a defense filled with talented personnel that too often underperformed.

How did the Irish get here? Any why did Kelly make the decision to hire VanGorder—a decision that has already impacted his legacy in South Bend?

Let’s look back.



When Brian Kelly tapped VanGorder to replace Bob Diaco, he was hiring a coach who seemed like an evolutionary next step. While Diaco’s 3-4 base and point prevention philosophies were the perfect tonic for improving a team that was wrecked by the Tenuta era, Alabama undressed the Irish at the end of the 2012 season, a simplicity in Notre Dame’s scheme that received a few comments from Alabama players in the postgame glow that likely had Kelly wondering if they’d hit their ceiling.

That’s an important factor to remember when Kelly was hiring Diaco’s replacement. Because the foundation of the defense was well established. Kelly needed someone to build on top of it.

That likely made VanGorder’s pitch music to Kelly’s ears. Because while Diaco relied heavily on his base set, VanGorder’s DNA included sub-packages, complementary parts, Rex Ryan-inspired blitzes, and a philosophy that no throw would be conceded— underneath or otherwise.

Add to that Kelly’s personal relationship with VanGorder. Kelly had watched his former Grand Valley State colleague from the beginning of his career. He had seen him work with young players and believed in him as a teacher (something he referenced multiple times when he introduced VanGorder to the local media) before blazing his own trail, earning a head coaching opportunity at Wayne State, a high-profile coordinator position at Georgia and eventually making his way to the NFL—for a long time, farther up the food chain than Kelly.

Perhaps that was enough to dismiss his chaotic year at Auburn, when the Tigers season—and defense—went up in smoke as Gene Chizik was fired and VanGorder’s defense gave up 63 to No. 20 Texas A&M, 38 to No. 5 Georgia, and were blown out 49-0 to Alabama—after after mid-October.

But for a variety of reasons, likely his success turning to coaches with a personal connection, Kelly once again did so, hiring an NFL position coach who was a few years removed from being an elite-level coaching target for a vacancy that was a high-profile national opening.



The challenge with VanGorder’s struggles always seemed to be the caveats. Injuries decimated his first defense, a group that shutout Michigan and stymied Stanford, but crumbled by the end of the season, with USC naming a number and the Irish tumbling after giving up big, ugly scores to Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC.

The 2015 defense had strong moments—dominating Texas, holding Clemson to 24 points and nice wins over option opponents Georgia Tech and Navy—but obviously imploded late against Stanford and never stood a chance against Ohio State, with injuries once again leveling the depth chart.

But there were improvements. Between 2014 and 2015 VanGorder’s unit got a better handle on up-tempo attacks. An offseason committed to stopping the option saw those goals achieved with successful defensive performances against Georgia Tech and Navy. And even if VanGorder’s veteran-heavy 2015 unit was mostly moving on (the talent exodus is staggering now that you look at it), most had talked themselves into believing that Year Three would have better institutional knowledge for all, a depth chart ready to step in and perform.

[A necessary footnote: Luck certainly wasn’t on VanGorder’s side. Injuries, transfers and suspensions certainly didn’t do him any favors, either. Whether it was the disappearance of edge rushers—Kolin Hill, Jhonny Williams, Bo Wallace—or the loss of KeiVarae Russell and Max Redfield, injuries to Jarron Jones, Shaun Crawford, Nick Watkins and Drue Tranquill, there was always the defense VanGorder hoped to put on the field… and then the one that he actually did.]



Austin, Texas. Opening night, 2016.

The Irish defense was exposed against the Longhorns, shredded by both the power running attack and freshman Shane Buechele’s passing. It was an all-systems failure: Scheme, blown assignments, questionable personnel decisions—all pointing back to a game plan that required a bunch of assumptions (new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert was difficult to scout), but nonetheless was a disastrous start.



Even if Kelly gave the staff’s performance a passing grade, by noon after the loss to Duke, the decision was made to relieve VanGorder of his duties.

“This is a difficult decision,” Kelly said in a statement. “I have the utmost respect for Brian as both a person and football coach, but our defense simply isn’t it where it should be and I believe this change is necessary for the best interest of our program and our student-athletes.”



While Kelly won’t likely go any deeper into the decision to make the change than he’s done in a few media sessions, it’s telling just how different the defense is organized with VanGorder out the door.

Full-unit meetings have been turned into position group teaching sessions. Depth chart’s have been reshuffled, resulting in major personnel changes. A base three-man front has taken over as the status quo. And the defense has stopped giving up points and big plays, especially after they found their footing against Syracuse.

Where Kelly goes from here is anyone’s guess—especially considering he’s still trying his best to get this season under control. But after tapping into his personal coaching network to fill a premium vacancy, don’t expect Kelly to settle on the familiar—or for Swarbrick to allow it—when his roster is loaded with young talent and in need of a fundamentally sound plan.