Jaylon Smith

Weekend notes: Floyd, Smith, Rankings, and more

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With finals ending this week at Notre Dame, and graduating approaching next weekend, it’s a slow time for college football news. As we march through the offseason desert with no oasis in sight, let’s dig into some of the more interesting stories I stumbled across this week.

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Michael Floyd is one of those seniors graduating next weekend, culminating a wonderful four years in South Bend that included graduating from Notre Dame in 3.5 years and getting drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft. While most of Charlie Weis’ recruits didn’t live up to the hype they arrived with, Floyd was certainly everything anyone could ask for and a great success story.

Christian McCollum of IrishSportsDaily.com did a great job catching up with someone very important in Floyd’s life, St. Paul trainer Ted Johnson. A fellow Cretin-Derham Hall graduate and a former standout running back for the Raiders (if my memory serves me correct he played alongside Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke in the 1988 Prep Bowl), Johnson now trains Twin Cities athletes, with Floyd being the standard bearer.

Johnson was invited by Floyd to be with him at Radio City Music Hall, and shared his experiences with McCollum in a great trip down memory lane.

Make no mistake, Ted Johnson was honored to be invited to join Michael Floyd at last month’s NFL Draft, especially after hearing what the former Notre Dame star had to say just after being selected 13th overall by the Arizona Cardinals.

“He gave me a big hug,” says Johnson, who has trained Floyd in his hometown of St. Paul, Minn., dating back to the end of Floyd’s high school days.

“He said, ‘You were the one. You planted that seed and you let me know that was real. I just want to thank you for it and I love you.’ I didn’t even know what to say.”

Floyd has leaned heavily on his mentors from Cretin-Derham Hall, still staying in constant communication with former coaches Mal Scanlon and Andy Bischoff, who both counseled Michael through the difficult decision of coming back for his senior season, as well as bouncing back after his DUI arrest.

Johnson also spoke to ISD about class of 2013 recruit James Onwualu, who is another CDH athlete that works with Johnson. Working together since Onwualu was 13 years old, Johnson labels the future Irish wide receiver a “super freak,” focusing on his explosiveness after Onwualu jumped out of a pool 80 straight times.

“I’ve scoured YouTube, vimeo, UStream to see guys jump out of pools at greater than 3.3 or 3.6 feet,” Johnson told ISD. “We’ve actually moved him to four feet. Now that’s the new benchmark. I couldn’t find anybody in the world anywhere on the internet who’s exploding out of four feet of water and landing on the edge of the pool. I couldn’t find it. We’re trying to do something that’s never been done.”

If you’re into pool jumping football players, you’re going to love Onwualu.

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Speaking of freak athletes, Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.com is reporting that five-star outside linebacker Jaylon Smith will be visiting South Bend this weekend, meeting with Irish coaches for the third time this spring.

There’s no more important recruit in this class than Smith, and the Irish are in a great spot with him. After dazzling recruiting websites with his work as both a pass-rushing outside linebacker and even as a lockdown cover corner, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Smith will likely walk onto campus and be one of the most dynamic athletes at whatever program he chooses.

There were rumors of Smith being ready to pledge his commitment to the Irish as far back as the Blue-Gold game. Regardless of when he does it, the Irish are in good shape will stay on Smith until Signing Day, as they’ll be in a battle with college football’s biggest programs (including Urban Meyer at Ohio State) for Smith’s signature.

If the Irish do win out here, it’ll be interesting to note that Brian Kelly will have out-dueled Meyer for two players who have brothers already on the Ohio State staff. Count that as a perception vs. reality issue that opponents of Meyer would be wise to mention to prospective recruits. It’s never a good sign when it seems like the only players who turn down Meyer are the ones who have a family member that’s actually played for him.

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Athlon Sports is rolling out their preseason Top 25 for 2012 and they’ve got Notre Dame ranked at No. 20, a number that’s raised more than a few eyebrows.

Here’s their rationale:

If Kelly can get his quarterback situation settled, the Irish have enough talent to match their victory total from the last two seasons, even against a schedule that includes three 11-win opponents (Michigan, Stanford and Michigan State) and a pair of 10-win squads (USC and Oklahoma).

Although this isn’t necessarily a crossroads season for Kelly since Notre Dame seems committed to his renovation project, the 2012 campaign will go a long way toward determining how good the Irish can be in 2013-14. There are too many holes/question marks to look at this season as anything but a transitional year under Kelly. Find a consistent quarterback and show improvement, and regardless of the record, Kelly should approach a combined 20 victories in 2013-14. Fall flat and continue to struggle protecting the football and the regime could be in jeopardy.

That first paragraph is filled with minefields that could destroy any encouraging predictions. You certainly can’t gloss over the unsettled quarterbacking situation. Even more difficult to ignore is a schedule that has a whopping five teams that won ten games or more. (And that doesn’t account for opponents like Miami or Pitt, programs that should give the Irish all they can handle.)

You can quickly dismiss Athlon’s ranking by assuming they just included Notre Dame to sell some magazines. But they point out some of the nice assets this football team has, and a final ranking in the Top 20 would be something most Irish fans would sign up for sight unseen I’m guessing.

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Lastly, Notre Dame graduate (and friend of the blog) Jamie Reidy has a new book out that’s worth a look. Reidy’s first book, Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman, inspired Ed Zwick’s movie “Love and Other Drugs” with Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal (no big deal, Jake played Jamie).  His most recent effort is A Walk’s As Good As a Hit: Advice/Threats from My Old Man.

It’s a series of essays that tackle father/son relationships, and I’ve enjoyed reading through it this week. If you’re technically savvy, you can buy the eBook here. If you want a hard copy for Father’s Day, buy a paperback copy here.

How did Mike Elko fare against past Irish opponents?

TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 18:  Karlos Williams #9 of the Florida State Seminoles scores the touchdown that would win the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during their game at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 18, 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Former Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder took over at that position before the 2014 season. Former Wake Forest defensive coordinator, and now VanGorder’s successor at Notre Dame, Mike Elko took over in Winston-Salem at the same time. Since then, the two programs faced common opponents nine times.

With the lone exception of Army, all these games featured ACC opponents. When it comes to talent, Wake Forest tends to be outmatched in the ACC. Recruits from 2011 to 2016 suited up for the Deacons in the 2014-16 seasons. During those six recruiting cycles, Wake Forest never finished higher than No. 10 in the conference according to rivals.com’s rankings. In 2012 and 2014, the Deacons finished at the bottom of the conference in recruiting.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, finished behind an ACC team a total of 10 times over those six years. Florida State outpaced the Irish five times, the exception being Notre Dame’s No. 3-ranked class in 2013 following its national championship game appearance. Clemson finished ahead of the Irish four times (2014 joining 2013 as the outliers), and Miami rounds the listing off with its No. 9-finish in 2012, compared to Notre Dame’s No. 20.

The point being, VanGorder and the Irish could anticipate having a stronger and deeper roster in at least six of the games discussed below. Elko and Wake Forest may have been able to make that argument—and it would be a debatable one—just once, when they faced Duke this past September.

Before comparing the two units’ successes and failures in those nine—actually, 18—contests, let’s establish two points of clarification. Notre Dame and North Carolina State played in a literal hurricane this past October. Comparing that game to any other will accomplish nothing. Furthermore, before anyone starts griping about that afternoon’s play-calling, this is an exercise discussing defensive performances, not offensive. The run:pass distribution of Oct. 1, 2016, bears no significance here.

Secondly, the other two games the Irish played fitting this criteria but after VanGorder’s dismissal—Syracuse and Army—are included below. Only so much of the scheme changed mid-season, and the personnel did not.

If you are busy catching up from a long weekend and do not have the time to look at the numbers below, a quick summary for you: In five of the eight instances, Elko’s unit fared distinctly better than VanGorder’s in multiple notable statistical categories. However, the Deacons struggled with Army’s triple-option attack, and both 2014 Florida State and 2015 Clemson blew right through the aggressive defense far easier than they did against Notre Dame.

Presented in something resembling reverse chronological order: (more…)

Four-star WR Micah Jones chooses Irish; Rees may need to wait; Other late-week reading

jones
rivals.com
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A day may come when Notre Dame suffers a recruiting disappointment in the 2018 cycle, when a high school star spurns the Irish coaching staff for a foe, but it is not this day.

Rivals.com four-star receiver Micah Jones (Warren Township High School; Gurnee, Ill.) committed to Notre Dame on Friday, joining a class of now 10 recruits, including four who committed just this week.

Jones chose the Irish over offers from the likes of Iowa, Michigan State and Ole Miss, among others.

He is the first receiver among the 10 commitments and the seventh considered a four-star prospect. At 6-foot-5, 196 pounds, Jones should present a large target for whomever the Notre Dame quarterback is in the fall of 2018, most likely then-senior Brandon Wimbush.

Tom, Tommy or Thomas; Assistant Coach or Graduate Assistant?
Thomas Rees may need to wait a season before officially being a coach at Notre Dame. The legislation to approve a 10th assistant coach was expected to be voted on, passed and effective in April. A newly-added amendment may push the effective date to following the 2017 season. The amendment will be voted on immediately before the legislation itself is.

The delay makes sense. Most coaching hirings and firings occur in December and January. In theory, creating a one-timing hiring frenzy following spring football could leave many programs in the lurch. In practice, however, this is not anticipated.

“The majority of the FBS guys that I’ve talked with currently believe that 10th coach is going to come from within their own organization,” Todd Berry told the Associated Press. Berry is the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association and former coach at Army and Louisiana-Monroe. “Quality control, graduate assistants, analysts, or they’re planning on hiring somebody that’s out of work.”

A majority is not a unanimity, though, and that carousel will innately work to the disadvantage of the Group of 5 schools.

As for Rees, a graduate assistant can still work extensively with players. The most-pertinent difference between a graduate assistant and an assistant coach is the former cannot recruit. Given Notre Dame’s recent success on the recruiting trail—and the early commitment of class of 2018 consensus four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec (Pine-Richland H.S.; Gibsonia, Pa.)—Rees may not be an absolute necessity in that regard this cycle.

A Kizer Appraisal
Former NFL scout Greg Gabriel took a look at former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer this week, largely paying the draft prospect compliments.

In calling Kizer “the most talented quarterback in this draft class,” Gabriel set a high ceiling for Kizer’s spring. Part of Gabriel’s positive assessment comes from acknowledging Kizer’s responsibilities as the Irish signal-caller.

“The spread offense that Kizer played in at Notre Dame is more sophisticated than many of the spread offenses we see elsewhere at the collegiate level. The Notre Dame offense is a whole-field read scheme in which the quarterback has to go through a progression that encompasses both sides of the field. He also can change the play and/or protections at the line of scrimmage. Given all that, Kizer was asked to do more than many spread quarterbacks are asked to do.”

Gabriel also reflected on the dynamic differences for Kizer in 2015 and 2016 and what may have elicited some of his seeming stagnation.

“There was the unnecessary quarterback controversy at Notre Dame, and the offensive line wasn’t as experienced or as talented and the receivers were mostly first-year starters.”

As much as Gabriel raves about Kizer, he would be the first to tell you anything beyond individual player evaluation is a waste of air this early in the draft process. Mock drafts may be fun, but they are not much beyond that.

Take the fates of Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo, for example. Few, if any, in the NFL expect them to dress for the Cowboys and Patriots, respectively, again. Where they end up could directly impact Kizer’s draft placement.

Jaylon Smith May Be Back to Form
Former Notre Dame and current Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith posted yet another encouraging video to Twitter. This one shows Smith really might be game-ready right now and, if not, almost certainly will be by the fall. Should there be any difficulty with the embedded video below, here is a link straight to it.

OL Mabry makes third commitment this week; WR Jones may follow Friday

mabry
rivals.com
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Two weeks ago, Irish coach Brian Kelly gave a non-answer of an answer to a question about a likely early signing period this coming December. Avoiding specifics, he indicated he thinks the effects of such a change will be seen on a case-by-case basis entirely dependent on the recruits.

“Some will, some won’t,” Kelly said. “…Each kid is going to have to react to it based upon also how their school is going to be dealing with it. Some will come off the board at the time.

“We’re expecting some to sign early, but I think our mindset is we’re going into it business as usual. We’re all going to have to fight until February.”

After this week, Notre Dame is going to have more year-long fights than anticipated. Consensus three-star offensive lineman recruit Cole Mabry (Brentwood High School; Brentwood, Tenn.) became the third prospect to offer a verbal commitment to the Irish coaching staff in less than 36 hours with his Wednesday decision. Mabry received the offer over the weekend, but waited a few days before making his decision public, lest emotions be dictating his thought process.

At 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, Mabry will have time to add muscle to his frame, with four or five offensive tackles greeting him on the Notre Dame roster in the summer of 2018. That ability to mold his style and growth may have played a part in the Irish interest.

“They love my height and athleticism and how I play,” Mabry told rivals.com. “We got to break down film and go through things that they do that pair up with how I play now. They think I’ll be a great fit in their offense.”

Mabry is the ninth Notre Dame commitment in the class of 2018, though the first offensive lineman.

Judging by new Notre Dame director of football performance Matt Balis’s agenda for the Irish roster’s Valentine’s Day morning, Mabry will have much to look forward to in terms of strength and conditioning.

Rivals.com four-star receiver Micah Jones (Warren Township H.S.; Gurnee, Ill.) is scheduled to announce his verbal commitment this Friday at 4 p.m. ET. Along with Notre Dame, Jones is considering Iowa, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ole Miss, Illinois and Northwestern. He would be the first receiver in Notre Dame’s 2018 class. Naturally, whomever Jones commits to, the recruiting fight will last until at least December, and perhaps all the way to February.

Notre Dame adds two top defensive back commits; Elliott officially a ‘Husker

allen
rivals.com
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It’s early. It’s really, really early. Not in the day, though this post is scheduled for an a.m. hour. No, it is early in the 2018 recruiting cycle. Any piece of news, each commitment, everything should be taken with two grains of salt.

Nonetheless, Notre Dame—and more specifically, new Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko and defensive backs coach Todd Lyght—enjoyed Tuesday’s recruiting news when two consensus four-star coverage men committed to the Irish.

Safety Derrik Allen (Lassiter High School; Marietta, Ga.) and cornerback Kalon Gervin (Cass Tech; Detroit, Mich.) joined a class of now eight commitments, six of which play on the defensive side of the ball.

Gervin, the No. 11 cornerback in the class according to rivals.com, waited mere days after attending Notre Dame’s Junior Day over the weekend. Irish coach Brian Kelly and staff’s failure to land a recruit at Gervin’s position in the 2017 haul actually helped reel in the recruit with offers from Florida, LSU, Michigan and dozens others.

“The opportunity to play right away, they didn’t sign a cornerback this last class,” Gervin told Blue & Gold Illustrated helped sway him. “Also, the education is second-to-none. It speaks for itself.”

Allen, pictured at top, has leaned toward Notre Dame for months. The No. 3 safety in the country per Rivals, he chose the Irish over the likes of Alabama, Clemson and Florida State.

Elliott officially to Nebraska

The two highly-touted defensive backs will not have the chance to learn under the tutelage of Bob Elliott. Nebraska officially announced the hiring of the former Notre Dame safeties (2012-13) and linebackers (2014) coach. Elliott spent the last two seasons serving as a special assistant to Kelly, focusing largely on defending the triple-option attacks of Army, Navy and Georgia Tech.

Elliott rejoins former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco in Lincoln. Diaco was hired as the Cornhuskers’ defensive coordinator in January.

The Lincoln Journal Star’s Brian Cristopherson reports Elliott will make a nice wage in eastern Nebraska.